Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "A Piece of the World" by Christina Baker Kline, Served with Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake

Today's TLC Book Tour stop looks behind a classic twentieth century American painting for the story of its intriguing subject. I'm reviewing A Piece of the World, a novel by Christina Baker Kline and accompanying my review is a recipe for Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake, inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.

“Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden.”

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

Hardcover: 320 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (February 21, 2017)

My Review:  

This book caught me by surprise with how absorbing it was and just how much I liked it. I have read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline's previous books with the big exception of her most well-known, The Orphan Train (don't ask me why--I have a copy that never seems to quite make it to the top of my TBR pile), so I expected to find a well-told story, but it was so much more. I remember first learning about the painter Andrew Wyeth in an art history class and was intrigued by his realist style and his moody and evocative paintings--arguably the most famous being Christina's World--so I had an interest in slipping into the story behind the artwork. As a child, Baker Kline was given a woodblock print by her father that was inspired by the painting and in A Piece of the World, she imagines what the life of the model was like.  

"Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth, 
reprinted from an article by Hannah Kim, Inside/ and The Museum of Modern Art
The book is set in Maine from the early 1900s through the late 1940s and tells both of the life of Christina Olson, the subject behind the painting--as well as her relationship with Andrew Wyeth, who spent several years visiting the Olson farm and painting the scenery, Christina and her brother, and forming a relationship and a friendship with them. The story is told from Christina's point of view and goes back and forth in time from her childhood and the illness (thought to be Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease) that left her with deteriorating bones and joints to her adult life and the visits from Wyeth. Christina's world is small and for the most part contained in the family home and farm and she is bitter and not always easy to like--although it is easy to understand why when you consider how some of her choices were made for her by her parents and of course her health. She is a strong and independent character and the way that the author tells her stories--the bright moments, the sadness, and all of the small details is beautiful and engaging and had me wanting the best for her. The Maine setting, details about Wyeth's painting and Christina's family history (connected to the Salem witch Trials) are interesting and Baker Kline's words bring it to life in vivid detail. I thought it might be a slow, too-languorous read but I found it hard to put down and I was sorry when I finished this remarkable tale. Highly recommended. 


Author Notes: Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is food aplenty in A Piece of the World--mostly homey food that fits the time periods in the story. There are clambakes, eggs from the family chickens, a picnic lunch of egg sandwich on thick-sliced bread, a cucumber, and two pieces of fried apple cake, bread, porridge, dry oatcakes, chicken pie, pot roast, fish stew and chowder, potatoes-boiled and mashed, peas or carrots, casserole or stews, tea and fresh-squeezed lemonade, split pea soup with ham and chicken soup, Swedish bread called svartbröd, with salmon and sour cream and a fried potato cake called raggamunk, and lingonberries, a meatloaf sandwich, sliced thin on bread with butter, sandwiches of butter and molasses on thick sourdough bread, cottage cheese, bread, cheese and hard boiled eggs, butterscotch candies, drop biscuits, canned and pickled vegetables, jam and preserves, suckling pig roasted in a pit in the yard, stewed apples and dried-blueberry cake, chicken stew with squash dumplings, a New Year's drink called a Whaler's Toddy of rum, molasses and cloves in a mug with boiling water, blended with a cinnamon stick, oranges from Florida, chipped beef and noodles, sliced turkey and ham, pickled beans and beets, gingerbread cookies, strawberry, blueberry and wild rhubarb pies, fried chicken, and appetizers of red radishes, deviled eggs and green olives with pimento.

For my book-inspired book, I knew it had to be a version (at least of of sorts) of the fried apple cake that Christina is 'famous' for as it is mentioned several times throughout the book. 

"She wants to know my famous fried apple cake recipe and I explain it step by step: how you peel and thinly slice the apples, fry the slices over a low flame in a heavy black skillet, adding a stream of molasses until the apples are soft in the middle and crispy on the edges, then turn the skillet over onto a platter. (I don't tell her that I can no longer turn the skillet on my own and have to ask one of my brothers to do it.)" 
-A Piece of the World 
From the description, Christina's cake sounds more like a scalloped sort of apple dish that ends up in a cake-like form as there is no mention of anything beyond thinly-sliced peeled apples and molasses. I looked online for fried apple cake but couldn't find anything that sounded like that. What did pop up were a few stack and skillet cakes--most of them started on the stove and then finished in the oven--but a couple I found were cooked entirely on the store in a skillet and that's what I decided to make. I am sure it isn't the cake that the author intended but it intrigued me. Since I was craving cake, I don't love the flavor of molasses, and I wanted to see how well it would turn out--I decided to give it a try.

