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.
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.
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.
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.
I first learned of V.S Alexander’s historical fiction novel The Taster on Facebook when my library included a picture of it as part of their “New Book Tuesday” post a few weeks ago. The title caught my eye (no surprise there), and after reading the blurb describing a woman who finds herself in service to Hitler as his food taster, I requested a copy.
In 1943, Magda Ritter is a young German woman, expected to work in support of the Reich or do her part to produce healthy German babies. Her parents send her out of Berlin to safety, where she must apply for a role in the civil service. Because of her loyal aunt and uncle’s connections, she is given a position of privilege working at Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda comes to learn she will be one of fifteen women who must taste his food before he is served, ensuring he won’t die of poison – though she could if she isn’t vigilant.
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.
Hello! My name’s Elsie, and I’m visiting from the Tea and Ink Society. The Society is where I share book lists and literary musings with a bent towards the classics. I also love to play in the kitchen, so I was excited for Megan’s invitation to share a literary recipe with you all!
For this post I chose to make a classic, old-fashioned potato salad recipe to go along with L. M. Montgomery’s 1937 novel Jane of Lantern Hill.
One of the things people love and remember most about the novels of L. M. Montgomery are her evocative descriptions of nature and the pastoral world of Prince Edward Island. Over the past two years I’ve immersed myself in this world again, going on a spree of reads and re-reads as I traverse the Island and the early decades of the 1900s with each heroine. Like many fans, I’m captivated by the Island’s natural beauty, of course, but this time I’m also noticing the food.
I always appreciate a book where you can immediately fall into it and remain completely immersed to the end – part of the joy of reading, for me, is leaving your own world/viewpoint/experiences and hanging out in someone else’s for a while. The powerful storytelling in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees did that for me.
During a hot South Carolina summer in 1964, Lily Owens is about to turn 14. Propelled by a fuzzy recollection of the day her mother died and desperate to know more, she sets off on a haphazard journey from home with Rosaleen, a black woman who has become her stand-in mother. Their immediate safety may be Rosaleen’s driving force, but Lily’s search for clues about her mother’s existence brings them to Tiburon.
Hi everyone, and happy Tuesday! Welcome to my first Top Ten Tuesday of 2018. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish but is now hosted over at The Artsy Reader Girl. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.
Today’s list is kind of funny, in that I’m not sure how much I can say about each book on it – I guess we’ll just have to see! To arrive at the 10 Books I Really Liked But Can’t Remember Anything/Much About, I culled through my Goodreads, starting at the highest rating and going down. (Reminder: here’s how I rate.)
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 Nightingaleand 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?
Make the potato peel pie from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Course: Main Course
1½ - 2poundsYukon gold potatoesabout 4 medium or 6 small potatoes
1stickbutter, cut into pieces
1¼cupsshredded cheddar cheese
and maybe some sour cream too, (about ¼ cup)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
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.
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?).
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.
From: The Book Club Cookbook, pages 162-163If, 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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Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent has been on my radar since I read The Boston Girl earlier this year. Several people recommended it to me, so I bought it at my library’s used book sale in the spring. I finally got around to reading it, and though I was expecting a bit of a grueling read – it’s set in biblical times – I was pleasantly surprised.
In this piece of historical fiction, Diamant explores the life of Dinah, who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as the only daughter of Jacob (father of a dozen sons). The Red Tent starts with the story of Dinah’s mothers, the four wives of Jacob – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – and continues into her life as she grows up and leaves the land of her father.
For the most part, the lives of women are glossed over in the Bible, and this novel takes an interesting look at what life might’ve been like for a woman of that time. It gives several strong female characters a voice when the book in which Dinah first appears did not and thoughtfully portrays the unique relationships that women have with one another. It also offers a different, and dare-I-say feminist, perspective on a Christian narrative in which things may not have been exactly as depicted.
In Jacob’s camp – which is how I thought of it, as it was rambling and full of tents and animals – the family usually ate quite well. In an interview Diamant said, “There’s a lot of food in The Red Tent…To not write about food…is to not talk about women’s experience.” They depend on the land for food, and the selection seemed quite abundant. There is mention of olives, lamb, figs, pomegranates, barley, mint, and of course, honeyed cake.
