Tag Archives: food

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Having read The Mermaid Chair and  The Secret Life of Bees, both by Sue Monk Kidd,  I was excited when this was chosen as one of our book club selections. That was in November. I just finished reading the book now. What does that tell you?

Traveling with Pomegranates should have been a better book than it actually is. This is a mother(Sue)/daughter(Ann) memoir about travel, faith, love, creativity and writing. At the beginning, as I settled in, I thought that it was going to be quite compelling. I felt a kinship with Sue:

“I didn’t understand why I was responding to the prospect of aging with such shallowness and dread, only that there had to be more to it than the etchings on my skin” (4).

In Sue’s capable hands, this journey is – if not always engaging – at least well written and thoughtful. Sadly, I can’t say the same for Ann’s part. I found her whiney and entitled. I never warmed up to her.

Mother and daughter visit Greece together in 1998. Ann is 22 and Sue mourns the loss of the little girl she was. She is also acutely aware that something troubling is going on with her daughter. At first glance it might seem that Ann’s disappointment has to do with the fact that she didn’t get into graduate school, but as the mother/daughter writers unspool the story it turns out that they are both looking for something more complicated. And they spend the rest of the book kneeling at the feet of Madonnas (and other powerful female icons) in Greece and Crete and France…trying to find it.

Ultimately, it turns out that graduate school was never what Ann truly wanted; she wants to be a writer. And how wonderful for her that her mother is and that they could do this book together.

Lesa’s Book Critiques

Washington Examiner Review

Although the women in my book club were wishy-washy about the book, we unanimously LOVED this Pomegranate Salsa. It’s delicious!

Pomegranate Salsa

seeds of 1 pomegranate
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 bunch parsley (equal to cilantro)
1/2 sprig mint
1 small red onion
2t lime zest
2 T lime juice
2 t oil
1 jalapeno pepper
salt/pepper to taste

I use the seeds of 2 pomegranates and adjust the quantities of everything else to taste. This keeps well; I made a big batch for Christmas Eve and I am still eating it.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

elegance-of-the-hedgehog

Several months ago Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog was chosen as the book for the bookstore reading group I lead. We have a sort of willy nilly way of choosing our books and this novel ended up on the top of the heap. When we came together to discuss it a month later, other than the woman who had thrown it into the pile, no one else had finished the book- including me. I got about halfway through…and I just really didn’t like the book at all. So imagine my dismay when the novel was chosen by my longstanding book club as our first novel for our new reading year! I had no choice but to finish the book.

So, I started again. And strangely, this time around, I didn’t find the book so grating. That’s not to say that I found it all that plausible, either. Still, I did manage to get through it.

Barbery’s novel tells the story of Renee, a concierge at an elegant apartment building in Paris.

I am short, ugly and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit early mornings of self-inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth. I did not go to college, I have always been poor, discreet and insignificant. (19)

Renee has, despite what she considers her considerable flaws, a deep and abiding love for literature, art and music. Seriously, the novel opens with a rumination on Marx – which is perhaps the reason why I didn’t groove to the novel straight away the first time around: I know nothing about Marx.

Paloma lives in the building with her parents and older sister. At twelve, Paloma is already sick of the world and everyone in it.

My parents are rich, my family is rich and my sister and I are, therefore rich….Despite all that, despite all this good fortune and all this wealth, I have known for a long time that the final destination is the goldfish bowl. How do I know? Well, the fact is that I am very intelligent. Exceptionally intelligent. (23)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is about appearances. Renee is forever fearful about giving away her love of the finer things; after all, she’s just a concierge. Paloma,  is keeping a journal of profound thoughts and plotting her own death. And then into their lives comes a Japanese gentleman named Kakuro Ozu. He sees straight through these women, into their very heart of hearts and changes them in ways they might have never imagined.

This novel was a sensation in France. As with any translation, it’s important to remember that you are not reading it in its original form; something is bound to be lost in the translation no matter how good it is.

I have a feeling that when we discuss this novel tomorrow night, most everyone will have loved it. I didn’t love it (in fact I didn’t like the ending at all!), but I did see the novel’s charms- even though I often found the novel pretentious (all these mini-lessons on art and literature) and perhaps just a tad contrived.

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Another review

Book Questions

1.  The book has two narrators:  bizarrely brilliant 12 year old Paloma and short, ugly, plump concierge Renee.  Did the two storytellers detract or add to your enjoyment of the story and in whose head did you prefer to dwell?

