Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: Review of "A Brief Moment of Weightlessness"--Stories by Victoria Fish Served with Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Capers and Dill

I used to shy away from short story collections, finding more satisfaction in digging deep into characters and their lives in the pages of novels. But lately, as I have been reading and reviewing more short stories and novellas, I have come to appreciate the beauty in a finely-crafted story and the brief glimpses of lives that they reveal. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, Stories by Victoria Fish is a well-written collection of these slices of life and I am happy to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour, reviewing the book and making a recipe inspired by it.

Publisher's Blurb:

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is a collection of short stories that illuminate the beauty and extraordinariness of “ordinary” lives. Each explores the human desire for connectedness and grace.  The stories range from large upheavals such as how a marriage shifts when a spouse loses a limb or how a girl reconfigures her world when her father goes to jail, to smaller moments such as when a woman experiences wonder again on a visit to a nursing home with her child and their dog, or when a man finds redemption in the midst of tragedy after being bitten by his dying dog. 

These illuminating, heartbreaking, poignant, astute stories take on serious issues of death/dying, injury, infidelity, aftermath of war, estrangement and more, but without a sense of gloom that could overwhelm them. They often, though not always, find that glimmer of hope or opportunity, and they are told in a voice that can cut to the quick of a character or conflict, with endings that don’t always resolve neatly. These stories explore, dissect and celebrate those small moments within the larger events that make all of our lives extraordinary.

Publisher: Mayapple Press, June 2014
Short stories: 132 pages

Size-wise, A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is a quick read with the eleven stories clocking in at just 126 pages. The simple beauty and tranquility of Victoria Fish's writing slows down the pace and makes you want to savor each one. The characters in these stories could be your neighbors, friends, or family, they feel very real. With heavy subjects--grief, aging, death, illness, marital and relationship issues, there is a touch of melancholy to most of the stories, but there are glimpses of light and humor tucked in too. There were stories I preferred, that captured me more than others but each one established the character, pulled me into their life and then left me wanting more--the mark of a good story. This is Fish's debut book and hopefully she will be sharing more of her talent in future collections. 

Author Notes: In addition to writing short stories, Victoria Fish is pursuing her Masters of Social Work. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Hunger Mountain, Slow Trains, Wild River Review, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and three boys in the hills of Vermont. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is her first book.

Connect with her on her website,

There is food sprinkled here and there throughout the book such as a peanut butter and fluff sandwich shared with some determined ants, grilled trout and corn-on-the cob at a lake house, chocolate chip pancakes swirled with mountains of whipped cream for a boy battling cancer while his parents wait to find out how his treatment is progressing, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a trip to the emergency room. One of the characters is a caterer and baker who takes an angel food cake with raspberry amaretto sauce to her glamorous new neighbor--which did sound very tempting, but it is way too hot and humid for baking this week.

Sometimes I choose a book-inspired dish for what I am craving as much as the book itself--very much the case here. Two stories mentioned boiling eggs. In Sari, a moving story where an American girl on an exchange program in India grieves for her mother, and in Phantom Pain, where a woman adjusts to life after her husband loses his leg in an accident after they argue. Boiled eggs make me think of deviled eggs and although often just a simple deviled egg is what I crave, I was in the mood for something a little more special. From D'Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey (a great little cookbook for us deviled egg fans), the recipe for Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Sour Cream & Chives caught my eye. I made a few changes based on what I had on hand--dill instead of chives, yogurt in place of sour cream, and what I like--how can you have smoked salmon and red onion without tossing in capers? (My changes to the recipe are noted in red below.

A little something ordinary made extraordinary--it seems fitting for these stories.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Capers and Dill
Adapted from D'Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey
(Makes 24)

1 dozen hard-cooked eggs

3 Tbsp mayonnaise
3 Tbsp regular or low-fat sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard (I used Gulden's spicy mustard)
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 tsp salt
(I added ground black pepper)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives (I used fresh dill)
2 oz (1/4 cup) smoked salmon, hot or cold-smoked, minced
(I added 1 Tbsp capers, drained)

3 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives (I used fresh dill)
3 Tbsp finely minced red onion
1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
(I added 1 Tbsp capers, drained)
(I added 1 oz smoked salmon, chopped)

Halve boiled eggs lengthwise and place yolks into a mixing bowl.

