Showing posts with label Cook's Book Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cook's Book Club. Show all posts

Friday, July 25, 2008

Phoebe's Rosemary-Mint Iced Tea with Lemon for The Memory Keeper's Daughter

In May, I joined a Blog Book Club that I was really excited about. A book was chosen for everyone to read and then we were to make a dish that was inspired by the story or its characters. (If you look here you can see my posting for Book 1 and here for Book 2). I was really excited about the book club idea as I love to read as much as I love to cook and I like sharing about both with others. Trouble is I may have been the only one excited about it. Three books were listed, one for each month, our first round up was posted but the second round up for June has not been posted yet, there is no book listed for August and I have a feeling there might not be a posting for the third book that is due tomorrow. Why am I going ahead and posting it my thoughts on the book and my recipe then? Well basically I went to the effort of buying a second copy of the book as I had read it a couple of years ago and then had passed it on to someone else. I read it again and was reminded of how much I like this book so I am going ahead and having my little book club moment anyway! ;-)

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, is the story about an event that changes many lives. During a snowstorm in the 1960's unable to get through to the hospital, a young doctor, David Henry delivers his own twin babies, aided by his nurse, Caroline. When he realizes his baby daughter has Down Syndrome, he asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and tells his wife Norah, that the baby girl died at birth. In love with David, Caroline can't give Phoebe, the baby away and instead takes her away to raise her. David's decision impacts all of them as his guilt damages his marriage and his relationship with his wife and son Paul, Norah never stops mourning her daughter and Paul feels distant from his father. Caroline has her own guilt and struggles as she raises a daughter with special needs in a time when that was not an accepted thing to do. The book traces their paths for the next 25 years as they all live within the shadow of David's and Caroline's decisions. This is a beautifully written book. At times it can move a bit slow but I found myself deeply engrossed in the lives of these people.

I wasn't sure what to make to represent the story best. Lately I have been studying tea as well as herbal infusions and was looking through a book that talked about different herbs and their meanings. I noticed that rosemary most often represents memory or remembrance, immortalizing those we have lost. Spearmint represents warmth of sentiments--feelings and emotions. The book has these two themes throughout, the memories, feelings and emotions of all of the characters drive the story. I thought about iced tea, which Phoebe makes and decided to add the herbs to an iced black tea, sweetened with honey. It tasted good, but seemed to be missing something so I added some lemonade and some lemon slices because lemon symbolizes zest which seemed fitting when I think of Phoebe and the pleasure she gets from living and the things and people she loves.

Phoebe's Rosemary-Mint Iced Tea with Lemon
1 quart water
6 good quality black tea bags (I used Mighty Leaf Organic Breakfast tea)
1 bunch mint
6 rosemary springs
1/2 cup honey
2 quarts lemonade (your favorite recipe or frozen "country style" concentrate
lemon slices to garnish
In a large pot bring the water to a boil. Remove the pot from heat, add the tea bags, 1/2 the mint and 4 springs of rosemary, cover with a lid, and allow the tea to steep in the water for about 15 minutes. Remove tea bags and place pot in refrigerator (or pour tea into large jug) and cool in refrigerator for about 1 hour. Meanwhile take a large pitcher and pour the honey into the pitcher then add about 1/2 cup hot tap water. Stir the honey around to dissolve. Strain tea to remove mint and rosemary. Pour the tea into the pitcher with the dissolved honey, stir well. Fill the pitcher with cold lemonade to make about 3 quarts and stir.
To serve, pour each glass of tea and garnish with a slice of lemon, small sprig of rosemary and a few mint leaves.

The tea tasted refreshing and bright, you could taste the rosemary and mint but it didn't over power it. Nice for a warm summer day!
And there it is--my tale of book club woe! Have you read the book and did you enjoy it? Any comments or insights on it you want to share? Does anyone know of another blogging book club or want to join one? Let me know!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aush Soup--Cook's Book Club and a Milestone--Post # 50!

