Thursday, May 26, 2016

Boozy Spiced Cherries with Vodka and Brandy for Food 'N Flix May Pick: 'The Witches of Eastwick'

Every month I swear I am going to get my Food 'N Flix post up early and every month, it gets pushed to the last week. (heavy sigh...) Particularly silly when I knew what I wanted to make even before re-watching the movie, have even had it made for a few days, and STILL can't seem to get it posted early. 

Ah well, I do think these tasty, boozy little cherries are worth the wait. 

Our Food 'N Flix movie this month is The Witches of Eastwick, hosted by Kimberly of Coffee and Casseroles. (You can see her announcement post here.) I have seen this 1987 film several times over the years, although it's been a while and I had never focused on the food, so a good re-watching was in order. I ended up ordering a copy for $4.99 when I couldn't seem to get it into my Netflix queue in time to watch it before the end of the month. 

If for some reason you haven't seen it, Alexandria (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfieffer) are three friends from the small town of Eastwick. All three have been let down by men in various ways and they have weekly get-togethers where they drink martinis, eat junk food, and talk about their lives and the lack of men. One night they get specific with a list of qualities their fantasy man must have and the next day, a devilish stranger (Jack Nicholson) arrives in town. In quick succession, he seduces all three of them and soon their lives are turned upside down and the community is in an uproar. Since it appears they conjured him up, can they get get rid of him before it's too late?


The Witches of Eastwick is a fun, dark comedy with some of my favorite actors, but my biggest issue with this movie pops up in my mind whenever I watch it and I have to get it off my chest. Why do they stick poor Michelle Pfeiffer in possibly the world's most hideous outfit (Is it pajamas, a romper? I am never quite sure...) in the big sexy ballroom/balloon playing/party scene? (Actually through most of the movie--even once Alex and Jane have new looks, Sukie still gets most of the dumpy clothes. Although she does have that one tropical pattern pajama/robe set that I do like...) But back to the big party scene in question--Cher gets a sexy LBD, Susan Sarandon gets a sexy gold lamé dress, and poor Michelle Pfeiffer is stuck in a black and white (paisley-ish?) shapeless monstrosity and hat. I assume that it was something to do with her being just under 30 when the movie was made and Cher and Sarandon had just dipped into the 40s pool, so maybe it got put into their contracts that Pfeiffer has to look as  frumpy as possible? Not an easy task. I saw her once in a bookstore in Kailua with her kids, sans any makeup in a basic tee-shirt dress and she was luminously gorgeous. Anyway, wardrobe issues aside (and there are a lot of wardrobe issues in this 80s film)..., it's an entertaining film and one of these days I will actually get around to reading the John Updike novel it is based on and compare the two; but now let's talk food.

There is actually a surprising amount of food and drink in The Witches of Eastwick that I had never paid attention to--from food in the kitchen at Alex's house--toast, bananas and condiments, to zucchini jam at Sukie's and a gigantic zucchini in a basket. The Thursday night party has them unloading beer, Easy Cheese Spray, crackers, potato chips, and popcorn in the kitchen and drinking martinis. Daryl tells Alex that they are having fish for lunch the day he seduces her--although it looks more like there is a pile of eggs, some kind of meat and fruit on the table and I can't quite tell what dessert is. Jane goes shopping at the local market eating a jar of pickles, picking up double-double chocolate cookies, fruit, and whipped cream and after the women trick Daryl to get him out of his house (so they can create a spell to send him away), he goes to town to buy them bagels (and gravlax) and ice cream (pistachio and chocolate-chocolate chip). 

But, if there is one food that you can't help but associate with this movie, it is red, ripe and luscious cherries. There is an abundance of fruit shown in the movie--big platters and bowls in Daryl's mansion, including a gigantic bowl of cherries that ends up being used two different times in a spell that has the victims (Felicia and Daryl) projectile vomiting  cherry pits out of their mouths

Cherries really are kind of sexy--their color, their shape, their sweetness. (Albeit much more so when being eaten rather than when the pits are spewing from your mouth...) Cherries capture the mood of this movie for me and since Whole Foods put organic ones on sale recently and I have had this recipe for Spiced Vodka Cherries pinned forever, I knew they had to be my dish. 

Fresh cherries are pricked with a needle and then infused in a mix of vodka, cherry brandy (I used Kirsch), fruit juice and juniper berries and allspice. Delicious Magazine says, "Feel smug in the knowledge that you've imbibed a few vitamins along with the alcohol with this sophisticated party drink.

