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book review, recipe

The Book of Essie + Cuban Sandwiches

Meghan MacLean Weir’s debut novel The Book of Essie is about seventeen-year-old Esther Hicks, also known as Essie. Her father is an evangelical preacher and she grew up on a hit reality show, Six for Hicks. Not only do her parents have strict expectations for her, but her entire life is often under public scrutiny. When her mother finds out Essie is pregnant, an emergency meeting with the producers determines the best way to salvage the situation. 

The Book of Essie

While the producers and her mother plan out Essie’s life without her input, she is arranging a different future. She attaches herself to fellow student Roarke, and their to-good-to-be-true love story is sold to the media. Will Essie get the happy ending she desires, or will her parents and producers get their way?  

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book review, recipe

The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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book review, recipe

The Devil Wears Prada + Fashion Week Grilled Cheese

In the Literary Feast Reading Challenge, March’s task was to read a book that was made into a movie I’d already seen. Choosing the book was a lot more difficult than I expected. In most cases, I’d gone the traditional route, reading the book first and then watching the movie (and complaining about the discrepancies). In a few cases, there was a book I wanted to read that would’ve qualified…except I hadn’t seen the movie yet either.

So, when I was perusing a used book sale recently, I noticed Lauren Weisberger’s novel The Devil Wears Prada, and thought “I’ve seen that.” I grabbed it. But, like most people are hesitant to see a book they love ruined by a poor movie adaptation, I was instead hesitant to have a movie I knew maybe a little too well ruined by a book that I’d heard was nothing like it. I eventually decided to forge ahead, and here we are.

Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, the plot is similar. Andy, a recent journalism graduate, moves to NYC, determined to write for the New Yorker. She struggles to find a writing job but is ultimately granted “the job a million girls would die for” as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway. Though she knows nothing about fashion, Andy is assured that putting in one year of work as Miranda’s assistant will all but guarantee her a job anywhere in publishing, and she takes it. At her best, Miranda is exacting and unreasonable, and it probably goes without saying, the job is anything but a dream.

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book review, recipe

The Royal We + Tea Sandwiches

Happy Summer, everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a rom-com-type book, and I forgot what a breath of fresh air they can be. I was unable to resist the cover of The Royal We, which is clearly depicting a couple so like William and Kate that it’s surprising that it’s not them, and the novel ended up being an excellent way to kick off what promises to be a busy summer of reading.

This is totally fan fiction about everyone’s favorite British royal couple, with the major exception being that Rebecca Porter isn’t British at all – she’s American. She also has a twin sister who keeps things much more interesting than Pippa ever did. I wasn’t expecting an American girlfriend – expecting William and Kate as I was – but it was a nice surprise. Sort of like The Prince & Me, it gives American girls hope that they too can have a prince one day. There’s no denying it, I probably liked this book so much because the hope of a royal meeting was part of the my decision to study abroad in London too. 😛 No such luck, but lots of fun adventures, nonetheless! It brought back memories

Overall, the book was a tad drawn out, maybe a little bit longer than it needed to be, but the struggles Bex and Nick went through during their long courtship seemed pretty realistic. The story was really dramatic and entertaining, an (almost) endless will-they-or-won’t-they propelling it forward. I’m not sure I’d read a sequel (princess movies sequels are never that good…), but I certainly enjoyed this one.

When choosing a recipe for this book, it was a hard decision between Pimm’s Cup, which was not only a favorite of Nick and crew but also my favorite British drink while abroad, and tea sandwiches, which of course were ever-present throughout the story. Because England. In the end, I had to go with the tea sandwiches because while cocktails are a pretty big part of American life, high tea is something that comes along less often, and I love high tea.

I decided to make three different kinds – the classic cucumber, an egg salad with watercress (one of my favorite sandwiches while in London), and the tasty combo of ham, brie and apple.

I started by prepping the eggs, and while they were hard-boiling, I whipped up the cream cheese mixture for the cucumber sandwiches. The majority of tea sandwich-making is the actual assembly and, of course, the removing of the bread crusts.

