Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mark Bittman's Garlic Fideo Soup: Noodly Comfort Food for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I wanted a very broth pasta soup this week and I always like a good dose of garlic so I went with Mark Bittman's Garlic Fideo Soup. Fideos mean noodles, usually vermicelli and I can buy packages of it in the hispanic/Latin American food section in my local supermarket. If you can't find it, Italian angel hair or vermicelli pasta will work--you can break it up to get small pieces.


The only challenge is that I just bought one 7-oz bag of fideos, so I made the executive decision of filling in with 7-oz of Israeli couscous for the rest of my pasta. Also, because I liked Aaron Sanchez's Sopa Seca (Dry Soup) I made back in March so much, I added a cup of salsa to the mix. It's OK, Mark Bittman's recipes are always great jumping off places for me. 


Mark Bittman says, "You can’t go wrong with a soup made of lots of fried garlic and noodles topped with fried bread crumbs. Chicken stock would work well if you have some handy."

Garlic Fideo Soup
(Makes 4 Servings)

1 lb fideos, or capellini or other very thin pasta (I used 7-oz fideos + 7 oz Israeli couscous)
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/4 cup chopped garlic 
salt and pepper
2 tsp sweet paprika (preferably pimentón) 
6 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water (I used 6 cups non-chicken stock)
(I added 1 cup of prepared garlic salsa)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or epazote, plus 2 Tbspfor garnish
1/2 cup fried bread crumbs (see below) for garnish (I used seasoned panko crumbs)

Put the noodles in a sturdy bag and whack them with a rolling pin or the back of a knife, breaking them into 1- to 2-inch pieces. (My pasta was already broken up.)

Put the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and beginning to color, 5 to 8 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the noodles, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they darken, a minute or 2. They will probably not cook perfectly evenly — some will become darker than others — but avoid letting more than a few pieces blacken.

Add the paprika and most of the parsley and stir for a minute to coat the noodles. Add the stock, taking care to loosen any noodles or garlic that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve right away, garnished with the remaining 2 tablespoons or so of parsley and the bread crumbs.

To Make Breadcrumbs: Tear a few slices of good-quality bread (preferably a day or two old) into pieces and put them in a food processor. Pulse a few times, then let the machine run for a few seconds until coarsely chopped. For every 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. When it’s hot, add the crumbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt or and drain on towels; use immediately. 

Notes/Results: Really good, similar to the Sopa Seca and just as delicious--garlicky and satisfying. I know I made a lot of changes to the recipe but I am happy with all of them, even the couscous. The breadcrumbs are a great textural addition to the soup--their crispness a good contrast with the soft pasta. I would happily make this again. 


Linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Cinco de Mayo.


Let's see who is here in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week: 

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor is here with a salad to share. She says, "This salad of baby spinach, beefsteak tomatoes, avocado and toasted walnuts was a fabulous accompaniment to the leftover chicken dinner. Easy to toss together. Pull the stems off the baby spinach leaves. Chop any type tomatoes you like and slice avocado. Toast the walnut halves at 350 F for about 10 minutes. I rubbed a little olive oil on the walnuts. Toss all ingredients and add favorite dressing. We used red wine vinegar and olive oil."


Radha of The Magical Ingredients for a Wholesome Life from the Heart of My Home is here with two dishes to share. First up her Cilantro Pachadi Raita which can be served as a cold soup. She says, "Cilantro pachadi aka raita is made with cilantro, coconut, and yogurt, spiced with cumin and Thai green chili. ... Also, this can be chilled and served as summer soup too. When you are serving as soup, the following quantity may serve one whereas as a condiment for an Indian food platter, would serve four."


Her second dish is Kochumber Salad and she says, "This is quick refreshing salad made with crisp cucumbers, firm tomatoes, crunchy onions and with a squirt of lime juice. The flavors in the salad marry well and gives a flavor burst in your mouth. This can be served along a meal and every bite of it gives the refreshing satisfaction of a great meal. This has no oil, high in fiber, and is a very healthy salad. This can be prepared in 10 minutes."


Thank you to Tina and Radha for joining me this week!
 
