Friday, May 15, 2015

A Blogging Break

Just wanted to let you know that I am taking a bit of a break from blogging.  

This week, I lost my mom and I lost a big piece of my heart along with her. She was a wonderful woman and an incredible mom who always loved and supported me no matter what. She loved her family--her kids, grandchildren and great grandchildren, our large extended family, and the many friends that she adopted as family. She loved the beach--whether Oregon or Hawaii. She made the best cookies ever and she gave me my love of cooking and of making and eating soup. ;-) She enjoyed watching me cook and would very willingly try new things because I made them. She was proud of my blog--although not a computer person and when we were visiting she would help me cook, plate the food, take photos, and then choose the ones to use. She called Max her "grandchild" (since I told her he was the only one she was ever getting from me) and would 'talk' with him during our phone calls--sure she could interpret his many different meows. ;-) That's only a brief glimpse of the great, strong and loving woman that she was and why I love her so much. I will miss her more than words can express.  

Flora Elizabeth Christensen 
1931-2015

I'm not sure yet how long I'll be on hiatus but I'll be back to blogging once I feel ready. 

Mahalo for your understanding, support and friendship.
 
Much Aloha, 

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Love is Red" by Sophie Jaff, Served with Penne with (Vegan) Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

Love is Red, and so is the Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce that I am serving up today, inspired by this unique and completely absorbing new novel by Sophie Jaff. So pull up a fork and get ready for a book review and a recipe for today's TLC Book Tour stop.


Publisher's Blurb:

This electrifying, addictive, and hypnotically beautiful debut spins suspense and literary fantasy into a stunning epic—the first volume in the Night Song Trilogy—ablaze with fear, mystery, and possibility.

Katherine Emerson was born to fulfill a dark prophecy centuries in the making, but she isn’t aware that this future awaits. However, there is one man who knows the truth: A killer stalking the women of New York, a monster the media dubs the “Sickle Man” because of the way he turns his victims into canvasses for his mesmerizing, twisted art.

Unleashed upon Manhattan after lying dormant for centuries, the Sickle Man kills to harvest the precious hues of his victims. As his palette grows, so too does his power. Every death brings him closer to the one color, and the one woman, he must possess at any cost.

While the city hunts the Sickle Man, Katherine must decide what to do about two men who have unexpectedly entered her life: handsome and personable David, and alluring yet aloof Sael. Though she’s becoming increasingly torn between them, how well does she really know them? And why is she suddenly plagued by disturbing visions?

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Katherine and the Sickle Man, Love Is Red is a riveting thriller that unfolds into an intense story of obsession and control, desire and fate. Katherine may not realize it yet, but with this haunting novel—as arrestingly original as Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, and Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls—her moment of awakening is here. And soon she will find herself fighting a battle at the edges of our world, among forces more dangerous than we can possibly imagine

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Harper (May 12, 2015)

My Review:

Love is Red is such a unique book--a combination of mystery/thriller and romance along with a sprinkling of fantasy and paranormal. The story is told by Katherine, a young woman living in New York City with her roommate Andrea and Andrea's young son Lucas, and she has just begun seeing two very different men. David is sweet and attentive and his friend Sael is mysterious, cocky, and somewhat distant. Alternatively, we get the chilling perspective of the Sickle Man, the serial killer who is terrorizing the city with his macabre murders. The Sickle Man sees emotions as colors ("Love is red. A little green, a little gold, but love--real love, true love, divine love--that love is red.") As he murders young women (and leaves their bodies with intricate carvings--yikes!), the Sickle Man is "collecting" their different colors while waiting for Katherine, his ultimate conquest, to be ready for him. It is difficult to explain too much more about the book without giving spoilers, and trust me, you will want to read it for yourself.

Love is Red had my pulse pounding from the start, and it occasionally had me scratching my head while I was trying to figure out just what was happening with the many plot twists and the weaving in of a tale of a mysterious medieval maiden. I had forgotten until I was finishing the book that Love is Red is the first book in a trilogy. That being said, it thankfully doesn't end on an annoying cliffhanger, but it did leave me with plenty of questions and wanting more. If you want a book that is intriguing and a bit different, with a story that will draw you in quickly and not let go, grab a copy of this one.

----- 
Author Notes: A native of South Africa, Sophie Jaff is an alumna of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and a fellow of the Dramatists Guild of America. Her work has been performed at Symphony Space, Lincoln Center, the Duplex, the Gershwin, and Goodspeed Musicals. She lives in New York City.
 