The magazine had a shot of the cherries piled in shot glasses with small spoons so I did something similar with my favorite tiny cordial glasses. (Local thrift store find $2.00 for a set of 6. Love!) I think the cherries would also be wonderful in a glass of vodka lemonade or other cocktail, or with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.

Spiced Vodka Cherries
From Delicious
(Enough for 6 People--or more)

450g (about 2 lbs) fresh cherries, stems left on
400ml (about 1 3/4 cups) cranberry juices
200ml (about 1 cup) vodka
200ml (about 1) apple juice
50ml (about 1/4 cup) cherry brandy (orange liqueur is a good alternative) (I used Kirsch)
1 Tbsp juniper berries, crushed 

pinch of ground allspice

Prick the cherries in several places with a sterilized needle. Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a large jug or bowl.

Add the cherries, cover and set aside in a cool place for anything from 1-12 hours before serving up in shot glasses.

Store in a tightly-covered jar in the fridge. 

Notes/Results: These are pretty yummy--a nice blend of sweet and tart with the slightly piney, citrus vibe from the juniper berries and the clove-ish pungency of the allspice.  The cherries absorb the flavors and the alcohol quite well and I think these little fruits could be quite dangerous as they are bordering on addicting. Because they are left with the stem and pit, they are just slightly unwieldy to eat neatly but that's all part of the adventure. Just dispose of the pits as delicately as possible rather than the fountain style of the movie and all is good. I am happy to finally get this pin crossed off my to-make list and I although I currently have a large canning jar of these in my fridge, I have no doubt I will work my way through them and will happily make them again. 

The deadline for this month's Food 'N Flix event is Monday, May 30th. Kimberly will be rounding up the entries shortly after on her blog. If you missed this month but like food, films, and foodie films, join us for June when Evelyne of CulturEatz will be hosting I Am Love.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Incarnation" by Laura Davis Hays, Served with a Blueberry, Cucumber, Mint & Lime Chia Fresca

On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the unique and absorbing Incarnation by Laura Davis Hays, a novel that transcends book genres. I'm pairing my book review with a recipe for a cool and refreshing Blueberry, Cucumber, Mint & Lime Chis Fresca, perfect to sip on while you lose yourself in the story. 

Publisher's Blurb: 

When Kelsey Dupuis takes a job working in a genetic engineering lab in the high desert of New Mexico, she begins to suffer from oceanic nightmares that soon escalate into waking visions, warnings, pleas for help, and finally visitations from a dark-braided, green-eyed girl named Iriel. Kelsey wrestles with the notion that Iriel could be a past life self who once lived in an ancient watery place no longer on this earth. At the same time, she confronts ethical issues at work, and a lover who becomes more and more abusive. As Kelsey seeks the truth, she learns that Iriel escaped an arranged marriage in her own time, and lived to witness the destruction of her ancient homeland, helpless, despite her formidable powers, to stop it.
Incarnation is the story of one woman’s confrontation with history as she learns the meaning of a soul-twin’s life and its karmic implications. Forced to relive her deepest fears, Kelsey is able to face her entwined past and present with courage, innovation, and forgiveness in order to break the chain, free her soul-twin, and become more truly herself.

Paperback: 388 pages
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (March 1, 2016)

My Review: I was drawn to this book from the description on the book tour list: "Contemporary women’s fiction - fantasy/metaphysical thriller. This is about personal growth, relationships, science and romance. A bit of a genre-bender." It definitely is all of that. I think even with the metaphysical leanings, I was picturing something a bit lighter and a quicker read than the book turned out to be. It did take me time to get into the rhythm of the story and its complexity, with the many twists and turns back in time and location and the many characters (and/or reincarnations of characters) to keep track of; then there is all of the biology and science worked in through Kelsey's work. Speaking of Kelsey, I had some frustrations with her life choices that made me want to jump through the book and shake her soundly--especially the times when those choices put herself and others in jeopardy. Through the book, she begins to mature and understand herself and by the end I liked her much more than at the beginning. The story also starts out a bit slowly, but action and tension are steadily built and the 'thriller' description starts to kick in the later half. I found myself most swept away by the settings which ranged from Santa Fe, to Belize, to the mythical lost island of Atlantis. All were beautifully described in a way that brought them to life and made them feel both real and dreamily mystical at the same time. 

