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book club

book review, recipe

Where the Crawdads Sing + Shrimp and Pimiento-Cheese Grits

When Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Withersoon’s book club, it became an instant must-read. Equal parts coming-of-age story, mystery, legal drama and love story, I can see why! I came by it through my first HealthTea Book Crate, in which I received a signed copy, and I was excited that it was selected as one of my recent book club reads.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya Clark lives in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, and has watched her family leave her one-by-one, until — at the age of 10 — she is left quite alone. As she grows up, Kya chooses to stay close to home, preferring to get her supplies from a small store on the docks, where she can also fill up her boat with gas, rather than venturing into town. This fierce independence earns her the nickname Marsh Girl.

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book review, recipe

The Alice Network + Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini

Whereas years past have seemed to be filled with WWII-centric historical fiction, I don’t think I’ve read a single book about it this year — until The Alice Network. Kate Quinn’s novel was a recent book club selection, and I was excited about it because I also happened to have a newly-purchased used copy at home. Unfortunately, I waited too long to start the 500-page monster and was still 100 pages short when it came time for our book club meeting. Still, despite some spoilers during our discussion, I couldn’t wait to finish the story. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here!)

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network follows two storylines — one during WWI (the mid- to late-1910s) and the other just after WWII ends. Both feature uncertain women who find themselves, their strength and their courage over the course of the story. Eve Gardiner is a stuttering typist when she’s recruited to become a spy, part of the so-called “Alice Network,” and go undercover as a waitress in German-occupied France. Charlotte St. Clair, more often called Charlie, is an American who travels to Europe after WWII to take care of a “problem” and find her missing cousin.

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book review, recipe

Homegoing + African Yam and Peanut Soup

My book club recently selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was selected in one of my other book clubs last year. It’s a book that’s gotten a lot of attention and praise since its release, and though it has an appealing premise, I’ve not felt compelled to read it — until now. I didn’t read it last time, but I knew I couldn’t neglect it again. I dove right in and didn’t look back.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s sweeping novel is about two half-sisters separated at birth and their descendants. Effia and Esi are born in different villages in eighteenth century Ghana. They share the same mother but have different fathers and very different upbringings. Effia marries an Englishman and lives her life in a castle on the African country’s coast. Esi, however, is sold into slavery, passing through the castle’s dungeons on her way to America. Each chapter following their own focuses on an immediate descendent for generation after generation.

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book review, recipe

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane + Scallion Pancakes

Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Book Cover

Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.

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book review, recipe

Artemis + Double Ginger Ice Cream

I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. When I read it, I recommended it to anyone and everyone, and now that I blog, I’ve even included it on a few bookish lists (here and here). So, I was more than a little hesitant to pick up his second novel – hello, high expectations! – and managed to avoid it for about six months. That is, until Artemis was selected as our next read for one of my book clubs. I had no choice but to take the leap.

Artemis Book Cover, Andy Weir

In Artemis, which is the only city on the moon in the 2080s, our main character Jasmine, or “Jazz,” is a porter who smuggles on the side to make extra income. When a regular client brings her an offer with a payday too good to pass up, Jazz’s life takes a dangerous turn.

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book review, recipe

Rabbit Cake + Vanilla Pound Cake

I got the opportunity to read Annie Harnett’s novel Rabbit Cake recently when it was selected for my office’s Diversity Book Club, but it first grabbed my attention when it was recommended on a podcast as a book pairing for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Though nothing alike in tone or subject matter, I see the similarities in the wizened child narrators – Scout, in TKAM of course, and in this contemporary novel, 11-year-old animal-loving Elvis.

I found Annie’s story to be quirky but heartwarming. Elvis is a smart, curious little girl who wormed its way into my heart. We meet her shortly after the sudden death of her mother, who drowned in a sleepwalking accident. Scientifically-minded, Elvis decides to follow a mourning chart that is meant to help her know how long to grieve. For an 11-year-old, she is doing her best, but the rest of her family isn’t exactly thriving. Her older sister is also affected by sleepwalking and her father deals with his grief by buying a parrot and wearing his late wife’s lipstick and bathrobe.    

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book review, recipe

Bel Canto + Tres Leches Cake with Dulce de Leche Glaze

I read somewhere once that Bel Canto is the book you should start with if you want to give Ann Patchett a try. As a result, it’s been on my TBR and my bookshelf for a while now. You may recall that I actually read her newest novel Commonwealth first, but this is the novel that caused me to truly fall in love with Ann Patchett’s writing and storytelling.

At first glance, this wouldn’t seem like a novel I would enjoy. Not much happens by way of plot – in the beginning, a group of rebels interrupt a birthday celebration in order to capture the unknown South American country’s president and take on a whole mansion-full of hostages. That is sort of where the plot gets stuck, until the very end. The real story is in the growth of the characters – all of them so rich and well-developed. The setting, too, is unique, and it’s one that really lets the characters come to life, almost unexpectedly.

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book review, recipe

Tell the Wolves I’m Home + Tuscan Bean and Prosciutto Stew

Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home tells a story about life and death, forbidden relationships, and how family is always more complicated than it seems. I selected it as my book featuring a character with a debilitating illness for the Book Challenge by Erin and was excited when it was chosen as a recent book club selection as well.

