Showing posts with label crackers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crackers. Show all posts

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Yeled Tov" by Daniel M. Jaffe, Served with a Recipe for Matzo Brei with Strawberry Jam

It's Friday and that makes me happy. It's been a crazy week at work and I am ready for the weekend. To kick it off, I have a review of Yeled Tov, a coming of age story by Daniel M. Jaffe. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Matzo Brei with Strawberry Jam, inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

As he’s about to turn 16 in the mid-1970’s, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in Leviticus that never caught his eye before: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.” This discovery distresses Jake, an observant Jewish teen, because he’s recently been feeling increased attraction to other teen boys and men. He’s even been engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend. In an attempt to distract himself, Jake joins his high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, but falls in love with the romantic male lead, obsessively fantasizing about him. Jake feels lonelier than ever.

The next year, while a freshman at Princeton University, Jake falls for his handsome roommate, is beset by serious temptations, and engages in a traumatic sexual encounter with a stranger. Seeking help from God, Jake tries to alter his desires, even dates a young Jewish woman in the hopes that she can change him, but to no avail.  Jake concludes that God could never love an abomination like him, so he attempts to prove his faith by ending his own life.

After he’s saved by his roommate, Jake receives unexpected support from doctors, family, and friends, some of whom have been suspecting his secret. With their help, Jake explores a different way of thinking about the rules of Torah and himself, and begins to consider that he might actually be a yeled tov, a good Jewish boy, just the way he is.

Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: Lethe Press (April 18, 2018)

My Review:

I was drawn to the description of Yeled Tov because I continue to look for books to diversify my reading with lives and perspectives that differ from mine. Jake Stein, the main character in Yeled Tov, couldn't be more different from me. He is a Jewish teen, becoming a man in the seventies and struggling with reconciling his sexuality with his religious beliefs in a time and environment where to be homosexual is considered an abomination to God. Jake tries to be a yeled tov--a good boy--for himself, for his family, and for his God. The pressures are enormous and Daniel Jaffe describes them well--with honesty, poignancy, and even a bit of humor. He has created a wonderful character in Jake and had me rooting for him from the beginning. Yeled Tov won't be a book for everyone--the sexuality in it is fairly graphic as Jake explores his sexual identity in thoughts and fantasies and in reality, but it isn't gratuitous and it helps illustrate the conflict in Jake's life. The book moves slowly in the beginning, but the quality of the writing, the story, and the characters engaged me and I found myself caught up in Jake's world and well satisfied with the journey.


Author Notes: Daniel M. Jaffe is an award-winning, internationally published fiction and essay writer.  His novel-in-stories, THE GENEALOGY OF UNDERSTANDING, was a finalist and honorable mention for the Rainbow Awards; and his novel, THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE, was a finalist for a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award.  He is author of JEWISH GENTLE AND OTHER STORIES OF GAY JEWISH LIVING, and compiler/editor of WITH SIGNS AND WONDERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY OF JEWISH FABULIST FICTION.  Also, Daniel translated the Russian-Israeli novel, HERE COMES THE MESSIAH! by Dina Rubina.


Food Inspiration: 

There was a lot of food to be found in Yeled Tov and plenty of Jewish dishes. Food mentions included kosher food, rye bread, brisket with garlic and onions and green beans, Jake favorite "k" foods--knishes, kishka, kasha, kreplach, and potato kugel. There was parve apple pie and chocolate cake (made with no milk or butter), chicken soup, bagels and lox, whitefish salad, noodle kugel, gefilte fih and eggs, blintzes, knockwurst, and chicken schnitzel. There were mentions of tuna and egg salad, sandwiches with chips, tuna noodle casserole, popcorn, split pea soup, Beefaroni, mac 'n cheese, spaghetti in tomato sauce, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, pot roast, roast beef, liver and onions, fried fillet of sole, pigs-in-blanket, turkey tetrazzini, chocolate chip cake, white sheet cake, and ice cream, pizza pancakes and French toast, brownies and PB & J, and red Hawaiian Punch with orange sherbet.      

With the crazy week, I really needed something simple to make which is what drew me to matzo brei. It's simple Jewish comfort food of eggs with matzo crackers that I have made before (see Ruth Reichl's version here). This time I wanted a sweeter profile and had some strawberry preserves and fresh strawberries that I thought would pair nicely with it. I found a basic recipe for Grandma's Matzo Brei on Jalie Geller's Joy of Kosher that I adapted. 