With a fork, mask yolks until smooth. Add mayo, sour cream (yogurt), mustard, garlic,  salt, and pepper, and mix until smooth. Stir in chives (dill), salmon and capers until evenly mixed in. Taste and season accordingly.

Using a pastry bag or spoon, fill the eggs, dividing the filling evenly. Mix the topping in a small bowl and top each egg with a small amount of the mixture.

Notes/Results: These are tasty little bites--or rather tasty little 'two-bites' with their combination of flavors and textures. The sour cream (yogurt in my case) keeps them ultra creamy and the little pieces of salmon and the capers I added, give them a great smoky-briny taste. I let my red onion soak for a bit in the vinegar to take the edge off, and that quick pickling worked really well as they didn't overpower the other ingredients as red onions can sometimes do. When you want something a little fancier than your standard deviled egg, these are a great choice. I would make them again. 

Note: A review copy of "A Brief Moment of Weightlessness" 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.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chilled Red Pepper Soup with Yogurt and Herbs by Ottolenghi for Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays

Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes always intrigue me with their combination of ingredients. I love sage and I love cumin but I wouldn't think to partner them in a red pepper soup, add some heat with chilli flakes, then top it with a mix of chopped basil and parsley. It all works together though and it is especially nice to eat slightly chilled in the unending humid weather we have been having.  

Chilled Red Pepper Soup
Adapted from
(Serves 4)

1 large onion
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish (I used 2 Tbsp)
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
4 large red peppers
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp caster sugar (I used agave)
pinch of dried chilli flakes
500ml (16.9 oz) chicken or vegetable stock
1 celery stick, cut into 1.5cm dice
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed (I used 2 small cloves, adding them with the peppers)
25g (.88 oz) basil leaves, roughly chopped
10g (.35 oz) (flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
100g (3.5 oz) soured cream (I used Greek Yogurt)

Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Heat up the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sage and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.

While the onion is cooking, halve the peppers lengthways. Take a half of one pepper, remove the seeds and white flesh and cut it into 1.5cm dice. Keep it for later.
Remove the seeds from the rest of the peppers, roughly chop them and stir into the saucepan with the onions. Add 3/4 a teaspoon of salt, bay leaves, ground cumin, sugar and chilli. Sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a light simmer. Cover the pot and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes.

Once the peppers are soft, remove the bay leaves from the soup. While still hot, use a liquidiser or a hand stick blender to pulverise the soup until it is totally smooth. This may take a few minutes. Leave to cool down a little. Once the soup is just warm, stir in the celery, diced red pepper, lemon zest and garlic. Leave until it comes to room temperature and then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Remove the soup from the fridge half an hour before serving. Stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide into serving bowls, sprinkle over a generous amount of chopped basil and parsley, add a spoonful of sour cream per portion and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Notes/Results: I love all of the layers of flavor in this soup--it starts out savory and slightly smoky from the cumin, then there is a touch of sweetness, the refreshing bite of the herbs kicks in, and finally the slow heat from the chilli flakes--yum! Love the creaminess that stirring in the sour cream (or yogurt in my case) gives it, but the soup is perfectly good without too if you are eliminating the dairy (or you could use a non-dairy sour cream). I also like the crisp small bites of celery and red pepper mixed into to contrast all of that creaminess. I pretty much followed Ottolenghi's recipe--just reduced the oil slightly, swapped out a couple ingredients and I added my garlic with the red peppers to take the "edge" off instead of at the end. I tasted this warm, right from the fridge, and set out a half hour before eating which Ottolenghi recommends and although it was good at all temperatures, I think he has the right idea--the flavors come out more when it is chilled but not too cold. Gorgeous color, great taste, full of vitamin C and a host of other nutrients, I would definitely make this again.  

This coming week is Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the chance to make any recipe from our current chef Nigel Slater or any of our previous chefs. This Yotam Ottolenghi soup will be linked there once the post goes live.