(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 
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 Souper Sunday'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. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up to Souper Sundays in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
  • Although we are pretty wide on what defines a soup, sandwich or salad, entries that are clearly not in the same family (ie: desserts, meats, random main or side dishes that aren't salads, etc.) are meant for another round up and will be deleted. 
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and add a link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to this post or my blog on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (completely optional).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
Have a happy, healthy week! 
 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping for "The Newcomer" By Mary Kay Andrews #TheNewcomerParty

I am very excited to be joining my friends at The Book Club Cookbook, St. Martin's Press and some fellow bloggers for #TheNewcomerParty to celebrate the book birthday of The Newcomer, a new novel by Mary Kay Andrews. We were tasked with reading the book and coming up with a dish inspired by it and so I offer up Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping. 


Publisher's Blurb:

In trouble and on the run...

After she discovers her sister Tanya dead on the floor of her fashionable New York City townhouse, Letty Carnahan is certain she knows who did it: Tanya’s ex; sleazy real estate entrepreneur Evan Wingfield. Even in the grip of grief and panic Letty heeds her late sister’s warnings: “If anything bad happens to me—it’s Evan. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

With a trunkful of emotional baggage...

So Letty grabs her sister’s Mercedes and hits the road with her wailing four-year-old niece Maya. Letty is determined to out-run Evan and the law, but run to where? Tanya, a woman with a past shrouded in secrets, left behind a “go-bag” of cash and a big honking diamond ring—but only one clue: a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town with the improbable name of Treasure Island. She sheds her old life and checks into an uncertain future at The Murmuring Surf Motel.

The No Vacancy sign is flashing & the sharks are circling...

And that’s the good news. Because The Surf, as the regulars call it, is the winter home of a close-knit flock of retirees and snowbirds who regard this odd-duck newcomer with suspicion and down-right hostility. As Letty settles into the motel’s former storage room, she tries to heal Maya’s heartache and unravel the key to her sister’s shady past, all while dodging the attention of the owner’s dangerously attractive son Joe, who just happens to be a local police detective. Can Letty find romance as well as a room at the inn—or will Joe betray her secrets and put her behind bars? With danger closing in, it’s a race to find the truth and right the wrongs of the past.

St. Martin's Press May 4, 2021
Hardcover 448 pgs


My Review: 
 
Heading from spring into summer, it's a great time for beach or pool books--those books you want to relax with, outside, on a lazy sunny day. The Newcomer is a great beach book from it's Florida beach town setting to the drama and romance in its pages. Letty is on the run with her young niece after finding her sister dead, keeping her promise to keep Maya away from her father if anything happens to Tanya. A magazine article left in Tanya's "go-bag" has her heading to The Murmuring Surf, a resort hotel a bit past its prime on the Florida coast. There she finds the kind-hearted owner, her suspicious but attractive police detective son, and a bunch of (mostly curmudgeonly) regular hotel guests who aren't too excited about the newcomer in their midst. 
 
Letty is a great character and easy to root for as I am a sucker for stories where the main character is trying to find their place in the world. Her 4-year-old niece, Maya, is adorable, and the supporting characters are entertaining and added a lightness and humor to the book. The blend of suspense and romance is good, overall--maybe a little too insta-romance between Letty and Joe as he goes from immediately suspicious cop to falling for her and helping her hide. The story is a bit predictable, but there is a certain comfort in that for a summer book--I don't mind not having to think too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Newcomer and it made me realize how long it has been since I delved into one of Mary Kay Andrews' books and how breezy, entertaining, and good fun they are. If you like a little drama and mystery in your romance, pour yourself a cold glass of lemonade or a tart cocktail and enjoy this one by the water.

----

Author Notes: Mary Kay Andrews is The New York Times bestselling author of The Beach House Cookbook and more than twenty novels, including The Weekenders, Ladies' Night, Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, and Savannah Blues. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

 You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

----

Food Inspiration: 

There are great advantages to reading an #ARC on my Kindle and marking up notes on food so easily but when your Kindle glitches and erases all of said notes when you are 3/4 through the book, it's not so great. Rather than my usual comprehensive list of food mentions, I am going to have to go by memory. At least I had already decided on a dish! OK, there was lots of pizza from the local Italian place, McDonald's take-out, tomato and chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, ham salad sandwiches, carrot sticks, grapes, shrimp, barbecued chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, day-old store-bought roles, fruit and cheese platter, lots of cookies, steamed stone crab claws with a tangy mustard sauce and a crisp green salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spaghetti, chicken fingers, hot dogs, steamed carrots and broccoli,hamburgers and cake and punch among other things. 

