Friday, February 23, 2018

Ina's Rosemary Roasted Cashews

Just a quick little Friday afternoon/evening snack that works as a party appetizer or just something simple but delicious to nosh on. From Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook, Ina says that these nuts were inspired by the ones served at Union Square Cafe in New York City.


I ever so slightly adapted the recipe by using a chipotle-garlic seasoning blend I like in place of the cayenne and by reducing the salt. The book calls for 1 tablespoon kosher salt which is way too much. On Food Network, the recipe calls for 2 tsp, which is better but still a bit much for me so I reduced it to 1 1/2 scat teaspoons sea salt. My changes are in red below.

Rosemary Roasted Cashews
Slightly Adapted from Barefoot in Paris
(Serves 8)

1lb roasted, unsalted cashews
2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I used a chipotle-garlic seasoning blend)
2 tsp light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp sea salt (book says 2 Tbsp, Food Network says 2 tsp)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan. Toast in the oven until warm--about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Thoroughly toss the warm cashews with the spiced butter and serve warm. 


Notes/Results: These nuts make your house smell delicious with the toasty aroma combined with the scent of the rosemary and if possible, they taste even better than they smell. They have that great balance of savory, salty, spicy, herby and sweet. My only issue with them (beyond the amount of salt in the original recipe) is that I want to eat all of them. They would be great with a cocktail. I will happily make them again. 


Linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where our theme this week is Ina's Bistro!--Ina's French recipes. This recipe may not be particularity French but it's from her French cookbook so there you go!


I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Story of Our Lives" by Helen Warner, Served with a Recipe for Bagels and Lox with Homemade Veggie Cream Cheese

Happy Tuesday. I'm excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Story of Our Lives, a novel by Helen Warner. Accompanying my review are Bagels and Lox with a recipe for homemade Veggie Cream Cheese, inspired by my reading. 


Publisher's Blurb:
 
They think nothing can tear their bond apart, until a long-buried secret threatens to destroy everything.
 
Every year they have met up for a vacation, but their time away is much more than just a bit of fun. 

Over time, it has become a lifesaver, as each of them struggles with life’s triumphs and tragedies.
 
Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa have been best friends since they were girls. They have seen each other through everything—from Sophie’s private fear that she doesn’t actually want to be a mother despite having two kids, to Amy’s perfect-on-the-outside marriage that starts to reveal troubling warning signs, to Melissa’s spiraling alcoholism, to questions that are suddenly bubbling up around the paternity of Emily’s son. But could a lie that spans just as long as their friendship be the thing that tears them apart?

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Graydon House (February 6, 2018)

My Review:

I am a bit of a sucker for good women's friendship stories, especially when they span years or even decades and give you a front-row seat to see how different characters and their relationships grow and evolve. The Story of Our Lives covers the years between 1997 and 2007 in the lives of Sophie, Melissa, Amy and Emily, who became friends during their first year of university. The women gather annually for a 'girls' weekend away, where they reconnect and share (or don't share--there are some big secrets being hidden) what is happening in their lives. Each character faces different personal and professional challenges that run the gamut from relationship and marital challenges, infidelity, pregnancies, miscarriages, and postpartum depression, addiction, domestic abuse, and career issues. Although some of the subject matter is heavier in tone, the author keeps it from bogging down too much and happy moments occur frequently. For the most part, the four main characters are likable and relatable, although some grew on me more quickly than others. 

With a few chapters devoted to a year (each year has a 'news bite' with a major story from that year which is interesting to think back on) and often featuring an emphasis on one of the characters and their perspectives, the 400+ pages moved quickly and the story flowed well. There are no big surprises and a few things that were easily predictable, but the writing and characters are engaging and I found myself sorry to have the book end. The Story of Our Lives is a great 'escape' novel--the weekends away are often set in beachy locations in Britain and it makes for a relatively quick and enjoyable read. If you are a fan of women's fiction, contemporary fiction, and stories about the highs and lows of friendships and relationships, you'll enjoy this one.

-----

Author Notes:  

Helen Warner is head of daytime for Channel 4, where she is responsible for shows such as Come Dine With Me and Deal Or No Deal. Previously she worked for ITV where she launched the daytime talk show Loose Women and was editor of This Morning. She lives in East Anglia with her husband and their two children.



