Monday, June 6, 2016

The Book Tour Starts Here: A Review of 'Mystic Summer' by Hannah McKinnon, Served with New England-Style Crab Cakes with Two Dipping Sauces

Happy Monday! I am happy to be kicking off the TLC Blog Tour for the perfect read for the season, Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon. Along with my review, there is a recipe for some tasty New-England-Style Crab Cakes, inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

A chance run-in with a college boyfriend puts a young woman’s picture-perfect life in perspective in this warm-hearted and lyrical novel—from the author of The Lake Season.

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (June 21, 2016)

My Review:

It's not that you couldn't crack open Mystic Summer in the dead of winter for a bit of an escape to a warmer place, but it truly is a book meant for a summer weekend--the kind of book you want to relax on the lanai or by a pool with, or tuck in your beach bag and read by the ocean. I am a sucker for books set in New England, a place where I have spent little time beyond Boston, but always intrigues me--especially the picturesque coastal towns. The author describes the town of Mystic, Connecticut with such detail and obvious love, that it feels like it is almost another character in the story. I have a soft spot for the movie Mystic Pizza, which pops up in the book, along with the pizza place that it was named for. In fact, as I was trying to determine a dish to pair with Mystic Summer, I looked up a few other places mentioned like Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream and Bartleby's Cafe and was pleased to find they existed, making me feel even more like I was actually seeing the town as I read.

Maggie is is likable character, a caretaker of others, a good friend, and a caring teacher, daughter, sister, and aunt. I especially enjoyed the humorous scenes between Maggie and her sister's three young children. She's maybe not the best girlfriend--as in the process of determining what she wants, she vacillates between Evan and Cameron to the point of unfairness to both of them. There is a fairly obvious choice between her current relationship and her past love for Maggie to make, so there are no real surprises in the story, but it has enough charm, humor, and heart to keep it interesting. Mystic Summer is an engaging, light read about finding yourself, love, family, and friendship. If you are looking for a beach book with a bit of romance and a setting that will transport you to a sunny summer in New England, add it to your TBR pile.


Author Notes:  

Hannah McKinnon is the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.

Connect with Hannah on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There was food to be found in Mystic Summer, like restaurant fare in Boston--salty margaritas, ceviche, garlic shrimp, mussels, chopitos (fried baby squid), and chorizo croquetas at a new tapas place, a key lime martini and shrimp tacos, and red curry, coconut soup and dumplings at a Thai restaurant. In Mystic there was the obvious choice of (Mystic) pizza, as well as meatball subs, ice cream, cupcakes, popcorn and carrot sticks, blueberry pancakes, organic quinoa casserole, iced coffee, and cocktails (Cosmos, Moscow Mules, and the intriguingly-named "High-Tide Painkiller"). Planning for Erika's wedding included a tasting with grilled shrimp with pesto, Vietnamese summer rolls, and salmorejo (tomato bread soup) in tall shot glasses, Dover sole with mango chutney, filet mignon stuffed with crabmeat, and a three-tier Swiss dot vanilla cake. 

Of course there was seafood--lobster rolls, fried clams, oysters, crab cakes, calamari, a clambake and a lobster dinner cruise. Since the book did such a great job of making me "feel" New England, I wanted to maintain that Mystic coastal vibe and pair this book with seafood. I adore crab cakes and have been craving them so although only mentioned briefly in the book as part of a dinner at a Mystic-area bistro for Maggie and Erika, New England-style crab cakes quickly became my dish of choice. (Yes, sometimes pairing books and food is one part tie-in to the book and two parts what I want to eat!)

There are few things better than a good crab cake and nothing so disappointing as a poorly-made one. Once I decided on crab cakes, I went to the master, Seattle Chef Tom Douglas who grew up on the East Coast but moved to Seattle, making him a fan of all kinds of crab cakes, enough to write I Love Crab Cakes!, with recipes for a variety of crab cakes and sauces. I was on a business trip to my old stomping grounds in Seattle a decade (yikes!) ago when this cookbook came out and was trying to eat in all of his restaurants before I left--starting with crab cakes for breakfast at Etta's. On my last night there, with friends at Dahlia Lounge, I bought a signed copy of this cookbook and then we ran into the chef as we were leaving and I promptly shoved it in his hands and begged him to personalize it. He did as you can see below. The Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes in the book seemed like a good example of a classic New England crab cake and a good match for the book. (Crab On, Tom Douglas!) ;-)

Tom Douglas notes that the traditional crab meat to use in these crab cakes is East Coast blue crab but if you can't get it fresh, you can use pasteurized crab from a refrigerated case--not canned crab. Thanks to Costco, that's what I did, using a super lump crab meat.  
For sauces, Douglas says you can serve them with tarter sauce, although he likes a red or green cocktail sauce with a 'tangy zip' to off-set the creaminess. Since I had leftover rémoulade sauce from a delicious Curtis Stone recipe using local tombo ahi made a few days prior, I decided to use it for one of my sauces. It has a wonderful tangy flavor from the capers and lemon. For a second sauce, I used the extra aïoli from making the rémoulade sauce as the mayonnaise for my favorite Red Curry Mayo--a simple recipe I use a lot with fish tacos or veggies  

Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes
From I Love Crab Cakes by Tom Douglas
(Makes 8 Large Crab Cakes)

1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/12 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup peanut or canola oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp minced scallions, both white and green parts
1 lb lump blue crabmeat, drained and picked clean of shell
4 cups fresh bread crumbs (I used panko)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
about 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
sauce and lemon wedges to serve

Put the egg yolk, Old Bay, mustard, lemon zest and juice, and vinegar in the (small) bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Gradually pour in the oil with the machine running until the mixture emulsifies and forms a mayonnaise. Season with the salt and pepper. 