2.  A great deal of the book asks a single question that Paloma eventaully poses to Renee. “Do you feel that life has meaning?” Do you?

3. How do you measure a life’s worth? By Paloma’s calculation, what you are doing at the moment of your death is important. Renee died at a moment when she had “met another and was prepared to love.” If you could pick the  moment of your death, what would you be doing?

4. Renee thinks most people take the easy way out when it comes to living their lives. We anethesize ourselves with children, TV and God who “appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease.” Have you taken the easy way out?

5. Paloma’s Journal of the Movement of the World is a quest to document whatever is beautiful enough to give life meaning. If you were asked to develop a list of your own, what might make your list?

Food

Biscuits

Oven 450 degrees

2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

2 t sugar

½ t cream of tartar

¼ t salt

½ cup shortening, margarine, or butter

2/3 cup milk

  • Stir together the whites
  • Cut in the butter
  • Add milk
  • Stir till dough just clings together
  • On a lightly floured surface kneed dough gently for 10 or 12 strokes
  • Roll or pat out …Cut the biscuits

Cook for 10 to 12 minutes

(Thanks to S.  for allowing me to use her questions and the recipe!)

At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen

lossforwords

It sometimes happens that a book that no one particularly likes generates an excellent discussion. This was the case with Canadian writer Diane Schoemperlen’s book At A Loss For Words.  One woman in my book club actually said: “I knew you wouldn’t want me to finish it.”

I didn’t actually have any trouble finishing the book, but not because it was the most original or beautiful or innovative book I’ve ever read about the nature of love. The story is rife with cliches and prose so purple you might think you’re scarfing grape jelly by the jar.

An unnamed woman rekindles a relationship with an old boyfriend. She and this guy (also unnamed) had a  fairly serious thing which, one gathers, ended rather badly 30 years ago. She’s a writer, but since renewing her relationship with this guy, she’s unable to write. The story (such as it is) consists mostly of her lists of writing prompts and her e-mail correspondence with the man a sort of he said, she said only in this case it’s I said, you said.

To say that I didn’t believe a word of what they said to each other would be harsh, but really who talks like this?

“I do appreciate these thoughts. I want to say how much I welcome and treasure everything you say. Your letters are too wonderful! You life my spirits immeasurably with all that you write. You warm me up on this gray damp day”  (59).

As soon as this relationship is consummated, it begins to unravel. The woman starts clinging and the man starts pulling away and the denouement is neither original or shocking. In addition, you sort of wanted to shake her a little; I mean, she’s a successful writer and she’s not 20- couldn’t she sort of see this coming?

Still, who hasn’t been in love with the wrong guy…maybe even the wrong guy on more than one occasion. Hands up! So, while none of us were enamoured with Schoemperlen’s rather writerly tale, we had lots and lots of fun talking about rekindled passion, first love and our very first (after 10 years in book club) discussion of orgasms.

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Questions

1. How possible is it to fall in love with the same person?

2. Is each new love the best love, cancelling out all others?

3. Do you think love makes us stupid? In what ways?

4. Think back to your first love and your early sexual experiences. Is it possible to rekindle/recapture those feelings?

5. How has e-mail changed the way you communicate?

6. Is this a ‘true’ story? Why or why not.

7. The big ‘reveal’ at the end…did it actually add anything to the book.

8. Do people really talk the way they do in this book? Why do you suppose Schoemperlen choose the language she did to express her characters’  feelings?

Food

Dense Chocolate Torte Gourmet

I got this recipe from Epicurious. Everyone loved it!

Yield: Makes 12 to 16 servings
Active Time: 25 min
Total Time: 10 1/2 hr (includes chilling)

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 large eggs, beaten

Equipment: a 9-inch springform pan; a large (18-inch) roll of heavy-duty foil

Accompaniment: whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 300&Deg;F with rack in middle. Wrap outside of cake pan in plastic wrap, then wrap tightly in a layer of foil.

Lightly butter pan, then dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Heat 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.

Melt chocolates in a large bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (do not let bowl touch water), stirring occasionally, until melted. Stir together butter (2 sticks) and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in another bowl until combined. Stir butter mixture into melted chocolate. Then stir in sugar syrup. Gently stir in eggs (avoid making bubbles) until combined. 3Transfer to pan and bake in a hot water bath until center is almost set (it should barely wobble), about 45 to 50 minutes.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Julie Powell had me at : “we both recognize the genius of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That revelation comes early on in her book Julie & Julia, a  memoir that builds upon the “Project” she embarked on just before she was about to turn 30. Disheartened with her life as a government drone in New York City, Powell was, as many of us were, looking for meaning in a post 9/11 world. But further to that- she was looking for meaning in her own life. Or at the very least, she was looking for something meaningful to do.

