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book review, recipe

The Wangs vs. the World + Sichuan Boiled Fish

Jade Chang’s debut novel The Wangs vs. the World first came to my attention a couple of years ago when I won a signed copy in a giveaway from a fellow blogger. It’s been on my shelf ever since. This year, I’m trying to do a better job of reading my shelves — though I’m only doing an okay job due to the many new releases I just can’t stop requesting from the library — and so recently, while waiting for some holds to come in, I decided to give this one a try.

The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang

The blurb promises hilarity, and I was looking forward to some laughs. And, in full disclosure, I thought it might contain some interesting food I could make for a post. It didn’t quite deliver on the laughs, but it certainly did make for an interesting food experience (but more on that later).

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book review, recipe

Becoming + Sweet Potatoes in a Hurry (An Obama Family Favorite)

Like much of America, I’ve been looking forward to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming since the moment it was announced. As much as I’ve admired her from afar, I honestly never knew much about Michelle and was excited for the opportunity to learn more — from her, in her own voice.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle’s writing is as engaging as expected. From the beginning of the memoir — a section entitled “Becoming Me,” in which she describes her life growing up on the South Side of Chicago — to the end of “Becoming More” — the final section in which she discusses her and her family’s life in the spotlight while Barack held office — it was a joy to get to know her better.

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book review, recipe

Our Life in the Forest + Roasted Mushrooms with Herbed Quinoa

I requested Marie Darrieussecq’s novel Our Life in the Forest from NetGalley because the concept was intriguing. Marie — both the author and the main character, our narrator — describes for us a future world in which wealthy humans of her generation have “halves,” or breathing but unconscious humans that are available should they need spare body parts. If you’re less fortunate, you’ll have a “jar” instead, holding just a backup heart and pair of lungs.

Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq

It’s a bleak future, and it’s one that Marie has decided to escape with several others. They have taken their halves and are hiding in the forest, where the drones can’t spot them through the dense treetops. The story is translated from French (a wonderful translation) and Darrieussecq’s writing style is direct; we are treated to very little extraneous description.

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book review, recipe

The Late Bloomers’ Club + Burnt Sugar Cake (and Corn Tomato Salad)

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to fall. It’s the season of cool nights, hot cups of tea, fresh baked goods and cuddling up under a blanket with a good book. Reading Louise Miller’s The Late Bloomers’ Club was so cozy and comforting, it felt like I stumbled into Stars Hollow, a fall festival just around the corner. I’m absolutely jones-ing for fall.

The Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller

Nora owns the Miss Guthrie Diner, which was opened by her parents and is now an institution in the small Vermont town of Guthrie. She is well-respected in the town but mostly keeps to herself in the wake of her divorce from her high school sweetheart. When the beloved local cake lady, Peggy, unexpectedly dies and leaves her estate to Nora, no one is more surprised than her. Nora learns that Peggy was considering selling her land to a large corporation, potentially changing the town of Guthrie forever, and she must take on the burden of making the decision herself.

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book review, recipe

The Immortalists + Apple Noodle Kugel

I included Chloe Benjamin’s novel The Immortalists on my list of Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018 over eight months ago. It’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly as long (shortly after it came out in January), and I just — finally! — got around to reading it. I’m happy to say it lived up to expectations!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The novel follows the four Gold siblings: Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon. In 1969, when they’re still quite young — Varya, the oldest, is thirteen and Simon, the youngest, is only seven — they visit a mysterious psychic because Daniel has heard she is able to tell anyone the day they will die. They leave shaken but armed with a glimpse into their futures.

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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 Oracle Year + Stir-Fried Lotus Root

In Charles Soule’s first novel The Oracle Year, the comic book writer explores a clever concept about the power of prediction. The main character, Will Dando, is a twenty-something musician who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions about the future. The predictions range from seemingly innocuous to world-changing and extremely specific to frustratingly vague.

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

While man behind The Oracle is a mystery, his predictions are practically front page news around the globe. As more and more of them come true, he is forced to go to great lengths to remain anonymous for his own safety. It’s a delicate balance between sitting on what he knows and sharing it with the world as he learns whether he has control over their source, or it has control over him.

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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

Guest Post: Jane of Lantern Hill + Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

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.