-----

Food Inspiration:

At first I feared there wasn't going to be much food inspiration in The Story of Our Lives as food mentions seemed few and far between, but some finally appeared including bacon, pizza, salmon, pancakes, green olives, asparagus, home-made canapés, crisps, croissants with homemade strawberry jam, gin and tonics, champagne, cava, and all manner of other alcohol.

It was the mention of a beach breakfast Amy made that gave me my book-inspired dish:

"Amy had prepared a feast of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, beautiful, exotic fruit salads, plus bread and croissants she had freshly baked herself." 


I love bagels with lox and it gave me a great excuse to make a batch of Veggie Cream Cheese from a recipe I had recently pinned from TheKitchn.com. Veggie cream cheese or schmear is one of my favorite things to get at a good bagel place and I liked the idea of making my own and pairing it with the smoked salmon--along with capers and a sprinkling of Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning Mix.


I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--using fresh thyme because I had a bunch left over from this week's soup, replacing the salt with celery salt, and adding a lone stalk of celery I had sitting in the produce drawer. 

Veggie Cream Cheese
Slightly Adpated from Meghan Splawn via TheKitchn.com
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)


1/2 medium carrot, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
(I added 1 small stock celery, peeled & Cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 medium scallion, cut into 4 pieces
1 small clove garlic, smashed
1 small sprig dill (I used thyme)
1/4 medium red bell pepper, seeded & quartered
1/2 tsp kosher salt (I used celery salt)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 Tbsp olive oil

Place carrots (and celery) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped (about 5 pulses). Add the scallion, garlic, leaves from thyme sprig, bell pepper, salt and pepper and pulse until finely chopped (about 5-7 pulses). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. 

Add cream cheese and olive oil and pulse until the cheese and vegetables are completely incorporated (about 7-10 pulses). 

Serve immediately or store tightly-covered in the fridge for up to a week. 


Notes/Results: I have made lots of different flavored cream cheeses and don't know why I never tried a veggie cream cheese before. It is really good and tasted much fresher than the store-bought version. I like the way the flavors of the different veggies come through and the pop of flavor from the garlic, celery seed and thyme (I am sure the dill in the original would be fabulous too.) I think it tastes even better after sitting overnight in the fridge as the flavors meld. It paired well with the salmon and capers--the flavors are all strong--so they didn't overpower one another. I used a regular cream cheese but you could easily use a lower-fat substitute or even sub in a vegan cream cheese if you are avoiding dairy. In addition to using it on bagels, the recipe author recommends it as a sandwich spread, on crackers or stirred into hot pasta and I think it would be delicious in any of those applications. I will definitely make it again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


Note: A review copy of "The Story of Our Lives" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ina's Lentil Vegetable Soup: Hearty and Healthy for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Nothing says love like a bowl of soup--especially when it is a tasty bowl of hearty and healthy lentil soup. This Lentil Vegetable Soup from Ina Garten uses small French green lentils and is packed with carrots, celery, leeks, and onions. 


I was impressed at the 5-star average rating it got on the Food Network website with 222 reviews.  


Lentil Vegetable Soup
By Ina Garten, via FoodNetwork.com
(Makes 8-10 Servings)

1 pound French green lentils



(I used 2 Tbsp)



 







In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. 

Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.


Notes/Results: This is a great lentil soup--the thyme, garlic and cumin give it good flavor and the French lentils hold their shape better than regular lentils, which gives the soup a great toothsome texture. I used red wine vinegar to finish it rather than red wine because I like how vinegar brightens up earthy lentils. If you want to make it vegan, leave off the Parmesan, or better yet, use a vegan cheese--because having a little melty goodness adds a nice touch to the soup. I was going to cut down the recipe when I read how much it made but I am glad I made the full batch. We have a rainy start to the week and I will be happy curling up with bowls of this soup. I'd happily make it again. 


Linking up to I Heart Coking Clubs where this week's theme is Struck By Cupid--Ina Garten dishes that show love. 

 

We have some tasty dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week, let's have a look!