Joy of Kosher's Grandma's Matzo Brei
Slightly Adapted from Joy of 
(Serves 1 to 2)

2 sheets matzo
2 large eggs
(I added 1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon)
(I added 1 tsp maple syrup)
kosher salt & freshly-ground black pepper to taste
enough butter or oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet
strawberry jam and sliced fresh strawberries for serving, if desired

Break the matzo up into bite-sized pieces and place it in a small colander set in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the matzo pieces and carefully stir to moisten all of the pieces. Once matzo has softened, remove the colander from the bowl and drain the matzo crackers. 

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Beat the eggs well with the cinnamon, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add the matzo crackers and gently mix together so all pieces are coasted with egg. 

Add the matzo and egg mixture to the pan in an even layer. Cook it undisturbed for 5 to 6 minutes, until the bottom is nicely browned. Using a long spatula and a plate, gently lift up the matzo brei and slide it onto a plate. Gently flip the plate back over the pan to cook the other side. Continue cooking for another 4 to 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and gently transfer the cooked matzo brei to a serving plate. Lightly pat off the extra oil with a paper towel. Top matzo brei with strawberry jam and sliced strawberries and eat immediately. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: This matzo brei topped with jam and fresh strawberries really hit the spot for my Friday night dinner. If eggs and jam seem peculiar, think French toast or a Monte Cristo sandwich--only made here with the matzo crackers. I wanted enough to fill the plate for the picture so I used 2 matzos and 2 eggs, but eating-wise, half the amount would have been fine. Tasty comfort food whether sweet or savory, I will happily make it again.

I'm sharing this post with 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 "Yeled Tov" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via 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.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Hideaway" by Lauren K. Denton, Served with a Recipe for West Indies (Crab) Salad

Happy Wednesday! On today's TLC Book Tour I'm reviewing the The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton, a debut novel about going back home and finding your way. Accompanying my review is a recipe for an Alabama Gulf Coast classic, West Indies Salad, served on crackers.

Publisher's Blurb:

When her grandmother’s will wrenches Sara back home from New Orleans, she learns more about Margaret Van Buren in the wake of her death than she ever did in life.

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering Mags’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.

Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid Sheetrock dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.

Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed Mags’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.

When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 11, 2017)

My Review:

First off, I just love the cover of this book. That might be a silly thing to start a review with but I keep looking at the striking photo and colors and then after reading the book I was pleased to find that it totally fits the story. I also ended up really enjoying the book as coming off of a couple of heavy, sadder reads, this sweet Southern novel was exactly what I was in the mood for. I love a good "go-back-home-and discover secrets-and-find-yourself" story and The Hideaway is just that. Throw in a quaint B&B in need of repair, some lovable side characters, and plenty of Southern charm and you have a perfect book for your beach bag, or to enjoy on the lanai. 

The story is told from the points of view of Sara and the memories of her grandmother "Mags." When Mags passes away, Sara thinks she will be making a quick trip from the life she has created for herself in New Orleans to go to the funeral and wrap things up at "The Hideaway"--her grandmother's B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. Instead she finds herself the owner, tasked with renovating it and the landlord of her grandmother's senior citizen friends who have been living there. Soon Sara is knee-deep in renovations with help from Crawford, an attractive contractor and learning about her grandmother's life and the secrets she held.  

Both Sara and Mags were great characters--although both of them held parts of themselves away from others, they were relatable and easy to like. The supporting characters were equally endearing--especially the two couple who live at The Hideaway; Dot and Bert and Glory and Major and The Hideaway is almost its own character too. Of course things don't run smoothly with a local developer after the property and Sara trying to decide what she wants to do and what ensues is slightly predictable, but the story is no less charming for that predictability. This is the author's first novel and I definitely want to read more. Her vivid descriptions of the people, places, feeling, and even the food of the South paint a lovely picture and make The Hideaway a wonderful way to escape--preferably hidden away yourself--with a glass of sweet tea and some saltines topped with my new favorite appetizer salad that you'll read about below.  


Author Notes: Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. The Hideaway is her first novel.