Find out more about Sophie at her website and connect with her on Facebook.
-----


Gruesome murders don't often inspire thoughts of food for me, but there was actually a fair amount of food mentions in Love is Red. Different restaurants, the description of the items in a gourmet grocery store that one of the Sickle Man's victims loved, and the food that Katherine makes all brought inspiration. In the end, I chose to make a tomato-based pasta--both for its red color, and because Katherine cooks a dinner for David, her roommate and her son, and Sael, who David brings along. It is a happy and normal evening, so different from most of the book. 

"Mismatched bowls on place mats, the sauce, tomato-based and basic, steaming, pasta and some bread. A good smell, a cheerful smell. There's still a bottle of wine to go. There is candlelight. Talk is easy. I laugh. I feel my shoulders descending. It's a wonderful evening. Four adults and a child, content a Saturday night. We do not talk of how many women they've found, or Andrea's job. We speak of broad general things, the weather, movies, books, past summers, and memories. David is kind, Seal is attentive, and Andrea is delighting in their company. 

And just in this moment I am happy."


I wanted something simple but indulgent so I turned to Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli and a recipe for a creamy pasta dish I have had tagged to make for a while now. It's a great pantry recipe and quick and easy to make.

Chloe says, "If there was such a things as fine-dining comfort food, this would be it! It's addictive and crave-inducing like macaroni and cheese, but it's elegant and classy with the slick penne and flecks of sun-dried tomatoes. Fit for all occasions, this will be your new "it" pasta."

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce
Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen
(Serves 4)

1 lb penne (or gluten free pasta)
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour (or gluten free all-purpose flour)
3 1/2 cups almond milk (I ended up using 4 cups total)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
pinch of crushed red pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook according to package directions. Right before draining, add 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes to the boiling water. Drain pasta and return to the pot.

Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, make a roux by whisking the oil and flour over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Then add almond milk, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, salt, garlic powder, basil, and red pepper to the saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low, add the remaining 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, and let simmer until the sauce thickens. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.

Add sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Season to taste and serve immediately. 

Cooking Note: If sauce thickens too much as it sits, reconstitute by adding a little bit of nondairy milk. Stir over medium heat until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.


Notes/Results: This pasta tastes so much more decadent than its ingredients would lead you to believe. The thick sauce is smooth and very silky. I did need to add extra almond milk to thin it a bit. I liked the slightly tangy sweet flavor of the sun-dried tomatoes and it also has a a very cheesy essence--a bit surprising since it only has a a quarter cup of nutritional yeast. Just a good and simple dish that hits the spot when comfort food is needed. I would make it again.


Note: A review copy of "Love is Red" 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.

 
 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Case of The Invisible Dog: A Shirley Homes Mystery" by Diane Stingley, Served Up with a Recipe for Cinnamon-Apple & Almond Topped Waffles (+ Ebook & EGiftcard Giveaway!)

What if the famous detective Sherlock Holmes was not a fictional character, but instead was a real person and the world was led to believe he wasn't real as part of a conspiracy to whitewash his existence out of history? And what if your new boss was convinced that she was his great-great-granddaughter, and she wanted to use her superior intellect to follow in his footsteps and solve crimes? Is she eccentric? Is she crazy? Should you try to find another job?

On today's TLC Book Tour stop, "The Case of The Invisible Dog: A Shirley Homes Mystery" by Diane Stingley, introduces us to the very unique Shirley Homes, and her assistant Tammy, and kicks off a new cozy mystery series. I'll be reviewing the book, cooking up a decadent breakfast treat inspired by it, and offering a chance for a lucky reader to win an eBook copy of the book, along with a $25 eGiftcard.  



Publisher's Blurb:

In the start of a charmingly imaginative cozy series sure to delight fans of Carolyn Hart and Diane Mott Davidson, Diane Stingley introduces a blundering detective who believes herself to be the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Sherlock Holmes.

After failing to launch her career as a Hollywood actress, Tammy Norman returns home to North Carolina, desperate for a regular paycheck and a new lease on life. So she accepts a position assisting Shirley Homes, an exceptionally odd personage who styles herself after her celebrated “ancestor”–right down to the ridiculous hat. Tammy isn’t sure how long she can go on indulging the delusional Shirley (who honestly believes Sherlock Holmes was a real person!), but with the prospect of unemployment looming, she decides to give it a shot.

Tammy’s impression of her eccentric boss does not improve when their first case involves midnight romps through strangers’ yards in pursuit of a phantom dog—that only their client can hear. But when the case takes a sudden and sinister turn, Tammy has to admit that Shirley Homes might actually be on to something. . . .