Incarnation is a book that takes some thought and consideration to read, it's not a book to rush through. In the author's bio below, it mentions that she "writes with a mind balanced between right and left-brain capabilities that leads to a combination of flights of fancy and complexity of structure in her work" and I find that description also accurate of this book. It weaves between science, action, spirituality, and mysticism--so I think an open mind and a spirit of adventure are helpful to the enjoyment of the story. My advice for making the most of your reading experience is to find a comfy, preferably sunny, spot to read, play a little new age music (or relaxation music with ocean or water sounds), pour yourself a cool, thirst quenching drink (see the one below for inspiration) and settle in for a unique and absorbing journey


Author Notes: Laura Davis Hays is the award winning author of Incarnation, a metaphysical thriller set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a remote Island off the coast of Belize, and the lost continent of Atlantis. She is also the author of the forthcoming fantasy series, The Atlantis Material, and a collection of linked stories set in Denmark, her ancestral homeland, in the early part of the 20th century. 

Laura writes with a mind balanced between right and left-brain capabilities that leads to a combination of flights of fancy and complexity of structure in her work. A graduate of Rice University, Laura lives in Santa Fe with her husband, Jim, and two cats, Rufus and Dexter.


Food Inspiration:  

There are definitely food mentions and presence in Incarnation, starting with the whole ocean/water settings woven in the book. For seafood, there are mentions of microgreens with a scattering of scallops, whole trout with butter-toasted almonds, shrimp and cavier served before dinner, a typical Belize dinner of fish with fried bananas, black beans and rice, fish stew, conch ceviche with homemade tortilla chips, red snapper and fried jumbo shrimp, and a whole lotta lobster from an awkward on-site dinner on the island--lobster pâté, bacon-wrapped lobster, lobster soup, lobster tails with drawn butter, and for dessert--lobster ice cream. For more basic landlocked fare there were the salad bar and occasional omelettes, enchiladas, coconut cream pie, and other fare prepared at the BioVenture Enterprises cafeteria, and burgers, thick avocado and cheese sandwiches, pasta, avocados, bananas, coconut, sapote pudding, and brownies. There was also plenty of alcohol--like wine, champagne, beer, martinis, rum punch, and piña coladas. Although I thought about making a tropical fish dinner or ceviche for my book-inspired dish, I ended up deciding that a beverage was the way to go.  

Between the water mentions, the Belize and surrounding island settings (and the Mayan ruins) in of part of the book, and the descriptions of the microorganisms getting in the water (OK that part is not as appetizing I know, but it's how my mind works), it seemed an obvious choice for a drink pairing for had to be a chia fresca. (Did you know chia is grown in Belize and has a long history with the Mayans?) I drink chia frescas often (check the chia seeds tab on my sidebar for several different recipes), usually mixed with juice--but lately, looking to reduce more sugar from my diet, I have been making 'spa water' versions using lime juice, herbs, and fresh fruit for just a touch of sweetness and making them more on the tangy and refreshing side. 

For this version, all the blue in the book had me thinking organic blueberries and I decided to pair the berries with cucumber and mint. I muddled the blueberries and mint for extra flavor and served them in my favorite "fishy" large summer beverage glass. A nice afternoon renewal and treat for a humid day. ;-)

I often mix chia frescas up in a pitcher and let all of the ingredients sit to gel the chia, but lately I have been making up a base chia gel to have it ready to mix in. It works better when you are using fresh fruit and herbs to not have them sit overnight in the liquid. But do whatever works. If you need a sweeter drink, you could add a little honey or a couple of drops of stevia, or use fresh fruit juice in place of some or all of the water.  

Blueberry, Cucumber, Mint & Lime Chia Fresca
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1 large 16 oz+ glass)

*Chia Gel: (*Makes enough chia gel for multiple servings)
2 cups water
6 Tbsp chia seeds

Chia Fresca
1/4 cup fresh blueberries = Extra for garnish
6-8 mint leaves + extra for garnish 
1 cup ice cold water (or you can sub in juice of choice) + additional ice water or ice to fill glass
1/2 cup chia gel
juice of one lime, or to taste
fresh cucumber slices 

To make Chia Gel: Heat 2 cups of water until warm. Place warm water in a canning jar and add chia seeds. Cap jar tightly and shake gently but very well until chia seeds are evenly dispersed in the water and are beginning to swell. Place jar in refrigerator for several hours (overnight works well) until seeds have expanded and liquid was become gelatinous.

To make Chia Fresca: Place fresh blueberries and mint leaves in the bottom of a large glass and 'muddle' with a wooden spoon or muddler until crushed and fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of your chia seeds and 1 cup of the ice water and stir thoroughly until well-mixed. Add lime juice, cucumber slices, extra blueberries and mint leaves and additional ice water or ice to fill glass and stir. Garnish with a cucumber slice and enjoy. 