Connect with Lauren on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

There is definitely food in The Hideaway with plenty of classic Southern dishes and seafood especially. Food mentioned included: the aromas of fish, briny and fresh, French bread, beer and powdered sugar in New Orleans, coffee, pralines, Po' boys, White Russians & gin and tonics, fresh strawberry and chocolate cream pie, potato chip cookies, tuna casserole, Steak Diane, gumbo, chicken ala king, catfish pie, cheeseburgers, croissants, hummingbird cake, pimento cheese, fresh tomatoes, oysters, snap beans, peas, cucumbers and strawberries, étouffée, catfish and coleslaw, fried chicken, fried crab claws, sweet tea and lemonade, fried pickles, Oysters Bienville, cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, blackened gulf snapper and a grilled mahi wrap, sausage biscuits, a fish sandwich and grilled shrimp salad, and apple scones.

Sometimes my food inspiration comes from a special moment of connection to the book in a mentioned dish, other times I am drawn in by a new-to-me dish or food, even if it is a minor player in the story--as in this book where a mention of grilled shrimp and West Indies salad caught my eye. I wrote down West Indies Salad to look up, thinking it must be some kind of rice dish to go with the shrimp, but was surprised to learn that it's a regional appetizer salad dish of the Lower Alabama Gulf Coast area. It's a simple crab salad that apparently originated in Mobile, developed in 1947 by a restaurant owner named Bill Bayley with too much lump crab meat (is there such a thing?!) who combined the fresh crab meat with cider vinegar, sweet onion and cooking oil. It sounded a unusual and a bit dicey for someone who can't see fresh lump crab meat without thinking "crab cake" and was worried that I was about to ruin it--not great for a relatively expensive ingredient. Then I remembered pimento cheese, another Southern specialty that on paper (grated cheese and pimentos in mayonnaise) looks a bit scary, but how good it is in practice (like here and here and sort-of here) and I knew I had to try West Indies Salad as my book-inspired dish. 

The recipe from Bill Bayley's restaurant supposedly was a closely-guarded secret until it showed up in a Junior League Cookbook but there are a plethora of recipes to be found online. I went with the one at that seemed the most authentic. It says to be exact in how you make it--ingredients and preparation and so I did--at least as much as possible. ;-) I served it on saltine crackers as noted and some sweet-ish tea.

Recipewrestler says, "It must be prepared exactly as directed, with careful layering. Use the coldest ice water you can find in the recipe. The longer this one marinates, the better. The recipe sounds simple, but the results are indescribably delicious. This well-guarded recipe was finally published in 1964 in the Junior League of Mobile cookbook, Recipe Jubilee."

Bill Bayley's West Indies Salad
Recipe via from Recipewrestler
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 medium sweet onion (I used a Maui onion), chopped fine
1 lb fresh lump crab meat, drained & picked through (I used Costco's lump crab meat)
4 oz cooking oil (the recipe called for Wesson, I used Smart Balance since it's what I had)
3 oz cider vinegar
4 oz ice water, cold as you can get it
salt and black pepper to taste
saltines to serve, lemon wedges if desired

Spread one half of the chopped onion in the bottom of a bowl or non-reactive container. Cover with the crab lumps and top with the remaining onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour the coking oil, cider vinegar and ice water over the top. (I mixed it together first.) 

Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 2 to 12 hours. 

Toss lightly before serving--as an appetizer with saltines, or on a bed of lettuce (or over sliced avocado--which looked delicious). I sprinkled mine with a tiny bit of smoked paprika for color. Note: Some of the recipes on line had it served with lemon wedges and I added them for color but though the balance of flavor was perfect without the lemon.

Notes/Results: They might take their tea a bit too sweet for my tastes but I can certainly get on board with quirky Southern appetizers based on pimento cheese and now West Indies Salad. Although I expected to like it, I was surprised at how delicious a simple preparation with a few ingredients can be. The tangy dressing draws any sharpness that might remain off of the onions and goes perfectly with the sweetness of the crab meat and the saltines. It is one of those things that leans toward addicting. I think it is also going to go well with creamy avocado--another way it was shown in some of the recipes I found. Served with a bit of this less-sweet Sweet Tea, it made a great dinner on a humid evening. I will happily make it again.  

I'm linking up this tasty salad appetizer to Souper Sundays, hosted here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup  

I'm also 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 "The Hideaway" was provided to me by the publisher 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.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Angel of Losses" by Stephanie Feldman Served with Matzoh Brei

Jewish folklore, history, sisterly relationships and family secrets come together in the mystical novel, The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman. I am happy to be reviewing it today and serve it up with a breakfast of Matzoh Brei, a dish inspired by my reading as a stop on the TLC Book Tour.

