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book review, recipe

The Woman in the White Kimono + Miso Soup

Ana Johns’ debut novel The Woman in the White Kimono is historical fiction inspired by true stories. It spans decades and continents, taking place in post-WWII Japan and the modern-day United States. I was intrigued by the description and excited to participate in this blog tour.

The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

In the late 1950s in Japan, Naoko has been promised to the son of her father’s business associate but she is in love with another—an American sailor. Though she attempts to get their approval of their relationship, Naoko knows it would bring shame on the family if she decided to marry him. Still, she can’t help but follow her heart. Will the consequences of her decision be something she can live with?

In America now, Tori’s father has died, but not before expanding on a tale he has told her all his life—of a beautiful wedding he attended as a serviceman in Japan decades before. She can’t help but follow her journalistic instincts. Soon, Tori sets out to find out about her father’s life before he married her mother and the “Cricket” he wrote to in Japan.

Johns wrote a compelling story, clearly well-researched. Her author’s note in the back of the novel shares the real stories that inspired her.

Though food wasn’t really featured in the novel, there were a few mentions of dishes here and there, most often miso soup, which was commonly served for breakfast. I’ve definitely eaten my share of miso soup at Japanese restaurants, but I’d never attempted to make it before. I was excited to give it a try.

I found a recipe online, set out for my local Asian market to pick up a few items, and got to work.

Ingredients for Miso Soup

The recipe is quite straightforward and didn’t take long at all. First, I added some dashi granules to water and set it to boil on the stovetop. Then, I reduced the heat to medium and whisked in several tablespoons of miso paste. To that, I added diced tofu and green onions and cooked the soup for a few minutes before serving.

Miso Soup

The soup had a bit more tofu than I’m used to at restaurants, but other than that, the flavor was spot on. It smelled and tasted absolutely delicious.

Miso Soup inspired by The Woman in the White Kimono

Miso Soup

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 4 1-cup servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons dashi granules
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 8 ounce package silken tofu, diced
  • 2 green onions sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine dashi granules and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and whisk in the miso paste. Stir in tofu. Separate the layers of the green onions, and add them to the soup. Simmer gently for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.

Notes

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of the novel for my honest review and asking me to be a part of the blog tour. If you’d like to stop be and see some of the other reviews, check out the list of blogs and dates below:

Tuesday, May 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, May 22nd: Tina Says

Thursday, May 23rd: The Hungry Bookworm

Thursday, May 23rd: Bookish Bliss and Beauty and @bookishblissandbeauty

Friday, May 24th: Asha Reads and @ashareads

Monday, May 27th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader

Tuesday, May 28th: Read Eat Repeat

Tuesday, May 28th: Lori’s Reading Corner – author guest post

Wednesday, May 29th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, May 30th: Helen’s Book Blog

Thursday, May 30th: The Baking Bookworm

Friday, May 31st: Audio Killed the Bookmark and @beritaudiokilledthebookmark

Monday, June 3rd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, June 4th: A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 5th: @chaptersofmar

Thursday, June 6th: Eliot’s Eats

Friday, June 7th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, June 10th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Tuesday, June 11th: Books & Bindings

Wednesday, June 12th: Laura’s Reviews

Thursday, June 13th: Book by Book

Monday, June 17th: @oddandbookish

Tuesday, June 18th: The Book Return

_______________

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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 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

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 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

Life of Pi + Dhal Soup

I rarely re-read books, primarily because there are so many new ones I want to read. My TBR list never stops growing – and it’s only gotten worse since I started blogging. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to make it a point to re-read more of my favorites. Or, more specifically, books that I enjoyed so much I bought a copy (with the intention of reading them again or lending them out for others to read). Anyway, when the Book Challenge by Erin included a category of “books that take place on a mode of transportation,” the first book that came to mind was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The challenge only allows for one re-read, and this was one I owned – and remember liking, so I decided to give it another go.

For the majority of the story, 227 days worth of it to be exact, Pi survives on a lifeboat with fellow passenger Richard Parker, who happens to be a Bengal tiger. Pi and his family were traveling from India to Canada with a cargo ship full of zoo animals when it shipwrecked, stranding Pi with an unusual boatmate. Though the premise promises adventure, it took a little bit to get into – the narrator describes how he stumbled upon Pi and learned his story. Pi also goes through a bit of a spiritual exploration prior to their scheduled journey, which slows things down even while providing some humor.

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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

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. 
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 45 mins
Course: Main Course

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)

Instructions

  • 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.

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.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

They Both Die at the End + French Toast

Imagine a world where you knew exactly which day you would die but not how – on the morning of your death, you get a phone call with the warning and are instructed to make the most of it. That’s the premise behind Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, a young adult dystopian novel. I devoured it in a single day.