Published by: Alibi (May 19, 2015)
eBook: Pages: 385

My Review:

The Case of the Invisible Dog is more farce than mystery with the socially inept Shirley Homes (who by the way, is not a very good detective) and her assistant and modern-day "Watson" Tammy, struggling to solve a strange case and a resulting murder than seemed pretty obvious to me. But, if you don't need a deep plot and a serious mystery in your book, there is much fun to be had with the concept and the characters in this new series. I liked Tammy right off the bat--she has some good snarkiness and combines it with common sense--despite some of her life choices. Even while she isn't sure whether to take a month's severance and run, or stay and work with Shirley, she is a master at dealing with Shirley's unique personality. Shirley Homes was harder to connect with, coming off as unlikable at first with her pompous comments about the superiority of her brain as compared to everyone else, without much to back up her claims. Still, in time glimpses of her softer side appear, and I found myself enjoying her--although I think I would like her ineptitude dialed down just a notch or too in the future. The other characters; Shirley's sister Myra, cabdriver and detective-wanna-be Lawrence, doubting Police Detectives Owen and Addams, and the mysterious Dr. Morgan who keeps popping up, seem promising for future books in the series. Although the mystery behind the invisible dog and the murder of Shirley and Tammy's first client were not that difficult to figure out, there were some plot twists and turns at the end that kept me engaged and will have me looking for the next book. Overall an enjoyable read.

-----
Author Notes: Diane Stingley is the author of Dress You Up in My Love and I’m With Cupid. She was also a columnist for The Charlotte Observer and received e-mails from around the country in response to her columns. She currently resides in North Carolina and is hard at work on the next Shirley Homes mystery.
-----

Food Inspiration:

Most of the food in The Case of the Invisible Dog revolves round two places--The Waffle Barn, the local diner, and the Hobson's Bakery, the restaurant downstairs from Shirley's office. Grumpy Mrs. Hobson serves donuts (the bear claws are a standout) and fresh soups, sandwiches, salads and breads. Shirley and Tammy seem partial to her chicken noodle soup and her pumpkin bread. The Waffle Barn is open late and serves breakfast--bacon, eggs, hash browns, and the "Barn Buster" waffles, that the menu describes as 'lighter than air.' Shirley orders her waffles with extra butter and syrup on the side. She soon becomes practically addicted to them and to be honest, all of the mentions of waffles in the book had me drooling over them the entire time I was reading. I usually have a box of waffles in the freezer for the very occasional craving, and I worked my way through half a box as I made my way through the book. So, I knew that my dish inspired by The Case of the Invisible Dog just had to be a waffle.

My favorite way to enjoy a waffle is with a little melted butter and maple syrup, drizzled so it goes into each little square, and while it is still warm--sprinkling the crevices with mini dark chocolate chips--letting them get a bit melty. Since I don't own a waffle maker and use frozen waffles, I wanted to fancy things up a bit and make a waffle house-style specialty with a warm and decadent topping. 

What I indulged in too much while reading this book!

Since Shirley's two food addictions seemed to be waffles and bear claws (much better than her great-great-grandfather's cocaine use), I wanted to incorporate the cinnamon and almonds (and occasional apples) found in a bear claw pastry into a topping for some frozen Belgian waffles. If you do possess a waffle iron by all means make homemade waffles, but if you don't, no worries. By the time you get the sweet and delicious apple & almond topping mixture on the waffles, no one will notice they aren't homemade. ;-) 


Cinnamon-Apple & Almond Waffle Topping
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2, Very Generously)
 
2 medium apples, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith preferred
juice of 1/2 lemon   
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp almond extract
1 pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup sliced almonds  
Core apples and thinly slice them. Squeeze lemon juice on them and lightly toss. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan and add brown sugar, maple syrup, almond extract and salt. Stir and cook over medium heat, adding the apples as it starts to bubble. Cook the apples until they are soft and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the almonds and cook another minute or two.

Enjoy with yogurt, over ice cream or as a topping for waffles. Enjoy!


Notes/Results: Decadent and sweet--cinnamony, nutty, apple-goodness in every bite. This isn't a breakfast that I would indulge in often, but with the warm topping and squirt of whipped cream, it was definitely reminiscent of a waffle house splurge. Honeycrisp are my favorite apple and their blend of sweet and tart was perfect for the dish. Adding in the almonds at the end, kept some of their crunch which was a good contrast for the softer apples. I used Belgian waffles here, but Eggo makes a cinnamon waffle that would work really well with this topping. I will happily make these again.  