To make the cream cheese mixture, I combined 1 package of cream cheese and ⅓ cup of mayonnaise in my food processor until smooth. To that, I added garlic salt and fresh dill. I don’t think you should be shy with the dill – I used around a tablespoon, while the original recipe called for 1 teaspoon.  

When eggs were finished boiling, I let them cool in an ice bath, peeled them, and used my egg slicer tool to chop them into small pieces. I combined the egg with mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard and Lawry’s seasoned salt.

With the two main spreads done, I began prepping the rest of my sandwich ingredients. I sliced the cucumbers into thin slices, I rinsed the watercress and removed the leaves from the stems, and I sliced the green apple and brie for the last sandwich. Last but not least, I removed the crusts from my bread. For the cucumber sandwiches, I made the bread into rounds using a large cutter (no need to remove the crusts first if you’re doing this).

When it was time for the assembly, I set out the bottoms on a large cutting board and got to work. First, I spread the cream cheese mixture on the rounds and topped them with sliced cucumber.

Next, I spread a thin layer of dijon and butter on half of the remaining squares, topping it with ham, sliced brie, and thinly sliced apple halves.

Finally, I carefully put the egg salad atop the rest of the bread and placed some watercress on top.

Then, each sandwich got a lid and we were ready to go!

It’s really too bad I didn’t read this for book club. An afternoon tea theme would’ve been perfect for the meeting. Instead, Scott and I got to enjoy them ourselves, which wasn’t bad either.  

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

  • Servings: 20 rounds
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Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or to taste
  • 40 slices of thin sandwich bread

Directions

  1. Process cream cheese and mayonnaise in a blender or food processor until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides.
  2. Combine cream cheese mixture, garlic salt, and dill.
  3. If creating rounds, use a 2- to 3-inch round cutter to cut bread, discarding the edges. Or, if you prefer triangles or squares (which makes 80 sandwiches), cut the crusts from the bread and discard and cut into quarters.
  4. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly onto half of the bread slices. Place 3-4 cucumber slices per round on top of the mixture. Lightly coat the top slice of bread, just enough to keep the bread in place over the cucumbers and place on top.
  5. Serve immediately, or you may store cucumber sandwiches in an airtight container for up to 1 hour before serving.

Adapted from: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

You may use whichever type of bread you prefer. Traditional tea sandwiches are usually made with white bread. I used wheat bread, and the original recipe calls for one slice of each per sandwich.


Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches with Watercress

  • Servings: 12 halves
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Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
  • ⅛ teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt, or salt and pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 12 slices of thin sandwich bread
  • Small bunch watercress

Directions

  1. Roughly chop your hard-boiled eggs, or use an egg slicer if you have one. First, slice the egg horizontally, carefully flip the egg to the vertical position and slice again. (If you don’t have your own preferred method for hard-boiling eggs, please see notes below.)
  2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and seasoned salt. Gently fold together.
  3. To construct the sandwich, remove the crusts from the bread and cut in halves, forming triangles (or your preferred shape).
  4. On half of the bread, add the egg salad and top with watercress leaves. Add a slice on top of each to complete the sandwich.

Adapted from: Serious Eats

To make hard-boiled eggs: Bring a pot of water to a boil, make sure there is enough water to completely cover the eggs. Once boiling rapidly, carefully add each egg using tongs. The eggs should be still cold from the fridge. Allow to boil for 12 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and allow to cool in an ice bath for 5 minutes, or until cool to the touch. Peel.

A note on sandwich size: I specifically used a loaf of “sandwich bread” from my grocery store, which were smaller and more square than a usual loaf of bread. These formed small halves, as you can see from my photos. If your bread is larger, or you want smaller sandwiches, feel free to cut into quarters.


Ham, Brie and Apple Tea Sandwich

  • Servings: 12 halves
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Ingredients

  • ½ lb deli ham of your choice (I used Virginia Ham)
  • 6 large slices of brie
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • dijon mustard
  • softened butter
  • 12 slices of thin sandwich bread

Directions

  1. Remove the crust from the bread.
  2. To assemble the sandwiches, spread half of the slices lightly with softened butter and dijon mustard. Place 1-2 pieces of ham on top of each, followed by 2 slices brie side-by-side lengthwise, and finally place 3-4 slices of apple on top. Finish with an additional piece of bread.
  3. Cut each sandwich into halves lengthwise to form rectangles.