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog made this pretty Chinese Noodle Salad and said, "This simple hearty side dish that is both flavorful and healthy. Sauteed cabbage and noodles have always been one of my favorites.  Chinese Noodle Salad is my variation of my noodle salad, but I've added sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds to give it that Asian flavor that so many people just love."


Please join me in welcoming Quilt Lady from Chasing My Life who joins us at Souper Sundays this week with two recipes. The first is a New Classic Caesar Salad. She says, "When I use chicken I use chicken tenders with salt and pepper browned in a little butter and then shredded into the salad."

 
The second recipe is her Yummy Homemade Celery Seed Dressing and Quilt Lady recommends chilling this dressing before serving but says that it is also good heated.


Thanks for joining me this week at Souper Sundays!

About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).
 


 Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "In Every Moment We Are Still Alive" by Tom Malmquist, Served with a Recipe for Muslei with Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Banana & Strawberries

Today I am happy to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour of In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, a heart-tugging autobiographical novel by Tom Malmquist. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Muslei with Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Banana & Strawberries, inspired by my reading.


Publisher's Blurb:

A prize-winning, bestselling debut of love, loss, and family–based on a true story–that’s winning readers around the world.

When Tom’s heavily pregnant girlfriend Karin is rushed to the hospital, doctors are able to save the baby. But they are helpless to save Karin from what turns out to be acute Leukemia. And in a cruel, fleeting moment Tom gains a daughter but loses his soul-mate. In Every Moment We Are Alive is the story of the year that changes everything, as Tom must reconcile the fury and pain of loss with the overwhelming responsibility of raising his daughter, Livia, alone.
 
By turns tragic and redemptive, meditative and breathless, achingly poignant and darkly funny, this autobiographical novel has been described as ‘hypnotic’, ‘impossible to resist’ and ‘one of the most powerful books about grief ever written’.

Shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literary Award — the ‘Nordic Booker’ — the judges praised it as “one of the most powerful books about grief ever written.” Malmquist is the first novelist to ever win Sweden’s prestigious Dagens Nyheter Culture Prize.  This novel is translated from Swedish by Henning Koch (the translator of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove).

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Melville House (January 30, 2018)

My Review:

I was interested in reviewing In Every Moment We Are Alive after reading the blurb and seeing all the accolades the book was getting. It's based on the real life and experiences of the author, Tom Malmquist when his long-time girlfriend Karin, is rushed to the hospital with breathing issues. What should be a happy time for the couple, Karin is pregnant with their daughter, soon becomes tragic as Karin's health rapidly deteriorates and she is diagnosed with acute leukemia. Doctors are able to save the baby (named Livia by Karin) delivering her prematurely, but not Karin.

This book was a challenge to read for a few reasons. Having recently come out of the hospital, starting in the ICU for a acute asthma attack, the respirator and cannula descriptions (I have an interesting fading scar from one on my wrist) made me flash back a bit squeamishly and Malmquist's descriptions of his anger, frustration and grief are very raw and tug at the heart. The writing itself is free-form--which can be hard to follow as Malmquist goes back and forth in time and writes in rambling sentences where dialogue is written without quotation marks, paragraphs run long, and chapter breaks are few and far between. There are also a myriad of doctors, nurses, friends and family mixed in, most of whom just appear without an introduction, and it takes time to figure out who everyone is. But, as someone who has suffered grief and with it thoughts that run on and on with a mish-mash of past, present, and random images that flash across your mind, although In Every Moment We Are Still Alive can be difficult to read, it comes across as very real and it is worth the extra care it takes as a reader to work your way through it. 

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, won't appeal to every one--both in the subject matter and the writing style. If chaotic writing leaves you unable to focus on a story, it won't be the book for you, but if you can get into the rhythm of the author's words, there is a beautiful story of family, love, loss, and hope that unfolds from a tragedy.

-----

Author Notes:  
Tom Malmquist is a poet and sportswriter. He has written two highly acclaimed poetry collections. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is his first novel. He lives in Sweden.