***Giveaway!!!***
Hey eBook Fans!  This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift Card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice plus an eBook copy of The Case of the Invisible Dog. Enter for your chance to win below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Note: A review copy of "The Case of the Invisible Dog" 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 10, 2015

Simple Orzo and Green Pea Soup with Tarragon and Pecorino for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

A quick and simple soup for spring, sure to comfort those sniffles and stuffy noses from allergies. This Orzo and Pea Soup comes from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. The Moosewood Collective cookbooks are always my go-to cookbooks when I want a quick and easy meat-free soup. Moosewood's simple garlic broth is my go-to soup stock and I try to always have a few pints in the freezer for fast soups. You have to be a fan of green peas for this soup (my sister would hate it!) but if you are, and you use a good flavorful broth, you will like this one.


Note: I swapped out the thyme for tarragon because I had fresh tarragon on hand, it says spring, and I like the way it contrasts the sweet flavor of the peas. My changes are in red below. 


Moosewood says, "This Italian-style soup is very simple and appetizing, with sweet peas and slippery little noodle bits in a savory broth."

Simple Orzo and Pea Soup
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites
(Serves 4-6)

1 tsp dried thyme (I used dried tarragon)
6 cups broth (I used Moosewood Garlic Broth)
1/2 lb (about 1 1/2 cups) orzo 
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
(sea salt and black pepper )
grated Pecorino (optional) to garnish
(Fresh tarragon to garnish)

Add the dried thyme (tarragon) to the broth and gently heat.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the orzo until al dente--according to package instructions. Drain.

Add the cooked orzo and peas to the broth and simmer until the peas are tender but still bright green--about 1 minute for frozen peas, longer for fresh.

Serve hot, in bowls with grated Pecorino cheese (and fresh tarragon), if you wish.


Notes/Results:  Allergies and a sinus infection have hit me hard this spring, leaving me a snorty, snotty mess ;-/ so this soup with it's simple flavors and garlicky broth really hit the spot. And, green peas are surprising little nutrition powerhouses with plenty of vitamin K, C, many of the B-vitamins, fiber, folate and other minerals, and even some protein. If you want a vegan soup, leave off the Pecorino--although it adds great flavor, or if gluten-free, replace the orzo with your favorite rice. Serve with salad for a light meal. Quick and simple, I would make it again.

 
Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog is hanging out with me in the Souper Sundays kitchen and shares her Best Salad Making Shortcuts this week--sure to prep you for the upcoming salad season. Judee says, "Sunday night has become salad night in my house. It is the night I not only make a big colorful salad for dinner, but while I already have all the veggies out, I  also make my salads for the entire week!  One mess 5 salads!. (yes, the salads stays very fresh for the week, and I'll tell you how)."


Thanks Judee for sharing your salad skills!

If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.



Happy Mother's Day and have a happy, healthy week! 

 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Mollet Eggs with Steamed Asparagus

Few dishes say spring better than eggs and asparagus. Finding a copy of Jacques Pépin's The Art of Cooking, Volume 1 (first published in 1987) for a few dollars at a used bookstore, I had to snap it up. Paging through it, the recipe for Mollet Eggs with Stewed Asparagus immediately caught my eye. Nothing makes me happier than a runny egg yolk, especially when it's put over one of my favorite veggies and a little raft of fried bread. Make the asparagus, the egg, and the bread all locally grown and/or produced and it's even better. A simple and lovely dish perfect for brunch, lunch or even a light dinner.


Jacques says, "Mollet ("soft" in French) indicates eggs that have approximately the consistency of a poached egg except that they are cooked in the shell like a hard cooked egg. About 3 1/2 to 4 minutes of cooking in simmering water is long enough, as very often the eggs are peeled and reheated at serving time. They are a bit delicate to shell and it is best done under cold water.


Jacques and I have cooked mollet eggs together before in one of my favorite all-time tomato soups (Tomato Chowder with Mollet Eggs). He is not kidding when he says that they are delicate to shell and when I made the chowder, I had a hard time getting a perfectly, or even decently-smooth exterior. (Thankfully tomato soup makes an excellent cover for pock marks from the shell removal.) I was determined to do them better this go-round. 


I made several changes to Chef Pépin's recipe. Rather than "stew" the asparagus in water and butter as the recipe instructed, I simply steamed my asparagus (omitting that butter) and cooking it until just tender-crisp. (I did keep the butter in the bread--nothing says heaven like pan-fried bread in butter.) ;-)


The other big change was in the plating. Since the cookbook was released in 1987, the plating seemed dated to me and, if I am going to spring for local asparagus, I want to enjoy its flavor and beauty without chopping it all up. This plating felt more like me.
 

Chef Pépin's recipe was long and full of excellent techniques but to simplify, I omitted much of the detail and just typed in the basics below.