"Letty picked at the food on the paper plate. The barbecued chicken had a tangy-sweet sauce, and the lukewarm macaroni and cheese reminded her of Mimi's, cheesy and buttery with a thick oven-browned crumb topping, and the vinegar-brined coleslaw made a nice contrast to the chicken." 


It was the macaroni and cheese that I settled on because it reminded Letty of her grandmother's and it sounded good. From the sounds of it, it was baked and I decided to make a simple creamy version and pump up the crumb topping by using garlic Ritz crackers, mixed with seasoning, melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese.

I made a half batch of this recipe only because I feared I would eat every bite of it if I made a full one. You can alter your cheeses to your favorites of course--just make sure that you grate them yourself so that your sauce is smooth and not gritty..My half-batch made two of my small casserole dishes full so I added the topping and baked one and left the topping off the other and froze it. (Let's see how long it lasts before I yank it out of the freezer and dig in!)

 

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping 
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 8 Servings)
 
1 lb dried pasta, elbow macaroni or other pasta shape of choice
1 stick butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half 
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
2 cups Velveeta or processed American cheese, cubed
1 cup Gruyere or Gouda, coarsely grated
1 pinch dried mustard 
salt and black pepper
 
For Topping:
1 sleeve Garlic Ritz Crackers (about 13 crackers)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch black pepper

Cook pasta 1 minute short of package instructions, drain and put into a large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease your baking dish(es) and set aside. Mix your grated and cubed cheeses in a large bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep saucepan or pot over medium heat. When melted, whisk in flour and continue whisking for 1 to 2 minutes until it turns golden and bubbles. Gradually whisk in the milk and half-and-half until mixture is completely smooth. Continue whisking until bubbles form on the surface and mixture is heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Gradually add cheese to the hot milk mixture, 2 cups at a time, whisking until creamy and smooth each time you add cheese. Sauce should be thick and creamy.  Once all cheese is melted, pour the sauce into the bowl of drained pasta and gently mix until all the pasta is coated in the cheese sauce. Stir in mustard and salt and black pepper to taste. 

Pour macaroni and cheese into prepared baking dish(es).

To make topping: Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Place the Ritz in a large Ziploc bag and crush until small crumbs. Add the shredded Parmesan, melted butter, smoked paprika, garlic seasoning, and pinch of pepper. Mix together in the bag until well combined. 

Sprinkle topping generously over the prepared baking dishes of macaroni and cheese. Bake about 25 - 30 minutes until macaroni and cheese is bubbly and top is golden brown. Serve and enjoy!  

Notes/Results:  What's not to love? Creamy macaroni and cheese that is rich and decadent  and a crispy, buttery, cheesy, garlicky crust. I swear I could just be happy eating the crust by itself. ;-) If you are feeding small children, or vampires, you could use regular Ritz or just serve it as a stove-top macaroni and cheese but to me the topping really makes this dish special. I would happily make it again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Here's a link to this week's post. 

Check out this link for the #TheNewComerParty at The Book Club Cookbook to see the other bloggers taking part and their delicious recipes!

Mahalo to St. Martin's Press (@stmartinspress) and The Book Club Cookbook for the review copies of the book, and for hosting this fun event. I received no compensation for my participation and, as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.  

Find The Book Club Cookbook here: 

Facebook: TheBookClubCookbook
Twitter: @bookclubcookboo
Instagram: @thebookclubcookbook
Pinterest: @bookclubcook

 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Giada's (Alphabet) Pastina Soup: Quick and Easy Comfort for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I first made Giada's Pastina Soup back in 2016 although I have made variations many time since. It's just a simple broth pasta that tastes great when you want something comforting that takes you back to childhood. Last time I used acini di pepe but this time, the grocery store had alphabet pasta, which is always fun. 


