Browsing Tag

cultural

book review, recipe

A Place for Us + Mango Lassi

Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel A Place for Us put me at a loss for words (a tough position when I need to write a review…). It was beautifully written, the story woven together so expertly. It’s hard to believe this is a debut.

A Place for Us Novel

The story of an Indian-American Muslim family opens at the California wedding of Hadia, the eldest daughter. She and the rest of the family anxiously await the arrival of her younger brother Amar, who they haven’t spoken to in years. From there, we are pulled into the family ourselves, where the dynamics are complicated. The siblings struggle with their loyalty to their parents’ way of life and carving out their own place in society, while still seeking to please them. The parents try to raise their children wisely, but sometimes doing what they think is best leads to unexpected outcomes.

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book review, recipe

There There + Indian Tacos

Tommy Orange’s novel There There tells a multigenerational story of Native Americans as they are today, living not on reservations but in cities throughout America. It’s a perspective many of us have never seen or read about, that of the Urban Native.

There There by Tommy Orange

It’s a complex and epic story, told through vignettes involving twelve different characters. There are characters who embrace their Indianness, those who are just fully discovering it, and those who use it as a means to an end. Though in the beginning they are seemingly disconnected, their convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow gives each of them purpose.

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book review, recipe

Fruit of the Drunken Tree + Caramel Flan

Let’s be real, the cover of Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ latest novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is gorgeous. Like the “drunken tree” in the title, the flower’s brightness and beauty draws your attention from the darkness that lingers behind.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The coming-of-age story follows two Colombian girls in the 1990s. Seven-year-old Chula Santiago and her older sister are aware of the violence in their city but are, for the most part, protected from it within their gated community. Petrona, on the other hand, lives in a guerilla-occupied slum before she becomes the Santiago family’s live-in maid. Their lives are very different but become intertwined throughout the course of the novel.

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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

Crazy Rich Asians + Chicken Satay

Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians has been buzzed about since its debut five years ago, and that buzz has only continued to grow now that it’s becoming a movie (out on August 15 this year). The title is pretty self-explanatory – the novel is about the wealthiest of the wealthy families in Singapore, including the Youngs. But, when Rachel Chu’s boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her to attend his best friend’s wedding back at home, she has no idea what’s in store.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwon (Book Cover)

Together in New York, they work regular jobs, go out to eat occasionally and live in an average apartment. Her first hint that Nick’s life may be different than he let on is on their extravagant first class journey to Asia. Rachel realizes it’s going to be even harder to impress his parents than she expected, once she learns he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country (and likely, the continent).

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book review, recipe

The Milk Lady of Bangalore + Paneer Cheese

I remember being excited about Shoba Narayan’s memoir when I first heard about it because I added it to my list of most anticipated books for the year. I got re-excited when Liberty Hardy recommended The Milk Lady of Bangalore on the All the Books podcast, and at that point, I was already on the library waiting list. Funnily enough, I hate milk, so I’m not sure where all the excitement came from.

In her memoir, Shoba shares her experience moving back to India with her husband and two daughters after twenty years in the United States. Upon moving into their new apartment building, they encounter a cow in the elevator. It’s destined for a neighbor’s housewarming ceremony, and thus begins Shoba’s cow-centric journey in modern-day India. She befriends the local milk lady, visiting her every morning for fresh milk and learning more and more about cows as the days go on.

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book review, recipe

Rainbirds + Japanese Curry Rice

I love being a part of the Book of the Month Club for many reasons, including that I love getting mail and I love when that mail is books. I love BOTM even more when it introduces me to a wonderful novel I haven’t heard of before. (Some of my recent favorites from BOTM have been The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and The Heart’s Invisible Furies.) Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel Rainbirds caught my eye because of the beautiful cover, and I ultimate chose it for the description.

It takes place in a small town in Japan, where Ren Ishida goes to get his older sister’s affairs in order after her murder. They shared a special bond, taking care of each other when their parents were otherwise occupied. He struggles to make sense of her sudden death, wondering if he could’ve done anything differently. Ren seeks solace in answers and soon finds himself slipping into her life, accepting her teaching job and moving into her old rented bedroom.

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book review, recipe

The Book of Unknown Americans + Mexican Buñuelos

In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez gives a voice to the millions of immigrants in the United States – how they got here and why, where they come from and what they’re searching for. While her story focuses primarily on the Riveras and the Toros, many of the chapters are told from the perspective of other immigrants in their apartment complex in Delaware. Each hailing from a different Spanish-speaking homeland, each giving us a glimpse into their lives today.