Mollet Eggs with Steamed Asparagus 
Adapted from Jacques Pépin's The Art of Cooking, Volume 1
(Serves 6)

24 asparagus spears (green, white or a combination)
6 slices bread
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 large eggs

Gently peel the asparagus starting approximately one-third of the way down the stalk or where the skin is fairly fibrous. Once peeled, break off and discard the fibrous larger ends and set the prepared asparagus aside until you are ready to cook it. 

Trim the crusts off of bread and then use a cookie cutter to cut a small round into the center of each piece. This will secure the egg and prevent it from rolling. Place the 1 tablespoon of butter and the tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet and when hot, cook the bread slices until nicely browned on each side.

Meanwhile, place the eggs in a pan of hot, not boiling water and bring to a boil. Boil gently for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the eggs. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a bowl of ice water. Lift each egg from the ice water and crack the shells then place the eggs back into the ice water; this will make them easier to peel. While still slightly warm, shell the eggs. (Note: Hold the shelled eggs in the ice water to stop the cooking if you are not using them right away. They can then be lowered back into boiling water for about 1 minute to heat when you are ready to use them.)

For Jacques's stewed asparagus, cut stalks on bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a single layer in a saucepan. Add water and salt, bring to a boil and cook until just tender (about 2-3 minutes for white asparagus and 1-2 minutes for green--depending on the thickness). Add (3 Tbsp!) butter in pieces and cook over high heat until the butter mixes with the remaining water and forms an emulsion. Set aside. (Note: I left my asparagus in stalks and lightly steamed them for about 2 1/2 minutes as they were very thick, then dipped them into the ice water to stop the cooking and retain the bright green color. I then drained them before plating)   

To plate: Arrange the asparagus on individual plates (if stewing, include some of the liquid). Place the bread ring in the middle of the plate and position an the egg in the hollowed out center. Cut a piece of asparagus into this strips to decorate the top. (Deb says, "Sprinkle generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper!) ;-)

A shot of the dish before the egg was sliced into.

Notes/Results: Simple ingredients that come together in a delicious dish. My mollet eggs were easier to peel this time I believe because I more thoroughly cracked the shells before putting them back in the ice water, and because I peeled them in the cold water. I cooked my eggs about 4 minutes and while still there was plenty of runny yolk, next time I will cook them about 30 seconds less--the more oozy the better in my book. I will definitely make this again and continue to perfect my mollet eggs.



This post is being linked to the L'Oeuf Incroyable! (The Incredible Egg!)--with Jacques Pépin dishes that feature or include the wonderful egg. You can see the egg-inspired dishes the other participants made by checking out the picture links on the post.


Happy Aloha Friday!
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Diamond Head" A Novel by Cecily Wong, Served Up with a Recipe for Hawaiian Poke with Black Sesame Seed

Today's TLC Book Tour stop is Diamond Head, a novel by Cecily Wong. It's my second review of a Hawaii-based book this week. Unlike the rom-com, present-day Oahu setting of About a Girl, Diamond Head takes us from China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion to Oahu from the early 1990's to the 1960's. It is an absorbing drama about the secrets that weave a family together but also pulls them apart. I am pairing by book review with a spin on one of my favorite local foods with a recipe for Poke with Black Sesame Seed, inspired by a scene in the book. 


Publisher's Blurb: 

A sweeping debut, crossing from China to Hawaii, that follows three generations of a wealthy dynasty whose rise and decline is riddled with secrets and tragic love—from a young, powerful new voice in fiction. 

Frank Leong, a prominent shipping industrialist and head of the celebrated Leong family, brings his loved ones from China to Hawaii at the turn of the twentieth century, abandoning his interests at the port of Tsingtao when the Japanese invade. But something ancient follows the Leongs to the islands, haunting them—the parable of the red string of fate. According to Chinese legend, the red string binds one to her intended beloved, but also punishes for mistakes in love, twisting any misstep into a destructive knot that passes down through generations.

When Frank Leong is murdered on Oahu, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving Leongs attempt a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter—until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leongs’ survival rests with young Theresa, Frank’s only grandchild. Eighteen and pregnant, Theresa holds the answers to her family’s mysteries and is left to carry the burden of their mistakes. On the day of her father’s funeral, as the Leongs gather to mourn the loss of their firstborn son, Theresa must decide what stories to tell, with whom to side, and which knots will endure for another generation.

Told through the eyes of the Leongs’ secret-keeping daughters and wives—and spanning the Boxer Rebellion, Pearl Harbor, and 1960s Hawaii—Diamond Head is an exploration of whether there’s such a thing as a legacy of the heart. Passionate and devastating, it is a story filled with love, lies, loss, and—most astounding of all—hope.