Honeyed cake, in fact, was mentioned a few times, and though it was given little description, I was intrigued. I wanted to make it try it myself. After a Google search, I finally settled on a recipe from Genius Kitchen for a recipe that seemingly dripped with honey. (And drip with honey, it did!)
To start, I combined the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and some orange zest. The orange zest smelled absolutely amazing while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
In a different bowl, I creamed the butter with the sugar and then added in the four eggs, one at a time. To these ingredients, I added the dry mix, mixing just until incorporated. Then, I added the chopped walnuts.
I poured the batter into a prepared square pan and set it to bake for 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Meanwhile, I began making the honey sauce. This recipe uses quite a bit of honey, which can be expensive, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty run-of-the-mill baking ingredients. Still, we used almost half of this little honey bear.
In a saucepan, I combined 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of white sugar and ¾ cup of water. I let it simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice and bringing it to a boil. Please use a medium-sized saucepan. When it gets boiling, it can boil over easily and quickly – it’s not as easy to tame as boiling water. And it’s possible you’ll get a sticky mess all over your stove, like I happened to do. Anyway, once it was finished cooking for 2 minutes, I removed it from the heat, where it say until the cake was ready.
After the cake finished baking, I removed it from the oven and allowed it to cool for 15 minutes.
I then cut it into triangles. The original recipe recommends diamonds, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how to accomplish that. I’m not sure shape matters that much, though the more cuts, the more honey will soak through the cake. Regardless, after cutting the cake, I covered it with honey sauce. I used about a third at a time and did my best to allow it to soak in before covering it with the next third. (This requires some patience.)
I found the cake to taste a bit like Fruit Loops (probably from the orange zest). Overall, it was quite good but very sticky.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange rind. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes. Pour honey syrup over the cake.
For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Generally, I do enjoy most of what I read. Sometimes I don’t, but luckily, sometimes the opposite is true and I love a book so much that I can’t shut up about it. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one such book. Readers, my second 5-star book of the year is here, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!
I first heard about this book on my new favorite podcast, All the Books. (Thank you, Liberty Hardy! You’re always full of excellent recommendations.) So, when I saw it in my August BOTM selections, I knew I had to select it. When it showed up in the mail, I was surprised at its heft – it’s nearly 600 pages – and set it aside for nearly enough, thinking I didn’t have time to get into a difficult, long book. I waited a couple of weeks, but when I finally picked it up, I was captivated in just the first few pages and by the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.
The novel follows Cyril Avery beginning when he is still an unborn child in his mother’s womb in a small town in 1940s Ireland. When she is cast out by a cruel priest, she finds herself in Dublin, where she must make it on her own. Her circumstances almost require her to put Cyril up for adoption, and he is taken by a hunchbacked Redemptionist nun to the home of Maude and Charles Avery, an eccentric couple who aren’t exactly cut out for parenthood. From there, Cyril’s life takes both heartwarming and heart-wrenching turns, bringing us to modern day Ireland in truly spectacular and unforgettable fashion.
This book may be 592 pages, but I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in a weekend and have been talking about it ever since. Furies is filled with complex and varied characters, all memorable in their own way. As entertaining as this novel was – it absolutely had it’s laugh out loud moments – I should probably mention that, like my last 5-star favorite, it tackles some sensitive topics and was hard to read in parts. But to me, that is the beauty of Boyne’s novel; he expertly captured all the nuances of humanity, from the mundanely everyday to unexpected tragedy in a captivating way.
Finding a recipe to pair with such a sweeping saga wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Several key scenes throughout take place in a parliamentary tea shop where “cream slice” seems to be a popular menu item. After doing some research, I found it’s also known as custard slice. I was able to find a recipe from RTE, or the Raidió Teilifís Éireann in Ireland, which is a real television station where Cyril finds himself working at one point in the novel.
The recipe has quite a lot of steps, but the ingredients list is small and it’s not really that complicated, so don’t let the long recipe below fool you. It’s totally doable.
To start, I set out my frozen puff pastry sheets to thaw while I made my pastry cream. I poured the milk into a saucepan, added a vanilla pod split down the middle and let it come to a boil. In the meantime, I combined the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch with a mixer, beating for a few minutes until it became pale and light.