Soups and salads await in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week--let's see who is here.

It's a three-soup week for Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm starting with this Laotian Chicken Noodle Soup. She says, "Serve with lime wedges and  fish sauce on the side for each person to add, as desired. Fish sauce is used to add salt, when needed so fish sauce is always on a Laotian table. Squeeze the lime juice inside and enjoy - I LOVED this soup and this will be my new way of making Chicken Noodle Soup. It's a mixture of varying flavors and textures that Southeast Asian cuisine is known for."

Mireille's second bowl is this hearty Curried Red Lentil Soup. She says, "This switch on the average lentil soup is taken from Maddur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook. This makes a Vegan thick and creamy soup. It is so thick it can be even used as a warm dip. If you find it too thick, simply add some more water or broth. The soup was complemented by these Flax Wheat Rolls."

Her final soup is a Jordanian Freekeh Soup and Mireille says, "This grain is a staple of the Middle East and is not new to them in any way. Here is a simple soup with this grain that's wonderful to enjoy on cold winter days. Usually, fine or crushed freekeh is used in soups and the whole grain is reserved for pilaf style preparations. However, I only had the whole grain so used that one and just cooked the soup for a little longer until they were tender."

Janet of The Taste Space shares this gloriously green and healthy Lemon-Cilantro Broccoli and Chickpea Salad. She says, "One of my more popular salads is my spin on Whole Foods’ Detox Salad. I used lime and cilantro to complement the riced vegetables. I named mine “Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Lime and Cilantro” because I cringe when I hear the name “Detox Salad”.

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes brings another gorgeously green salad, this Three-Bean Salad with Cilantro-Chile Dressing. She says, "Well, it wouldn’t be a picnic without a three bean salad!  But this is not your mother’s three bean salad!  This includes edamame, chickpeas and cilantro, ingredients my mother probably has never used, even today.  This was such a refreshing change of pace from the usual bean salads.  I love the blend of the different beans and the cilantro dressing really freshens it up."

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hot Green Lentils with Mint Vinaigrette

A simple little Nigel Slater from-the-pantry dish that pairs nutty lentils with a minty, slightly tangy dressing. Good for a crazy week when you don't want to put a lot of time and effort into dinner but still want something that satisfies.

Hot Brown Green Lentils with Mint Vinaigrette 
Adapted from Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater
(For 2)

1 heaped cup brown lentils (I used French green lentils)
1 bay leaf
a sprig of fresh mint
(I added 2 1/2 cups veggie broth)
leaves from 2 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

Rinse the lentils in a strainer under running water. Cook them (there is no need to soak them) in boiling slated water with the bay leaf and mint sprig until tender, about 20minutes. (I cooked my green lentils about 25 minutes.)

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Crush the mint leaves with a little salt in a small bowl. Add the minced shallot and pour in the vinegar. Mix in the oil with a fork. Season with pepper.

Drain the lentils and pour the dressing over them while they are still warm.

Notes/Results: Like most lentil dishes--not the prettiest of recipes but this one has great flavor--mint and lentils make an excellent match. I think cooking the lentils in a good low-salt veggie stock gave them even more of a taste boost. I used puy, or French green lentils because I like their slightly more toothsome texture and the way they hold their shape. They take an extra five minutes or so of cooking time but this is still an easy dish to get to the table in 30 minutes. I garnished with extra fresh mint for color and paired it with a piece of hot, honey-smoked salmon. These could easily be eaten on their own or would be great paired with sausages, lamb or chicken for you meat eaters out there. I would make this again. 

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Lentils, Legumes, and Pulses, Oh My!" Celebrating those versatile and healthy pantry all-stars. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the IHCC post.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe--Served with Johnnycakes with Maple Syrup

"And then I see the map, still on the bedside stand. I sit on the edge of the bed and unfold it carefully. Jeremiah has made a heart at Flat Creek and a star at Herkimer. But in the Nebraska Territory he has written, I shall always be near to you."  

It's those words scrawled by her husband on the map he left when he went to fight with the Union army, a feeling of never quite belonging in her family and community, and her deep love for her husband, that moves Rosetta Wakefield to join the army herself, disguised as a man. "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe is an amazing and moving story based on real life events and Kahakai Kitchen is today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for this intriguing Civil War drama.   