Notes/Results: If you like fresh and tangy, this is your drink--a bit like a blueberry mojito mocktail with a kiss of cucumber. (BTW: You could also muddle the cucumber slices too, for extra flavor but I am happy just noshing on the slices.) Ultra-hydrating and the chia seeds with their nutrients--including fiber, protein and healthy fats and Omega-3s, plus the cucumber slices and blueberries, make this a satisfying drink a bit healthy-snackish too. I found this just sweet enough with the blueberries, but feel free to make it to your tastes. I have been drinking this particular mix in the afternoons this week for a caffeine-free energy boost and it does feel pampering and spa-worthy.

I'm linking up this review and recipe to 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 "Incarnation" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. 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 Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spring Vegetable Soup (Immune Balance Soup) with a Review of "The Allergy Solution" by Leo Galland, M.D. and for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Today's soup is a mild, immune-balancing vegetable soup for a three day cleanse or "power wash" I am doing this weekend. Not your normal Souper Sundays offering but realistic as it's what I am eating and also part of my review for a book that I am reviewing/sharing here. 
I came across a link for information about a new book, The Allergy Solution: The Surprising, Hidden Truth About Why You Are Sick and How To get Well by Leo Galland M.D. and his son, Jonathan Galland. Since I am always trying to find better solutions for my reoccurring allergy and asthma issues, I was immediately interested and did a little research by reading a couple of articles about the book and an excerpt, and since it all made a lot of sense, I downloaded the book on Kindle along with a bonus interview and food/recipe guide. I skimmed through the first few chapters and having a relatively quiet weekend planned, decided to do the three-day food reset included in the book before going back and reading it in detail. (Maybe not the best plan but how I operate!) ;-) 

My Review:

First, a little background on the Three-Day Power Wash since that's what I started with. The power wash consists of nourishing yourself with three components over three days: an Immune Balance Smoothie, an Immune Balance Soup and organic oolong tea (which studies have shown to offer anti-allergic benefits). You have the smoothie for breakfast and an afternoon snack, the soup for lunch or dinner and four cups of the tea throughout the day. (You can also add an extra glass of smoothie or bowl of soup if you get hungry, however, I am on day two and have been satisfied without any extras as the smoothie has an avocado and chia seeds and is quite satiating.

I know cleanses or detoxes are not everyone's thing  but I think they are a great way to reset the body. Dr. Galland says to think of it "like mediation, a program to access the inner stillness and wisdom of the body" and to "cut through the noise of everyday life and the usual eating patterns to get to a quieter place where you can listen to your body." He refers to the power wash as "clearing the tracks" to cleanse the body by reducing the common allergenic foods to help identify and ultimately eliminate your problem foods. Although I began attempting to do something similar on my own earlier this year by spending the first few months eliminating wheat/gluten, dairy and processed sugar, I started to drift off track and wanted to refocus and get back to finding a possible food solution for the allergy issues that trigger my asthma. Although my asthma is not severe (no emergency room visits), it is chronic and I go through periods after a cold or allergy flair up where it is defined as acute asthma and where it is definitely not under control, so I am trying to take it more seriously and crack the code.

The recipe for the Immune Balance Soup and other components of the three-day plan are in the book, along with steps for a two-week re-entry phase to add back in foods and test reactions, and the Immune Balance Diet, an ongoing eating plan. I would have liked a little more detail/direction for the Three-Day Power Wash. For example, the smoothie seemed like it should be divided into two servings as with everything included (fruit, greens, a whole avocado, chia seeds, green tea, optional banana), it makes two fairly large glasses and is extremely filling. It doesn't spell that out, but does say the smoothie becomes more creamy if allowed to chill (chia seeds) so I made the recipe in the morning and divided it into two servings, drinking one glass for breakfast and saving the other for my afternoon snack. Was that right or wrong? I don't know but I never felt hungry or too full which the book said was where I should be. The soup information said to enjoy a large mug or bowl, so I took that as a serving of 1 1/2 to 2 cups depending on my mood/hunger level. Also, I jumped into the Three Day Power Wash before reading beyond it (my bad!) and in further reading, there are several warnings for people with asthma not to do the two weeks of re-entry food testing (due to the complications of asthma as an allergy disorder, the many types of asthma, and the potential severity of allergic reactions) which was a bit disappointing as I was fired up. I do understand the reasons behind it and there is good information in a later chapter on asthma about diet and the balance of nutrition and environmental factors. I will be exploring some of the suggestions in detail, along with trying the Immune Balance Diet, looking into some supplements and making a bigger push for ensuring I am regularly getting higher intake of antioxidant rich foods. I have no known food allergies after being tested a couple of years ago, but I feel that what I eat definitely plays a role in my breathing and my lungs and overall health. I had an appointment with my doctor on Friday and I asked her about the power wash, trying some of the supplements and other advice in the book and she had no issues and wants to hear about my results in a few months. So even though I did things a bit backwards by not reading more of the book before diving in, I am not sorry I made the effort  to clear the tracks for a few days and it's a good jump-start (or re-jump-start I suppose)

