Monday, June 5, 2017

Our June/July Cook the Books Pick: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

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. Then, she and her mother fled Brezhnev-era Russia and arrived in Philadelphia. There, they 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 anti-myths. 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.”

In Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing Von Bremzen tells a fascinating story of life and foods interspersed with historical references that come from within a composite, complex country going through monumental political and social changes in a relatively short period of time. 


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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Life from Scratch Round Up

It was a pleasure for me to host this round of Cook the Books with Life from Scratch  by Sasha Martin.  You see, Martin is a local writer (hailing out of Tulsa, Oklahoma), she's a food blogger (Global Table Adventures), and I got to personally meet her and write with her at a food writing symposium (Pen, Paper & Fork).   I was in awe.

I do have to say that it was difficult for me to forgive Martin's mother with all the life experiences she threw at her daughter, but after meeting the author and understanding her road to forgiveness and acceptance, I have a new appreciation for Life from Scratch.   

The reviews were mixed from the CTB membership with quite a few disliking the mother or expecting a food-blogger-adventure story.   Globally though, we all took inspiration and cooked from the following countries:  Argentina, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Georgia (the country, not the US state), Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.  There were two posts inspired from Martin's own roast chicken recipe as well.  

Since Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm was the first to post up, I will start in reverse alphabetical order.  Here is Wendy's Ifisashi Zambian Peanut Stew. (Wendy took her recipe from  "a Lenten handout from CRS... and knew it was perfect for this memoir about cooking around the globe.")
Wendy enjoyed Life from Scratch:
I loved Sasha's story of the flawed mother that she loved unceasingly.  Of her struggles trying to adapt and accept her "new family". Of her tragic losses in life and finally of her discovering her self-worth with the assistance of a good man, the demands of motherhood and the solace of the kitchen.
CTB co-host, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, got her post in under the wire.  I am so glad she was able to post up her delicious White Dal Curry from Sri Lanka.  (Deb found this recipe on Martin's blog.)
Deb mentions she had a hard time with the first half of the book because of the depressing subject matter.  "Martin's writing won me over in the end, and the later part of the book as she finds her place in the adult world and begins cooking her way through the recipes of the world was more enjoyable--even as she worked through her fear of abandonment and other issues of her childhood."  

If we can say anything about Martin's mother, I think we can say that she did the best she could with what she had.  Obviously, she tried to feed her children as well as she could with as much food culture as she could manage.   Delaware Girl Eats recreated Martin's mother's recipe for Torta di Riso (or rice cakes).
I love that Cathleen used mini bundt pans for her rice cakes.   She presents this dish by writing:  
This is a simple dish prepared by the author’s mother and grandmother, both practical and economical as it uses readily available ingredients. Author Sasha said that she found the recipe for grandma's torta di riso, carefully penned in blue, green and purple ink.  Her mother's handwriting was neat, legible and determined.  It inspired her I think.
Culinary Adventures with Camilla was already familar with Martin and her blog.  In fact Global Table Adventures was the catalyst for Camilla and her own family starting Culinary Adventures.  Camilla and her kitchen elves whipped up Khachapuri , a cheese bread from the country of Georgia.  Her family likes this dish on a heavily herbed dough and topped with an egg.
Camilla was also struck by the forgiveness theme and writes, " I think, for Sasha, forgiveness is more about acceptance."  She does recommend the book to others though.
There were times when the memoir was tough to read, difficult in its rawness. Sasha cracks open her life and the reader's heart is wrenched right along with hers. But it's also a wonderful story. I hope you'll read it.
Claudia, another CTB co-host from Honey from Rock, was a bit annoyed by the mother as well:  "one would have thought that a woman with 'Mom's' independence of mind, and spirited personality would have tucked her kids into their car, with all essentials and split for the West Coast or somewhere in between, rather than give up her precious children."  Claudia chose to focus on Martin's time in France and whipped up some Mango Crepes.  
Despite her displeasure with Martin's mother, Claudia writes:  
All that aside, and two thirds of the book in, we come to a point of, "Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,"  I loved the whole concept of  her Global Table Adventures, cooking right through the countries of the world, alphabetically.    I would like to give that a try myself, maybe take the remainder of my life, certainly no rush if you're not planning a book from it.
Next up, let's travel to Denmark for (wait for it) Danish!  And, welcome to a new member with Reviews, Chews & How-tos.  Lynda creates a recipe from her own mother's archives:  Almond Pastries.  