Transfer the mayonnaise to a bowl and, using a rubber spatula, fold in the scallions and the crabmeat until well combined. Combine the bread crumbs and the parsley in a shallow container. Form the crab mixture into 8 patties about 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick and drop them into the bread crumb mixture. Dredge the crab cakes on both side. If you have time, leave the crab cakes in the container of bread crumbs, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or more. 

When you are ready to fry the crab cakes, put two large nonstick skillets over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter to each pan. When the butter is melted, add 4 crab cakes to each pan, patting off excess crumbs first. Slowly fry the crab cakes until they are golden brown on both sides and hot through, turning once with a spatula , about 4 minutes per side. If the crab cakes are browning too quickly, reduce the heat. The internal temperature of a cooked crab cake should be 155 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer. 

Transfer the crab cakes to plates, 2 per person, and serve with your choice of sauce and lemon wedges. 


The Sauces: 

Curtis Stone's Rémoulade Sauce (Find recipe here)

Red Curry Mayo Sauce
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

1/2 cup Aïoli (recipe here) or good mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
1 Tbsp lime, juice, or to taste + zest, finely grated
2 tsps honey or agave
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste (I used about ½ tsp), optional
1-2 tsp caper or pickle juice

Combine mayo, red curry paste, lime zest and juice and honey in a small bowl. Gently whisk until thoroughly mixed. Taste and add hot sauce if desired until spicy enough for your taste and caper juice to taste. You can add additional honey or salt to taste too. Curry mayo should be a good combination of spicy, tangy and sweet.

Place mayo in a jar or covered container and chill an hour or two in fridge. Will keep about a week, covered in fridge.


Notes/Results: Oh crab cakes! Why are you so darn delicious?! These crab cakes are crisply-crusted, tender and creamy on the inside, and full of flavor. I really like Old Bay Seasoning, but I was worried that the amount of it in the mayo might overwhelm the delicate crab. Not so--it just made for lots of great flavor. These are simple crab cakes--the breading on the outside and the crab and the mayo mixture to bind them. I am not sure I could pick a favorite from the two sauces for this crab cake pairing. The tarragon and capers in the rémoulade sauce went well with them, but the heat and spice from the red curry was excellent too. Lucky I didn't have to choose. ;-) Definitely delicious and splurge-worthy, I would happily make these crab cakes again.  

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 "Mystic Summer" 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.



  1. Great review!!! I am on the review tour for Mystic Summer for tomorrow and I also LOVED this book. The crab cake recipe looks DELICIOUS--I just pinned it! Yum!!! Aloha and happy reading!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Lori! I look forward to reading your review too. Hope you try and enjoy the crab cakes. ;-)

  2. Two great stories, Deb---the book plot and your meeting with Chef Tom. Love the cakes and sauces!

    1. Thanks Debra! I will admit to geeking out a bit (Ok, a lot!) when I saw him. ;-)

  3. Ok, I will just come out and say it....I want to live with you! The books, the food, Hawaii, good company and conversation......I want it all. Whew, glad that's out in the open.

    Crab cakes are on my menu this week as its our anniversary coming up, we wanted a special meal. I have a go to recipe but your looks amazing so I may deviate. Had not heard of this book but I will put it on my library list asap.

    1. Hah! Well, I like the idea, but I am going to have to run it by Max of course. How do you feel about grumpy, yet lovable cats? ;-)

      Happy Anniversary this week! Crab cakes are an excellent way to celebrate.

  4. I love crab cakes, and how cool that Chef Tom personalized your book! I also had to laugh about your food tie-in being heavily influenced by what you want to eat. HA!

    The book sounds like a great beach read.

    1. Thanks Beth! He was so friendly and nice--it made me an even bigger fan of his food and restaurants.

      Yes, I had to speak the truth--sometimes a dish wins out in my book/food pairings because I can't get it out of my mind rather than how much it actually pertains to the book! ;-)

  5. I love Remoulade sauce and the Red Curry Mayo sounds absolutely amazing. It's been so long since I've had really good crab cakes but I'm going to have to change that!

    1. Thanks Katherine! Yes, change that and make/get some good crab cakes! ;-)

  6. What a totally scrumptious post! I have a friend who lives in Mystic and she assures me it is fabulous and she never wants to move. The book sounds like a perfect summer read, and I love crab cakes!! Thanks for sharing the recipe with two sauce suggestions. :)

    1. Thank Jama!
      It certainly sounds like a great place to live. ;-)

  7. I like the idea of having 2 sauces. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  8. We love a good crabcake! I love the setting of the book and the cover is beautiful. I really enjoyed your post.

    1. Thanks Diane! Yes, a good crab cake is a real treat. ;-)

  9. I love the sound of those crabcakes, and BOTH sauces. I want it all. What a shame the Hawaii library system has none of McKinnon's books.

    1. That is too bad about the library. I want to go back and read her first book now. :-(

  10. Love how you combine the two posts! I live about a half hour from Mystic, CT, so it sounds like I will have to pick this book up for a vacation read! I am a huge fan of crab cakes so I will have to check this out.

    1. You are lucky to be so close Heather. Definitely grab this book then--it will be fun for you to read being so familiar with the area. ;-)


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