-----

Food Inspiration:

Although not a focus in the book, there is food to be found within the pages of In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, including coffee, cheese sandwiches, a salad with prawns and Rhode Island sauce (similar to Thousand Island dressing), orange juice, a late night dinner at a kabob shop with garlic sauce on the table, a Frödinge curd cake, pickled gherkins, a seafood cocktail made prawns, lobster and mint, a dinner of beef, salad, Dauphinoise potatoes, gravy and Bearnaise sauce, coffee and Marie biscuits, yogurt, egg sandwiches and sandwiches of liver pâté and gherkins, pina coladas, cucumber salad, potatoes, lamb osso bucco, a hotdog stand with a Sausage Special with Boston gherkins, and a picnic of Swiss hard cheese, roast chicken, vine tomatoes and Chablis. 

I ended up taking my inspiration from Tom cleaning out the kitchen cabinets in the flat he shared with Karin, "I throw most of the contents of the kitchen cabinets into black bags: pumpkin seeds, black quinoa, apple and cinnamon muesli, raisins, tins of tomato pulp and white beans, cocoa, vanilla sugar, cartons of green tea, toasted linseed, spelt flour, walnuts, dried apricots, some of the expiry dates go back as far as 2003."
 
I decided it was a good time to make some homemade muesli, and decided to put a few of the ingredients that mentioned in the book and that I had in my pantry (pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cinnamon, apples, and dried fruit) into it.


Muesli, is a breakfast dish based on raw oats, grains, seeds, nuts, and dried and fresh fruit that was usually mixed with milk or yogurt and left overnight for the oats to soften, then eaten cold. Muesli was developed in the early 1900s by Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. The original Bircher muesli was soaked overnight with water and lemon juice and then mixed with yogurt to eat the next day.  Muesli comes in many different styles and forms now pre-packaged and fresh. I am not a big hot oatmeal fan but like muesli and it's modern application into overnight oats.
 
This is a recipe I use often, (I've posted it here and here) based on Jamie Oliver's Pukkolla from The Naked Chef Takes Off. I have adapted it to my tastes over the years (including making a smaller batch here) and I vary the ingredients based on what I have in the pantry and what strikes my mood.


Muesli with Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Banana & Strawberries
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

Muesli Dry Mix:
4 large handfuls of organic rolled oats
1 handfuls of chopped dried fruits of choice (I used pineapple & papaya)

1 handful of crumbled or chopped walnuts or nuts of choice 
1 handful of pumpkin seeds 
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Add your oats to an airtight container along with the dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon. Place the lid on and shake well to mix. This dry mixture will keep for a good couple of months in the airtight container


The Night before: 
non-dairy milk to cover (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
1/2 crunchy apple per serving, washed and unpeeled

You can make this anytime, but letting it sit overnight (or for about 8 hours), gives it a better texture. Place the amount of dry muesli you want to eat in a bowl or small, lidded container. (Remember the dry muesli will almost double in volume so an average serving is about 1/2 to 1/3 cup of dry mix.)

Grate in about 1/2 an apple per person, cover with the milk and stir immediately to keep the apple from discoloring. Place in the fridge overnight. 


To Eat:
1/2 banana per person, peeled and sliced or mashed 

1/2 cup sliced strawberries or other fruit
honey or maple syrup to taste

Remove the container/bowl from the fridge. You will find that the muesli has softened and thickened, so loosen with a little additional milk. Add your banana, sliced or mashed or blueberries. You will find that a lot of natural sweetness has come out of the dried fruit, so add honey or maple syrup to taste. Serve and enjoy.



Notes/Results: Muesli makes for a satisfying breakfast and it is one of those recipes that you can adapt to your tastes and available ingredients, adding more or less of any ingredient too. if you want less sugar, use less dried fruit and bump up the nuts and seeds if you want more protein--it all works. Don't leave out the grated apple (I like HoneyCrisp) as it adds a nice sweet-tart flavor to the oats and a great texture to the mix. Although I only made a half-batch, since you only use a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the oat mixture per serving, I'll be enjoying it for breakfast a lot. ;-)


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


Note: A review copy of "In Every Moment We Are Still Alive" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.