It’s 1987, and fourteen-year-old June has just lost her Uncle Finn to AIDS. He was her confidant and her best friend and she struggles to deal with his untimely disappearance from her life. She no longer has any reason to visit his eclectic New York City apartment every Sunday, where he was working to complete a portrait of her and her sister Greta. Visiting the Cloisters, a favorite pastime of theirs, will never be the same. Continue Reading

book review, recipe

Snow Falling on Cedars + Salmon with Strawberry Salsa

Do you ever choose a book based on your location or season? I’m not generally one to choose a book based on the time of year, though I’ll admit it can be quite nice to read a book about Christmas in December, and sometimes it feels like a disconnect to read about snow in the heat of summer. David Guterson’s novel Snow Falling on Cedars was a recent book club pick, and it was added to the list quite honestly because it had a title that sounded like it would make for a nice winter read.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story – which was published nearly 25 years ago now – Snow Falling on Cedars revolves around a murder case on a fictional island in Puget Sound. In 1954, a Japanese American man named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with the murder of fellow salmon fisherman Carl Heine, who drowned under suspicious circumstances. The island was never exactly an inclusive paradise, but many families on the island were Japanese and were for the most part accepted – at least until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, with the war less than a decade out, the murder case renews racial tensions on the island.

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book review, recipe

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society + Potato Peel Pie

Recently, my book club elected to read Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a charming piece of historical fiction about life on the British Channel Islands during and after WWII. It is a bit of a book about books, but more than that it’s about how literature can bring people together, unexpectedly, even in the worst of times.

In 1946 London, a mysterious man writes to Juliet Ashton because he somehow came to be in possession of one of her books and is looking for more by the same author, who he’s come to adore. Of course, as a reader, Juliet steps in to help him get the books he needs, and with that, she launches a friendly correspondence with him – and his fellow islanders. All of them belonged to an impromptu book club during the German wartime occupation of their home on Guernsey, and Juliet is beside herself to learn more about them.

While I was expecting a potentially difficult read, as many WWII novels tend to be (including The Nightingale and Lilac Girls), I was pleasantly surprised. There are some brief descriptions of time in the concentration camps, but it mostly serves as a way to provide the characters – who’ve survived the war at that point – with some closure. Book narratives that take place solely through letters can sometimes fall flat, but in this case, my whole book club enjoyed the choice. I thought it added to the charm.

Though the Guernsey Literary Society also boasts the name of a disgusting-sounding dish, the potato peel pie is mentioned only briefly in the novel. It is described as a pie made out of potato peels and something to do with beets. As I read, I was slightly horrified to think about making such a pie for this post. Luckily, I remembered my Book Club Cookbook and thought I recalled seeing this book listed in the index.

Sure enough! It listed a recipe for an “occupied” version, using just beets, potatoes (including the peels) and a bit of milk, but it also included a “non-occupied” version, which sounded delicious. I decided to make it for our book club meeting. 

Since we were meeting during the week and I don’t have a lot of time after work before everyone arrives, I got started the night before. Since the non-occupied version still includes potato peels, I made sure to scrub them thoroughly before peeling. Here is the after photo:

I peeled them as carefully as I could and layered them into the pie dish, making sure to completely cover the bottom.

While they baked in the oven, I cut the potatoes into large chunks and got them going in a pot of salted, boiling water on the stove.

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the potato peels were looking slightly crispy, so I pulled them out before they burned. I was surprised, however, to see that they’d all curled up and no longer completely covered the bottom of the pan – a bit of a disappointing crust in look only, as it still tasted delicious later.

Once the potatoes were fully cooked, I drained them and transferred them to a large bowl with some butter to mash them up with a hand mixer (my typical method, since I don’t actually own a manual masher). Then, I stirred in the milk, and once that was absorbed, added the cheddar cheese and sour cream as well.

Finally, I spread the whole mixture in the pie dish on top of the potato skins.

Because I wasn’t serving it until the next day, I covered it with plastic wrap and stored it in the fridge overnight. Then, prior to book club, I baked it for the first time. It was still cold from the fridge (not room temperature, or slightly warm as if I’d baked it immediately), so I cooked it for longer – closer to an hour.

Once it was melty, slightly bubbly on the edges with just a touch of brown on top, I removed it from the oven. My entire book club could smell it, and we were starving, so we didn’t wait the recommended 15 minutes before serving. It ended up being more like cheesy mashed potatoes – probably the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, honestly – than potato “pie” but everyone enjoyed it just the same. The crispy skins throughout added a pleasing texture.

From our book club to yours, we recommend checking out this charming novel before the movie comes to theaters in April. I, for one, always look forward to the opportunity to have a lively discussion about whether the book or movie is better (even though we all know the answer going in) – and who better to do that with than your favorite book-loving friends?

Annie Barrow’s Non-Occupied Potato Peel Pie

Make the potato peel pie from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

Course Main Course
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1½ - 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes about 4 medium or 6 small potatoes
  • No beets
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 stick butter, cut into pieces
  • cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • and maybe some sour cream too, (about ¼ cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Go ahead and use the peelings as the crust, but cook them first: Scrub potatoes and pat dry. Peel potato and lay peelings evenly in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Place in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes, because it would be nice if they were a little crispy. When they’re done, reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F.
  3. In the meantime, place potatoes in a large pot, cover with salted water, and boil until they’re soft, however long that takes (about 30-40 minutes). Then, drain the potatoes and mash them up with the butter until they’re nice and fluffy. Add milk slowly and stir until milk is absorbed. Stir in that delicious cheese and the sour cream, too, if you want it (and who wouldn’t?).
  4. Pour the potato mixture on top of the crispy skins. Then, put the pie in the oven for about 30 minutes until it’s all melty and glorious (and lightly browned). Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, until it sets. Serve warm. To reheat: Cover with foil and heat for 15-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F.

Recipe Notes

From: The Book Club Cookbook, pages 162-163

If, for whatever reason (say, book club), you need to make this the night before. I recommend stopping before you put the potato peel pie in the oven. Fill pan with the mashed potato mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour (checking as you go) to ensure it’s heated through and then allow to cool before serving, per the above directions.

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