This is a soup you can add and take away from based on what you like and what you have. 


Pastina Soup
Slightly Adapted from Happy Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis 
(Serves 4

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 shallots, minced (I used frozen sautéed glazed onions)
3 sprigs thyme (I used dried 21 Seasoning Salute Trader Joe's)
sea salt
1 (2-inch) piece parmesan cheese rind
1 quart chicken or veggie stock (homemade or low-sodium)
1 1/4 cups star-shaped pastina or other small pasta (I used alphabet pasta)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, celery, carrot and shallots and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until softened.

Add the thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the parmesan rind, stock and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Return to a simmer and cook 8 to 10 minutes more, or until the pasta is cooked and the liquid is slightly thickened.

Remove the thyme sprigs and parmesan rind. Stir in the peas. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with grated parmesan and lemon zest, if desired.


Notes/Results: Just a simple, comforting soupy pasta hug in a bowl and what I was craving. The alphabets were fun although I think I prefer a chewier pasta in it rather than softer. I do suggest a good broth since this is such a simple soup and the grated parmesan and lemon zest on top are a nice touch. If you wanted to make a vegan version, I'd recommend using a good veggie broth and stirring in a bit of miso and nutritional yeast to give it that touch of umami the cheese provides. As Giada states, this is a very stewy, risotto-like soup so if you want more broth, reduce the pasta to 3/4 cup and/or add more stock. I would happily make it again.


Linking up to IHCC where it's April Potluck Week.

Let's see who is here in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week: 


Radha of Magical Ingredients for a Wholesome Life From the Heart of My Home brought a Quick Veggie Salad to share this week. She says, "Simple is best. This is a simple, healthy, and quick salad which can be made in minutes with the veggies that you will always have in hand. This is my go to salad always. I don't make very specific dressings for salad every time. I like this kind which doesn't have any oil but at the same time gives a wonderful flavor with crunchy veggies. The lime juice brings out the flavors of the individual components.


Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen says, "I harvested some perpetual spinach for dinner; and made this All in One dish of Perpetual Spinach, Chickpea Minestrone with Macaroni for lunch, that served us over two days. Once in the evening, hot out of the oven and the other day: room temperature for lunch. Its such an easy dish to make, you just add all the ingredients: minced onions, crushed garlic, shredded spinach, chopped tinned tomatoes, macaroni pasta and chickpeas, in a deep dish and then add flavourings: herbs, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Pour over vegetable stock and then put in the oven to cook and swell. Stir a couple of times, then serve."



Thank you to Radha and Shaheen for joining me this week!
 
(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 
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 Souper Sunday'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. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up to Souper Sundays in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
  • Although we are pretty wide on what defines a soup, sandwich or salad, entries that are clearly not in the same family (ie: desserts, meats, random main or side dishes that aren't salads, etc.) are meant for another round up and will be deleted. 
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and add a link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to this post or my blog on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (completely optional).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
Have a happy, healthy week! 
 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Six Lentil Soups I Have Loved for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays + A Bonus Favorite

I am getting busier and lazier lately and it shows in Souper Sundays as I think this is the third time in two months where I have not made a new soup. It was warm and humid, I was tired and trying to finish up a work project for next week and not down for being in the kitchen. Instead, I bring you a set of six lentil soups I have loved. 

This is not a comprehensive list as I have 50 recipes on the site tagged with "lentils" and most are soup. Also, I picked recipes from some of the 21 featured chefs we cook along with at I Heart Cooking Clubs

A soup I have made multiple times is Mark Bittman's simple Red Lentil Soup with Lemon


Ottolenghi's Puy Lentil and Eggplant Stew is a great combination of flavors. 


Very basic but very good, Eric Ripert's Instagram Lentil Soup:


A little fancier take (use the good lentils and olive oil please!) ;-) is Ina's Lentil Vegetable Soup:


A different take on lentil soup is Giada's Lentil and Pasta Soup 


Heidi Swanson's Lentil Chili (Pierce Street Vegetarian Chili) 


I was all done with my six and a I remembered this one: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Lentil Soup with Caraway and Minted Yogurt:


There you go. Soup, stew, chili, some basic and some unique but all are memorable and perfect for a rainy day which is why I am linking them up at I Heart Cooking Clubs for this week's Rainy Day Eats theme.


