It has been a long time since I dug into a Binchy novel and although I have had a copy of Scarlet Feather sitting on my bookshelves, I had not gotten around to reading it. (In fact, I even forgot I had it and bought a hardback copy for $1 at the thrift store. Whoops!) Scarlet Feather is the story of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather and their friends and family. Cathy and Tom met in culinary school and are launching a catering company in Dublin. Cathy, who comes from a large working class family, is married to Neil Mitchell, a civil rights attorney from a wealthy family and Tom, also from a working class background, is living with Marcella, a manicurist looking to be a model. In the year the book covers, Cathy and Tom face many challenges--both personally and professionally in getting their business off the ground.
As in most Binchy novels, there are a ton of characters to keep track of, some get more development than others in the 549 pages. I especially liked Cathy's parents, her aunt Geraldine, and the young twins Simon and Maud--who are related to Neil, but get dumped on Cathy and her family. Cathy's mother (Lizzie) was Neil's mother's housekeeper which adds to the strain and complication of Cathy's relationship with her mother-in-law (who I mostly wanted to smack every time she made an appearance). I suppose Tom's family needed to be in the book too, but they were lacking development and didn't add much to the story. There are times that the book drug a bit, but overall, I enjoyed it. Circle of Friends and Evening Class remain my favorites out of the Binchy books I have read, but I did like the foodie frame of the story in Scarlet Feather. I rooted for Tom and Cathy and it further confirmed my decision to never become a caterer--way too much work and angst involved--even without all the family and life drama! ;-)
Along with the drama, there is plenty of food inspiration to be found in Scarlet Feather including; canapés, rich chocolate cake and spoonfuls of fruit pavlova on the side, chocolate biscuits, chicken sandwiches, bagels, boiled egg tea and toast, kebabs, apple strudels with calvados, steak and kidney pie, Chinese food, chicken nuggets and chips, sticky almond buns, sausages with red currant and honey glaze, various 'dressed' and smoked salmon dishes, crostini, oysters, grilled fillet of sole, French beans and fresh fruit salad, shepherd's pie, Spanish buffet with tapas, sangria and paella, little tomato and basil tarts, Beef Wellington, hams with salads, chutneys and pickles, warm asparagus quiches, Irish cheese with apples and grapes, little choux pastries filled with horseradish sauce, cream and cold rare beef, spinach soup, lemon tart, a smoked mackerel starter, chicken tarragon, tea and scones, parma ham and figs, steaks in mushroom and cream sauce, brown bread ice cream, vegetable soup, a Summer Salad Sandwich, quail eggs and langoustines, corned beef and cabbage, Beef Carbonnade, Chicken Provencal, filo-wrapped prawns and Thai fish cakes, Irish Stew, smoked salmon, shortbread, Christmas cake, and plum pudding.
Cathy has her monster-in-law to the Scarlet Feather premises for lunch and serves tomato soup (which Tom says that Hannah Mitchell will think is "tinned") as a starter with some of Tom's bread. It ends up that Mrs. Mitchell likes the soup and its "very sweet taste." Unfortunately the smell of the combination of the bath oil she brings Cathy along with the lunch entree of monkfish with saffron sauce, green beans with bacon and toasted almonds, and potatoes and ginger have Cathy rushing to be ill in the bathroom--so I decided to stick to a lunch of soup and bread for my book inspired dish. When I was looking for a unique tomato soup, I stumbled across Mark Bittman's Cold Cream of Tomato and Peach Soup and liked the sound of it. I wanted to make crostini to go with it and decided since I was already having fruit in the soup, I would do a creamy herb spread and top it with thinly sliced fresh strawberries. (I paired strawberries before on crostini with baby arugula and goat cheese.) It seemed like an elegant, caterer-ish summer lunch.
I did make both the soup and herb cream vegan, but you certainly wouldn't have to. My changes to Bittman's recipe are in red below.
Cold Cream of Tomato and Peach Soup
From Mark Bittman vis The New York Times
1 chopped onion
2 Tbsp butter (I used 1 Tbsp non-dairy butter)
2 lb chopped tomatoes
1/2 lb chopped peeled peaches
1/2 cup cream (optional but good) (I used 1/2 cup coconut cream)
(I added a pinch of sea salt and a dash of ground white pepper)
Cook chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter for 5 minutes. Add 2 pounds chopped tomatoes and 1/2 pound chopped peeled peaches. Simmer until the tomatoes break up. Add 1/2 cup cream (optional but good), purée, and chill. Garnish: chopped tarragon.