Publisher's Blurb:

The Tiger’s Wife meets A History of Love in this inventive, lushly imagined debut novel that explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between sisters.

When Eli Burke dies, he leaves behind a mysterious notebook full of stories about a magical figure named The White Rebbe, a miracle worker in league with the enigmatic Angel of Losses, protector of things gone astray, and guardian of the lost letter of the alphabet, which completes the secret name of God.

When his granddaughter, Marjorie, discovers Eli’s notebook, everything she thought she knew about her grandfather—and her family—comes undone. To find the truth about Eli’s origins and unlock the secrets he kept, she embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from 18th century Europe to Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and back to the present, to New York City and her estranged sister Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli’s past.

Interweaving history, theology, and both real and imagined Jewish folktales, The Angel of Losses is a family story of what lasts, and of what we can—and cannot—escape.

Hardcover: 288 pages  
Publisher: Ecco (July 29, 2014)

I grew up without a strong cultural or religious identity so I have fascination for stories or books that give me a glimpse into a these worlds. The Angel of Losses is steeped in religion, history and Jewish culture and moves back and forth between current day and the past. The book starts with a grandfather telling a story to his granddaughters  about the White Magician--a story that results in nightmares for Holly, the younger sister, and frustrates Marjorie, the older one. Forward to current day, a grownup Marjorie is earning her PhD  and writing her dissertation on The Wandering Jew, a traveling sorcerer. Holly has married, converted to Orthodox Judiasm and is heavily pregnant. The once close sisters are now vastly different and have grown apart. When Marjorie comes across one of her grandfathers notebooks with a story of the White Magician, or White Rebbe, she becomes obsessed with finding the rest of his notebooks, uncovering her grandfather's and her family's secrets and helping her sister and repairing their relationship.  

This book is not what I would call an easy read--it takes some time to dive in and some effort to keep all of the details straight. I had a slow start with it because I tend to do the bulk of my reading at night before going to sleep and I have had a crazy few weeks where I have been mentally exhausted writing a workshop and prepping for a trip next week to facilitate it. A sleepy Deb and this book were not a good match--I kept getting confused on what was past, what was present, what was real, what was a story, a fantasy, or a dream, and even who all of the characters were. When I finally got my materials turned in this past weekend and could focus (and sleep), I found myself totally absorbed in the story. It still made me scratch my head a few times but the stories that Eli told were beautiful and the relationship between Marjorie and Holly seemed very real. A book to sink deeply into if you like folklore, religion, cultural heritage and family dramas.

Author Notes: 
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and her daughter. 

You can connect with her on her website.

In looking for a dish to represent the book, I actually went to a dish I having been wanting to make ever since seeing Ruth Reichel's recipe for it. Matzo Brei (which translates to 'fried matzah'), doesn't have much to do with the story--other than being a Jewish comfort food dish, although Grandpa Eli did take Marjorie and Holly out for breakfast regularly when they were young, and there were a few mentions of eggs in the story. But, when Ruth Reichel calls something "one of life's perfect foods"--you know you should give it a try. 

Ruth Reichl's Matzo Brei
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2004 via 
(Serves 4)
4 matzos
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I reduced slightly)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter (I reduced to about 1/2) 

(I added freshly ground black pepper)

Crumble matzos into a large sieve placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold sieve under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened but not completely disintegrated, about 15 seconds. Transfer to bowl with crumbs, then add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork. 

Heat butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add matzo mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are scrambled and matzo has begun to crisp, about 3 minutes.

Notes/Results: Simple but pretty darn tasty, I can see matzoh brei becoming a regular thing on my breakfast rotation--at least until the box of maztoh is gone. ;-) I really liked the chewy/crispy pieces of matzoh in the scrambled eggs. Reading the reviews for Reichel's matzoh brei online, there are many variations of preparation and family recipes with additions like onion, apples, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, etc. For me, black pepper is a must with eggs but I liked this simple version--not sure if a sweeter variation would appeal to me. I made two servings and halved the butter and reduced the salt--as no one 'needs' that much butter and sodium. ;-) I might not classify it as one of life's perfect foods but certainly a good one. 

Note: A review copy of "The Angel of Losses" 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. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here