I picked this Apple Skillet Cake recipe from Christy Jordan at and I made just a few small changes. I also reduced the amount to fit into my small frying pan--not needing a big cake sitting about. My changes and the amounts I used for the smaller pan are below--you can follow the above link to the site for the original recipe and steps.

Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake
Adapted slightly from

Apple Topping:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
3 apples of choice, peeled and thinly sliced (I used 2 Honeycrisp + 1 Granny Smith)

1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch salt
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup apple juice or water
1 egg

To make apple topping: Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and stir in cinnamon and sugar. When mixture liquefies, layer in apple slices. Cover skillet and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes--until apple slices have softened. 

Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl until well mixed. In a separate bowl combine melted butter, evaporated milk, apple juice (or water) and the egg and mix until the egg is well-beaten. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and mix just until just moistened and combined. 

Reduce heat on apples to low. Carefully spoon batter over the apple slices in the skillet as evenly as possible. Cover pan and cook on low for 20 minutes, until cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Remove cake from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Carefully turn over onto a serving plate and serve warm. Enjoy! 

Notes/Results: I was really happy with how this cake turned out--perfectly moist and full of sweet cinnamon and apple flavor. I wasn't sure if it would have the texture of a more pudding-like steamed cake or an oven-baked cake and was happy it was the latter. Mine puffed up quite a bit--you can see in the collage photo above and you can see that it has a nice moist crumb to it. Things would have been perfect if I had not lost confidence in turning it over onto the small plate I wanted to use. I thought it would be easier to transfer it to a dinner plate and then carefully move it to a serving plate and that ended up being my undoing as because as careful as I was, using two large spatulas/pancake flippers, my cake broke and I lost the side. I had no problem eating the edge that came off and the rest sliced up just fine. Next time, I'll flip directly onto the plate I plan to serve it on. ;-) And there will be a next time. I am a fan of anything apple and this cake was delicious. I will definitely make it again.  

I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post

Note: A review copy of the "A Piece of the World" was provided to me by the publisher Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Making the World a Better Place Through Cookies (and Other Goodies)... The Food 'N Flix March Roundup: Stranger Than Fiction

It's always fun to host a Food 'n Flix event--getting to share a favorite movie and seeing what deliciousness the participants were inspired to make. Or in this case mostly bake. 

We certainly had a lot of baking going on for our March film, Stranger Than Fiction--starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifah. (Check out my announcement post here for more details about the film.) For some this was a new-to-them movie and for others an old favorite--but it seemed that everyone enjoyed their viewing, the cast, and seeing Will Ferrell exercise his dramatic acting 'chops.'

Although not the foodiest of films, this quirky 2006 quirky comedy-drama-romance-fantasy film brought much of its inspiration from Ana's (Gyllenhaal) bakery and the famous 'cookie scene' where she explains to IRS Auditor Harold (Ferrell) how she quit law school to become a baker.

"I was barely accepted. I mean, barely. The only reason they let me come was because of my essay: "How I was going to make the world a better place with my degree."

And anyway, we would have to participate in these study sessions, my classmates and I, sometimes all night long. And so I baked so no one would go hungry while we worked. Sometimes I'd bake all afternoon in the kitchen, in the dorm, and then I'd bring my little treats to the study groups and people loved them.

I made oatmeal cookies... peanut butter bars...dark chocolate macadamia nut wedges, and everyone would eat and stay happy and study harder and do better on the test and more and more people started coming to the study groups and I'd bring more snacks and I was always looking for better and better recipes until soon it was ricotta cheese and apricot croissants and mocha bars with a almond glaze and lemon chiffon cake with zesty peach icing.

And at the end of the semester I had twenty seven study partners, eight Mead journals filled with recipes and a D average. So I dropped out. I just figured if I was going to make the world a better place I would do it with cookies."