Let's see who is here in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week: 


Judee of Gluten Free A - Z Blog shares a Mango Coleslaw this week saying, "Coleslaw is one of my favorite salads.  You can imagine how excited I was to find this mango coleslaw recipe. With hues of orange, purple, and light greens from vegetables, this tasty vegan slaw is beautiful to serve for any occasion. The addition of slices of fresh mango adds a delicate sweetness that enhances this vegan and gluten-free side dish."


Also feeling the cabbage this week was Crafty Gardener with their Soup'er Cabbage Soup, saying "To use the remainder of the cabbage I made some cabbage soup.I always cook a big batch of soup so there is lots for the freezer for later. This time I made two dishes of casserole and froze one of them. Both the soup and cabbage casserole freeze well."

Radha of Magical Ingredients for a Wholesome Life From the Heart of My Home shared two flavorful bowls this week, saying "Mulligatawny soup is the comfortable soup the we had growing up. When are in good health or when we are sick, this is the one we always had. Milagu Thanni (Pepper water) became Mulligatawny soup. Traditionally, this is a broth, but there are so many variations including creamy dal version. And is served over rice. It can be had as such too. South Indian Rasam falls in the broth category. There are many different styles of rasam and today I am sharing the Pepper - Cumin Rasam which is our Mulligatawny Soup."


For her second soup, Radha shared this Instant Pot Slowcooked Chipotle Corn Chowder saying, "This is simple, easy to make soup filled with flavors from fresh corn and chipotle peppers. Also, this is one of our favorite soups. This is a slow cooked version using Instant Pot. Instant Pot is handy when you need to make things quicker or use as a slow cooker. This is a blessing for me to make quick meals as well as slow cooked ones in one single appliance."


Thank you to all who joined me this week!
 
(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 
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 Souper Sunday'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. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up to Souper Sundays in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
  • Although we are pretty wide on what defines a soup, sandwich or salad, entries that are clearly not in the same family (ie: desserts, meats, random main or side dishes that aren't salads, etc.) are meant for another round up and will be deleted. 
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and add a link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to this post or my blog on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (completely optional).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Tangy Pimiento Cheese Inspired by "The Gravedigger's Guild" by Susan Farris

I am happy to offer up a book review today for The Gravedigger's Guild, a new Southern Gothic novel by Susan Farris. Adding to that happiness is noshing on some delicious Tangy Pimiento Cheese inspired by my reading from one of the author's own recipes. 



Publisher's Blurb:

Alice Matins is dead. With the passing of this Mississippi matriarch, estranged sisters Maggy and Quinn collide over the course of Alice's wake and funeral amidst a motley band of gossiping church ladies and feuding gravediggers.

As storm clouds gather, the two women unbury secrets from their past involving Quinn's husband that could resurrect their once-strong sisterly bond. But he has secrets of his own.

The Gravedigger's Guild examines the indelible ties of sisterhood and the complicated legacy we leave behind.

With a style similar to Andrea Bobotis (The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt), this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy stories of strong sibling relationships like Tara Conklin's The Last Romantics and fans of picturesque Southern tales like Sweet Magnolias.
 

 

As my time is limited, I don't do a lot of extra book reviews and tours outside of the ones I do with my regular book tour group, but when Susan Farris approached me on through Instagram about reviewing her book, I was intrigued by the premise and quickly said yes. 

The Gravedigger's Guild is about a family and church community that gather for the funeral and wake of the beloved matriarch of a small Mississippi town. Alice leaves behind two grown daughters. Maggy is the youngest and arrives from New York City have recently broken up with her long-term live-in boyfriend and having lost her job as a fashion editor for daring to take time off for her mother's funeral. Quinn, her older sister, is a stay-at-home mother five children (from teenager to baby) and is married to Maggy's old boyfriend Collins. These once close sisters have been somewhat estranged ever since Quinn announced her relationship with Collins and her pregnancy of now teen-aged Allie) and they don't come together easily, with both holding on to resentments. There are secrets, resentments and other drama with the supporting characters too, primarily Collins, Allie, the single church pastor Father Derek Fry, the community's women, and the titular Gravedigger's Guild -- tasked with finding the right spot and digging the graves so the community's citizens can pass on in a traditional, dignified manner. 

