Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Moonlight Palace" by Liz Rosenburg Served with Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies

Today's TLC Book Tour features the second book set in Singapore that I have recently read and reviewed. The first, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials, was set in current times but  "The Moonlight Palace" by Liz Rosenburg goes back to 1920s Singapore, a time of great political and economic change. It's a short and sweet novel about a palace (Istana Kampong Glam-- also known as Sultan’s Palace), and the last of the sultan's family, centering around plucky, young Agnes Hussein, determined to help her family and save their home. Today I am serving up Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies, a vegetarian take on a hawker curried noodle dish, along with the review.

Publisher's Blurb:
Agnes Hussein, descendant of the last sultan of Singapore and the last surviving member of her immediate family, has grown up among her eccentric relatives in the crumbling Kampong Glam palace, a once-opulent relic given to her family in exchange for handing over Singapore to the British.

Now Agnes is seventeen and her family has fallen into genteel poverty, surviving on her grandfather’s pension and the meager income they receive from a varied cast of boarders. As outside forces conspire to steal the palace out from under them, Agnes struggles to save her family and finds bravery, love, and loyalty in the most unexpected places. The Moonlight Palace is a coming-of-age tale rich with historical detail and unforgettable characters set against the backdrop of dazzling 1920s Singapore.

Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (October 1, 2014)

The Moonlight Palace is a quick read and a charming story. Agnes, the main character is young, loyal, stubborn, and easy to like. I grew very fond of her and her eccentric relatives--Nei-Nei Down (her maternal grandmother) and British Grandfather, her (great) Uncle Chachi, and the servants who take care of them--grumpy old Sanang and little Danai. The characters were quite well developed--especially for a shorter book. Having spent time in Singapore, it was interesting to read about life there in the 1920s, and I liked that there actually was a palace Kampong Glam and the relatives of Sultan Hussein did live there. (You can read more about the palace here.) The Moonlight Palace is an interesting blend of history and family drama, and it's a beautiful coming-of-age story as Agnes matures and learns what is truly important in life. I wish that the story went on longer so that I could spend more time with Agnes and her family as well as the palace, which was almost another character in the novel. This is the first book I have read by this author, and I plan to look into some of her other works.

Author Notes: Liz Rosenberg is the author of more than thirty award-winning books, including novels and nonfiction for adults, poetry collections, and books for young readers. She has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Paterson Prize, the Bank Street Award, the Center for the Book Award, and a Fulbright fellowship in Northern Ireland in 2014. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Binghamton University, in upstate New York, where she has received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has guest-taught all over the United States and abroad, and has written a book column for the Boston Globe for the past twenty-five years. Her previous novels, Home Repair and The Laws of Gravity, have been bestsellers in the United States, Europe, and Canada.


Not a foodie book, but there were certainly more than a few mentions of food in the story. Since the family has fallen on hard times, they economize by buying the cheapest cuts of meat and living on mostly rice, and the vegetables they grow at the back of the palace. The most mentioned dish in the book was Nei-Nei Down's famous chicken rice--a family favorite that is met with very different reactions from the two young men that intrigue Agnes. Pompous Brit Geoffrey Brown looks upon the dish with disdain saying he "never saw the point" of eating chicken rice, while American Adrian James devours three bowls in one sitting. I thought about making a "greasy, hot, spicy, and comforting" bowl of noodle soup like the one Agnes and her friend and palace border Dawid eat at their favorite cafe but decided to do a stir-fry curry noodle dish instead--a veggie version of a dish one might find at a hawker's stall.

I made a few changes to the recipe noted in red below--primarily supplementing the expensive shiitake mushrooms with white mushrooms (1/3 of the price per lb--I am cheap like that!) ;-) I also tossed in peanuts to add a bit of protein and crunch.

Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies
Adapted from Vegetarian Times (April/May 2012), online here
(Serves 6)

1 (8 oz) pkg. rice vermicelli
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (I used a mushroom stock)
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (I used my homemade vegan fish sauce)
2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine or sherry (I used a combo of Japanese mirin and sherry)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp canola or peanut oil
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (about 5 cups) (I used 1/3 shiitake and 2/3 white mushrooms)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage (I used savoy cabbage)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp)
2 Tbsp curry powder
4 green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

(I added 1/3 cup roasted peanuts)

Soak rice noodles in hot water 15 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and set aside.

Whisk together broth, soy sauce, wine, and brown sugar in bowl. Set aside.

Heat wok over high heat, until water droplets evaporate within 1 second. Add oil, and swirl to coat wok. Add mushrooms, bell peppers, and onion; stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until vegetables are softened. Add cabbage, garlic, and curry powder, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Add broth mixture, and toss with vegetables; add noodles, and toss to combine. Stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until noodles absorb some of sauce and soften. Remove from heat, and stir in green onions (and peanuts if using).

Notes/Results: Sometimes you just can't beat a big bowl of noodles and still-crisp veggies spiced with curry for a comfort food dinner. This is an easy recipe and like all stir-fry dishes--really quick to make once you get through all of the chopping. The peanuts were a nice addition and I didn't mind the much less expensive white mushrooms and their meatier texture as compared to the shiitake. I could have used just a tad more curry flavor and spice but otherwise I really liked this dish and would make it again.

Note: A review copy of "The Moonlight Palace" was provided 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 the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.



  1. I've made this veg times recipe before and really enjoyed it!! How authentic is it, do you think?

  2. I don't think it's all that authentic--the 'dry' curry street noodles I had in Singapore were oilier, spicier and filled with shrimp and/or chicken but I'm no expert. (And this is pretty good!) ;-)

  3. Agnes sounds like a fascinating character. I'd love to be eating a bowl of your noodles while reading about her life!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  4. Thanks Heather! She is a great character and this was a lovely little book. ;-)


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