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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. 

Course Main Course
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

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)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?).
  4. 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.

Recipe 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.

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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
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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.


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book review, recipe

Turtles All the Way Down + Spiral Mac ‘n’ Cheese

John Green has written many young adult novels, including one of my favorites, The Fault in Our Stars. He has a unique way of tackling both the everyday and the unexpected parts of the lives of teenagers. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is no exception. Like other teenagers, Aza tries her best in school, has an understanding best friend, and doesn’t know exactly what to do when she finds herself in a relationship. Aza also lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and an often crippling level of anxiety, much of which was drawn from Green’s own experiences.

Because of that, Turtles tells an excellent, unique story. Admittedly, some of the scenes where Aza is having obsessive thoughts were hard to read. It almost felt like I was in her head, and in those moments, I read as if hiding behind split fingers – not wanting to go on but wanting to know what happened all the same. I admire Green’s willingness to not only discuss his own mental health issues but to write about them too, in a way that’s real.

Stories like these help to make mental health something that’s okay to talk about. The existence of a likeable character that readers can connect to and empathize with can help teenagers (and adults) realize that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. In Green’s own words, “it’s important for people to hear from [those] who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” And because of that, it is absolutely a book worth picking up – even if you aren’t familiar with John Green, even if you don’t usually read YA.

Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I looked at this book’s cover was spiral macaroni and cheese. I think they eat it once over the course of the story, but in the end, I couldn’t get it out of my head and no other foods really stood out to me. So, no surprise, that’s what I decided to make. I found an easy recipe from Famished Fish and set to work for a quick, easy dinner one night.

To start, I brought my water to a boil and cooked my noodles according to the package instructions. The original recipe called for rotini, but I also think cavatappi would work great here.

While the noodles cooked, I made the sauce. I melted butter in a pan and then added flour to create a roux. To that, I added the dried mustard and paprika, slowly stirring in 1 cup of milk, so that it could fully incorporate with the roux and remain thick.

Then, I added in the remaining 2 cups of milk slowly, along with the salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I continued cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more or so, until it thickened. I stirred in three-quarters of the cheese so it melted and became incorporated.

I drained the finished noodles and poured the cheese sauce on top, stirring until the noodles were fully covered. To serve, I spooned the mac ‘n’ cheese into bowls and topped each with a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

It was delicious! And so easy that I’ll definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

Creamy Spiral Mac 'n' Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • 16 oz uncooked spiral noodles (rotini or cavatappi)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Add uncooked pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook 9-11 minutes, according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour to create a roux.
  3. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk along with the mustard and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk and the salt and Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes until has thickened.
  4. Stir in 1½ cups of the sharp cheddar cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to large pot. Carefully pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently to combine the cheese sauce and pasta.
  6. Ladle the macaroni and cheese spirals into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Famished Fish

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book review, recipe

Housekeeping + Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast

Marilynne Robinson is perhaps best known for her Gilead series, of which the first novel was published to much acclaim about 25 years after the book I’m here to share today, Housekeeping. This novel is understated, following sisters Ruth and Lucille, as they are left in the quiet, flood-prone town of Fingerbone to live in their grandmother’s house.

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After their grandmother dies, the house is passed on to two great aunts who move in to take care of Ruth and Lucille, though they seem to doubt their abilities to do so. Late one evening, the girls’ Aunt Sylvie appears, seemingly unaware of her mother’s passing. She is greeted with surprise and a quick meal of poached eggs.  

Eventually, Sylvie becomes the girls’ caretaker, though she isn’t much for mothering, cooking or housekeeping, instead piling up cans and newspapers in the living room, preferring to eat her food cold and allowing the girls to skip school. Her transient ways leave her restless in the house. In response, Lucille seeks out a more normal childhood; Ruth can’t help but be drawn in, with implications that last their whole lives.

Shortly after Sylvie takes up permanent residence, a flood seeps into Fingerbone, covering the town with water and dampening everything, including her spirits. So, I thought some local mushrooms, which require a damp environment to grow well, would pair nicely with the poached eggs Sylvie ate upon her arrival. This weekend’s brunch was Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast.

First, I roughly chopped my mushrooms (so nicely picked up by Scott at Eastern Market on Saturday morning) and my flat leaf parsley.

IMG_2673

I set a high-sided skillet mostly filled with water onto the stove to begin coming to a boil for the poached eggs. In another medium skillet, I heated through a tablespoon or so of olive oil and added the mushrooms. After a few minutes, when they were lightly browned and softened, I added the minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

About a minute later, I added the goat cheese and milk and stirred until combined. I seasoned with salt and black pepper before adding the butter. At this point, I turned off the heat because my poaching water was ready to go. I also slipped my bread into the toaster.

I poured approximately 2 tablespoons of vinegar into my softly boiling water (vinegar will vary based on the amount of water, but for about 3 inches of water in a 10” pan, 2 tablespoons worked perfectly). I started with 2 eggs and cracked each into its own small bowl, lowering them one at a time into the water so that a bit of the water could seep in and help to start setting the egg white. I slowly poured the egg into the boiling water and used a wooden spoon to “collect” the egg whites around the yolk. I repeated with the second egg and set a time for 3 minutes.

I reignited the heat under the mushrooms and added the parsley and arugula so it could begin to wilt while the eggs finished poaching. I placed the finished toast on a plate, topped with the mushroom mixture and, once the eggs were done (fish them carefully out of the water with a slotted spoon), I added them to the top of the toasts.

Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast

  • Servings: 2
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Slightly Adapted From: Shutterbean (whose pictures are much nicer than mine)

Ingredients

  • 2 slices hearty bread, toasted
  • a glug olive oil
  • 6 oz. mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • a pad of butter
  • kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • a pinch red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • a handful of arugula
  • 4 eggs, poached in two batches

Directions

  1. Begin by heating a deep-sided skillet or wide pot filled with about 2-3 inches of water over medium-high heat. This should be brought to a soft boil while you cook the mushroom topping.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat with a glug of olive oil. Add in mushrooms and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.
  3. Add in the milk, and goat cheese, stirring until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in butter. Turn off the heat while you make the poached eggs.
  4. Add about 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the softly boiling water. (If it boils to aggressively it will cause the whites of the eggs to fall apart.)
  5. Put each egg in a small bowl (a measuring cup works well too). Carefully tip the bowl into the pot so that a bit of the hot water helps to start setting the egg and then pour the egg slowly into the pot. Using a wooden spoon or similarly blunt cooking utensil, gently push the egg whites over/around the yolk. Repeat with the second egg. Allow eggs to cook for approximately 3 minutes.
  6. While the eggs cook, put your toast in the toaster.
  7. Turn the heat back on under the mushrooms and add the parsley and arugula. When arugula has wilted, take mushrooms off the heat and transfer them to the top of the toasts. Place a poached egg (or two) on the top of each mound of mushrooms. Season with salt & pepper and serve immediately.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.