01 August 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Journal, Summer Cooking

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

The Kitchen Journal @ Beth Fish Reads.comIf you follow me on Twitter then you know I'm getting rid of the vast majority of my ridiculously large cookbook collection. I've filled up the back of car with bags and bags of books, but I swear it seems as if I hadn't made a dent. I guess that's what comes out of having well over a thousand (Mr. BFR says more like 1,500) cookbooks. Sigh.

Anyway, there are several reasons I'm culling my collection. Two of the big ones are (1) I need the bookshelf and floor space and (2) I started collecting books before we had the Internet. In the dark ages, books were the primary way to learn about food in other countries, to discover new ingredients, and to find recipes. Now, of course, I can go online.

I still use magazines, though, and they are the source of three winning recipes from this week. I've pinned them all to my Tried and Liked board, so you can find them there, or you can go right to the source by clicking the links. Here I'll share the photos from the magazines and tell you what changes I made (cause I really can't cook without making changes).

We really loved this Honey-Turmeric Pork from Bon Appetit magazine. For this dish you marinate pork in a yogurt sauce before cooking it. The recipe also includes directions for a raw beet and carrot salad. Here's how I made this main dish: Instead of using boneless pork shoulder that's pounded flat, I used thick-cut boneless pork chops, which I cut in half horizontally and did not pound. The marinade calls for regular yogurt, but all I had in the house was Greek, so that's what I used. The directions say to cook the pork in batches in a skillet, but we grilled it outside instead. It was really tasty. Instead of the salad, I roasted carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and some fresh herbs. We will definitely be eating this again.

It's hot outside and that means tomato season! I live for these wonderful weeks of summer when the farmers market baskets are brimming over with beautiful, colorful tomatoes. This Ripe Summer Tomato Gratin with Basil comes from Cooking Light and is the perfect side dish for any grilled dinner. The tomatoes are mixed with fresh herbs and garlic, and seasoned bread crumbs are scattered on top. So easy to put together. The only change I made here was to start with dried bread crumbs, so I skipped the step that tells you to crumble up bread and then toast it in the oven. I just mixed the crumbs with the herbs, oil, and Parmesan cheese instead. This was really good and looked so pretty because I used a variety of tomatoes. We served this with grilled eggplant for a vegetarian meal with a Mediterranean twist, but these tomatoes would be delicious alongside steak or even a burger.

The third winner was a Sicilian Orzo Salad from the Food Network's magazine. This pasta salad was so good, we could barely stop eating it. And it was just as delicious the next day for lunch. This one is full of salty goodness with kalamata olives, sardines, and ricotta salata cheese. The dressing is a very light vinaigrette. I'm sure the recipe is fairly perfect as is, but, well, I made a couple of changes. First, the directions called for only 12 ounces of pasta, but I went ahead and used the whole pound. Next, I added a Hungarian wax pepper to the salad because we like the heat and I had one to use up. The recipe calls for either tuna or sardines and we opted for the sardines, although the tuna would be awesome too. The recipe says to top each serving with the cheese and some pine nuts, but I stirred them both into the entire dish. We'll eat this one again all year round.

We also had a shrimp and fennel salad that was only so-so and a zucchini and goat cheese quiche that had issues with the egg to milk ratio (as in the stupid thing took forever and ever to solidify).

Hope you try one of these dishes and let me know what you think.

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30 July 2015

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka BruntYou shouldn't judge a book by its cover nor by its title. Despite the glowing reviews of Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home, there was something superficially off-putting to me (title? cover?), which meant I kept pushing this book to the bottom of my reading list.

Last week I was looking through my audiobook stash and decided to finally give the novel a chance. Within minutes I was spellbound and ended up finishing Tell the Wolves I'm Home, in a combination of reading and listening, all in one go.

If you want the bottom line, then here you go: A beautifully written, emotionally strong coming-of-age story with an authentic point of view and underlying themes of family and acceptance.

What's it about: Fourteen-year-old June Elbus has always felt at odds with the world, feeling understood only when she's with her uncle Finn exploring New York City. His death, in 1987, of a disease no one understood, leaves June anchorless on a black sea of grief. Just days after the funeral, though, she learns of a mysterious man named Toby, whom her mother accuses of killing Finn. As kids do, June has only ever seen Finn in terms of their special relationship. Although she was aware he was gay, she now realizes she may have never truly known him and that Toby may be the key to understanding who her uncle really was.

Being gay in the late 1980s: Set in the worst period of the AIDS epidemic, before the drug cocktails and when fear and judgments were running high, the novel also explores gay issues, as June discovers the parts of Finn's life that had been hidden from her. Brunt, writing from June's perspective, carefully and sensitively addresses Finn's lifestyle and sacrifices, keeping the voice of the young girl believable and true.

Siblings: Tell the Wolves I'm Home explores two sets of siblings: Finn and Danni (June's mother), and June and her older sister, Greta. Here again, Brunt has the relationships just right--that familiar mix of love and competition, protectiveness and exasperation. In addition, both sets of siblings go through the cycles of being close when young and then drifting apart when they start along their own paths. Sibling dynamics is one of the strongest themes in the novel, and anyone who has a brother or sister will see the truth here.

Other themes: Trust, loyalty, being comfortable in one's own skin, finding oneself, battling external expectations against your own wants, parenting, art, obligations to one's talents, love, grief, acceptance, forgiveness

Recommendation: Just read the damn book. Seriously. And if you haven't read it since it first came out, consider a reread.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Blackstone; 11 hr, 46 min) is brilliantly read by Amy Rubinate. Her voice is utterly believable as June: her inflections and emotions are perfect as is her level of drama. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to.