I thought Lynda was spot-on with her summation of this book:
At times, this memoir was very painful to read, but I appreciated  the ambivalence that didn't attempt to make her mother's choices sound better than they were, or to write her off as merely the villain of the story. Others in her life are also depicted fairly - the pain they caused is described, but through her words, those that might be offered compassion are granted it.
Bulgaria is our next stop with Evelyne at Cultureatz.  She made a batch of Kompot, a drink that is "common in most of the Central and Eastern European countries, as well Central Asia. And no, it has nothing to do with apple compote (a.k.a applesauce). In fact kompot is something you drink! It is a sweet beverage that can be served hot or cold."

Evelyne was excited about this book and the international food blogging experience which is right up her alley.  She points out, however, that "the writing process of the author took her down a very emotional path resulting from her less the typical family nucleus upbringing. But honestly the book was way more about her therapeutic process then about recipes from around the world. As a matter of fact only 13% of the book is really dedicated to her world cooking blog project. "

A good roast chicken recipe is evident in most cultures and Amy's Cooking Adventures recreated Orange and Herbed Roasted Chicken, a dish that Martin makes for her future husband.
Amy concisely and perfectly sums up the book's theme:  
Her past eventually brought her on a mission to cook across the world from a-z and chronicle her adventures on her blog.  It’s an amazing story of perseverance in many ways, from overcoming the struggles of her childhood to the huge cooking a-z project she undertook (with an infant, no less!)
Fellow CTB co-host, Simona from briciole, was also inspired by Martin's roast chicken recipe.  She whipped up her take on the recipe (using herbs from her own garden and Meyer lemons instead of oranges) and then combined the chicken with fresh asparagus to create Roasted Chicken, Asparagus and Avocado Salad.

Although the writing didn't shine for Simona, I am glad she treated us to this inspired salad.
The recipe I am sharing is the result of a combination of events: I had leftovers asparagus, besides leftovers from the roast chicken described above and I was by myself. The result was so good that I made the salad again the following day, grateful that the chicken had been large enough to provide me leftovers for another salad.
Of course, even as the host of this round, I was almost the absolute last to post.   Since we are still on our healthy eating kick, I went with a salad-like dish, an Argentinian recipe from the book.  Martin based her recipe on Chef Francis Mallmann's.  Here is my take on Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Arugla and Chèvre.  

Martin had me on the first page with her T.S. Eliot quote from "The Little Gidding,"  Since forgiveness was the connection for most of us (or the lack of forgiveness), I will end this round with another bit of Eliot wisdom.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? ("Gerontion"---T.S.Eliot)

Thanks for everyone who participated and thank you for the globally inspired recipes.

Cook the Books will complete this grouping of books with yet another memoir.  Simona at briciole is hosting the June/July selection, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen.    

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship: The Roundup

 It's that time the Roundup for our Selection of Dinner with EdwardAll in all, everyone seems to have loved the book, though a few were not really enthused about Isabel's own part in the story.  I'll share a short clip from the entries and the dishes we were inspired to create, along with links so that you can visit for the full story.

First up was Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures, who said: "It was so easy to love Edward.  Through the book, I felt like I was really able to get to know Edward.  Edward was worldly, yet old fashioned, and utterly charming...  There was plenty of food inspiration throughout the novel" 

Amy prepared a scrumptious sounding  Creamy Basil Chicken with Pasta

Next in was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, who loved Edward, but not the author so much, she commented:, "Despite the fabulous food in Vincent's book, I had a difficult time liking her or even relating to her.  It was, however, easy to adore Edward. His devotion to his wife, his old-fashioned views, and his culinary acumen made him absolutely charming."  

Inspired by Edward's love affair with his wife, Camilla came up with her own cocktail creation, which she calls Manhattan Honeymoon with Candied Bacon

Then, Terri of Our Good Life who said: "Even though the book was a memoir of the author and the strife she was going through when she met Edward, it was truly about the remarkable Edward, with whom I fell in love.  He's a gentleman, a foodie, a purveyor of all that is lovely and wonderful in life, including a good bourbon and roast chicken."

Terri prepared a dish from the book, Chicken Roasted in a Paper Bag, which sounds like a fun idea, as well as being delicious.

Next up Debra of Eliot's Eats commented"Since Edward is the host-with-the-most and never lets his guests linger long without a cocktail, I had to make this guest-pleasing, well-chilled drink." 