Inspired by: The Food Network

A note on sandwich size: I specifically used a loaf of “sandwich bread” from my grocery store, which were smaller and more square than a usual loaf of bread. These formed small halves, as you can see from my photos. If your bread is larger, or you want smaller sandwiches, feel free to cut into quarters.


book review, recipe

Land of Love and Drowning + Lobster Rolls

The magical Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique is set in the newly transferred United States Virgin Islands. The sparsely populated island of Anegada, formed from coral, has more lobsters than people. It is surrounded for eight miles by a submerged reef; it is also surrounded by shipwrecks.

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Though Antoinette Stemme is of Anegada, when she marries Owen Arthur, he whisks her away to St. Thomas. Their two daughters, Eeona and Anette, are born and raised there, never setting foot on their mother’s homeland. The young red-headed Anette is like her mother in many ways and a bit rough around the edges, like Anegada. Beautiful Eeona is very much her wealthy father’s daughter, always concerned with the proper way of doing things and sharing an unusual bond with him from a young age.

It is surprising then, that on a later-life trip to Anegada, Eeona is able to ultimately find herself and begin to accept who she truly is. When she first arrives, a local woman gifts her a lobster. Eeona is startled and almost drops it, having never touched or eaten one before. The woman tells her that on Anegada, they “eat lobster for breakfast and lunch and dinner.”

Unlike Eeona, I have eaten lobster before. I hadn’t cooked it before – until I made LoLo’s Caribbean Lobster Rolls for lunch this weekend. It felt a little extravagant to make lobster for lunch, but considering the circumstances, it seemed right.

I began by prepping the johnnycakes, since the dough had to rest for an hour. I mixed them by hand, as directed, resulting in some messy dough-covered fingers. I had to add a touch more water (about a tablespoon) to get all of the dry ingredients to really come together, but then I was easily able to form the dough into a large ball (and then four smaller ones).

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Towards the end of the hour, I put on the water to boil for the lobster tail. I also combined the mayo, mustard, pickles (I used about 1 spear, once diced), lemon juice, zest and salt to make the remoulade.

In lieu of a tortilla press, I used my cast iron skillet and some parchment paper to form the johnnycake dough balls into thinner patties. I fried them in the same skillet, using vegetable oil.

I was both excited and nervous to cook a live lobster, but in the end, finding one locally proved to be a little difficult. At the seafood market, they had both Maine lobster tails and rock lobster tails. Because of the Caribbean connection, I bought an 8-ounce rock lobster tail. (They are also known as spiny lobsters and live in warmer waters than Maine lobster. They are commonly found the Caribbean.)

Here it is after cooking and its ice bath – notice the little spines along the side:

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I rescued the lobster meat from it’s slightly-dangerous shell and chopped it into bite-size pieces. I tossed it with a generous amount of remoulade (probably closer to two tablespoons). I sliced the johnnycakes, slathered on a bit more sauce and added the lobster meat for a tasty Anegada-style lunch.

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Caribbean Lobster Rolls

  • Servings: 4
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Remoulade Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pickles, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Lobster Filling

  • 1 1½-pound lobster

Johnnycake Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • oil, for frying

Directions

  1. Place all dry ingredients for the johnnycakes in a mixing bowl and mix together by hand.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of water and knead the dough until it forms into a ball, then portion the dough into 4 balls of equal size.
  3. Place the balls of dough on a pan and cover with plastic. Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. While the dough rests, place all remoulade ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Set aside.
  5. Poach the lobster in boiling water for 6 minutes. Remove the lobster from the boiling water and soak in an ice bath to halt the cooking process.
  6. De-shell the lobster and cut it into bite-size pieces tossed in 1-2 tablespoons of the remoulade sauce. Set aside.
  7. Flatten each ball of dough in a tortilla press. Heat the oil in large, heavy pot to 350°F and fry each for 3 to 4 minutes, flipping intermittently, until the cakes are golden brown.
  8. Remove the cakes from the oil and let them rest and drain.
  9. Once cooled, slice and fill each johnnycake with the lobster and remoulade filling mixture and serve.