Published by Random House / Dial Press, 2013 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780812982855
Source: Review (print) & bought (audiobook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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29 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 352

Black-Eyed Susan, 2015

Click image to see it full size. For more Wordless Wednesday, see here.

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28 July 2015

Today's Read: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain by Brian PanowichWhat if your family had spent a hundred years building a solid reputation in the illegal substances business but you wanted out? When Clayton Burroughs came down off Bull Mountain, he not only walked away from his assumed destiny but he crossed the Rubicon, eventually becoming the sheriff of a neighboring town. But before the first cracks appeared, the patriarchs ruled with an iron hand:

1949: "Family," the old man said to no one.

The word hung in a puff of frozen breath before dissipating into the early-morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich (Penguin Random House / Putnam, 2015, p. 1, uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: northern Georgia, mostly contemporary times but with snapshots into the family's past
  • Circumstances: When Sheriff Clayton Burroughs is asked by federal marshals to convince his brother Halford, current head of the family, to give up the goods on a Florida gang in return for amnesty, the brothers' delicate ties threaten to dissolve into violence. There's no question that someone is going to get shot, but will the Burroughs boys end up on the same side of the gun?
  • Characters: Brothers Clayton, in the law-enforcement business, and Halford, in the drug business; Simon Holly, a federal agent; a variety of other Burroughs men, women, and children; members of the Florida gang; spouses and colleagues
  • Genre: dark family saga; Southern fiction; crime/thriller; brothers
  • Themes: loyalty, family, destiny, finding one's own path, protecting loved ones
  • Structure of the novel: The main action takes place in 2015 and involves Clayton and Halford, but the story is told by multiple people in different locations and during different times. So the plot doesn't follow a single path
  • Thoughts & recommendations: This is a gritty, violent book, but not necessarily gratuitously so. There are no distinct lines between good and evil, here. People may not have made the choices you would have, but their motivations are often reasonable. Panowich's writing is rich and accessible, pulling you into this family story. If you like the television show Justified, then you'd probably like Bull Mountain.
  • Miscellaneous: Brian Panowich is a professional musician turned full-time firefighter. He lives in Georgia and this is his debut novel. Although Bull Mountain is a standalone book, Panowich has expressed interest in revisiting the world he created in the north Georgia hill country.

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27 July 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi NovikI love fantasy and I love a good fairy tale retelling, so it's not surprising that I gave Naomi Novik's Uprooted a try. I may have expected to like the story, but I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in this book.

What's it about? Agnieszka grows up under the shadow of an evil forest--one that captures people and animals, corrupting them or trapping them forever. The village's sole protection is the wizard, known as the Dragon, who lives in the tower. The only thing he requires is a girl from the village to serve him. He picks a 17-year-old every 10 years, releasing the previous young woman as she is replaced. As the choosing approaches, Agnieszka is among the candidates, but the only thing she's worried about is losing her best friend, Kasia, who will surely be picked because she's the most beautiful. The Dragon, however, makes the surprise decision to take Agnieszka, who must make a new life in the tower. It is there that the girl learns her own true nature, the meaning of friendship, and perhaps even a way to defeat the forest.

The heart of the story: Although the framing plot concerns the battle between good and evil and how the wizards and witches and armies fare in their ongoing fight against the woods, there are several other important layers to the novel, such as Agnieszka's awakening to life, to herself, to magic, and to the world outside her little village. The core of the story, however, revolves around Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship, and here is where the strength and beauty of the novel can be found. I loved the maturation of their relationship as it grew from one of childhood playmates to one of partners in the war against the woods to that of adult companions as they both find their callings.

Notes on the genre: I would classify Uprooted as a fantasy, but Novik includes many elements of fairy tales in Agnieszka's story. Baba Yaga is mentioned several times, although she doesn't make a direct appearance. In addition the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon has elements of Beauty and Beast. There is an enchanted (in this case very evil) forest, complete with strange and dangerous creatures. There are fruits that shouldn't be eaten, and waters that shouldn't be drunk. And, of course, there are wizard and witches who can cast a variety of spells and brew up magical potions. Agnieszka's journey to the tower also has elements of the hero's quest, as famously defined by Joseph Campbell: She is a reluctant hero who finds her inner powers and puts them to use for the greater good.

The characters: Despite the fairy tale elements, the characters in Uprooted are not one-dimensional. For example, although some people are clearly more good than evil, no one is without uncaring actions, mistakes, and uncertainties.The dynamics between the characters seem realistic and are developed at a believable pace.

Recommendations: Naomi Novik's Uprooted is a must-read for anyone who likes fantasy, magic, and/or fairy tale retellings. But I would also recommend the novel to those who like stories of strong female friendships, great characters, and stories about growing up and self-discovery.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition of Uprooted (Random House Audio; 17 hr, 43 min) is read by Julia Emelin. While I'm sure her pronunciations of the non-English words were probably spot-on, I cannot recommend the audiobook. Emelin's performance was stilted, with little variation in the inflections and full of odd pauses. Unfortunately, the audiobook had a strong negative impact on my enjoyment of Uprooted; in fact, I think this could have been one of favorite books of the year, if I had read the entire novel in print. By the time I switched off the audiobook, however, I couldn't get Emelin's narration out of my head, and it was too late for me to imagine my own voices.

Published by Penguin Random House / Del Rey, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780804179034
Source: Review (audiobook) & bought (print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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