Publisher's Blurb:

In I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU, McCabe introduces us to newlywed Rosetta Wakefield. More accustomed to working as her father’s farmhand and happiest doing what others might call “man’s work,” Rosetta struggles with how to be a good wife to her childhood beau and new husband, Jeremiah. When Jeremiah leaves home to join the Union army, Rosetta finds the only way she can honor Jeremiah is to be with her husband—no matter what..

Cutting off her hair and donning men’s clothing, Rosetta enlists in the army as Private Ross Stone so that she might stand beside her husband. Joining, however, is the easy part, and now Rosetta must not only live and train with her male counterparts as they prepare for imminent battle, but she must also deal with Jeremiah, who is struggling with his “fighting” wife’s presence, not to mention the constant threat of discovery..

In brilliant detail, inspired by the letters of the real Rosetta Wakeman, McCabe offers a riveting look at the day-to-day lives of these secret women fighters as they defied conventions and made their personal contributions to history. Both a tender love story and a hard look at war, I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU offers a unique exploration of marriage, societal expectations, and the role of women in the Civil War through the lens of a beautifully written novel.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books (September 2, 2014)

My Review: 

What a wonderful and engrossing book--one of my favorites for the year for sure. Civil War era historical fiction is not a category I normally gravitate to but I was intrigued by the story and I am glad I gave it a try. I had no idea that at least 200 women were documented as having fought in the Civil War, dressed and acting as male soldiers. I Shall Be Near To You is based on these women--one in particular, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, a New York woman who fought for the Union Army as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman. (Read more about Wakeman here). The courage and fortitude of these women was fascinating to me.

I Shall Be Near To You is beautifully written and told through Rosetta's point of view. With this strong first person narrative, Rosetta really comes alive--her spirit, her stubbornness, her determination and grit. Seen through her eyes, the horrors of the war and especially the battlefield are chillingly portrayed. Although it is a love story (and what a love Jeremiah and Rosetta have for each other), the book doesn't bog itself down in the romance and reads more as an adventure story. I love it when a book makes me shiver, makes me smile, makes me cry, warms my heart, has me biting my nails, and sweeps me away to a different time and place--and this one did it all.

I was sad to have this book end--I wanted more time with Rosetta and after learning about these courageous women, I would love to know more about their lives after the war. (Hint, hint Erin Lindsay McCabe...) Lovers of adventure and strong female characters, and readers of historical and military fiction, women's fiction, and Civil War era stories will love this one. In fact, even if that doesn't describe you, do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway--I bet you will love it too. 

Author Notes: Erin Lindsay McCabe studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.

My dish inspired by the book was a bit of a challenge as food inspiration isn't always easy to come by in books where most of the action takes place in army camps or on the battlefield. In my review copy of the book was a sweet little note card from the author, who thanked me for being on the tour and hoped that I "wouldn't hold the terrible food in the book (hard tack & sow belly)" against her. I certainly don't! ;-) She offered up a ginger cake recipe that inspired Rosetta and Jeremiah's wedding cake in the story, as well as a hard tack recipe (no thank you) but I just wasn't feeling the urge to bake. There were mentions of other foods--mostly simple fare. Had I access to good fresh trout, I would have fried some up to represent a time when Rosetta and Jeremiah were young and he stood up for her against a bully and got the fish she caught back. An uncomfortable dinner for the newlyweds with Jeremiah's family included a 'feast' of lamb chops, potatoes, biscuits and canned peaches, while potatoes, eggs and various 'supper soups' were common meals. 

I finally decided to go with a simple Civil War era staple--Johnnycakes--kind of a cornmeal based flat bread/pancake/biscuit from a recipe on a Civil War site that stated "Johnnycakes were popular particularly in the Northeast but eaten across the United States since the 1600's. The recipe is very simple and fun to make.

