Sunday, February 5, 2017

Our February/March Cook the Books Pick - Dinner with Edward - a memoir by Isabel Vincent

Vincent, a reporter, author, and journalist for the New York Post has written in this memoir of her encounter, and developing friendship with Edward, the father of a good friend, who was at that time out of the country.  Though struggling with her own crumbling marriage, a recent move and demanding new job, Vincent agrees, at her friend's request, to check in on him once in a while. The 93-year-old widower is depressed and ready to give up on life after the death of his much loved wife.

In Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, what began as an occasional dinner meant to keep an old man company soon develops into a rich friendship, giving both Edward and Isabel reasons to reconsider why they’re alive, while encouraging her to appreciate the fine art of living as she begins, with his encouragement, to create a life that's more rewarding and full for herself.  

 And from the Publisher's summary:  "Isabel has no idea that the man in the kitchen baking the sublime roast chicken and light-as-air apricot soufflĂ© will end up changing her life. As Edward and Isabel meet weekly for the glorious dinners that Edward prepares, he shares so much more than his recipes for apple galette or the perfect martini, or even his tips for deboning poultry. Edward is teaching Isabel the luxury of slowing down and taking the time to think through everything she does, to deconstruct her own life, cutting it back to the bone and examining the guts, no matter how messy that proves to be."

As our last CTBC pick was a memoir about physical healing and the food that helped it to progress, this book is more about the emotional wounded and how cooking can sustain and comfort, as well as how casual acts of kindness can morph into not only friendship but life changes.  Each chapter revolves around a meal, with both menu and delectable recipes.

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books Club, hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock, are due by end-of-the day Friday, March 31st  2017. Anyone can join by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at:   If you are new to Cook the Books Club, you can find out more at our link or the Guidelines page.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home: The Roundup

It's time to roundup the entries for our Cook the Books December/January selection, "Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home" by Jessica Fechtor. (Here's the the announcement post with a summary of the book and why I picked it in case you missed it.

For the most part, our group enjoyed this book, although some of us did find it tough to read at times--reading about the brain trauma she went through. We could all relate to the power of food and cooking to heal, give solace, or bring us together and the many recipes it contained inspired delicious and homey dishes.  

Here is the roundup with some thoughts on the book and on the dishes that everyone made. For more details and some terrific recipes, click on the links to go visit the respective posts.

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures said, "Throughout the story, I just help thinking about how resilient the human body can be. It is truly amazing! As expected, much of the food discussed (and shared) in the story would fall under the “comfort food” category (my favorite!), because of course, one falls back on those comforting childhood favorites in times of distress. As the story progressed, my interest flagged a bit (for the last quarter of the book or so), but overall it was a good read (and fairly quick too!)." She made Sweet and Clear Chicken Noodle Soup.

Camilla of Culinary Adventure with Camilla found Stir difficult to read based on her own experiences with the health of friends and loved ones but said, "I adore her view on the power of food." Camilla was inspired by Fechtor's Kale and Pomegranate Salad and said, "This was delicious and I loved the addition of mustard into the dressing. We'll definitely be making this more often."

Fellow CTB co-host Simona of Briciole said, "I enjoyed the book, both for the writing style — clear, concise, without frills but also rich in vivid images — and for the way the author deals with her health scare, the various setbacks and subsequent challenges. I like that she keeps her focus on her experience as individual." Simona made Cabbage, Roasted Salmon and Persimmon Salad inspired by Jessica's pan-roasted Salmon. 

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm said, "This story also resonated with me because Jessica writes of her journey back to health. She writes of the support of her husband, family and friends and how she could not have become whole again without them. She talks of finding solace and peace in the kitchen and in the enjoyment of food in general. She talks of blogging about her food and how it allows her to just be her....sharing herself and her life without sharing her broken brain." Wendy made Poached Apple Pears inspired by Fechtor's Baked Apricots recipe. 