 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mark Bittman's Chinese-Style Peanut Soup with Tofu & Bok Choy for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Soups are the ultimate one-pot meal and I have been meaning to make this variation of Mark Bittman's Spicy Peanut Soup with Chicken and Collards for a while now. It's an African-inspired soup, but this variation featuring tofu and bok choy, takes on an Asian flavor profile. 


The recipe is from Bittman's How to Cook Everything Fast, a good resource when you don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. 


Chinese-Style Peanut Soup with Tofu & Bok Choy
Slightly Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used 1 Tbsp coconut oil)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 fresh hot green chile, seeded and minced
1 cup peanut butter, whisked together with 1/2 cup warm water
6 cups good veggie stock (I used low sodium non-chicken bouillon paste)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (I used low sodium tamari)
1 lb bok choy, or baby bok choy, trimmed, stems separated from leaves and chopped, leaves sliced crosswise into ribbons
1 lb firm tofu, pressed to remove the water, and cubed
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish
(I used cilantro leaves to garnish)

Place oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the green onion to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until softened--2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chile and cook, stirring for  2 or 3 minutes.

Add the stock, scraping up any brownish bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the peanut butter mixture and soy sauce and raise the heat to high, bringing to a boil. When the soup boils, stir in the stems of the bok choy, reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the bok choy leaves and the tofu cubes and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, undisturbed, until the leaves soften. 

Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. Serve in bowls, garnished with the chopped peanuts and enjoy.


Notes/Results: I really enjoyed this soup with its savory peanut taste--it's rich and full of flavor, a bit like a Thai satay sauce. It goes together pretty quickly and the protein from the tofu and peanut butter (I used the freshly ground peanuts from Whole Foods) make it satisfying. With the cup of peanut butter, it's not the lowest fat and calorie soup but it is worth a little indulgence. I would happily make it again.


I am linking it up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is our Monthly Featured Dish/Ingredient Challenge: One Pot Meals.


We have two dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week, let's have a look!

Jaxx at The Bearded Hiker joins me this week with a Corn & Potato Chowder that can be made on the stove top or the pressure cooker. He says, "In this digital world, I still keep my tried and true, most beloved recipes in a recipe box. In this box is loads of goodness and it’s also where I came across my old friend, corn and potato chowder. ...this is a perfect, light soup for those cold winter days.  Pair with a great big salad and you’ve got gold!"

 
Tina of Squirrel Head Manor shared a restaurant Taco Salad she ended up disappointed in. She said, "...I was craving a taco salad so we went to one of our favorite restaurants.  We hadn't been there in a while so I ordered the taco salad I wanted but failed to read over the new menu carefully. Last time it came in an edible bowl but this time it was far too much lettuce and no bowl.  All plated up instead.  While it was good with a choice of beef, chicken or black beans (I opted for black beans) it left me wanting the tortilla chips or tortilla bowl."


Thanks for joining me Tina and Jaxx!

About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).



 
Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Atomic City Girls" by Janet Beard, Served with a Recipe for Spaghetti with Marcella Hazan's Classic Tomato Sauce

I am happy to be getting back in the swing of things and to be on the TLC Book Tour for the recently released The Atomic City Girls, a novel by Janet Beard. Accompanying my review of this interesting and engaging World War II historical fiction book is a recipe for Spaghetti with (Marcella Hazan's famous) Tomato Sauce, inspired by my reading.


Publisher's Blurb:

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes this riveting novel of the everyday people who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.
 
“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”
 
In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.
 
The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.
 
When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 6, 2018)

My Review:

Since historical fiction, particularly when it is set in the World War II era, is a favorite of mine I was excited to sign up this book tour. I like historical fiction that gives me a unique perspective of the war and I found the setting of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a small town built by the government in order to do research and produce materials and components in order to beat Germany in building an atomic weapon, fascinating. Los Alamos, New Mexico is most well known for The Manhatten Project and I confess to being unaware of the happenings in Oak Ridge. Equally unaware are the main character of the book, June Walker, and the other hundreds of young women like her who have come to Oak Ridge for the high-paying jobs operating machines that they don't know anything about. They sit for hours every day or night (depending on their shifts) in a booth while watching and monitoring the dials of a machine, but not being able to ask questions about their work or tell anyone what they are doing. 