Print Length: 320 pages  
Publisher: Harper (April 14, 2015)

My Review:

It's hard to believe that Diamond Head is a first novel, it reads like a book from an experienced author with its deeply nuanced and skillfully told story of multiple generations of a Chinese family. The story moves back and fourth in time, told primarily by the Leong women--matriarch Lin, her sister-in-law Hong, daughter-in-law Amy, and granddaughter Theresa--as well as the thoughts of the taxi driver who takes the Leong women to the funeral of Bohai, Lin's son (husband of Amy and father of Theresa). The multiple narratives and time changes were a little confusing at first but I got into the rhythm and enjoyed the different perspectives. So many secrets this family has, knotted together like the invisible red string that Chinese folklore says ties them by the ankle to the person they are meant to be with. The legend says that a string that is free of knots means love is pure and life is smooth like Chinese silk, but a tangled, knotted string shows punishments for mistakes, and it means that not only is it unlikely a person will find their true love, it also makes it difficult for future generations to find their own destined loves. The red strings of the Leong family are quite tangled with knots.

I am not sure what I enjoyed more, the glimpses into the family's early days in China with the mystery and the folklore, or the setting of Oahu from the fifty years between 1914 when the Leong's moved to Hawaii and their present day of 1964. I am always eager to read about the place I have come to know and love and I am especially fascinated by Hawaii in the time of the bombing on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II. I can picture the Leong's estate in the shadows of Diamond Head and I live in the same East Oahu community as Bohai, Amy and Theresa. Author Wong brings Hawaii to life with her words, like these from Lin when she arrives from China; "The breeze--the warm sweet winds that came off the water--could not be captured in a photograph. Neither could the smell; a powerful blend of flowers and fruit, sand and salt water. Every part of the island seemed to sway in harmony; the thick leaves of the palm trees waved to one side and then bent to another. And the sand, like freshly milled flour, was even whiter than it was soft. I couldn't believe a place like this existed..." (Deep sigh.

Just a gorgeously-written story--heartbreak and deception, but love and beauty too. If you love literary fiction, stories of families and different cultures, historical fiction, and/or Hawaii-based novels, Diamond Head will likely engage you and sweep you into the Leong's secretive and mesmerizing world.  

-----
Author Notes: Cecily Wong is Chinese-Hawaiian. She was born on Oahu and raised in Oregon. Diamond Head grew from family stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. Wong graduated from Barnard College, where the first pages of this novel won the Peter S. Prescott Prize for Prose Writing. She lives in New York City.
 
Find out more about Cecily at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
-----


Food Inspiration:

Although not its central theme, being about family and Hawaii where food usually equates to love, of course this novel is going to be full of food inspiration. With the Leong's Chinese heritage, I thought about making some of the traditional dishes mentioned; bone marrow soup with ribbons of cabbage, fish and rice, shark's fin soup, and moon cakes to name a few. Once they arrive in Oahu, the Leong's and Hong, who does most of the cooking, adapt to the melting pot of Hawaiian cuisine with dishes like haupia (coconut) custard, steamed mahi, green curry shrimp, pork adobo and sushi. 

It was a scene at the Pali Lookout that I kept going back to and that inspired my dish for this novel. Amy, goes on a day date (the curfew set in place after the Pearl Harbor bombing precludes nighttime activities) with enlisted engineer Harry, who she suspects might be her true love and attached to her destiny by the invisible red string. Harry takes her up to the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout and packs tins of poke--cubes of fresh ahi to enjoy with the view. Despite being born on Oahu, since Amy's family has little money and lacks a car, it is her first trip to this scenic spot and poke is an extravagant and unexpected treat.  

..."And now you should understand," he reached behind him and grabbed the tin lunchboxes, "why I brought poke."

"See the gods don't care about fish," he said, handing me a tin and a set of wooden chopsticks. I pulled on the ti leaf and opened the lid. Fat pieces of pink ahi and black sesame seeds were packed into the little box. It had been a long time since I'd eaten fish this fresh, this expensive. I lifted myself onto the hood of his car. 

"Unbelieveable," I said, placing a piece of salty tuna on my tongue, "Where did you get this?"
Amy, Diamond Head, Cecily Wong


The Pali Lookout is a place I have taken many visitors to on a sunny day. It is the historic site of the Battle of Nuuanu, where in 1795, King Kamehameha won the battle and united Oahu under his rule. The views of the Windward coast from over 1,000 feet above the coastline are panoramic and the gusts of wind can on many days, almost sweep you off of your feet. Hence the picture I took of my niece in the collage above that always makes me laugh. (That photo and the chickens that hang out in the parking area represent the Pali Lookout to me.) 