Next up was Tina of Squirrel Head Manor and Novel Meals said, "The writing is exceptional. You are transported into Jess’s world – you can smell the aromas she describes, imagine the texture of the berries she ate while in the hospital, you can feel the frustration she expresses. Very descriptive writing." Although she still wants to make some of the recipes, Tina made and enjoyed Jessica's recipes for Pan-Roasted Salmon and Brown Soda Bread.

Ali of Fix Me a Little Lunch said, "I have to say that this wasn’t a book I particularly enjoyed reading.  It’s a well written memoir and there’s no doubt that Jessica Fechtor is an amazing woman who came through a traumatic experience and is inspirational because of her determination to get herself back on her feet, back in the kitchen, and back into life.  It’s just that her descriptions of her trauma were hard for me to read.  I don’t watch medical shows and I try to avoid books about medical anything.  So the book itself was something that definitely stretched my boundaries for what I would normally read." Still, she found inspiration in getting back in the kitchen and made this pretty Blood Orange Vanilla Bean Pound Cake.

CTB co-host Claudia of Honey From Rock found she enjoyed the book and said, "Surprisingly, to me anyway, it was a terrific read, due to the author's straightforward account, evocative writing, and her ability to keep a sense of perspective, objectivity and (gallows?) humor through a truly horrific time.  All that and the fact that we know she does get better in the end." Claudia made her version of Fechtor's comfort breakfast dish, Crispy Rice and Eggs.  

CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats said, "I could not believe all of the health issues that kept piling up for Fechtor. It seems that just when she felt that recovery was within her grasp, some other related ailment would befall her. In the final chapters of the book as she was preparing for her final surgery (to fix her truly broken brain), I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I kept thinking, “What else could possibly happen to her? Fechtor traces her recovery and reminisces about her life through recipes and meals. Her voice and tone carry a casual familiarity and I felt like I was listening to a close friend." Debra made Jessica's Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and using it in a noodle bowl and as a cold salad.

Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, I enjoyed my re-read of Stir and would recommend both or either the audio book or printed versions. For my book-inspired dish I looked to the comfort and restorative powers of a bowl of soup and made Jessica's Simplest Tomato Soup. It was creamy with a tangy, piquant flavor that was perfect for dunking spread spread with a creamy cheese bland and it was even better a few days after it was made.


We have one addition to the roundup that was posted but somehow got missed that I wanted to add. Terri of Our Good Life made a lovely Cherry Clafoutis and said, "I was completely, soulfully and utterly mesmerized by this book. Jessica writes her story in carefully crafted, simple yet powerful sentences, that sets the story free to soar. We walk beside her bleeding brain, recover with her outside of surgery, struggle with physical therapy and the loss of sight and taste, celebrate when things start to go well, cry when they aren't. And between all of this, is food."

I am also adding a late entry from regular participant Delaware Girl Eats that didn't get posted before the deadline but I still wanted to include since she read the book and cooked a beautiful Butter Almond Cake inspired by it. (You can never have too many desserts in a roundup!) She said, "Her reflections on emerging from a life-threatening illness through food were captivating. The writing is spritely and inspiring. Plus there were 27 recipes and she grew up on the East Side of Cleveland, which is where I am from. I’d love to know where but she doesn’t say exactly. An added bonus was that she quoted MJK Fisher, one of my favorite authors."

Thanks to everyone who joined me for this CTB round. I enjoyed hearing what you thought of the book and seeing all of the delicious dishes that it inspired! 

If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for our February/March round when my fellow Hawaiian-Island dweller, Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent. Hope you join us! 



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our December/January Cook the Books Selection: "Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home" by Jessica Fechtor

I am always fascinated by the power of food and the way the aroma, the flavors, the recipes, and the memories they conjure up can bring us back--and as in the title of this book, even bring us home. In our December/January Cook the Books selection: Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor shares her experiences when a aneurysm burst in her brain while running a treadmill at a hotel gym at a conference. That aneurysm burst apart the life and career path she was planning and had her enduring numerous surgeries, losing her sense of smell and the eyesight in her left eye. It was food, cooking, and her memories of favorite recipes and food experiences, that along with her friends and family, pulled her through the dark times. 

From the book jacket: Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished. 

