Monday, August 1, 2016

Scarlet Feather - The Round-up

Here is the Round-up for our June/July Selection

It's that time again, a Round-up at Cook the Books Club for our featured book  Scarlet Feather, by Maeve Binchy, c2000, including thoughts on the novel (overall favorable) and on the dishes that everyone made inspired by their reading.  For the rest of the stories, take a leisurely tour, visiting all the participants by clicking on their links, and enjoy!

First off, in the early bird slot, was Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures with a refreshing  Summer Salad Sandwich.
Amy said, "that while I was interested in the characters and their outcomes, the book really wasn’t all that exciting.  It didn’t grab me or elicit any emotion (other than the fact that Neil (Cathy’s husband) is narcissistic jerk!)"  As far as food inspiration: "Funny story, this sandwich is actually mentioned when Tom is at a café with his brother and he is incredibly disappointed by the sandwich (Tom is known to criticize food everywhere he goes).  

Here’s the quote:

“A tired tomato, a piece of plastic cheese, a dead leaf of lettuce, half a hard boiled, discolored egg, a smear of cheap salad cream – and they dare to call that a summer salad sandwich!”

It reminded me of the summer sandwiches that I practically used to live on."'  And she shows how it can be done well
Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, was in next with scrumptious Coconut Prawns.

She says she was, "so happy to have been assigned a book that I enjoyed", though in the midst of packing up her house, she listened to the audio version, reporting that "The results are a year in their lives much like a year in ours.  There were tears of joy, laughter, sadness and frustration.  There were good times and bad and you felt like you were with Cathy and Tom through it all.

Talk about food.....there was food of every shape, size and description.  You could pretty much make anything you wanted and find inspiration in it from this book."  She chose prawns, saying "Scarlet Feather is located in Ireland so I am taking blogger privilege and assuming that they used what we would call shrimp and they would call prawns.  Frank just called them terrific!!

And, from Debra of Eliot's Eats, yummy Chicago Style Pizza.

She reports, " Binchy’s characters (and there are a lot of them) kept me fully engaged and I finished the book long before the July 31 posting deadline.  (This is an unheard of occurrence; I am always up against the deadline.) ... I really enjoyed this read... There are so many characters, interwoven connections, emotion and humor in this book."

Inspired by the wedding preparations for Cathy's sister, Marian, who is returning to Dublin for the celebration from her home in Chicago.  Marian wanted typical Irish food.  " I, however, could not forget Binchy’s humor here and Cathy and Tom’s attempts to make everyone “feel at home.”   They would have been spot-on if they had served Chicago-Style Pizza....After years of trying to replicate this style of pie for The Hubs (because it’s one of his favorites), I think I may have a winner here."

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen did a lovely Tomato Peach Soup

She says, "overall, I enjoyed it. Circle of Friends and Evening Class remain my favorites out of the Binchy books I have read, but I did like the foodie frame of the story in Scarlet Feather. I rooted for Tom and Cathy and it further confirmed my decision to never become a caterer--way too much work and angst involved
--even without all the family and life drama! ;-)

Cathy has her monster-in-law to the Scarlet Feather premises for lunch and serves tomato soup (which Tom says that Hannah Mitchell will think is "tinned") as a starter with some of Tom's bread. It ends up that Mrs. Mitchell likes the soup and its "very sweet taste."  Which incident inspired Deb's delicious sounding  tomato peach soup.

Cathy, from Delaware Girl Eats, provided us with Peach Scones.

She says, "Since I am not too keen on long novels, I did not read this book but since Maeve’s work focuses on Ireland, I decided instead to explore Irish cooking as my contribution to the group’s current discussion."  and joins us with an Irish inspired plate of peach scones, which sound tempting indeed.

Tina posted at Novel Meals a scrumptious Landlocked Paella.

She said, "one thing I love about this book (and most of her other books) is the portrayal of the average person. Who hasn’t had frustrations with their parents or disagreements with a mother-in-law (don’t get me started). It’s not a detective story or a thriller where sensational things happen. It’s a tale you can immerse yourself in as you can see some of those things happening to you. It’s everyday life.

" My representative dish is going to be a Landlocked Paella. Not your traditional seafood Paella because we have overloaded on salmon lately. Needed a break from the sea."

Vicki of I'd Rather be at the Beach also posted a Paella, Quick Chicken and Chorizo Paella.