In addition to June, the story unfolds from the perspective of three other characters, June's roommate Cici--another machine operator like June, African-American, Joe Brewer--who leaves his wife and young children to do construction work in Oak Ridge, along with his friend, the troubled Ralph, and finally Sam Cantor--a Jewish scientist who is the only one of the four characters who knows what the purpose of Oak Ridge really is. June becomes involved with Sam and gradually learns what is happening. June is a young eighteen, naive but eager to learn and very likable. Joe is another character I rooted for--wincing every time the bigotry and discrimination of the times reared its ugly head in the story. Sam is complicated--I wanted to like him and at times I did, and then there is Cici, solely out for herself in every thought and action. 

I was immediately caught up in the story of The Atomic City Girls and the book's close to 400 pages flew by. It is clear that Janet Beard did her research for the book and writes in a way that makes dusty, bustling Oak Ridge and the characters living there come to life. I found myself invested in these characters, wanting to know what would happen to them, especially June and Joe. I did want a bit more from the ending because after a lot of detail and build up, things actually wrap up rather quickly--although there is an epilogue that talks about what happens with the four main characters that I appreciated. The Atomic City Girls illuminated a piece of American history that I wasn't aware of and it had me googling Oak Ridge and its role in The Manhattan Project for more information. I was sorry to have the story end and recommend it especially for fans of World War II historical fiction.

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Author Notes: Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.
 
Find out more about Janet at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.



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Food Inspiration:

Even during war time and with rationing, there is food to be found in The Atomic City Girls--most of it what is served in the cafeteria in Oak Ridge. There are lots of biscuits, potatoes--mashed and roasted, breakfast foods like bacon and eggs, coffee, grits, toast, sausage, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy. There are tuna sandwiches, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, potato soup, beans and rice. There were dinners mentioned including ham, mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls and one with pork chops with spicy applesauce, green beans, roasted potatoes, rolls and apple pie as well as meals of beef hash and potatoes and chicken and beef stews. There were mentions of shoofly pie and fried okra and collard greens. Even though Oak Ridge was a dry town--serving only beer at the canteen, there were mentions of Johnny Walker whiskey, rum, and black market moonshine.
 
Spaghetti was mentioned a few times--the Oak Ridge cafeteria spaghetti got panned by a side character, an Italian from New York, but it was June's first experience with it and she "delighted in twirling the strands around her fork and slurping down the red sauce." Spaghetti and macaroni and cheese seemed to be her favorite meals to eat, so for my book-inspired dish I decided to make a good and simple spaghetti, keeping it vegetarian for since I don't eat meat. 


Since I decided on spaghetti, I wanted to finally try the late Italian chef and cookbook author, Marcella Hazan's classic recipe for tomato sauce. It uses just four ingredients--tomatoes, butter, an onion, and sea salt, but it gets huge raves from everyone who makes it. Granted in the World War II era, it is unlikely that anyone would be putting 5 tablespoons of butter into a tomato sauce but I took a little liberty in my recipe interpretation to try it and I'm glad I did. 


Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce
Slightly Adapted from The New York Times
(Makes Enough Sauce for 1 lb Pasta)

2 cups tomatoes + juices (like a 28-oz can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes)
5 Tbsp butter
1 onion, peeled & cut in half
salt

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.

Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. (Note: I pulsed my sauce a couple of times in the blender for a smother consistency.)


Notes/Results: This sauce deserves all of the accolades that it gets. It is simple to make, relatively hands off, can be made from pantry ingredients, and tastes fresh and amazing. I used good canned Italian tomatoes--the whole San Marzano tomatoes the recipe called for and I imagine it would only be better with fresh tomatoes. The butter adds a silkiness to the sauce and a richness, the onion and salt enhance the flavor. For such a simple recipe it was delicious when eaten with the spaghetti--I topped it with some Parmesan shavings, fresh basil, and freshly ground black pepper and I was happy and satisfied--so much so that I practically licked the bowl clean. I will definitely make the sauce again as I think it will be equally fabulous on bruschetta or on flat bread for pizza. 


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


Note: A review copy of "The Atomic City Girls" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.