On the morning of September 5, a representative from Death-Cast calls both Mateo and Rufus – two teenage boys – and informs them that their End Day is here. They each set off to live their best life on their last day on Earth, not knowing exactly how or when it will come to an end. Interestingly (and one of the things I loved most about Silvera’s concept), a whole economy has grown up around this knew End Day phenomenon, and it is through the app Last Friend, that Mateo and Rufus find each other.

Together, they set about tying up loose ends, experiencing new things and enjoying a last meal to fuel them through their adventures. Some may not appreciate knowing how it all ends before even picking up the novel, but don’t let that hold you back. The ending was not what I was expecting, and I found that the anticipation of the end-point kept the momentum going as I read. If you enjoyed the movie Stranger Than Fiction, which I very much did, that’s the closest approximation I can think of to knowing a plot point and not having it ruin the rest of the experience for you.

Of course, knowing a recipe would end up tagging along with my review, Rufus and Mateo’s most memorable meal on their End Day was important to me. At a hole-in-the-wall diner, they order what I can only hope was an amazing grilled chicken salad (which wouldn’t be my first choice, to be honest) and French toast with a side of French fries (now we’re getting somewhere…).

The French toast obviously stood out to me – yes, grilled chicken salad can be very delicious, but I would really rather not endure a last day without carbs. For those of you who followed my Thanksgiving Readathon, you’ll know I adored Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Coincidentally, in it, she included a recipe for her father’s French toast, alongside a whole chapter describing its deliciousness. I knew this had to be the recipe I used here, because a last meal absolutely has to be the best. It did not disappoint, and I can only hope the boys’ French toast was just as amazing.

To start, I dug out my cast iron skillet and glugged in some canola oil, making sure to completely cover the bottom, per Molly’s instruction. Then, I cracked 3 eggs into a Pyrex pie dish, which I would ultimately use to coat the bread.

To the eggs, I added milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg, whisking it all together. While the oil heated up, I added two slices of bread to the egg mixture, letting it soak for about 45 seconds or so on each side. (I unfortunately was unable to find a loaf of bread that wasn’t pre-sliced, so they weren’t cut diagonally, but I still think it worked well.)

Then, carefully, using tongs, I placed each slice into the hot oil. It bubbled as it should’ve, which was a good sign. I let it cook for between 1 and 2 minutes on each side.

When each pair of slices was finished, I placed them on a plate lined with paper towels. We had these for a quick dinner one night after work, but they were so easy, that I wouldn’t hesitate to make them on a sleepy weekend morning. I haven’t made a lot of French toast myself, but I have eaten it quite often at restaurants, and this was probably the best I’ve ever had. I can definitely see us adding it to the rotation, especially when we’re looking for a little simple indulgence.

To finish, I dusted the slices with some powdered sugar, which is something I love from years of ordering French toast at restaurants. I’m actually always disappointed when it appears on my table without a white dusting. Of course, we also covered them with syrup and dug right in.

Last Meal French Toast

  • Servings: 6-8 slices
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • canola or other flavorless oil, for frying
  • 6 to 8 slices day-old bread, cut on the diagonal, about ¾ inch thick
  • pure maple syrup, for serving
  • powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Break the eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or an 8-inch square Pyrex dish. Whisk the eggs to break up the yolks. Add the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and whisk to blend.
  2. Place a heavy large skillet – preferably cast iron – over medium-high heat, and pour in enough oil to completely cover the bottom of the skillet. Let the oil heat until you can feel the warmth radiating from it when you hold your hand close over the pan. To test the heat, dip the tip of a finger into the egg mixture – not the oil! – and flick a drop into the oil. If it sizzles, it’s ready.
  3. Meanwhile, when the oil is almost hot enough, put 2 to 3 slices of bread into the egg mixture, allowing them to rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. They should feel heavy and thoroughly saturated, but they shouldn’t be falling apart.
  4. Carefully, using tongs, place the slices in the skillet. They should sizzle upon contact, and the oil should bubble busily around the edges. Watch carefully: with hot oil like this, the slices can burn more quickly than you would think. Cook until the underside of the each slice is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully flip and cook until the second side is golden, another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel, and allow to sit for a minute or two before serving.
  5. Repeat with remaining bread. If, at any point, the bread starts to burn before it has a chance to brown nicely, turn the heat back a little. You want to keep it nice and hot, but not smoking.
  6. If desired, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with maple syrup.

Slightly adapted from: Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, featured on pages 39 – 40 as Burg’s French Toast

Recipe Notes: Bread should always be a day or two old. Make sure it has a soft, light crumb and isn’t too dense. When pouring in the oil, make sure it completely coats the bottom of the pan.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.