While visiting her parents in her native Texas, Powell confiscates her mother’s copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MtAoFC) by Julia Child.

“Do you know Mastering the Art of French Cooking? You must, at least, know of it,” Powell says. “It’s a cultural landmark, for Pete’s sake!”

And from this cookbook…and a conversation with Powell’s long-suffering (and incredibly supportive) husband, Eric, springs the Julie/Julia Project. Powell decides to cook every single recipe from the book and blog about it.

Blogging. Ahh, yes. Curious thing, that. You write and people read and the next thing you know you have a book deal. Or something like that.

Julie & Julia follows Powell’s project from beginning to end- and includes everything from her failures in the kitchen to her friend’s extramarital affairs. It is laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally self-indulgent (but what blog isn’t?). It’s peppered with expletives and bits of strange insight.

So this search for meaning (personal meaning, at least) has been done before. Elizabeth Gilbert (whom Powell thanks in her acknowledgments) did it in a little best-seller called Eat, Pray, Love. I liked Powell’s book better and here’s why…

I could relate to Powell. And, no, it’s not just because of her Buffy-love (although that certainly earned her free points.) Where Gilbert took a year off to spend four months each in three different countries, Powell could only afford the occasional day of playing hooky from her crap job while she cooked her way to enlightenment. Her house was unkept, she drank too-much and swore even more. She didn’t set off on the Project for fame and glory- she wanted to find an essential piece of herself that she thought was missing.

And she does…one recipe at a time.

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And another.

FOOD

(It has to be Child’s recipe for Potage Parmentier doesn’t it?)

Potage Parmentier

1 lb potato, peeled and diced (I leave skins on)

3 cups of leeks, thinly sliced, white and tender green parts only

2 qts of water

4-6 tablespoons of whipping cream or 2-3 tablespoons of softened butter

2-3 tablespoons of minced parsley or chives

Simmer vegetables, water and salt, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or puree in blender. Correct seasoning.

Off heat and just before serving, stir in cream or butter one spoonful at a time.

Serve hot or cold.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Margaret Atwood says Never Let Me Go is “a brilliantly executed book by a master craftsman who has chosen a difficult subject: ourselves, seen through a glass, darkly.”

The Undependent (UK) called it “an exquisitely nuanced, and extremely moving process of revelation. Never Let Me Go is a novel about love and goodness and the hopes and fears of the human heart.”

Time Magazine named it one of the greatest 100 novels since 1923.

Ishiguro’s novel tells the story of Kath, Ruth and Tommy three students at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. There is something odd about Hailsham and the reader comes to undertsand its secrets at just about the same time as the story’s main characters. It’s actually quite difficult to say any more without giving away plot points which are essential to the novel.

Despite the fact that there is a sense of urgency to understand just what is going on at the school, Never Let Me Go is not a mystery story. Ishiguro does a great job of stringing the reader along, sure, but the true genious of this novel is what he says about hope where there can be none and love where there shouldn’t be. And despite the fact that it does tackle larger issues- of morality and the consequences of science- the novel is also about these three friends, their triangular love affair and their hopes and dreams for the future.

It’s a remarkable novel.

But I didn’t like it very much.

I found it somehow disorganized- the narrative was choppy. The novel’s climax was mainly expository. The novel’s themes are reiterated by a secondary character. I wanted to care for Kath and Tommy and Ruth- and I did- but I wanted to care more, I guess. Still- the final scene of the novel is haunting and if the novel were to be held up as an example of the extremes (both the cruelty and kindness) of mankind- I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to find a book that does it better than this one.

So, I didn’t particularly enjoy the book, but I wouldn’t hesitate in saying that it is worth reading.

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Reading Group

FOOD
Fantastic Fudge Brownies
(and they are- my kids made them all by themselves and they were delicious!)

2 cups sugar
4 heaping tablespoons of cocoa
1 cup butter
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350
Cream, sugar, cocoa and butter
Add beaten eggs and vanilla. Then add flour.
Bake in greased baking pan for 30 minutes. Don’t overcook. (The top will appear undone and will fall a little in the middle.)