On her second morning with the army, Rosetta, as Private Ross, cooks with rations of cornmeal and sow belly and her cornmeal biscuits sounded similar to the Johnnycake description. "I buck up and with the few things I've got I figure on making biscuits. I ain't got milk or butter, but water and sowbelly grease might do and anybody who sees fit to complain don't have to eat none."  

Unlike Rosetta, I did have milk and butter (no sowbelly grease needed), and maple syrup to douse the corn cakes in. Had Rosetta stayed at home with Jeremiah's family, she would have been "tending the sugarhouse" (women's work) instead of tapping the maple trees and collecting the syrup (men's work.) I served the Johnnycakes with coffee--also part of the soldiers' rations. 

Adapted from Civil War Recipes
(Makes about 10 small cakes)

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
syrup, molasses, or preserves for topping

Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Combine the cornmeal, salt, boiled water, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well. Melt the  butter in a skillet or a cast iron griddle over medium heat. Pour batter into the skillet,  pancake style to cook. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until edges are lacy and lightly browned using a spatula to turn. Serve hot with molasses, maple syrup and butter.

Notes/Results: I am no Johnnycake expert (as you can clearly see from the pictures) and they probably won't be a go-to dish at my house, but these were better than I expected. Not too heavy, slightly chewy from the cornmeal, crispy on the edges. Of course with enough maple syrup, anything tastes good. It took me a bit to get smoothly into Johnnycake production after my first couple of misses (lower heat and smaller cakes are the way to go), but once you get going, they are quickly made and best eaten piping hot. With good strong coffee and lots of maple syrup, overall it wasn't a bad breakfast.

This review and the dish inspired by the book are being linked up at Novel Food--an event celebrating food inspired by the written word and hosted by my friend and fellow Cook the Books co-host Simona of Briciole. The deadline for this round of Novel Food ends Monday, October 6th. 

Note: A review copy of "I Shall Be Near To You" 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.  


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Soup with Basil & Lemon: A Favorite Dish Successfully 'Souped' for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Sometimes, when I eat something that tastes really good, I stop and think, 'can I soup that?' Can I take that combination of flavors that really appeals to me and turn it into a bowl of soup?  Nigel Slater's Zucchini with Basil and Goat Cheese on Toast, a dish I posted earlier in the week, is one of those flavor combos--everything that's good about summer in a bite. I thought it would make a great-tasting soup so I decided to explore and see if anyone else thought so. I found several different variations of zucchini soups with goat cheese online but ended up falling for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Courgette and Goat's Cheese Soup with Basil from the Guardian. I liked its brothy, yet creamy appeal and since it had much of what I was looking for to 'soup' this dish, I just slightly adapted it by adding in lemon juice and zest and topping it with crispy toasted croutons. Exactly what I was craving and with the same great taste of the zucchini toasts--this dish can definitely be successfully 'souped'!

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says, "Quite an unusual soup: thick, velvety, yet light. It's lovely chilled, too."

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Soup with Basil & Lemon 
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via 
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1kg (2.25 lbs) very firm small courgettes, sliced 3-4mm thick

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
About 750ml (about 3.25 cups) whole milk (or use half milk, half veg stock)
1-2 bay leaves
100g (3.5 oz) rindless mild goat's cheese
Basil leaves (or mint, if you prefer)

(I added the zest and 2 Tbsp juice from 1 lemon)
(I added pan-toasted croutons)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the courgettes and, once they're sizzling nicely but before they start to brown, turn down the heat, season with a little salt (it helps draw out the moisture) and cook gently, stirring often. As they become tender, break them down a little until they have softened almost to the point of mushiness; this can take up to half an hour. Add the garlic when the courgettes are almost done, so it gets a chance to cook but not burn. You should end up with a fragrant, garlicky, rough courgette puree. (I added the lemon zest and juice at this point.) Leave it coarse like this, or blitz in a food processor if you prefer a less chunky soup.

While the courgettes are cooking, put the milk in a pan with the bay leaves. Bring up to just below boiling, then leave to infuse.

Stir the cheese into the courgette mixture, then strain in the hot milk a little at a time and stirring all the while, until the soup is a consistency you like (I like mine fairly thick). Bring the soup scarcely to boiling point, season and ladle into warmed bowls. Top with a good trickle of extra-virgin rapeseed or olive oil, and a few shredded basil leaves (and grilled croutons and additional crumbled goat cheese if desired).