I think the world is definitely a much better place with all of the cookies, cake, muffins, puddings and other treats created by the bloggers who took part in Food 'N Flix this month! 

For Cakelaw from Laws of the Kitchen, (joining in with Food 'N Flix for the first time this month!) it was a cake Ana created that inspired her. She says, "Lemon Chiffon Cake with Zesty Peach Icing stuck in my head.  How wonderful does that sound!  Accordingly, I hit the books to look for recipes for lemon chiffon cake and zesty peach icing. ... The resulting cake is like an enormous sponge, which tastes only faintly lemony.  For me, the highlight was the frosting, which lifted the flavour of the cake and had a distinct yet subtle peach flavour."  

Ana's Dark Chocolate Macadamia Wedges proved to be very inspiring with three of the group recreating this mouthwatering treat. It was fun to see three different takes on what this recipe might look like brought to life. 

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla says, "Making the world a better place with cookies? Sounds like a plan. Everyone always smiles when they eat a homemade cookie, right?!? I watched that scene half a dozen times - making sure that I got all the cookies she named written down. Then I looked at the list and tried to figure out what I wanted to make. In the end, I picked her dark chocolate macadamia wedges. Mainly because I'd never make anything like them before.

Debra of Eliot's Eats made her Chocolate Macadamia Nut Wedges with semi-sweet chocolate and a shortbread crust. She says, "Well, I have to say that after watching Will Ferrell (in his first dramatic role), Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (whom I all adore), I have a new favorite FnF movie." ... “Oatmeal cookies, peanut butter bars, dark chocolate macadamia nut wedges….ricotta cheese and apricot croissants, mocha bars with an almond glaze, lemon chiffon cake with with zesty peach icing.” Ana’s sultry sweet words inspired me."

Julie of White Lights on Wednesday joins the Food 'N Flix family for the first time this month. She says, "One scene I love in this movie is when Miss Pascal bakes cookies for Harold.  How a grow man has never had a home baked cookie is beyond me and makes me want to bake chocolate chip cookies for the world.  But I love the way she talks about how she baked for everyone in law school, and then she starts listing some of the goodies she would bring. And there it was – Dark Chocolate Macadamia Wedges. I had to make them. ... These cookies are crumbly and chewy and so decadent with little melted pockets of dark chocolate and just a little crunch from the nuts.  They’re heaven. Just be sure to grab a glass of milk.  It will make the experience that much better".

Food 'N Flix founder and my pal Heather of girlichef made these irresistible Sweet & Salty Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies. Heather says she toyed with making one of the sweet treats from Ana's list, "But in the end, I couldn't resist a good old comforting chocolate chip cookie, like Ana makes for Harold after a rough day (she made sure of it) of auditing. This is a great scene; one of my favorites of the film. It's the scene that really starts to soften Harold, and perhaps help him to look at things in a different light. And really, who can resist warm gooey cookies fresh out of the oven, with a glass of cold milk? Not I."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor brings two different baked goods to the party, Peach Jam Bars and Chocolate Chip Cookies. She says, "Maggie Gyllanhaal plays Ana Pascal, a baker who changes Crick’s life. One of my favorite scenes…Harold brings Ana flours....The movie is peculiar and strange yet you want to know what will happen to Harold and Ana and the other characters. There is also a good scene where Ana makes cookies for Harold...but he doesn't want to accept them. "How can anyone not like cookies?!"

Caroline of Caroline Makes says, "I love the idea of making the world a better place through baking, and I guess in some ways that's why I like taking cakes into work - it brightens everyone's day a little! Based on this exchange in the film I knew I had to make cookies for this month's Food 'n' Flix. ... The original recipe was called "peanut crunch cookies" as it uses crunchy peanut butter, but I used the smooth kind so I can't really keep that name! Instead I call these: Peanut Coconut Cookies. ... My favourite cookies were the ones with the Reece's Pieces peanut butter cups, as they add a little chocolate as well as the peanut butter and coconut flavour, though I also like the fact that these can also be vegan if you leave the candy out."

Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz says, "My inspiration for this month was off the menu board in the bakery the movie takes partly place in, I made Blueberry Banana Muffins. ... The food part in the movie is minor but they all take place in a bakery where Crick is auditing the owner and future girlfriend. I went with a couple of items that were on the menu board of the bakery. Actually I combined 2 muffin recipes into one. Hands down best muffins I have had in a long time.  I grossly mashed my bananas so you could still taste full pieces of the fruit when eating the muffins. he blueberries were unusually large too and this helped, they seemed to explode in the mouth."

Finally, here at Kahakai Kitchen, I was inspired by the green apples that appeared in the film, as when Harold carries one in his mouth on his daily run for the bus. Although I looked for an apple treat to bake, I ended up finding these Lemon Puddings with Granny Smith Apple Compote instead. Puddings, lemon, apple and caramel are some of my favorite foodie things, and the fact that they were all in this dessert made me happy. ;-) I also served these tangy and sweet puddings with cups of the "twig" tea that Ana offers up at the bakery.

Mahalo to everyone who joined in this month's Food 'N Flix: Stranger Than Fiction round! I drooled through this entire roundup. ;-) 

If you missed this month, join us for April when Heather of girlichef will be hosting your choice of the animated films Kung Fu Panda 1 and/or Kung Fu Panda 2.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Donna Hay's Raspberry Jam Slice

I have a *thing* for raspberry jam bars. Soft, a bit chewy, and sweet with a little tangy bite from the raspberry jam. Heaven! Perfect with a cup of tea. This time of year they also make for a nice pop of color on a cookie plate. I usually make jam bars with oats in the crust and topping but I came across Donna Hay's Jam Slices and liked the look of the toasty coconut on top. 

Raspberry Jam Slice 
Modern Classics Book 2 by Donna Hay
(Makes 24 slices)

4 oz / 125g butter, softened
1/3 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 cup plain (all purpose) flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup raspberry jam / preserves

1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar (I used 1/3 cup)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup dessicated coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.)

Process the butter, sugar, flour and baking powder in a food processor until combined. Add the egg yolk and continue to process until the mixture forms a soft dough.

Press dough into a 8 x 12-inch (20 -30 cm) baking tin lined with parchment. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the base is lightly golden brown. Allow to cool then spread with the jam.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, egg and coconut. Sprinkle over the jam. Bake 25 minutes or until golden. Cool in the pan. Cut into slices.

Notes/Results: Yum! Rich and buttery crust, good jam to crust ratio, sweet and love that  chewy coconutty topping. They are easy to make--something I prefer in my deserts/baked goods. I did reduce the sugar in my topping to 1/3 cup and I think it could have even been less because the dessicated / shredded coconut I had on hand turned out to be sweetened. These are soft so probably best to single layer them on a plate for giving--if you don't eat all of them before you do. ;-) I have a cranberry black holiday tea that these were a pretty perfect match with. I would definitely make them again. 

It's time to Fill the Tins and load up those holiday cookie plates this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can check out the sweet Donna Hay treats everyone made by going to the post and checking out the picture links. 

STOP!!! ;-)
***Book Giveaway!***

Do you like to read? Do you like well-written mystery/thrillers with strong female leads? I am giving away a copy of a book I just reviewed and really enjoyed: The Seduction of Miriam Cross by W. A. Tyson, to one U.S./Canada-based blog reader. It's easy to enter--just go to my review post here, and leave a comment on that post telling me about one of your childhood career dreams. ;-) 

 Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tomato + Goat Cheese + (Sea Asparagus) Pesto Squares: Easy Mini Tarts for Holiday Entertaining

A quick and easy little pupu (appetizer) that is perfect for the holidays, and localized with a couple of special ingredients. At I Heart Cooking Clubs we are celebrating tarts and pies this week. I fear crusts. They intimidate me. Sad, I know. ;-) It's not even about having a bad experience with them--the few times I have attempted pastry crust it has turned out fine. I just don't like the stress and hassle. So, I looked for the most simple Donna Hay "tart" recipe I could find and came across these Tomato + Goat Cheese Squares from the December/January 2011 holiday issue of Donna Hay Magazine. 