Catch Me When I Fall by Nicci French

I’m a big fan of Nicci French. (For those of you who don’t know- Nicci French is actually the married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.)

I first discovered them with the book Killing Me Softly, which I absolutely loved. Since then I have read several more of their books, plus two others written by Nicci Gerrard on her own. So- I am a fan. Together as Nicci French, they write a really great sort of psychological fiction- filled with menace and surprises and shadowy figures. Page-turners.

Catch Me When I Fall
was unlike any French book I’d read before. It tells the story of Holly Krauss, this wildly confident career woman who lives in London with her husband, Charlie, a graphic artist. When we first meet Holly we think she might be merely reckless, but it turns out her behaviour is more complicated than that. Her husband and her best friend and business partner, Meg, watch helplessly as Holly’s behaviour becomes more and more bizarre and self-destructive.

As an examination of mental illness, this is a compelling read. But that’s not the only thing French has up for grabs in this book. It isn’t my favourite French book- but I enjoyed it just the same.

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FOOD

Rachel Ray’s Winter White Chicken Stew
*  2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large pieces
* 1 fresh bay leaf
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 large bulb of fennel, cored and chopped (save the fronds!)
* 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
* 1 cup of dry white wine
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 1 cup green Sicilian olives, pitted
* 1/4 cup pine nuts
* 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
* Zest and juice of 1 lemon
* 1 loaf crusty bread

Preparation

Place a large pot over medium-high heat with two turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Place the flour on a plate, season the chicken pieces liberally with salt and pepper and then transfer chicken to the flour. Toss to coat the pieces and shake off any excess flour. Transfer chicken to the hot pot and brown all the pieces for about 5 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. Add the bay leaf, garlic, onion, fennel, half of the fennel fronds and the potatoes and continue to cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the onions start to get tender.

Add the white wine while scraping the bottom of the pan and cook for one more minute. Add the chicken stock and bring up to a bubble. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and add the olives the last 5 minutes of cooking.

While the stew is simmering, prepare the garnish: place the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook tossing frequently until toasted, just a couple of minutes. Place the parsley, lemon zest and toasted pine nuts in a pile on your cutting board, run your knife through the pile until it is finely chopped.

To serve, ladle the stew into bowls and sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley, pine nut, lemon zest mixture. Squeeze lemon juice over each serving. Don’t add it directly to the pot because if you have any leftovers, the lemon juice will make the stew bitter the next day. Sprinkle some of the fennel fronds on top as well and serve some crusty bread alongside.

I made this for dinner recently and it was yummy!!!!

The Boy on the Bus by Deborah Schupack

Meg Landry is an unreliable narrator. She’s the central character of Deborah Schupack’s novel, The Boy on the Bus. Meg lives in rural Vermont with her asthmatic son, Charlie, and her partner, Jeff (who is mostly away working as an architect) and her 13 year old daughter, Katie, who attends boarding school.

As the novel opens, Meg is waiting for Charlie’s school bus (and Charlie’s school bus driver, Sandy, for whom Meg has ‘feelings’)But when the school bus arrives, Charlie won’t get off the bus and when Meg goes to get him she discovers that this boy is not, in fact, her son.

“Meg sat in the row in front of him, facing forward. He seemed to be a good boy – whoever he was- and eager to please.”

It is from this intriguing start that we learn the story of this family as seen through Meg’s eyes. And I would advise reading this book in as close to one sitting as you can manage because the effect of Meg’s estrangement from her partner, her ongoing battles with Katie and the emotional toll of caring for Charlie’s illness has a cumulative effect that I’m not sure would be apparent if you read the book in fits and starts.

It is only when we see Meg through the eyes of others (the town sherriff, Charlie’s doctor) that we begin to understand what is actually happening and while some reader’s might find Meg unsympathetic- I felt quite sorry for her and hopeful at the book’s end.


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Reading Guide

FOOD

Honey Mustard Sausages

4 fresh sausages (Spicy Italian or garlic)
1/4 cup grainy mustard
1T liquid honey
1/4 t dried thyme

Cook sausages for about 15 or until golden and firm. Let cool for 5 minutes

Whisk together mustard, honey and thyme. Cut sausages into 1/2 inch pieces and put in oven proof dish. Pour mustard mixture over top and toss to coat.

Bake in 350 oven for about 15 minutes.

Simple and yummy!