Notes/Results: Rich and decadent without being too heavy, this is a wonderful bowl of soup with great flavors. I did use half milk, half veggie stock in mine and thickened it by pureeing a couple of cups of the zucchini mixture and stirring it back in. The added lemon juice and zest brighten things up and the grilled croutons add a crisp contrast. In addition to the goat cheese blended into the soup, I crumbled a bit more on top with the shredded basil. One of my favorite zucchini soups so far--I would make this again.

Good friends and their dishes await in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look. 

It's nice to have Graziana of Erbe in Cucina back at Souper Sundays after a blogging "holiday." She brings hearty Vegetarian Chili with Herbs and says, "I like chili and I create often new recipes, like this one with yams instead of meat. When I harvested my Longbow leeks, some of them were thin with a big bulb: I used five of them instead of a garlic clove in this recipe."

Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm shares two Ecuadorian soups with us this week. First this creamy Locro de Papa or Potato-Cheese Soup. She says, "Locro de Papa is a traditional Ecuadorian soup made of potato and cheese. In traditional times when people could not afford cheese, peanuts would be used instead. It originates from the Andean region of Ecuador. ... I really enjoyed this soup as it was not as thick and heavy like American style potato-cheddar soups."

Mireille also made a flavorful fish soup, Beche de Pescado, saying "This soup is not to be eaten as a starter, rather on its own as it is more like a hearty stew. With a squeeze of lime juice and a spoonful of aji criolla, it's the perfect balance of flavors and after this hearty bowl for lunch, you won't need anything for the rest of the day except maybe a little cafecita and a small snack at merienda (Latin America's evening tea time)."

Janet of The Taste Space shares this refreshing Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Garlic Tahini Dressing and says, "Easing back into cooking in Toronto, I tried to highlight local, seasonal vegetables. We arrived too late to grow our own garden but we had a little help from family. These cucumbers were courtesy of Rob’s mother’s garden and the tomatoes came from my sister-in-law’s parents’ garden. The dressing was a simple lemon-tahini-garlic combination that pretty much never fails. Although the twist was adding some olives. I don’t use them very often but it was an unusual and nice accent to the creamy dressing.

My friend Kim of Stirring the Pot is here with a crispy Chicken Po'boy and says, "To be perfectly honest I wouldn't normally turn to a British cook, like Nigel Slater, for a Chicken Po'Boy recipe.  However, Nigel's recipe seemed like a good jumping off point and I did happen to have all the ingredients on hand. ... The result was perfectly golden strips of fried chicken nestled in a hot crispy baguette with lots of shredded lettuce and mayo.  Every bite was heavenly. This sandwich is decadent, comforting, and satisfying on so many levels."

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Three Story House" by Courtney Miller Santo with Sweet and Refreshing Peach Iced Tea

"Looking at a place like this, you realize there's not much difference between ugly and beautiful," Isobel said, staring at the house head-on despite the blazing sun creeping toward the west." 

Spite House--"half as narrow as a standard house in front and three times as wide in the back," all strange angles and windows, towering over the surrounding buildings, is the house in Courtney Miller Santo's new novel, Three Story House. But, there are not just three stories to Spite House's construction, there are the three stories of Lizzie, Isobel and Elyse, cousins as close as sisters, who are trying to rebuild the their own lives and broken dreams, while restoring Lizzie's grandmother's quirky, broken down home. 

 Publisher's Blurb:

"As they renovate a historic Memphis house together, three cousins discover that their spectacular failures in love, career, and family provide the foundation for their future happiness in this warm and poignant novel reminiscent of The Postmistress and The Secret Life of Bees.

Approaching thirty and trying to avoid the inescapable fact that they have failed to live up to everyone’s expectations as well as their own aspirations, cousins and childhood best friends Lizzie, Elyse, and Isobel seek respite in an oddly shaped, three-story house that sits on a bluff sixty feet above the Mississippi River.