A Special Cocktail created by Edward, which incorporates an anise-flavored liquor.  She also compiled a list of tips for entertaining, courtesy of Edward, of course.

Simona of Briciole, thought the book was a "delightful memoir" and says: "I immediately took to the story, in part because Edward reminded me of my beloved Uncle Domenico. Though he was not a cook in Edward's way, our friendship developed over shared food and meals."

She was also inspired by Edward's herb-roasted chicken in a paper bag to make Chicken Meatballs. 

Tina of Novel Meals, really enjoyed the book.  She comments:  "It’s about love, friendship, understanding with a bonus of fantastic menus.    I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner when bookish friends were writing about it."

As a great addition to our feast, Tina made us some yummy Crab Cakes with a side of grits!

Ali of Fix Me a Little Lunch, thought the book was: "...a charmer.  It’s a quick read, filled to the brim with amazing food stories, menus, and inspiration...  It’s a book about friendship and food, both of which cut across generations. 

Inspired by Edward's Apple Galette, Ali broughtMini Strawberry-Chocolate Galettes to our Round-up feast.

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats says: "Unexpected and often good things happen when you do something for someone else. Often true in life, this axiom is also the premise of Isabel Vincent’s book “Dinner with Edward”. 

She posted a tasty looking Cream of Roasted Carrot Soup.   

And my fellow Hawaiian, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen said: " I enjoyed spending time with Edward as much as Isabel did and was sorry to have the book end so quickly (it's only 224 pages). Of course any book that describes food so well and so lovingly gets extra points in my book--I wanted to eat and make so many of the dishes mentioned..."

Deb also bought a soup to our feast, one I was hoping someone would make - Edward's  Shrimp and Corn Chowder.   

Finally, my post - Claudia at Honey from Rock, I totally enjoyed this memoir about the friendship of two disparate individuals, who both bring something to their relationship which helps the other at a time of need, and encourages growth in the process. 

I posted a Meal in Memory of Edward - the dinner he prepared for Isabel on his wedding anniversary, which included Cod alla Franchese, on steamed spinach, and grilled sweet potatoes. 


Finally, a last, last addition, that had slipped through the cracks, from Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, who said, "Isabel does not come across as a very likeable character however Edward makes up for it in spades. Edward is a loveable, caring, concerned father figure for Isabel.  He comforts her with food, drink, hugs and fatherly advice. 
...  I think Isabel wrote this story solely as an homage to Edward and she portrayed him perfectly."
Wendy posted Cocquilles St. JacquesA very elegant, Edwardish sort of dish, despite it not being mentioned in the book.

If you missed out on this round, and like books, especially Foodie books and food, do consider participating in the next one, which is our April/May selection, Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin, in which we read another memoir about the healing power of food, this round hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats.  Submissions are due by end-of-the day on May 31, 2017. Anyone can join by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents and writing about it. 

Our April/May Cook the Books Pick - Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin

Cook the Books has been memoir heavy for our 2017 early selections.   So far we have read about the trials and triumphs of author Jessica Fechtor in Stir.  We have met a lovely older gentleman  and have been graced by his wisdom in Isabel Vincent's Dinner with Edward.   We'll round out the first half of 2017 with Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing.  

For the current April/May selection, Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin, we read another memoir about the healing power of food.

Martin tells of her unorthodox childhood in Boston, her troubled teenage years in Europe, her days in culinary school and her first "adult" job in Tulsa, Oklahoma.   The travels don't stop there and Martin challenges herself to cook her way around the world from her tiny kitchen in Oklahoma.  She chronicles this quest on her blog, Global Table Adventures.  Through the course of Life from Scratch, Martin finds love, acceptance, forgiveness and family.

There are plenty of international recipes included in Life from Scratch  and you might also be inspired to cook a meal from one of her many childhood memories centered around food.  Or, you might find your inspiration from her blog.

I hope you pick up a copy from your local bookseller or library and join us for this round.

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books Clubhosted by Debra at Eliot's Eatsare due by end-of-the day on May 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   If you are new to Cook the Books Club, you can find out more at the Guidelines page.

 Postscript:   Through an amazing bit of serendipity, I was able to attend a two-day food writing symposium with Martin this past weekend.  I have a totally new appreciation of her book.   It was so interesting to hear her talk about writing this book in only one year, the publisher's demands and ultimately how the book took on a life of it's own and morphed into something unexpected.    

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.