Once the milk began boiling, I removed it from the heat and slowly added it to the egg mixture, whisking all the while. I added it back to the saucepan, bringing it up to a slow boil over low heat, stirring continuously. After several minutes, it thickened, so I removed it from the heat and added it to a wide bowl to cool more quickly. I covered it with cling wrap and placed it in the fridge.
Once the puff pastry dough was thawed (able to be unfolded), I used a sharp knife to cut it down to an 8×8 square. (I don’t think this is entirely necessary, if you have a 9×9 pan, which I found I did after the fact. I’ve explained further in the recipe notes below.) Then, on two parchment-lined baking sheets, I baked them for about 10 minutes each, until they were lightly golden.
After they cooled, I placed one pastry in the bottom of my pan, which was lined with foil. Per the directions, I made sure to leave extra foil hanging out of the pan so the completed custard slice could be removed more easily later; this is definitely a big help. Then, I smoothed the cooled pastry cream over the bottom layer of puff pastry and placed the prettier looking pastry sheet on top. The assembled dessert went back into the fridge to set while I made the topping.
I combined powdered sugar with a small amount of cold water to create a drizzle-able icing. I also melted some dark chocolate (you could also use milk chocolate if you prefer) in a small bowl in the microwave, until it was thin enough to drizzle with a spoon.
First, I drizzled the icing diagonally across the top of the pastry. Then, turning the pastry 90 degrees, I drizzled the melted chocolate to create a criss-cross pattern with the icing.
I covered the completed custard slice and put it back in the fridge to set until we were ready to give it a try. Later that evening, I cut it into 8 rectangular slices and served as our dessert. We found it to be sort of messy to eat, and I would recommend using a fork and a knife, but it certainly was tasty. If you decide to give it a go, I hope you enjoy!
Have you read John Boyne’s novel yet? What did you think?
1 vanilla pod, split down the middle or 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons, or 1 ounce, or unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup melting chocolate or chocolate chips
Make the crème pâtissière to begin: Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the split vanilla pod, if using. (If using the vanilla extract, add it in with the butter at the end.) Bring the milk mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat.
Whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch together in a large bowl for about 2–3 minutes using a hand-held electric mixer until pale and light.
Pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking continuously, and then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes thick. It should just come to a boil. If it boils unevenly or too quickly, it may become lumpy, in which case use a whisk to mix until smooth again.
Remove the custard from the heat and pour into a bowl (push the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps). Add the pinch of salt and the butter (and vanilla extract if using) and stir until melted and thoroughly combined.
Leave to cool, cover with cling wrap and chill before using.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
If using frozen puff pastry sheets, these should already be approximately 9×9. If you have a 9×9 pan available, you can use as-is. If you only have (or prefer to use) an 8×8 pan, cut the puff pastry sheets so they will fit the smaller pan. Cut approximately 1 inch off two of the sides, forming an 8×8 square.
Place each pastry sheet onto the lined baking trays, prick each piece a few times with a fork and chill for 10-15 minutes. Then, bake the pastry sheets for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.
While the pastry bakes, line your baking pan with foil, allowing plenty of extra foil at the sides to allow you to lift out the assembled slices. If you don’t have a square tin, it’s not the end of the world, just use the foil to make a base and sides.
Place one pastry sheet in the bottom of the lined tin (reserve the prettiest piece for the top). Spread the crème pâtissière evenly onto the pastry in the baking tray before placing the other piece of pastry on top. Refrigerate while making the icing.
For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in 3-4 teaspoons cold water – just enough to give you a thick, drizzling consistency – and set aside.
Place the chocolate in a bowl sitting over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water. Bring the water up to the boil, then take off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. (Another option would be to heat in the microwave at defrost or 30% power in 30 minute increments, stirring until it becomes melted enough to drizzle. If using melting chocolate, follow directions on the bag.)
Take the custard slice from the fridge to decorate. First, using a spoon, drizzle the icing diagonally across the pastry. Turn the pan 90-degrees and, using a different spoon, drizzle the chocolate across the pastry forming lines that criss-cross the icing lines. Repeat with icing and chocolate as desired/until you run out.
Place the slice back into the fridge to set. Later, cut the finished custard slice into 8 pieces. Using the foil, carefully lift the portioned vanilla slices out of the tray and serve.