We never would have been able to eat poke that day, at least without a mouthful of hair included, but the dish is one of my favorite parts of Hawaii. The raw fish salad is at almost every local gathering and I fell in love with it the moment I tried it when I was just traveling to Oahu a few times a year for business. (Here's an early poke-love post if you want to learn more about it--please excuse the terrible photos.) ;-) Even now, when I am off-island for any length of time, I find myself craving it, and stopping by my local grocery store to pick up a container of it as soon as I get back. I do make it myself sometimes--it's easy enough to do at home--but there is a simple joy in grabbing a container full of a favorite poke and a pair of wooden chopsticks, and eating it on a sandy beach.


"But poke, raw and buttery, fresh from the ocean--even before the attack, I'd never seen it on my family's table."
Amy, Diamond Head, Cecily Wong 

Amy enjoyed her poke out of a small tin lunchbox wrapped in a ti leaf. I placed my homemade poke into a small gold tin for the photo. I made my usual poke recipe but added some black sesame seeds to match the poke in the book and also a bit of wakame (seaweed) for color. I'm always happy to enjoy poke on its own but, I am equally as fond of a poke bowl--poke combined with whatever rice and usually salad or something green that happen to have on hand. In this case, I combined the poke with sushi rice and some blanched sea asparagus. The combination of the slightly warm rice and the cold fish and greens is sublime.


Ahi Poke with Black Sesame Seed
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Should Serve 2 or more as Appetizer

6 ounces of sashimi-grade ahi tuna (yellow fin tuna) cut into small cubes
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced finely
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup wakame seaweed, rehydrated  (optional)
1/4 cup shoyu (soy sauce) low-sodium
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp finely crushed macadamia nuts
*1 tsp Hawaiian Red Alaea salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Place ahi cubes, sweet onion, green onion (and seaweed if using) into a small bowl. Mix together shoyu, sesame oil, crushed mac nuts, Hawaiian sea salt red red pepper flakes. Add this dressing to the poke, along with the black sesame seeds and carefully mix all ingredients. Enjoy!

Note: Traditional poke uses inamona--ground up roasted kukui nuts. It's not easy to find, even here. I have a locally made mixture of Hawaiian Red Alaea salt and inamona that I keep on hand but I have found you can get a close approximation by using finely ground roasted macadamia nuts. I used both in this poke.  
 

Notes/Results: As Amy describes, the poke is salty, buttery, fresh, and it also has a nice brininess from the seaweed, and a nutty finish from the sesame seeds, inamona, and mac nuts. You can add ginger and garlic to poke but to me, especially with the sashimi-grade ahi, I want to taste the fish and not overpower it with too many strong flavors. You can eat the poke as-is, serve with taro or other chips or crackers or make up a poke bowl. Poke will discolor with exposure to air, so it is best eaten within a day or so. If you are a ceviche or sushi fan, you will likely love poke too.  


I am linking this foodie book review post up to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking Event. This is my first time linking up to this 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 "Diamond Head" 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.


 

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "About a Girl" by Lindsey Kelk, Served with Homemade Pineapple (Dole) Whip + a Pineapple Whip Float Cocktail

I am always a sucker for books set in Hawaii, especially Oahu, as I like to read about the place I have called home for the past 14 years. In About a Girl by Lindsey Kelk, a new chick-lit novel, Tess Brookes takes a giant leap across a couple of ponds--from London to Oahu when her life runs off the rails. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am pairing my Hawaii-local book review with a homemade version of one of my favorite cold treats to share with visitors--the Dole Pineapple Whip, then turning it into a tropicalicious cocktail.


Publisher's Blurb:

Tess Brookes has always been a Girl with a Plan. But when the Plan goes belly up, she’s forced to reconsider.

After accidentally answering her roommate Vanessa’s phone, she decides that since being Tess isn’t going so well, she might try being Vanessa. With nothing left to lose, she accepts Vanessa’s photography assignment to Hawaii – she used to be an amateur snapper, how hard can it be? Right?

But Tess is soon in big trouble. And the gorgeous journalist on the shoot with her, who is making it very clear he’d like to get into her pants, is an egotistical monster. Far from home and in someone else’s shoes, Tess must decide whether to fight on through, or ‘fess up and run…

Paperback: 416 pages  
Publisher: Harper (April 14, 2015)

About a Girl is the perfect beach or poolside read--besides the island setting, it is light and breezy and would pair really well with a tropical drink. It's chick-lit, no deep plots and fairly predictable but it is definitely fun and full of plenty of dry British wit, reminiscent of Bridget Jones's Diary, Jemima J. by Jane Green, or Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella. This is my first book by Lindsey Kelk and her writing is sharp, witty and funny. A couple of my favorite lines--Nick: 'Not everyone does have a book in them. Some people don’t even have a Post-it note.' and 'We are modern women on the horns of a dilemma,' Amy corrected. 'We are culturally conditioned to drink. It's Bridget Jones's fault, not ours.' Tess, the main character, is likable and keeps her sense of humor even as her life is imploding. I especially loved her best friend Amy, and Kekipi, the gay manager of the estate where Tess is staying in Kailua--they are the kind of friends you would want around you in both the good and bad times. I did not know that this book was the beginning of a series but would definitely consider picking up What a Girl Wants, the second book, based on my enjoyment of this one. If you need an entertaining escape, are a fan of British humor, and love a feel-good chick-lit novel, you'll find About a Girl an enjoyable read.