Herb Cashew Creme
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 heaping cup raw cashews, whole or pieces
1 cup loosely-packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup loosely-packed fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup water + more if needed
juice of one lemon (about 3 Tbsp), or to taste
sea salt and white pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp sea salt & 1/4 tsp white pepper)
Plan Ahead Prep: Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or overnight.
To make sauce: Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Put them in a (preferably high-speed) blender with herbs, 1/3 cup water, lemon juice, salt and white pepper. Blend on high for a minute or two, until smooth--adding extra water as needed until mixture blends easily but is still very thick and creamy. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice as desired.
Use as a dip or spread on sandwiches or crostini. Store refrigerated creme for a day or two, tightly covered in the refrigerator.
For the Crostini: I brushed olive oil lightly on both sides of each slice of baguette and toasted them on the grill pan until lightly brown and allowed them to cool slightly. I then spread them with the Herb Cashew Creme and topped them with thinly-sliced fresh strawberries and a fresh herb leaf.
Notes/Results: I am very happy with this cold soup and crostini pairing. The soup is rich, smooth and sweet. You don't detect the peach flavor necessarily, but you know that there is something there besides the tomato. The cream (coconut cream in this case), makes the soup ultra-creamy, and the herby bite of the tarragon is nice. Bittman didn't say to add salt or pepper to the soup--but I feel like they enhanced the flavor, so I would recommend adding a bit of each to taste. The soup paired well with the crostini which were really delicious (if I do say so myself). ;-) The herb cashew creme was perfect--nicely lemony with the basil and tarragon pairing well together and the sweet strawberries on top. I will definitely make it again--I think it will make a great sandwich spread or even a pasta sauce if it is thinned out a bit. I love it when kitchen experiments turn out well!
The deadline for this Cook the Books round is Sunday, July 31st and Claudia will be rounding up the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for August/September when Debra of Eliot's Eats will be hosting with The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo (there will be a crossover with Food 'N Flix September pick Frida--also hosted by Debra). Hope you join us!
Scarlet Feather is my tenth entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the July Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.
And, ...it's Souper Sundays!
We had a great group and some lovely dishes shared at the Souper Sundays linkup last week. (Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)
(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
Flour.ish.en Test Kitchen shared a salad of Wheat with Mint and Mango and says, "Roasted beets were put in the bottom layer to prevent its juice from running over the rest of the salad. Layered on top were: cracked freekeh, Persian cucumbers, sliced radishes, ripe mangoes, ripe avocado, and heaps of mint, parsley and green onions. All the ingredients are fresh. The sweetness of ripe mango and the distinct minty scent are clear standouts in this salad. Moreover, nothing comes from a bottle or can. Splashes of lemon juice and olive oil finished this wholesome dish for a light, refreshing and sustaining meal, ideal for a hot summer day."
Tina of Squirrel Head Manor tried Nigel Slater's Chicken Salad with Couscous, saying, "Everyone is tired of hearing about the heat of summer. So I am not going to mention it, other than to say I have sought out cooler meals to put on the table in effort to keep the kitchen from heating up. Nigel Slater has a good recipe for using up leftover chicken, making a healthy salad type meal that's easy on the prep. That's a winner in my book."
Pam of Sidewalk Shoes joins us with Scalloped Zucchini Salad and said, "This salad is so easy, especially if you have a mandolin. All you have to do is thinly slice your zucchini, layer it all pretty like in a shallow dish, drizzle with some olive oil and lemon juice, season with some salt and pepper and garnish with chives or whatever herb you think you’d like with zucchini. That’s it. It also keeps well in the fridge. We had it the next day with lunch and it was every bit as good!"
Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog brought Vegetarian Tortilla Soup and said, "Tortilla soup is one of my favorites! Whenever I go to Mexico on vacation, I am jealous of everyone eating and raving about the tortilla soup. It always looks so good, but it is made with chicken and chicken broth, and I am a vegetarian. I've searched for a vegetarian tortilla recipe, but have never really found one I liked. Today, I found a good one and guess what? It's made in the crock pot! Does it get any better than that? Yes, it's gluten free, vegan, and made from real food ingredients. I knew I was going to like this one."
Finally here at Kahakai Kitchen, I made a meal in a bowl with California Roll Poke and Sesame Sea Asparagus over rice. Poke is Hawaiian for cut or slice and this raw fish salad can be found all over the islands as well as hitting the mainland lately. The Sesame Sea Asparagus salad is adapted from an Ottolengi recipe and a favorite of mine.
Thanks to everyone who linked up 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.
- 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!