When their teenage daughter Maribel suffered a near-fatal accident, the Riveras did everything in their power to help her heal and come back to herself. Her father, Arturo, secured a job in Delaware and with it, visas for all of them to come to America, where Maribel would be able to enroll in specialized classes and receive a better education. She eventually meets Mayor, a fifteen-year-old whose family came from Panama; he has lived here nearly his whole life. He and the other residents help the Riveras navigate the language and cultural obstacles they face.

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book review, recipe

In the Midst of Winter + Chilean Cazuela Stew

Isabel Allende’s most recent novel In the Midst of Winter really just begs to be read at this time of year. Though it was published in October last year, I wasn’t able to get a copy from the library until December, which seemed like perfect timing to me. I started it just as an early snowstorm hit Michigan…and I was catching a plane to south Florida. As I sat in the warmth of a rare perfect weather weekend, reading Allende’s vivid descriptions of bitter cold, blustery wind and mounds of snow, I was grateful to have escaped – if just for a little bit.

Like the only other Allende book I’ve read, The House of the Spirits, this novel features strong Latin American women and shines a spotlight on the unique issues they face. Lucia is a university lecturer from Chili, currently living in the bottom floor apartment of Richard, a standoffish professor at the same university. As a snowstorm overtakes Brooklyn, Richard gets in a fender bender, setting off a chain of events no one saw coming. When the other driver, Evelyn, later shows up on his doorstep and refuses to leave, he enlists Lucia’s help.

Evelyn, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, is working as a nanny and is terrified to return to her employers with a damaged car. After hearing her out, Lucia is determined to help the girl and a reluctant Richard is brought along for the ride. Winter couldn’t be more timely with its portrayal of immigrants – both legal and illegal – as it highlights their heartbreaking stories with compassion and humanity.

When Richard goes to Lucia to request her help, she is desperately trying to stay warm in her underheated apartment. She describes a delicious, comforting Chilean stew called cazuela – full of beef, corn, potatoes and pumpkin – that she often makes to warm up. She brings it upstairs to Richard’s.

As I looked for a cazuela recipe like Lucia’s, I kept coming across ones that included chicken. While cazuela may be made with any kind of meat really, beef is used in the traditional Chilean recipe. To get exactly what I was looking for, I combined two different recipes, one from Que Rica Vida and one from Taste of Home. In the end, I included beef, corn and potatoes, like Lucia, and substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin since I already had that on-hand.

I was unable to find a small 1-pound beef brisket at my grocery store because apparently they only offer them in slabs greater than 10 pounds (at least when I was shopping). I opted for corned beef brisket instead, because they were available much closer to the weight that I needed, but I would still recommend trying to find a small cut of brisket or other non-corned beef to use. While still alright, the corned beef ended up being a bit tough and may have affected the flavor a bit.

Anyway, I cut my roughly 1-pound brisket into 6 chunks, as the recipe directed, and set it aside. Then, I cut up my onion, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots into similarly large chunks, as evenly as I could manage.

To the oil already heated in my Dutch oven, I added the meat and cooked it for about 2-3 minutes on each side, about 10 minutes total. Then, I added the onions, oregano, cumin and salt and pepper, mixing and allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

To the pot, I added the rest of my prepared veggies – carrots, potatoes and squash – and covered everything with a combination of vegetable broth and boiling water, about 6 cups total. I let it come to a boil and then simmered it, uncovered, for about 15 minutes before adding the frozen ears of corn.

When the stew was almost finished, I added a handful of frozen green beans and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

To serve, I put a bit of already cooked rice (about ⅓ – ½ cup) in the bottom of a bowl. I plucked out a piece of beef, corn, potato and squash, along with some carrots, onions and green beans and placed them on top of the rice, covering everything with a few generous ladlefuls of broth.

This warm, vegetable-filled soup certainly made for a comforting winter dinner and I’d be interested in trying it again sometime.  

Chilean Cazuela with Beef

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4-6 pieces of fresh or frozen corn on the cob (2 inches each)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled (or medium potatoes cut in half)
  • 6 small pieces of butternut squash
  • 1 handful of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot cooked rice (about 3 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the meat into six portions. Preheat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Cook the meat for approximately 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the onion, cumin and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready, place the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash in the pot. Completely cover the contents with the vegetable broth and boiling water, approximately 6 cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cook and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn after approximately 15 minutes. Add frozen green beans within last 5 minutes.
  5. Sample and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve stew over rice in a shallow soup bowl, ensuring that each person receives one piece of meat, one potato, one piece of butternut squash and a portion of corn. Serve with hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro or parsley as desired.

Adapted from: Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home

Recipe Notes: Chilean cazuela is a very flexible homemade stew – you can use lamb, chicken or pork in the recipe, but the classic version is made with beef. Butternut squash can be swapped for pumpkin, if desired.


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