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book review, recipe

Pachinko + Kimchi

Pachinko, for those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t until I read Min Jin Lee’s novel of the same name), is a Japanese game of chance, a combination of pinball and a slot machine. Like the game it’s named for, Lee spins an epic tale that goes up and down, away and back again, all as the Korean family we follow move to Japan and either suffer or thrive there. The novel starts with the parents of our strong central female character Sunja and spans over seventy years and several generations.

I liked Pachinko, but despite being well-written, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. Lee really put her characters through the ringer, and the suffering they experienced left me feeling very defeated. It was an interesting perspective on an immigration story – one we aren’t often exposed to here in the United States but one that didn’t leave me with much hope either.

It was a book we chose for our August book club, and I’ll admit I put it on the list because I already owned it (checking off that TBR!) and because I wanted to make and eat sushi. It turned out that while sushi did show up a couple of times in the novel, kimchi is what really made an impression. Sunja and her sister-in-law used their skills in the kitchen to make kimchi when times were tough, supporting their family the only way they could.

Kimchi, which is made of fermented vegetables – usually cabbage, requires about a minimum of a week to make. So, it was about two weeks ago that I set to work. I found a recipe that didn’t seem too intimidating and stopped by the trusty 168 Asian Mart (you may remember from my dumpling-making adventures) to gather all of the Korean-specific ingredients, such as salted shrimp and red pepper powder.

I chopped my cabbage into roughly 2-inch pieces, put them in a large bowl and sprinkled them with a generous amount of salt (half a cup), tossing the leaves to make sure they were well-coated. Then, I covered the cabbage with water – I ended up using about 15 cups – and covered the entire bowl with plastic wrap. I let it sit for about a day.

Then, I placed the cabbage in a colander, rinsed it and squeezed it out. While that sat, I combined all of the other ingredients in a large bowl – radish cut into matchsticks, scallions cut into 1-inch pieces, what seemed like a ton of Korean red pepper powder, fish sauce, minced ginger and garlic, Korean salted shrimp and a little bit of sugar.

Once it was well-combined, I added the cabbage and tossed it until it was well-coated and pretty red too. Then, I stuffed everything into my large glass jar and sealed it. I snapped a quick picture before I left it in the dark, cool basement for another full day.

Then, I opened the lid and allowed the gases to escape – the product of our fermentation process was quite pungent. I’d recommend doing this with the windows open, or in a very well-ventilated room. After about a half an hour, I sealed it back up and placed it in the fridge. The jar hung out in the fridge for about 10 days, until yesterday, when I opened it up to attempt to make kimchi fried rice.

You can use kimchi for a lot of different things, but the one I thought I might enjoy the most was kimchi fried rice. (Disclaimer: I’m not a huge kimchi fan to begin with.) Luckily, I was already familiar with fried rice from my Boston Girl blog entry earlier this year.

I ended up tweaking the recipe I found a little bit, but I loved the idea of serving it with an egg on top, so I had Scott fry some up while I put the finishing touches on the rice. The whole meal turned out really well – the kimchi added a little bit of an extra kick to the fried rice, and I liked it much more than I expected to! Now, we just have to figure out how to use the rest of the kimchi 🙂 Any suggestions, fellow foodies?

Basic Napa Cabbage Kimchi

  • Servings: 1½ quarts
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 (2-pound) napa cabbage
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • about 12 cups cold water, plus more as needed
  • 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (use all parts)
  • ⅓ cup Korean red pepper powder
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons Korean salted shrimp, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2-inch pieces, discarding the root end. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss with your hands until the cabbage is coated. Add enough cold water to just cover (about 12 cups), making sure the cabbage is submerged (it’s OK if a few leaves break the surface). Cover with plastic wrap or a baking sheet and let sit at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
  2. Place a colander in the sink, drain the cabbage, and rinse with cold water. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands until evenly combined and the cabbage is thoroughly coated with the mixture.
  4. Pack the mixture tightly into a clean 2-quart or 2-liter glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and seal the jar. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 24 hours (the mixture may bubble). Open the jar to let the gases escape, then reseal and refrigerate at least 48 hours before eating. (Kimchi is best after fermenting about 1 week). Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

From: Chowhound

I used the kimchi to make Kimchi Fried Rice (from Rasa Malaysia), though it can be served as a side or in a variety of dishes.


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