Although focused heavily on food and nutrition, the book addresses other non-food lifestyle aspects of allergy solutions too. The chapter on Cracking the Code with the Allergy Solution Checklist of Symptoms, Rate Your Symptoms, and Search for Triggers tools are very valuable, gave me a lot to think about, and I am continuing to go through those sections and exercises in detail. I like the clear way the authors explain the science and data researched, the reasons behind the nutrition connection, and the importance of lifestyle changes. Although the book advises repeatedly to get/keep your doctor involved in solutions, it gives encouragement and ownership of health to the individual where I feel it is best suited. With a quick initial read and more work to do, I am finding The Allergy Solution a valuable resource for me and I would recommend that anyone with ongoing allergies and symptoms that are negatively impacting their health and wellbeing look into this book

About the Soup:

The Immune Balance Soup is a vegan soup with plenty of vegetables (about four servings of veggies in a large mug of it) that are nutritious and support a healthy immune system carrots, parsley, green onions--green parts only, broccoli, baby kale, plus turmeric, black pepper, sea salt, and a topping of shredded daikon radish--added just before serving. The carrots are sauteed in olive oil, so there is a bit of healthy fat in there and the the turmeric, black pepper and salt keep it from being too bland. 

I did have to swap out the broccoli--sadly, as I know it's a nutritional powerhouse, but I get terrible stomach pains from it and Dr. Galland makes it clear to omit any ingredients from the soup or smoothie that you are allergic or sensitive to. (Plus who wants to spend a three-day cleanse curled up in ball writhing in agony?!) ;-) Since the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers) and garlic, onion bulbs, mushrooms, corn and beans are on the no-no list for the three days, I grabbed some local asparagus to sub in for the broccoli and also added a half of a zucchini I had on hand

Notes/Results: Was I missing my usually garlic, onion, other spices, and touch of acidity from lemon (all on the "avoid" list for the Three-Day Power Wash) for this veggie soup? Yes, a bit, as I like big flavor in my soups. But, although this soup is mild in flavor, it's actually pretty good, even better after it has sat and the flavors continue to meld. It is noted in the book that you can blend it but as the other component of the three days is a smoothie, I find I need the chew factor of a the veggies for the most satisfaction. The daikon radish is supposed to be shredded and I spiralized it so it felt like slurping up noodles--another thing that adds to making three days of the same smoothie and soup a bit more fun--along with enjoying it out of a colorful bowl. (Truly though, in case you were wondering, I have not suffered at all on this plan--the smoothie is very satisfying, as is the soup and I have had plenty of energy and feel grounded and good on Day 2.) Overall, it's a good basic veggie soup and I would make it again.

The Allergy Solution is my eighth entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the May Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what foodie books that everyone is reading this month.

Two salads from friends and an open-faced sandwich from me were at last week's Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays linkup. Here's the recap:

Vicki of I'd Rather Be At The Beach made Yotam Ottolenghi's Seriously Zesty Bread Salad and says, "YUM! I loved it! It was light and fresh and one of the best tomato/cucumber salads I’ve ever tried. I loved the toasted bread, it gave the salad a nice crunch. It was simple to make and had easy to find ingredients. I plan on making this again!"

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Curtis Stone's Baby Spinach Salad with Crispy Bacon and Cherry Tomatoes and says, "The Curtis Stone recipes we have tried so far have been great. Only one screw up (that was a roast pork dinner that was tossed for the foxes) but the other recipes - delicious! This particular salad we have had a few times. ... Not for vegetarians because the bacon (and tomatoes cooked in bacon) are stars of this salad."

These Smoked Salmon Tartines with Red Onion-Caper Relish, also by Curtis Stone, were too delicious for me not to share again with Souper Sundays. I think open-faced sandwiches like tartines are my favorite because you can consume less bread and pile "the good stuff' on top. Here it's a lemon and chive cream cheese mixture, smoked salmon, and a relish of (extra) capers, red onions, dill and mustard seeds. Yum!

Thanks to Vicki and Tina for linking up again last week!

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 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.
On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional). 


Have a happy, healthy week!