Sweet! THE SUGAR QUEEN {The Kitchen Reader}

 

“Eating that sandwich would make her fell better.  And it would make her feel worse.  It was a familiar dilemma.  She’d never experienced anything that was simply and entirely good for her.  She wondered if such a thing even existed.”

This is the struggle of the main character, Josey, from The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen.  She is a 27-year-old woman still living under the thumb of her unloving mother, hoarding snack cakes and travel magazines in her closet, and wishing things would change but not knowing how to make them.

One night, however, when a woman appears in her closet, Josey’s life starts to spiral out of control and she doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad one.  She’s forced to venture out of her room and open her eyes to the world around her, and it is full of shocking discoveries that never seem to end.

The Sugar Queen has suspense, drama, romance, and a little bit of the supernatural.  This is a book that is so engrossing that you might end up devouring it in one day – I did.

Visit The Kitchen Reader blog for a list of the other members’ reviews of this book.

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Bitter Much? MY LIFE FROM SCRATCH {The Kitchen Reader}

lifefromscratchimage

What thought kept going through my mind as I read Gesine Bullock-Prado’s memoir My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time?  It was this:  bitter much?

Gesine is Sandra Bullock’s sister and former president of her production company.  Unsatisfied with her career in Hollywood, she decides after having a sort of “waking dream” that she should be baking instead to bring happiness to others.

The memoir is sweet with memories of her love for sugar and her German and Southern families’ influence on her baking style.  There are recipes included along with funny anecdotes about running a bakery.  It is an inspiration to all of us who have ever dreamed of owning our own bakery.

But it is also full of bitterness about being considered Sandra Bullock’s less attractive sister, the “Sand-me-down” clothing, having to be the go-between for all the crazed fans, and the fact that no one can pronounce her name correctly (how about letting us know at the beginning of the book how to pronounce it so we don’t spend half the time saying it wrong in our heads, Ja-zeen?).

This is a story of someone trying to find herself, to break free from the shadow of a super-famous older sister and evolve into her own person.  It just happens to be through baking that Gesine finds her way, and she puts it all on the table for us to read.

*This Kitchen Reader selection was chosen by Shelley at My Little Chickadees.  See what the other members thought about the book on The Kitchen Reader blog.

EAT LESS MEAT, PEOPLE: A Food Journey

 

I’ve been on something of a “food journey” lately, kicked off by my “concern of keeping my family fed” as Barbara Kingsolver pledges in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, and fueled by the eagerness to be sure I gave them the most healthful and sustaining foods possible.  Little did I know what an eye-opening journey it would turn out to be.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a feeling there were problems with the way our food system worked, but I had conveniently put it there thinking there was nothing I could do about it.  But it wouldn’t stay put.  That feeling crept into my conscious when I heard about another salmonella or e-coli outbreak or when I read articles about the amount of residual pesticides in foods.  So instead of ignoring the facts I faced them.  Being the provider of food for my family and also someone who really loved to cook and eat,  I felt that there must be a way I could use those roles to make some kind of difference.

I began to research things such as organic produce and hormone and antibiotic-free meat and dairy – were these things too good to be true or just some popular fad?  I stumbled across Lia Huber’s Nourish Network website where these issues are really broken down in a way I could understand.  Wanting to further my understanding and knowledge, I began Lia’s My Nourish Mentor program where I’m being guided through the process of delving into the good, bad and ugly of our current food system and fleshing out my priorities in my relationship with food.  Looking for a kick-start yourself?  Watch Food, Inc.

In one of those funny coincidences our online book group The Kitchen Reader has made each of its last three choices books that are particularly relevant in my quest for knowledge about our food system.  The first, Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, focuses on the effect industrial meat production has on the environment (“In terms of energy consumption, serving a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home”).  His point is not to give up meat, but to eat less of it from better, preferably local, sources, and fill the empty space on your plate with plants – vegetables, fruits, and grains.

The next book on our list was In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto, by Michael Pollan.  After delving into the industrialized food production scene, Pollan has discovered that the things we have given over freely to the government and industries are the very things that are hurting us and our Earth.  Things like pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, genetically modified plants, over-crowded animal containment factories and more are making or food less healthy and even sometimes dangerous.  How do we make a difference?  With our food dollars, he suggests.  Purchase most of your food from farmers markets or farm stands and look for sources of meat that are more natural, local if at all possible.  Then, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

The culmination of all this information I found in this month’s selection, the book I chose for our group to read.  In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver does what most people on a similar food journey would like to do – moves to a farm with her family and lives only on local, seasonal food grown on her land or on nearby farms.  Her husband and two children, one a teenager and the other much younger, agree to make this their goal for one year to see if it can be done.  As Kingsolver recounts in a lighthearted but at the same time serious tone the month-by-month progress her family makes, she addresses her reasoning behind making the choice to live locally – to avoid harmful chemicals in their foods, to bring back heirloom varieties of produce and meats, to support other local farmers being weeded out by industrialization, to protect the environment, and to raise children to do the same – and along the way “keeping her family fed”.