I first came across the audio of this book after reading a review of it on a favorite book blog (Beth Fish Reads) and checking it out from the library. Listening to Jessica's story and her wit and warmth in telling it made me a fan and I wanted to share it with my Cook the Books friends. Although the subject matter is serious and Jessica's story often heart-wrenching and moving, there is enough humor and inspiration to lift it up, rather than bog it down in sadness. I bought the book so I could read the words this time and see the twenty-seven recipes woven in throughout the book. (Note: If you want to listen to the audiobook, they provide a link to the recipes and many of them can be found on her blog, Sweet Amandine.)

I hope you enjoy this memoir as much as I did and I can't wait to see the dishes it inspires--whether you pick one of Jessica's recipes or make a favorite dish that always brings you back home.
Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the day Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Anyone can join by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at: 
New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 
Aloha and Happy Holidays! 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots: the roundup

It's time for the roundup of Cook the Books' Club October-November 2016 edition for which we read the novel Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer.

For each contribution (given in order of publication), I will give you the official information (author, blog name and post title) and a brief quote from it — a teaser that will entice you to follow the link and read the details of how the reading inspired the activity in the  kitchen.

Now, please, make yourself comfortable, then follow me on a little literary / culinary journey.

"Jessica Soffer is a gifted writer. But as talented as Soffer is, I found the plot implausible and the characters more cliché than compelling... I had never heard of chicken in half-mourning. But, after a little research, I realized it's a classic French dish called Poulet Demi-Deuil, which loosely translates to chicken in half-mourning. The name refers to the thin black truffle slices showing through the chicken skin - like a black veil."

"Overall, I felt like this was a book about two women and how their selfish choices poison everyone around them.  There was an attempt at a feel-good ending, but it rang false after the rest story... Luckily enough for me, this was a CtBC book, and there was plenty of foodie inspiration... My recipe inspiration appeared very early in the novel, but stuck with me throughout, so I knew it was meant to be! There are many variations of this timeless classic, but I set out to find the simplest recipe, without all the extra bells and whistles. It was absolute perfection!"

"This book made me angry and made me sad.  It made me want to enfold Lorca in a maternal hug and ensure that she knows that she is worthwhile and lovable... I googled Shakrlama and learned that it was an Arabic butter cookie with almonds, pistachios or both. I also found that the author of the book, Jessica Soffer, had printed her recipe for these cookies in the Book Club Cookbook. I made the recipe just as written by Jessica, using slivered almonds instead of sliced.  They were lovely." 

Ali of Fix Me A Little Lunch baked Pumpkin Date Bread

"In another not too long ago life, I worked very closely with populations of both adults and young adults who were highly at-risk and often engaged in very risky behaviors, of which self-mutilation was often the least of it.  I think that’s why I struggled with this book so much – I know that it takes a lot of perseverance for someone to save themselves and few get so lucky to find a Victoria... to help them... My pumpkin date bread relies on the flavors of the season with a good dose of pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree.  The dates give it an extra punch of sweetness.  It’s dense and chewy and goes really well with a cup of coffee in the afternoon."

"The only character I really liked or identified with was Lorca's sweet boyfriend, Blot. Yes, Blot. I was dissatisfied with the end, as it didn't seem consistent with earlier sections... Lots of culinary references. However, it was the title that inspired me, after a recent re-reading of the excellent, Lunch in Paris, from which I had saved a recipe, called Tagine with Meatballs and Spiced Apricots.  Yes. Middle-Eastern, and with apricots." 

Debra of Eliot's Eats prepared Pasta Arrabbiata

"I researched and found recipes for most of the dishes above and I will probably go back and make them eventually.  For this post, however, I chose Pasta Arrabbiata.  As Lorca tries to come up with another dish to impress her mother, she thinks, “Lidia Bastianich used peperonincini and prosciutto ends for hers.  Me too” (57). How appropriate that Lorca makes this dish, an “angry” pasta for her mother and her Aunt Lou.  I sympathized for this girl who just wants her mother’s approval and love, who agonizes as to what to make, and who just wants to be noticed."