Author Notes: Lindsey Kelk is a writer and children’s book editor. When she isn’t writing, reading, listening to music, or watching more TV than is healthy, Lindsey likes to wear shoes, shop for shoes, and judge the shoes of others. Born in England, Lindsey loves living in New York but misses Sherbet Fountains, London, and drinking gin and elderflower cocktails with her friends. Not necessarily in that order. Find out more about Lindsey at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

-----

About a Girl isn't a food-centered book, but there is plenty of culinary inspiration between the mix of English snack food products, the foods of Hawaii, and the myriad of cocktails and alcohol that Tess consumes in her five days in Paradise. Particular standouts were the Kalua pig, chicken skewers, chocolate covered mac nuts, sushi for breakfast, and way too much fresh pineapple that Tess can't seem to get enough of. For alcohol there was champagne, wine, cheap vodka, mai tais, coconut cocktails, and creamy frozen pineapple daiquiris. For my book inspired dish, I decided to take my cues from the pineapple and the alcohol, as well as the treat I like to share with my visitors to the island--the Dole Whip. I made a homemade version of the frozen treat, enjoyed on its own, then combined with pineapple juice and pineapple rum for a sweet and cool cocktail.


If you have not experienced the delight of a Dole Pineapple Whip they are starting to pop up at places other than the Dole Plantation on the North Shore of Oahu and Disneyland. The Dole Whip is a creamy, non-dairy frozen pineapple treat and always on my family's "must-do/have" list when they visit me. Personally, I am partial to the Dole Whip Float--where Dole Whip is put in a glass and topped with pineapple juice. It's the perfect combination of refreshing drink and creamy, cold snack. Since I don't get to enjoy it nearly enough, I have been wanting to make it at home where I can also control the type and quality of the sweetener and other ingredients.  


I have pinned lots of recipes for Dole Whip on Pinterest, but for this post I am going with a variation of the one I pinned first from Detoxinista, as it is made up of just three ingredients--frozen pineapple, coconut milk and honey. Given the love for pineapple that Tess develops, I am sure she would be a fan--especially if we make a Pineapple Whip Float into an "adult beverage" by adding a shot of pineapple rum. 


Dole Pineapple Whip
Slightly adapted from Detoxinista
(Makes About 4 Servings) 

1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped and frozen overnight (or about 4 cups Dole frozen pineapple chunks)
3/4 cup to 1 cup coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk of choice)
1 1/2 Tbsp honey (or sweetener of choice)

Place frozen pineapple chunks, 3/4 cup of coconut milk and honey into a high-speed blender or the bowl of a food processor and blend. Add additional coconut milk and scrape down the sides of the blender as needed until the consistency is thick, smooth and creamy. 

Serve in small bowls or for a float, place a scoop of the pineapple whip into a tall glass and fill with pineapple juice. Enjoy!

Note: For a prettier presentation, place the frozen whip into a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with one corner cut off and pipe the mixture into the bowls or glasses. 


Pineapple Whip Float Cocktail
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 1

Add 1 to 2 oz (depending of your stamina and desire for alcohol) of pineapple rum (I used Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Pineapple Rum) to a tall glass. Using your Ziploc pastry bag from above, pipe glass full of frozen Dole Whip. Add fresh pineapple juice to rim of glass. Garnish with fresh pineapple or a drink umbrella and straw and serve immediately.

Notes/Results: Although not quite as creamy as the Dole Whip you can get at Dole Plantation, the taste is spot on--a refreshing, sweet and slightly tangy frozen treat. Perfect if you don't have the time or funds to visit Hawaii or if you are like me and are just too lazy too drive to the North Shore unless entertaining out-of-state visitors. The pineapple rum adds a nice touch to my beloved Dole Whip Float. (Would it be wrong to carry pineapple rum in a flask the next time I head to the Dole Plantation?) ;-) This is a quick and easy frozen treat that is on the healthier scale of frozen treats. I'll definitely make it again. 


Note: A review copy of "About a Girl" 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.