Of course the majority of us can’t pick up and move to a farm and grow all the food we need, but we can take small steps to bring a similar change as Kingsolver puts it:

“I share with almost every adult I know this crazy quilt of optimism and worries, feeling locked into certain habits but keen to change them in the right direction.  And the tendency to feel like a jerk for falling short of absolute conversion. . . These earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead, searching out redemption where we can find it: recycling or carpooling or growing a garden or saving a species or something.  Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial.  Ultimately they will, or won’t, add up to having been the thing that mattered.”

I’m voting for change with my food dollars , one small step at a time.  Here’s how you can get started, too.

1. Purchase some locally grown, seasonal produce from a farmers market or farm that offers a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

2. Reduce the amount of meat you prepare by half, and look for the most naturally-grown, local meat you can find.

3. Plant something – in a pot, in the yard, anywhere.

 http://www.localharvest.org/

http://www.eatwellguide.org/

http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/csa/

TENDER AT THE BONE Artpark Brownies {The Kitchen Reader}

For the month of May, The Kitchen Readers read Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl.  She is the well known restaurant critic for The New York Times, and in her book she shares the experiences growing up that she feels led to her great appreciation of food.

With her mother suffering from bouts of manic-depression, Reichl must intervene in her cooking “experiments” to keep her from making guests sick.  When her parents are often absent, she finds herself cooking for others to make friends and keep from being lonely.

When she is then surprised by her mother enrolling her in a French school far from home, Reichl makes friends with a schoolmate who’s father introduces her to the joys of fine food.  She spends much of her young adulthood traveling abroad experiencing the foods of the regions, and then joins a co-op restaurant as part owner where she learns about the restaurant business and acquires her first stalker.

It seems that Ruth Reichl naturally moved through her life on a path paved by food, as if it was destiny that she would eventually find herself surrounded by people like James Beard and Marion Cunningham.  Tender at the Bone is filled with humorous, self-effacing stories that make this book fun and easy to read.  And if all the recipes included are as tasty as these rich, fudgy brownies, that’s an even greater bonus.  I strongly recommend serving them with a scoop of ice cream.

Thanks to the sweet and talented Jill of Jill’s Blog for this month’s book selection.

Artpark Brownies

from Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

makes 12 brownies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 5 ounces unsweetened, best-quality French chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sifted flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.
  3. Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler, over boiling water. When melted, add vanilla and set aside.
  4. Beat eggs and salt in mixer. Add sugar and beat at high speed for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is quite white.
  5. Add chocolate and butter mixture and beat at low speed, just until mixed. Add flour and combine quickly, until there are no white streaks.
  6. Pour batter into baking pan and put in oven. Immediately turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes. (The normal toothpick test will not work on these brownies, but if you want to try pricking them with a toothpick, it should come out not quite clean.) Do not overbake; these brownies should be fudgy.

{Food Revolution Fridays} Brilliant Quick Salmon Tikka

The thing about our kids is . . . they’re not us.  While we try to teach them to act the way we think they should, they’re spending their days trying to prove to us that they’re their own person.  Eventually I guess they completely rebel.  That’s called the teen years.  They scare me.

At least I can have a little sway over what they eat, for now.  Hopefully after their rebellious teen years they will have learned a few good eating habits.  Of course, if they don’t like it they won’t eat it, so I try to make the healthy stuff taste good enough even for the most picky.  Does it always work?  No.  But in the case of this Quick Salmon Tikka, it did.  And not only is this recipe delicious, but it’s really very easy.  You slice some salmon fillets thin, slather them with a curry paste, and saute.  Then you make a sauce with yogurt and cucumber, and serve it all over flatbread.

I found this terrific recipe in a terrific cookbook, Jamie’s Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver.  Jamie has taken it upon himself to try to change the way people eat.  Not just kids in schools, either, but adults and families as well.  In this cookbook, he challenges the person who owns it to learn a recipe from each chapter and then”pass it on” by teaching someone else how to make some of them.  The book has recipes tailored to be simple and quick, but with tons of flavor and variety so everyone can make their meals healthier.

Brilliant.

You can find this recipe on jamieoliver.com.

 

Southern Traditions And Ham Salad {The Kitchen Reader}

I remember the first time I saw Paula Deen on television doing the show Ready…Set…Cook! on The Food Network.  She was just so hilarious, and she looked like my aunt and had the personality of my college roommate.  It was like a (crazy) member of my family was right there on the t.v.

Soon afterward, she began starring in her own show, frying chicken and baking cakes and cooking up all kinds of good Southern food.  I was so glad to see the food I grew up with being given the attention it deserved, in a time when, as Paula states, “health-food diet mania” was consuming America.

The rest is history, and Paula Deen is now a household name.  In her autobiography, It Ain’t All About the Cookin’, however, Paula proves that everybody seems normal until you get to know them.  I guess I just assumed that she was always a success, but she reveals in her book how she spent many years of her life just struggling to make it through the day.