"While at times the plot didn't flow quite smoothly, what kept my attention alert was the shared yearning for a connection with someone close to us. We often express that yearning in awkward ways, but it is a cry that wants to be heard and we should honor it in ourselves and others... In honor of Victoria's Iraqi heritage, I thought it was time I made my own tahini and made it using toasted sesame seeds. I then used it to make a sauce with which I dressed fagioli del Purgatorio (Purgatory Beans), small white beans grown on the volcanic soil of a beautiful region of Italy, around Lago di Bolsena."

"I took my inspiration from Julia’s Mastering the Art second cookbook... The Cook the Books book selection is about two lost souls from two different cultures who find each other and lead each other to better lives as they cook together and make a new friendship. They share food traditions and teach each other new techniques. Somehow I guess friends are where you find them, and these two found each other. This refrigerated cream custard, as Julia Child describes it, is a cross between a Charlotte Malakoffe and classic Bavarian cream... The custard is layered over a sponge cake soaked in Kirsch liquor and molded into individual serving dishes. The apricots and almonds are added at the end to enhance what essentially is a cream Anglaise."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen prepared Bamia (Okra Stew) 

"On one hand I loved [the book] for the food descriptions and imagery that filled it, but I also found myself very slow at working my way through it, as the story made me sad--there is so much loneliness, pain and loss captured in its pages... Okra will probably never make my list of favorite foods but I am learning to appreciate it more and more. I like it especially when it is flavored with plenty of spices, like in this Bamia, a Middle Eastern okra stew... Such delicious and exotic flavor from the mix of spices (curry, paprika, celery seed, cardamom, ground ginger and red pepper flakes) that it compensates for the natural sliminess of the okra."

A great Thank you! to everyone who joined in this edition of Cook the Books.

I believe all the submissions I have received are presented in the roundup. However, mishaps are part of life, so if you find anything missing or in need of amendment anywhere in the roundup, please do let me know.

And now, I’ll turn things over to Deb of Kahakai Kitchen who will host the December-January edition in which we will read Stir by Jessica Fechtor.

Arrivederci a presto!

Simona, of Briciole

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Announcing the Next Four Picks

How many foodie memoirs have been written in the last twenty years?   Probably too many to count.   In fact, I would classify this style of writing as a new genre unto itself.  For the next four books, our hosts all picked a food-centric memoir.  We hope you enjoy these selections: one by a young woman trying to regain her health, one from an award-winning journalist, one from a food blogger, and one from a food writer and cookbook author.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home (2015) hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for December/January.

Jessica Fechtor was on a treadmill in a hotel gym at a graduate student conference when an aneurysm burst in her brain. Jessica was 28, newly married, and healthy, when she collapsed and nearly died. Luckily, she was rushed to the hospital quickly, but between the aneurysm and subsequent infection she lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, had to have numerous surgeries, and needed to wear a helmet to protect her head for nearly two years. The impact on her career and her life was devastating. Some might give up, but with the support of her family and friends and the healing power of the food and cooking, Jessica found a new normal.

From the book jacket: “Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished. 

After reading a review of Stir on Beth Fish Reads blog, I borrowed the audio book from the library and was immediately caught up in Jessica’s often moving, sometimes humorous, and always inspiring story. Her wit and warmth pour through the pages as she shares food-laden memories of growing up, her family, courtship with her husband, and her recovery--interwoven with twenty-seven recipes that helped her on her journey. Although the audio book gave a link to the recipes and many of them can be found on her food blog Sweet Amandine, I found myself compelled to buy my own print copy of the book. I hope you enjoy her story and her recipes as much as I did.


Deadline for Stir posts is January 31, 2017.

Dinner with Edward, A Story of Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent (2016) hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock for February/March.

Isabel Vincent, author of four previous books, investigative journalist, reporter for the New York Post, and previously a foreign correspondent, is the recipient of numerous journalism honors.  In this well-crafted, charming memoir Vincent uses the evocative language of a novelist and the economy of a reporter, with food as a metaphor for love.