In the Short Cuts: Cheats + Quick Fixes section, the crust is puff pastry, scored and baked with cherry tomatoes, then topped with pesto, goat cheese and baby arugula leaves. In between rainstorms this weekend, I headed to the little farmers market by my house and was 'sampled' to death ;-) by the sea asparagus (aka samphire) guy--with bites of salad dressing, salsa verde, pesto and the briny little fronds themselves. The Ocean Pesto, made with sea asparagus and macadamia nuts, is one of my favorites so I thought it would be fun to use it on these little squares and add a bit of sea asparagus on top instead of the arugula leaves.

Tomato + Goat Cheese + (Sea Asparagus) Pesto Squares
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 54
(Makes 36)

 Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. (400 degrees F.)

Using a small, sharp knife, score 1 sheet thawed store-bought puff pastry with 36 x 4cm squares (36 squares total). Top squares with halved yellow and red cherry tomatoes, brush with oil and bake 20-25 minutes. 

Top with goat cheese, store-bought pesto and baby arugula leaves to serve.

Notes/Results: These are fun little bites of crispy, buttery pastry with the sweet local baby tomatoes contrasting nicely with the pesto, tangy goat cheese and the briny bits of sea asparagus. I think they would be equally good as the recipe was written with regular pesto and the slightly bitter arugula. Easy to pop into your mouth and very tasty without a lot of effort to put them together making them an excellent addition to the holiday pupu platter. I will make these again. 

You can check out the different tarts and pies the IHCC participants made for the "Are You Calling Me a Tart?" theme this week by going to the post and following the links.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Banana Maple "Puddings" with Greek Yogurt: A Little Dessert (or Breakfast!) Treat

"Up & At 'Em" is the theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--breakfast foods to kick the day off with. I am not going to deny that this recipe came out of the "Instant Desserts" section of No Time To Cook but, if you look at the ingredients: egg, flour, banana, maple syrup, and my addition of Greek yogurt to top it off--well then, it sounds like it can do double duty as indulgent breakfast treat to me! ;-)

This is meant to be a "cakey" kind of pudding and served warm from the oven. A perfectly comforting way to get a morning started! ;-) I made a couple of small changes in red below. 

Banana Maple Puddings
Adapted slightly from No Time to Cook by Donna Hay
(Serves 2)

2 Tbsp caster (superfine sugar)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2/3 cup mashed bananas
50 g butter (3 1/2 Tbsp), melted
1 egg
1/2 cup (75g) self-rising flour*
thick cream to serve (I used yogurt)
extra maple syrup to serve
powder sugar to serve (I used cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C / 340 degrees F. Grease 2 1-cup (250ml) capacity ramekins.

Place sugar, maple syrup, banana, butter, egg and flour into a small bowl and mix until combined. Spoon mixture into ramekins and bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. 

Serve puddings warm with a dollop of thick cream (or yogurt) and extra maple syrup. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (or cinnamon) is desired.

(*Since I didn't have self rising flour, I used all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt and made my own using the proportions from

Notes/Results: If you like bananas, banana bread and or/bread pudding, you will like this recipe. It's moist, sweet and full of good banana and maple flavor. This stirs together quickly and comes out with a soft, bread pudding-like texture and bites of mashed banana. It calls for thick cream on top but I thought the tang of thick Greek yogurt would be nice and would be a little healthier since this is a "treat" kind of breakfast. Rather than top with powdered sugar as pictured in the book since this recipe is already sweet, cinnamon seemed like the way to go. Easy and yummy, I would make this again.

You can see the breakfast treats everyone else made by going to the Up & At 'Em post and following the links.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Human Remains" by Elizabeth Haynes with Tea and Cinnamon-Applesauce Mini-Quick Breads

CREEPY. Given one word to describe "Human Remains" by Elizabeth Haynes, it would have to be creepy. Other words that come to mind...suspenseful, disturbing, intriguing  and chilling. And, very, very creepy. Well, I like creepy and when I heard the synopsis of the book, I immediately jumped to be a stop on this TLC Book Tour.

From the Back Cover:
"Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work and the needs of her aging mother keep her busy. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbor’s decomposing body in the house next door, and she is appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed the woman’s absence. Annabel sets out to investigate, despite her colleagues’ lack of interest, and discovers that such cases are frighteningly common in her hometown.