Last month I participated in the first round of the Cook's Book Club, a monthly blogging event started by Meena at Hooked on Heat. Each month we read the chosen book and then cook a dish inspired by the story or it's characters. (You can read about it here) Last month the book was Serving Crazy With Curry (the post and recipe for that one is here), book I had read before and really enjoyed. This month it is Kahaled Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I read his first book The Kite Runner, a couple of years ago and found it to be a beautifully written, thought-provoking and somewhat depressing book so I had some concerns when a couple of friends told me this book was even more bleak. In all honesty, I really struggled through this book all month, reading a bit, putting it down and switching to something lighter, picking it up again, putting it down again, etc. Hosseini is a incredible and poetic storyteller and the book is I think, even better than his first in terms of the writing but as I was reading, I found myself constantly thinking "Oh no--what now? Can things possibly get any worse?!" with every page I turned.
The story this time is centered primarily on two women, Mariam and Laila, through three decades of war and basically hell in Afghanistan. Opposites in most ways--age, background, appearance, etc., they are brought together reluctantly by their circumstances and they forge a relationship and friendship over chai tea and their shared experiences. We hear their stories and their combined story alternating from both of their points of view. The story is harsh and unrelenting and I found myself sobbing throughout the book. Lest you think, based on my review, "Why would I want to even read this book?", know that it is VERY good and that I am pretty much a wimp with sad things. I remember when Oprah first started her book club, I would gamely buy the books and try to read them but ended up finding most of them to be way too depressing for my taste. (I used to want to write to her and say "Yo, Oprah--what's up? You are rich and famous--cheer up!!! Why not pick the occasional "happy " book to see what it feels like?!) I don't live in a fantasy land and I don't always pick books that are totally fluffy and perky, but sometimes I do like to read for fun and to escape from reality a bit and this book didn't do that for me. As tough as it was for me to get through it, however, I am not sorry I read it because we need books like this to make us aware of what is going on in the world.
When trying to decide on a recipe, I knew I wanted to make a recipe from Afghanistan. I first thought about making an ice cream because it correlated to some of the more pleasant moments in the story. Instead I ended up deciding on soup--something warm, comforting and nourishing, which is what I wanted for these two wonderful women. I wanted them to be comforted, nourished and happy which is what soup represents to me. I saw the name Aush Soup in the book and looked it up, finding out that it is a soup dish usually made with noodles and different vegetables and topped with yogurt or sour cream and dried mint. I found a few recipes for it on the Internet and I ended up with this recipe from a recipe posted on a website (here) from a book called "Afghan Cuisine: Cooking for Life A collection of Afghan Recipes (and Other Favorites) for the Novice Afghan and Non-Afghan Cook", by Nafisa Sekandari. Although Aush soup often has ground meat or lamb, this is the vegetarian version which sounder a bit better to me.
Aush Soup (Vegetarian)
Afghan Cuisine: Cooking for Life A collection of Afghan Recipes (and other favorites) for the Novice Afghan and non-Afghan cook by Nafisa Sekandari
1/2 package of egg noodles (Fresh Chinese noodles preferred)
2 quarts of water
1/4 cup of oil
1 onion
1/4 cup of tomato sauce
2 clove of garlic (minced)
3 cups of plain yogurt
1 can of kidney beans (rinse)
1 can of Garbanzo beans (rinse)
1-2 potatoes
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoons of crushed dry mint

In a deep pot, slice onions and sauté in oil until golden brown. Cut potato in quarters and add to onions with 2 cups of water and boil for 5-7 minutes. Add noodles, tomato puree, salt, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, pepper, minced garlic, coriander, turmeric, and ginger, along with 5-6 cups of water and let boil for 20 minutes. Once it's ready (noodles tender, and water soupy) take Aush out and place in a bowl and add yogurt and mix. Sprinkle dry mint over the Aush and serve.
I copied the recipe as listed--the out of order ingredients and all (does that drive you nuts too?!) The recipe is a bit vague, I had to make some guesses and take some liberties--I don't know what noodles would have been used in Afghanistan. The recipe called for "Chinese Noodles--preferably fresh" and not knowing what kind and having only the option of fresh chow mein or chow fun at my local store, I went for the thicker chow fun noodle. I added more tomato sauce than it called for as the recipe asks for 1/4 cup and I had a small 8 oz can and I didn't want to waste it so I just plopped it in. It also said to quarter the potatoes and I cubed them instead---thinking quarters would be too big. I am not sure how authentic the recipe is but it is interesting and (surprisingly), pretty good--I liked the flavors and the tang from the yogurt.
Next month's book is The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. I read this book a couple of years ago when it came out and really loved it. I look forward to getting reacquainted with it.
I am also so excited that this is my 50th post! It may seem like a small thing to most but it is a milestone to me. I toyed with the thought of starting a blog for so long that it feels like a huge accomplishment to have actually done it! In the couple of months and a bit of change since I started blogging, I have really had fun, challenged myself and my cooking skills, "met" some great people and (I think anyway) improved my photography skills. I have kept it pretty under the radar so far--I have 3 people (and one cat) in my life that know I am blogging, not sure when or if I'll change that. It is just nice to have a realized passion for something and the creative outlet I was missing. Here's to another 50 and beyond!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baked Fish in a Spiced Broth--Cook's Book Club