Susan Farris packs a lot of drama into 317 pages in this novel that started as a short story. I was firmly "Team Maggy" throughout most of the story, getting annoyed with Quinn's attitude towards her but slowly grew to understand Quinn's side of things. The church women and the Guild provide a lot of the humor and heart of the book, with the former trying to use their years of matchmaking skills to pair Maggy with Father Fry and get her to stay in town, and the later running into all kinds of trouble finding Alice a place to rest with all of the tree roots and other cemetery occupants slowing down the process of the digging. Besides the stormy relationships, there is a real storm brewing and her descriptive prose made me see, feel and experience the rain, wind and weather. I did have some trigger's with this book, mainly the loss of my own mom coming on six years now, but the sometimes dark humor and heart in the story telling, kept it from bogging me down. I was most interested in the traditions and ceremony of the wake and burial in this community and liked the emphasis on that process as it wasn't something I was familiar with. Overall, The Gravedigger's Guild was an enjoyable and engaging read and I was sad to reach the last page of it. If you like family and sisterly drama, Southern fiction and Southern Gothic tales, you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

....

Author NotesSusan Farris is a former marketing manager with her MFA in Creative Writing from Lindenwood University and a background in editing and tutoring other writers.The Gravedigger’s Guild is her debut novel and she has a collection of poetry coming out soon called Flooding the Delta that experiments with the Thai Nirat form of poetry. When she is not wrangling words on the page, she can be found gardening, playing board games, or snuggled up with her three cats and two dogs appreciating her husband’s amazing cooking skills.

 

Food Inspiration: 

You can't have a book set around a Southern funeral and wake that doesn't include a lot of food so the food mentions and inspiration in The Gravedigger's Guild were plentiful and included: "delicious whiffs from the Crock-Pots and towel wrapped casserole dishes," barbecued meatballs, pecans, PB & J sandwiches, jars of sweet tea and tubs of sliced lemons, finger sandwiches (cucumber finger sandwiches were mentioned a few times), cake, potatoes, scotch, popcorn, marinara sauce, pea salad, poppyseed chicken, chicken cacciatore, syrup over pancakes, Stouffer's lasagna, Mac-and-cheese, biscuits, eggs and bacon, cream, "Mrs. Greave's infamous chocolate chip muffins," hot chocolate, a pot of soup or hearty casserole, Sunday roast, tea cakes, fragrant buttery cookies, turkey, pimento cheese sandwiches, sausage rolls, broccoli salad, pimiento cheese, cheese balls, and sausage wheels. 

Susan sent along a couple of PDFs to accompany the e-book link including her a marked-up chapter she sent to her pre-order readers (so interesting to see her writing process) and a packet of recipes she created inspired by the book including Burnt End Lasagna, Cucumber-Dill tea Sandwiches, Mrs. Greaves' Chocolate Chip Muffins, Tangy Pimiento Cheese, Southern Sweet Tea, and Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes. Because I am such a fan, I had an immediate hankering for pimiento cheese and so I used that recipe (see excerpt below) for my book-inspired dish.

 
 

I kept to Susan's recipe for the most part. My only addition were these frozen Sautéed Glazed Onions (my new secret weapon in many dishes) and adding a little apple cider vinegar to make my  not-so-tangy mayo a bit more like the Duke's brand she recommended. I forgot to buy some chives or onions to top my dip, so I grated a little extra cheese on top at the end. 

Notes/Results: What can I say, I love pimiento cheese and this is a good one, thick and creamy, not gloppy and well seasoned with just a little kick. I didn't have the beloved Southern Duke's mayonnaise, which has more of a tang than the Kraft Mayo I had on hand so I added 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in to add that tangy kick. It was delicious on crackers and again the next day as a sandwich. I am looking forward to making a grilled cheese with it this weekend. I'd happily make it again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. 

Note: A review copy of The Gravedigger's Guild was provided to me by the author in return for a fair review. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.