 And reports on her reading, "It’s a bit longer than what I prefer, and I do think it could have been a shorter and still had the same impact on the reader, but it did flow along well enough to keep my interest...There were so many foods mentioned in the book... and I finally settled on Paella since I’ve never had it."

In the novel, Tom is trying to set up a Spanish atmosphere for some clients and Cathy tells him, "that was all very well certainly, but they must have a whole range of tapas to start. Followed by a knockout paella with all the right flavors."  Thus, Vicki has cooked up a knockout paella.

At Honey From Rock, I posted a shiso layered Salmon en Croute.

"I was pretty sure I had read this novel sometime in the past, but to be honest, once I got (re-)? reading it, the story was absolutely new to me.  Maeve Binchy was the starting point however.  Knowing that I wanted us at Cook the Books Club to feature one of her wonderful novels, I selected this one for the culinary connection.  And it does indeed contain lots of foodie inspirations.

Among the many culinary mentions was  "Salmon en Croute, which called to mind some wonderful meals we enjoyed in Ireland featuring salmon.  A fish which also brings to mind an old Irish legend about the "Salmon of Knowledge."  Perhaps eating salmon makes you wiser?" 

Finally, last but not least, we have Simona of Briciole with her rather exotic combination, Rhubarb and Berbere Cranberry beans.

She enjoyed the book, and said "the story for me is about how even well-intentioned, generous, good people end up hurting others when they are focused exclusively on their personal goals. I think we can all relate to that.... The novel also shows what happens when someone is neglected for years. Simon and Maud are nine-year-old twins born from parents who don't pay attention to them."  Consequently they have issues with food and eating properly.   Simona says though her background was not dysfunctional, "Simon and Maud made me think of my eating preferences as a child. There is a long list of foods I didn't like then that I have come to like a lot: beans (fagioli) are high on that list .... In honor of Simon and Maud, I created a recipe using locally grown cranberry beans."

That's it folksIf you missed out on this round and like books, food, and food themed books, please consider joining us for the August/September selection,  The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F. G. Haghenbeck, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. Hope you will join us! 


The August/September Pick: The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo

I have long been fascinated with the life and works of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist and personality who has perhaps over-shadowed her once more famous husband, Diego Rivera.   Picking up The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F. G. Haghenbeck was a natural for me.   (For more about my Frida obsession, you can read another announcement post at Eliot's Eats.)

Haghenbeck discovered a small notebook belonging to Kahlo in one of her former Mexico City homes.  It is unclear to me how he got his hands on this tiny recipe book (or even if it ever existed) but nonetheless it was his impetus to write a fictionalized work of Kahlo's weird and wonderful existence.  He focuses throughout on her obsession with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and her obsession with Diego. Just as Kahlo sprinkled fantastical folkloric elements into her style of painting (sometimes classified as surrealism), Haghenbeck uses magical realism with fantastical and mythical elements to describe Kahlo's pained existence and creative soul.  Because his catalyst for writing The Secret Book was based on a slim volume of recipes, sprinkled throughout the narrative are instructions for everything from Pico de Gallo to Mango Tepozteco Ice Cream.

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by the end of the day, Friday, September 30, 2016.  Anyone can join in by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents, and writing about it.  Contact me when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email to  

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

I am extremely thrilled to announce a partnership with Food 'n Flix with this CTB round's selection.   I am also hosting the September feature for FnF:  Frida, a film directed by Julie Taymor and starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, and Geoffrey Rush (besides the rest of the all-star cast).   Please consider joining in both events.     Feel free to post one dish for each or combine your dish to cover both events to post in September.  

More information about Frida  and Food 'n Fix will be available September 1 on Eliot's Eats. Hope you enjoy and participate in both.  

It's all about Frida!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Our June/July Book Pick," Scarlet Feather" by Maeve Binchy

Our selection for this next round of Cook the Books Club is Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy,  one of my all-time favorite authors, though sadly no longer with us.  Acch!!  No more new books.  Having read all of them, mostly in order, I decided to start over, beginning with our current selection, as it promised more culinary potential, and which upon re-reading, seemed totally new to me.  There was so much that I didn't remember, and most all great writers can be re-read with enjoyment, I'm sure.

Binchy is an Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright, columnist, and public speaker, known for her sympathetic and frequently humorous portrayal of both Dublin and small-town life in Ireland, her unique and descriptive characters, her interest in human nature, and her often clever surprise endings.  Her novels, which were translated into 37 languages, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, and her death at age 73, announced by Vincent Browne on Irish television late on July 30th 2012, was mourned as the death of Ireland's best-loved and most recognizable writer.  