Growing up in Georgia, Paula says she had an idyllic childhood, with her family, grandparents, aunts and uncles all close together running a resort.  Her teen years were spent being cute, having fun, and cheering.  But at eighteen she met a boy she couldn’t resist, and wanted nothing more than to get married and be a wife and mother.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Paula to realize that marriage wasn’t all smooth sailing all the time, and she began struggling with the fact that she couldn’t make it all better.  As is often the case, I think, being sheltered and loved by her family, and possessing the gift of “Southern charm”, that niceness that girls in the South are brought up with, caused an inner struggle for Paula.  She felt that “if being protected and cherished by my parents was being spoiled, then I guess I was.”

Then as a result of tragically loosing both her parents within four years of each other, while Paula was still in her early twenties she really began to struggle to keep her sanity.  Suffering from panic attacks and agoraphobia while raising two small children tested her every day, until she finally discovered what exactly she suffered from and began to slowly overcome it,  and eventually end her marriage.

As a single mother Paula returned to what she knew best, good Southern food.  Beginning with a catering company and expanding to a full restaurant, she kept up the traditions of the South.  She knew that “the South is all about tradition, and most of those traditions have their origins in the cooking pots and the recipes we pass down from generation to generation” and that “Southern cooking is nothing but Southern – we don’t fly in our ingredients or menus from distant parts of the world. What’s in our pots and on our plates is all home-grown.”  And keeping true to this philosophy has meant nothing but success for Paula Deen.

This book is full of Southern charm and wit, and had me laughing one minute and crying the next.  If you are from the South, you’ll find yourself nodding along with it, and if you aren’t, you’ll hopefully learn a little about what drives a Southern woman.  As Paula says, “Some people call Southern women steel magnolias to show our unfailing survival instinct. Well, if we got dimples of steel, so what. Things have to be right.”

I whipped up this Ham Salad recipe found in Paula’s autobiography, and it turned out to be just right, too.

My Best Ham Salad (Sandwich)

adapted from It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ by Paula Deen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups leftover ham, chopped in a food processor
  • 1 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, diced
  • 1/4 cup hot pickle relish, drained
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients until well blended.
  2. Spread on white bread to make a sandwich, or serve with crackers.

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What We Eat When We Eat Alone Turkey Fapita {The Kitchen Reader}

“Women (and some men) who are tired of cooking for those ingrates called children and the occasional spouse, who are weary of cleaning up after meals and bored with eating on a schedule . . . know the pleasure of being alone at last in one’s kitchen. It’s an enjoyable moment when we get to eat whatever and whenever we want – and wherever, too, for that matter”, writes Deborah Madison in her book, written with her husband Patrick McFarlin, What We Eat When We Eat Alone.

This basically sums where I am in life related to alone time in the kitchen.  Most of my time in the kitchen is spent cooking for others, trying to provide meals that are healthy, that everyone will eat and (mostly) enjoy, and cleaning up the mess afterward.  When I find myself alone, cooking for only me, I absolutely relish that time and try to make the most of it.  And if this time happens to be on an extremely rare night alone, it will include “more red wine than usual”, as many of the interviewees in Madison’s book confided.

In Madison and McFarlin’s book they interviewed anyone they encountered to find out their preferences when faced with eating alone.  It was discovered that often people felt that cooking for one was not worth a big production, and as a result people usually threw together a few pantry items, like toast and sardines, crackers and milk, or soup from a can, and called it a night.

Others, however, shared some relatively simple but tasty recipes they save for alone times, usually because they are things only they like (kidneys) or they are a little embarrassed to admit to liking them (Frito pie).  The authors took many of these recipes and tested them out themselves, finding that indeed they were worthy of preparing, and shared them in the book.  A couple I plan to try in my own kitchen – Asparagus with Chopped Egg, Torn Bread, and Mustard Vinaigrette; and Potato Wedges with Red Chile.

I spent many years before marriage cooking for one, and I would say the only drawback was having to scale everything down so you didn’t end up eating a whole cake alone, or ending up with gallons of soup to eat for the rest of the year.  But being someone who really enjoys cooking and eating good tasting food, I didn’t compromise just because I was the only one eating.  And even now when I am alone, if I have a little energy to spare, I will whip up something just for me.  Because like one contributor to the book admitted, “Eating alone is nothing less than a luxurious, even decadent, act, because I get to thing about myself. I don’t have to think about someone else.”  That could even mean chips and a really good dip for dinner, even, just because I can.

Here’s a recipe I might have shared with the authors if asked, an easy but tasty recipe I’ve been making for myself since my school days, called a Turkey Fapita.  Deli turkey, onion, Worcestershire or soy sauce, and a pita or tortilla wrap are all you need to make it.  Of course it can be embellished with anything else you have on hand, such as peppers, cheese, salsa, a squeeze of lime, etc., but it is perfectly good and filling as is.

Turkey Fapita

from Shortbread

makes one

Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup onion, sliced
  • 4 slices deli turkey, sliced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
  • hot sauce, to taste (optional)
  • 1 pita or tortilla

Directions

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly browned.
  3. Add turkey to pan and stir for one minute.
  4. Add sauce(s) to pan and cook another minute. Remove from heat.
  5. Warm pita or tortilla (in microwave, skillet, or over stove flame). Put turkey mixture on top and roll up.