Though struggling with her crumbling marriage, a recent move and demanding new job, Isabel opens her life to Edward, a 93-year-old widower, the father of a good friend (currently out of the country).  He is depressed and ready to give up on life after the death of his much loved wife, when Vincent agrees, at her friend's request, to check in on him once in a while.

What began as an occasional dinner meant to keep an old man company soon develops into a rich friendship, giving both Edward and Isabel reasons to reconsider why they’re alive, while encouraging her to appreciate the fine art of living as she begins to create a life that's more rewarding and full for herself.

As Vincent writes, “I believed in the magic of Edward,” and readers begin to believe along with her.  He turns out to be a very wise old/young at heart individual, and it is in his kitchen and at the dinner table that his character and wisdom are revealed.  Every chapter title is a small dinner menu – and Vincent goes out of her way to punctuate her writing with tempting descriptions of these meals. Between melting Gruyere cheese, delicious entrees and fine wines, it is easy to succumb to the overcoming optimism of a man determined to live exactly the way he wants. Isabel invests her memoir with a real sense of gratitude for Edward's presence and influence in her life.

Though she did wheedle him into writing down some of his recipes for her, one of the things that really amazed me about Edward, was that he actually used no recipes.  He wrote them out for her, remembering what he did as he went along.  I loved his spontaneous, intuitive, and creative yet collected approach to cooking.  No rush, no worries.  This is how I want to be with my own cooking.  So inspiring.


Deadline for Dinner with Edward posts is March 31, 2017.

Life from Scratch:  A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin (2015) hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats for April/May.

Some of you may be familiar with Sasha Martin from her food blog, Global Table Adventure.   Although I have not been following her blog per se, I was made aware of her through our local paper and some local appearances.

Since she resides in Tulsa, I was anxious to read her memoir.   I will let her book trailer be the blurb for this selection.  

As Martin states in the above video, her adventures through the world's cuisines led her to examine her own origins.   How did she get to her life in Oklahoma with a loving husband and child, far from her unorthodox childhood in Boston and her troubled teenage years in Europe?

Although this is more of a traditional memoir than what I would classify as the recent trend of recipe-laden-"foodie" ones, I think that we all will find some inspiration, whether its from Martin's childhood memories or her adventures with international flavors.  


Deadline: May 30, 2017.

Winner of three James Beard awards, a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure magazine and the author of five acclaimed cookbooks, Anya Von Bremzen grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. When Anya was ten years old, she and her mother fled Brezhnev-era Russia and arrived in Philadelphia. The contrast between the two places created a nostalgic longing for the food of home: she immediately missed the celebration of food that was taken for granted in America. 

"Mom and I both grew up within a triumphalist, scarlet-blazed fairy tale of socialist abundance and glorious harvests. Our experiences, though, featured no happy kitchens enveloped in an idyllic haze of vanilla, no kindly matriarchs setting golden holiday roasts on the table. Tea cakes rich in bourgeois butter? I do have such a memory ... It's of Mom reading Proust aloud in our Khrushchevian slum; me utterly bored by the Frenchman's sensory reveries but besotted with the idea of the real, edible cookie. What did it taste like, that exotic capitalist madeleine? I desperately wanted to know."

"It was my mother, my frequent coconspirator in the kitchen and my conduit to our past, who suggested the means to convey this epic disjunction, this unruly collision of collectivist myths and personal antimyths. We would reconstruct every decade of Soviet history — from the prequel 1910s to the postscript present day — through the prism of food. Together, we'd embark on a yearlong journey unlike any other: eating and cooking our way through decade after decade of Soviet life, using her kitchen and dining room as a time machine and an incubator of memories. Memories of wartime rationing cards and grotesque shared kitchens in communal apartments. Of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning and Stalin's table manners. Of Khrushchev's kitchen debates and Gorbachev's disastrous antialcohol policies. Of food as the focal point of our everyday lives, and — despite all the deprivations and shortages — of compulsive hospitality and poignant, improbable feasts.”


Deadline: Monday July 31, 2017

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books, simply pick up a copy of the selections from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post an inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in 2017. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Happy Reading!
Deb, Simona, Debra, and Claudia