Scarlet Feather portrays a pair of ambitious young chefs, friends from cooking school, who are set on opening their own catering company in Dublin.  The book focuses more on the various relationships between Tom and Cathy, their significant others, family and  friends; and how the main characters deal with extreme adversity, than on food in particular, though enough mentions are present throughout to give us all cooking inspiration.  Apologies, for those who dislike longish books, but trust me, Binchy delivers a totally absorbing read.

Just to encourage you, they are successful, and though tragedy strikes the culinary pair, they pull through, surviving, changing and growing along the way. 

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the-day, Sunday, July 31, 2016.  Anyone can join in 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 to:

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Aloha, Claudia

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good"... The Roundup

It's time to roundup the entries for April/May's Cook the Books selection, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family by Kathleen Flinn. (Here's the announcement post with a summary of the book and why I picked it in case you missed it.)  

Overall, this book and its many recipes proved to be pretty popular with most of the group--but even if it wasn't a favorite for everyone, it still managed to conjure up some wonderful memories of family and growing up, and it inspired some delicious homey, comfort food 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. (Have some napkins at the ready to wipe away the drool!) 

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures was our first entry for this round, saying, "This was a slow, meandering story, intertwining the food and stories from her family. It almost felt like going home for a family reunion! ...The memoir follows Kathleen Flinn’s family through several generations with stories, anecdotes and recipes. I loved this book! I also grew up in the Midwest (though a different part than the author), so I was able to relate to her and her history. Plus the recipes all sounded amazing and (again) many of them were foods I also grew up eating (with a few variations)." Amy found herself very intrigued by the Beef Stew Served With Egg Noodles from the book. Visit her post to see what she thought about the stew and the unusual noodle pairing! 

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm was next and said, "This funny and poignant memoir takes place in my home state of Michigan during the same era in which I was raised so many of our memories are similar if not exact." Wendy made Fried Smelt and remembered times in the kitchen with her mom, saying, "One of Kathleen's memories that I also shared was of smelt dipping. Each spring my Pops would go smelt fishing and bring home bucket loads of the tiny little fish.  My Mom and I would pour them into the sink, grab her scissors and start cleaning. There isn't much to cleaning smelt, cut off their heads, snip across their belly and rinse. No removing scales, no cutting into fillets, no deboning...heck you don't even remove the tails. You simply dredge the entire thing in seasoned flour and fry them to a crisp. Soooooooooooo delicious and even more special this year because they remind me of spending time with a wonderful lady."

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats said, "I recognized many stories of Midwest life from my growing-up days. Even though the memoir takes place on a farm in Michigan rather than the suburbs of Northeast Ohio where I lived, the book by Kathleen Flinn perfectly catches the stories of that era of self-reliant life." Although she found the author's other books more evocative, Cathy enjoyed the many recipes like Midwest Beef & Beans Chili, saying, "I particularly liked her comment that chili, which I love, was exotic in her growing up era. She highlights her grandfather Charles’ recipe included a quote from her four-year old brother Mike from that time saying in response to his grandfather’s question “Is it too spicy for you?”. To which he replied, “I like it. It tastes like firecrackers.” While the recipe needn’t be prepared so hot, it benefits from all the bean varieties that her grandpa included..."

CTB co-host Simona of briciole couldn't quite relate to Flinn's stories saying, "I can see how American readers may enjoy her stories and recipes. I grew up in Italy in a family that had nothing in common with Flinn's family. It was interesting to notice how much her experiences differed from mine." Simona did find inspiration for her Gluten-Free Seeded Crackers from the picture on the book's hardcover edition, “Below the title, there is a car with parents in front and five children in the back. Though our car was very different, it reminded me of my family car trips—mostly visits to family members or, in the summer, to the seaside, no camping trips. Sometimes my mother would carry a box of Ritz crackers in the car: both my brother and I loved them. Having very low carbohydrates as requirement for what I prepare these days made me scan various recipes for seed crackers. Using only seeds sounded fascinating: it works beautifully."