A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people whose individual voices haunt its pages, Human Remains shows how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching."
Harper Paperbacks (August 20, 2013)
Paperback / 464 Pages

After Annabel stumbles onto her neighbor's body she does some research while at working at her analyst position for the police department and finds that in the borough surrounding her town there have been a remarkable amount of similar instances--decomposed corpses, different ages, sexes, and walks of life found in their homes. 24 bodies in the first nine months of the year in fact, more than the previous seven years combined. The deaths appear to be due to natural causes and the police don't start seeing it as a problem until Annabel and a young newspaper reporter start investigating and the local newspaper starts up a "Love Thy Neighbor!" campaign in order to get people to check in and connect with the people in their community. The story is told alternatively by Annabel, living alone, not really connected to anyone besides her cat, running errands for her near-invalid mother and facing her own demons and depressions and, the person who may be "helping" these people along in ending their lives. (I don't want to go into a lot of detail because the plot unfolds so well throughout the book.) Hauntingly, we also hear from the victims, telling their stories and giving insight into what led them to their final days.
To me the best, scariest thrillers are those that feel real--that the plot is something that could actually happen. "Human Remains " is exactly this kind of novel--author Haynes weaves a dark tale, full of quiet but intense suspense. Although there are not any big shockers or twists in the book, the feeling of dread that she creates speeds the story and the tension along. This is the second book I have read by this author, I was on the Into the Darkest Corner tour last year. I like this book even better. The characters are well-written--Annabel has hidden depths from the sad sack she appears to be, and the villain has such an air of (creepy) righteousness in his beliefs and actions--it is fascinating to get inside his head. This is definitely not a book for the squeamish--it is very descriptive in the state of the bodies, the process of decomposition and a few other things that contribute to a high "ick" factor. But, the graphic descriptions are part of what makes this book so absorbing, so if you love a well-written thriller that will keep you up and don't mind the "gory details"--it won't disappoint. 

Author Notes: Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is also the New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner and Dark Tide. She lives in England in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Being that this is primarily a food blog, it is my habit to make a recipe inspired by the book as part of my book review. For some books it is easy. "Human Remains" made it a bit more of a challenge. Although food (and plenty of cups of tea) appears in the book, this isn't a book that makes you hungry--it's a bit too disturbing for that--a shower seems like a much better idea than a meal. A character does serve tea and apple cake to guests and that seemed like the kind of food that comforts and settles the emotions--needed for this thriller. 

Make this easy quick bread in mini-loaves to enjoy with a cup of your favorite tea and take a few with you when you stop by and check on your neighbors! ;-) 

I looked for an apple cake recipe, thinking I would make it into muffins but found this recipe for Cinnamon Applesauce Bread on the McCormick spice site and decided to make mini-quick breads instead. I made a few changes, marked in red below. 

Cinnamon-Applesauce Mini-Quick Breads
Adapted from McCormick Spices
(Makes 1 Large or 6 Mini Breads)

2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup chunky applesauce (I used regular applesauce)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup non-fat milk (I subbed almond milk)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

(1 cup walnuts, divided) (I omitted)
(1/2 cup raisins) (I omitted) 
(I mixed a bit more brown sugar & cinnamon & sprinkled on top of the batter of each mini-loaf before baking)

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Mix flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

Beat egg in medium bowl. Stir in applesauce, brown sugar, milk and oil. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. (Batter will be lumpy.) Stir in 1/2 cup of the walnuts and raisins if using. Pour batter into 9x5-inch loaf pan sprayed with no stick cooking spray. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1/2 cup walnuts if using.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (I baked my mini loaves about 30 minutes.) Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

Notes/Results: This is just a simple and yummy little bread. The cinnamon is the prominent flavor--hard for it not to be with two tablespoons in there. It makes for a delicious smelling house while the breads are baking and cooling. The applesauce and milk (I used almond milk), make these little breads super moist and tender and not too heavy. I got six baby loaves out of the recipe--good for portion control, sharing, and small breads always bake up better for me anyway. I sprinkled the tops with a mix of brown sugar and cinnamon for a nice crispy sweet crust. Great on its own with an apple cider tea,this bread was also fantastic for breakfast with a smear of natural peanut butter. I would make this recipe again. 

Note: A review copy of "Human Remains" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.