As they work to restore the nearly condemned house, each woman faces uncomfortable truths about her own failings. Lizzie seeks answers to a long-held family secret about her father in their grandmother’s jumble of mementos and the home’s hidden spaces. Elyse’s obsession with an old flame leads her to a harrowing mistake that threatens to destroy her sister’s wedding. And Isobel’s quest for celebrity tempts her to betray confidences in ways that could irreparably damage her two cousins.

This sharply observed account of the restoration of a house built out of spite but filled with memories of love is also a tale of friendship and a lesson in how relying on one another’s insights and strengths provides the women with a way to get what they need instead of what they want."

Paperback: 416 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 19, 2014)

I reviewed Miller Santo's first book, The Roots of the Olive tree a couple of years ago and really enjoyed how she captured the intricacy of the five generations of women in the Keller family--the secrets, the conflicts, all of the emotional baggage. I was hoping for the same draw to Three Story House. Miller Santo does write families and family drama well--the cousins are an interesting group--each with their own issues, and I like how close they are and how ultimately they support and stand behind each other. What I didn't like was their maturity level as they seemed much younger than their close-to-30-ages in their thoughts and behaviors. Anna, the now 117-year-old matriarch of the Keller family in The Roots of the Olive, is Isobel and Elyse's great-great-grandmother and comes to the wedding of Elyse's younger sister. I wanted Anna to stay longer and knock some sense into these women. I found it hard to connect with any of the three and instead, I found myself most interested in and connected to Spite House and its history and restoration. I hadn't heard the term spite house before, so I was intrigued by these houses which are usually designed or modified to annoy neighbors or others by blocking out a view, or accesses to streets or other buildings. (There's a brief history about spite houses included at the end of the book.) For me, Spite House was the strongest character with the most appealing story (or rather three stories I suppose) in the book. What kept me turning the pages were the discoveries of the little secrets contained in the house rather than the mystery of who Lizzie's father was--which I guessed early on. Miller Santo writes so vividly, I could see the renovation taking place as I was reading. Overall, a solid like, not a love for me and probably most appealing to HGTV / DIY Network fans and readers of women's fiction and family drama.

Author Notes: Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing to college students and lives in Memphis with her husband, two children, and retired racing greyhound. 

Connect with Courtney through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

There is a small food presence in the book--I actually wanted to read more details about Lizzie's grandmother's recipes and the old cookbooks that Elyse was gathering. Grandma Mellie's chocolate chip cookies were mentioned, and her recipe for rumaki. Thanksgiving dinner at Spite House was derailed by a reality television producer, and pancakes seemed to be the family's breakfast of choice, when they weren't eating Isobel's healthy cereal. 

Since the house's cupola was Lizzie's favorite place to read books with her grandmother, while "stopping to take sips of peach tea and count the rainbows cast by the pieces of glass her grandfather had hung before Lizzie was born"-- I decided to make some sweet Peach Iced Tea as my book-inspired dish. Simple and refreshing for a hot afternoon.

Peach Iced Tea
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 6 cups)  

4 cups double-strength brewed peach tea of choice, chilled
juice of 1 lemon
1 can (15 oz) peach nectar, chilled
1 cup cold water (or alcohol of choice) ;-)
sweetener of choice, to taste
2 fresh peaches, pitted and sliced
fresh mint to garnish

Mix together chilled brewed peach tea, lemon juice, peach nectar and water in a pitcher. Taste and add sweetener as needed/desired. Add sliced fresh peaches. Pour over ice into glasses and garnish with mint. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Sweet and summery. I used a tea blend with green tea and peach and strawberry flavoring--making it a pretty orange-red color. If you don't have fresh peaches to slice up into the tea, you could use frozen peaches. let them defrost just a bit first--so they aren't completely solid but are still slightly icy. Since the tea and peach nectar both are sweet, I used about one tablespoon of agave nectar. Plenty sweet enough for me--maybe not quite sweet enough for a true sweet tea lover. ;-) I also think this would be fab with some vodka or even peach schnapps added to it for an adult tea version. It was so humid this week that this really hit the spot. I would make it again. 

Note: A review copy of "Three Story House" 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. 
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