Terri of Our Good Life loved the book and said, “This family history is "peppered" with memories and family favorite recipes. What I loved about this book is that it did for me what comfort foods do: it put me in a wonderful place, feeling good from tip to toe. If there is such a genre of comfort books, this would be in it! Her parents were such a steady influence on her and her siblings. As a midwestern girl myself, I could easily place myself in her setting.  Canning, making do, stretching, eating what was in season was the same pattern in my family. My grandmothers were excellent cooks and took advantage of when there was plenty. There were belly laughs and tears in this bookI chose to recreate Ms. Flinn's Farmers Eggs recipes because, as she said, every family had their version. She was right and here is ours…”

CTB co-host Claudia of Honey From Rock said, "The memoir was touching, often sad, occasionally humorous, a poignant remembrance of Flinn's childhood and some of her parents' and grandparents', with historical background, mostly taking place in Michigan, though with brief sojourns in California and Florida.  Totally making me happy to be in Hawaii. Sorry, but to be impoverished would be bad enough without freezing weather to top it all off."  Claudia took inspiration for her Perfect Pizza from when Flinn's parents worked at her uncle's San Francisco pizzeria, saying, "At that time pizza was a truly novel food for Mid-Westerners, and these people were not Italians or experienced pizza makers. Thus my food inspiration from the book came about. After years of my own pizza experiments, I have found what some (not just me) consider to be the perfect formula." Check out her post for the recipe for pizza perfection. ;-)

CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats said, Burnt toast makes you sing good,” is a saying that Flinn’s grandmother would use.  It exemplifies the hardships of Flinn’s family and the practicality of a grandmother who didn’t waste anything. Flinn’s memoir is full of practical recipes (some that could be leveraged to feed an army) along with an honest telling of her family and her own formative years." Debra found her inspiration in the Grilled Cheese with Bread and Butter Pickles, saying, "When Flinn mentioned the very strange combination (and family favorite) of grilled cheese with bread and butter pickles, she definitely had my attention. ... I’m not really presenting a recipe here, but let me tell you how good these sandwiches are. I used some good sourdough bread, rubbed the outside slices with olive oil, slapped on a slab of Velveeta (yes Velveeta), and sprinkled on a good quantity of bread and butter pickles. I totally recognize that Velveeta is a artery-clogging man-made cheese-like product and definitely not a superfood, but let me tell you that ooey-gooey warm cheese will make you nostalgic for comfort food of your youth."

Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, Flinn has become one of my favorite food writers for her ability to no matter where the setting (Le Cordon Blue in Paris, teaching cooking classes in Seattle, or growing up in the Midwest), make me feel as though I am right in the story with her. Burnt Toast had me "feeling all the feels" while thinking of my own family and formative years. I made a vegan, slow cooker version of the "All-Afternoon Bean Soup"-- the first meal Flinn's mother made when the family moved from California to the farm in Michigan. I added mixed greens and fennel to the mix and to support frugality, I used carrot tops and fennel fronds to make pesto to top my soup. The soup had great flavor on its own and the pesto (was fabulous and) elevated the soup with its bright taste

Thanks to everyone who joined me for this CTB round. I enjoyed hearing what you thought of the book, some of your family memories, and the delicious dishes that it inspired! 

If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for June/July when my fellow Hawaiian-Island dweller, Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with the novel Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Hope you join us! 



Monday, April 11, 2016

Our April/May Book Pick: "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good" by Kathleen Flinn

I went to an all-day writing workshop this weekend, a fun way to spend a Saturday and very inspiring. As I was listening to the keynote speaker, an author who in addition to penning two books, wrote a column about life and family for the local paper a few years ago. She called her column "Small Moments" and spoke about how writing is all about those small, sometimes ordinary moments, woven together to create a story. It made me think of our April/May Cook the Books selection, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family by Kathleen Flinn, a book made up of small moments--happy, sad, humorous, embarrassing, touching, and even annoying, that make up the story of a family. 

I had stumbled across Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (about attending Le Cordon Blue in Paris) a few years ago and then I reviewed her second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (her experiences teaching a group of novice cooks how to make good healthy meals on a tight budget), shortly after. I loved both books and have been wanting to read this one to discover the food and memories that shaped Flinn and how she found her passion for cooking. I am only about a third of the way into the story (I'll be reading along with everyone) but am already enjoying Flinn's family stories--maybe because I can relate to being the youngest "trust me" baby in a large, crazy family without a lot of money growing up in the 70s in America. I hope you enjoy the book, along with the many recipes it contains and that it inspires you to head to the kitchen and cook something delicious. 

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the-day Tuesday, May 31, 2016. Anyone can join in 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.