I have pretty fortuitous in surfing food blogs and finding blogging events I want to get involved in like the Barefoot Bloggers, Royal Foodie Joust, Blog Party, etc. My timing was a bit off for this next event because I found it today and the deadline for the first posting was yesterday. I stumbled across a great site called Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, and this post which led me to another great site: Hooked on Heat where Meena has created a perfect event for me, her Cook's Book Club. I am not sure how I missed this one, as much like Meena, I am obsessed with books and cooking--a look at the number of overflowing bookshelves in various rooms in my house (including my embarrassingly large number of cookbooks) will confirm this fact. I love her idea of picking a book to read and then cooking a dish inspired from it. Couple this with the fact that the book picked, Serving Crazy with Curry is one I read and enjoyed several months ago and then found and read the all author's (Amulya Malladi) other books except for her newest which is in the "going to read it soon" stack by my bed. and you can see why I decided to throw a dish together and throw myself on Meena's mercy and get it in a day late.
Serving Crazy with Curry is the story of Devi, who as her life is unraveling, (being fired, suffering a miscarriage, etc.) trys to commit suicide. Saved my her meddling mother, Devi refuses to speak and communicates instead through her cooking--taking traditional recipes and adding her own unique ingredients and twists to them. Although the subject matter could be perceived as a downer--there is hope, growth and humor in the novel and the descriptions of the food Devi cooks are intriguing and sound delicious. A favorite couple of lines in the book for me are when Devi makes her first dish--a unique ginger-apricot chutney (Devi calls it the "Anti-Saroj" Chutney" as it is completely against anything her mother does and is made and consumed with satisfaction as she is completely irritating her mother in the process.) "Devi told herself that she knew the difference between "afraid of suicidal person" praise and real praise. This was the real thing. Her chutney was a success. Pride swelled inside her and for the first time in a very long time she felt a small measure of confidence." I can relate to this because part of the joy I get from cooking is seeing and hearing the real pleasure and satisfaction things I cook give to others. You know when people really like something you make and the rush and feeling of confidence it gives is incredible!
So on to the recipe... Because I found the site only this afternoon and I had already gone to the store and did not want to return there, I had to look to my fridge and pantry for ingedients. I had some halibut that I was planning to make fish tacos with so I thought I should start with that. I thought about curry, but wanted something "brothy" and slightly spicy and with ingredients I could pull together quickly. I went to what has become a new favorite cookbook of mine: "5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate" which I have cooked from on this blog before. (look here). I needed some inspiration and I found more than that--I found a wonderful recipe I could adapt and add some ingredients to change it up a bit, hopefully much like Devi might have done. An original recipe would have been nice but time was of the essence in this case! I felt the recipe fit the book as Devi makes a rasam (a South-Indian soup, usually thin and brothy and somewhat like a consomme, prepared mainly with the juices from tamarind or tomatoes) and this fish has a thin spicy soupy broth. I decided to add pineapple juice, crushed pineapple and chopped red bell pepper to give it a bit of a sweet/spicy flavor and a little Asian-Fusion.

Baked Fish in a Spice Broth
adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate
1 1/2 lbs long cod or halibut fillets, at least 1" thick
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
3 Tbsp canola oil
3 large shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (about a 1/2 piece)
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic (about 1 clove)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium Roma tomato, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp minced cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges for garnish
(my additions)
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup crushed pineapple
1/4 cup pineapple juice
Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
Cut the fish into 3" square pieces. In a small skillet. toast the coriander seeds over low heat until browned and fragrant. Cool and finely grind the seeds. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the shallots, and stir until they turn golden. Add the ginger, garlic, cayenne (and red pepper if using additions) to taste and stir constantly over medium heat heat for another 30 seconds, taking care that the mixture doesn't burn. Add the water, salt, ground coriander, (pineapple juice if using additions), and bring to a boil.

Place the fish pieces in a casserole large enough to hold them in a single layer, and sprinkle the tomatoes (and crushed pineapple) evenly over the top. Pour the spicy broth on top and bake until the fish is cooked through but not over done, about 10 minutes. You can use a fork to test one of the pieces of fish discreetly; if it flakes easily, it is time to remove the fish from the oven. Serve sprinkled with the cilantro and garnished with the lemon wedges.
Serves 4This is a wonderful, easy fish dish with wonderful flavors. I liked the addition of the pineapple and juice for it sweetness--which nicely contrasted with the spice from the cayenne. I only had a small hand full of yellow and red cherry tomatoes (mostly yellow ones), the red pepper added color as well as a subtle crunch. I would make this recipe again either as it is from the book, with these additions or maybe even try some other ingredients. It's a perfect soupy dinner.


OK--we'll see if I can get this into Meena's round-up. If not, I still feel good about completing the first post and will be timely with the next selection at the end of June, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Housseini. That should be interesting. I read Kite Runner and really loved it but have put off reading his second book because I had heard that it is very good but pretty depressing and I have been reading some lighter things lately. I guess I will find out!