Sunday, August 31, 2014

Farmers' Market Minestrone with White Beans for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

In case you are one of those 'no soup in the summer people'-- The August/September issue of Fine Cooking Magazine emphatically backs up my own 'soup for all seasons' philosophy saying, "In Italy, they eat soup in summer (and so should you)." Pointing out that summer is the time when prime soup vegetables are abundant and that summer soups, served the Italian way--just warmed or at room temperature rather than piping hot, fit in with summer weather. I fully support this and their tempting recipe for a Farmers' Market Minestrone to which I switched up some veggies and added beans for an extra protein boost.

Fine Cooking says, "The word minestrone means “big soup” in Italian, and that’s just what this is: a richly flavored, chunky vegetable and-pasta soup.This version is in bianco, which is to say, white, or without tomato. Feel free to add a couple of diced peeled plum tomatoes, if you like."

Farmers' Market Minestrone 
Adapted from Domenica Marchetti from Fine Cooking, Issue 130
(Serves 6)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

(I added 1 baby fennel bulb and two mini bell peppers) 
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large red potato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kernels from 1 ear fresh corn
6 to 8 cups lower-salt vegetable or chicken broth (I used mock-chicken broth)
1 cup dried tubetti or small pasta shells

(I added two cups total garbanzo and cannellini beans)
1/2 oz (1/2 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
Warm the oil in a 5-quart heavy-duty pot over medium-low heat. When it’s warm—not hot—add the celery, carrots, garlic, onion, and parsley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the carrots have begun to soften, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the eggplant, potato, yellow squash, zucchini, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring often (the potato tends to stick to the bottom of the pot), until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the corn and 6 cups of the broth; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, partially cover, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Return to a boil and stir in the pasta. Simmer, stirring once or twice, until the pasta is al dente or even a little bit more tender; cooking time will depend on the shape and brand of pasta you use. Add more broth to thin the soup, if you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano and basil. Let cool to warm or room temperature before serving; the soup will thicken as it cools. Serve with additional grated Parmigiano at the table.

Notes/Results: Such a satisfying and summery bowl of soup! I love all of the veggies-a good blend of sweet, crisp, creamy and savory. I think the beans were a good addition, with the pasta they make the soup more of a meal. I ended up using about 9 cups of broth because my zucchini and yellow squash were large and I used more potato. Still, this is a very thick, almost chowder-like soup--which I like. You could leave off the cheese to make it vegan, but the Parmigiano and basil do add a great layer of flavor to the soup. I waited until the soup cooled to room temp before adding them. I like this soup slightly warmer than room temp, but not hot--it allows the flavors to really come out. A great way to eat the rainbow and get your veggies in--summer in a bowl. I would make it again.

We have some great friends and their dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look.

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shares a soup that's good at any any temperature, her Homemade Tomato Soup. Judee says, "You  can serve this delightful summer soup with a variety of toppings. It can be topped with a little Parmesan cheese, some sour cream or Greek yogurt,  perhaps even some creme fraiche, or just blended with some warm heavy cream. According to your preferences, add  dairy or dairy substitutes like coconut milk if you prefer. My husband was the one who discovered that this soup it is also excellent chilled. In fact, we really liked it that way- a lot!!"

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes is here with Grilled Eggplant and Mint Salad and says, "This salad was everything I imagined it would be. The eggplant and the fennel paired beautifully and the cheese balanced it so well. I used this as a side dish with some simple grilled chicken, but it would actually make a lovely light dinner or lunch salad all on it’s own."

Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe is back, sharing this pretty Strawberry, Haloumi and Greens Salad. She says, "By the time I drove home I was exhausted. Fortunately I had planned my dinner before I left home. It was just a matter of throwing together the remnants from the vegie tulips, some spinach and strawberries that needed using and frying the rest of the haloumi I opened for lunch the previous day. I made a simple vinaigrette. A fresh and healthy salad was just what I needed."

Janet of The Taste Space brings a healthy Blueberry Tamari Greens Bowl and says, "A multi-component, main dish salad with a spinach base, filled with cucumber and blueberries, beefed up with Ginger Beer tofu and topped with sticky, sweet & savoury almonds with Chinese 5-spice. ... The star of the salad, other than the big blueberries, were the Chinese 5-spiced glazed almonds which were perfectly balanced with the tamari, agave and the Chinese 5-spice imparted an interesting edge that I did not expect to taste so good." 

Here at Kahakai Kitchen, it was a soup, salad and sammie kind of week as in addition to the above soup, I made delicious versions of a salad and a sandwich that are worth being shared again. ;-) 

First, I fell in deep lust with Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian's Tomato & Bocconcini Caprese while watching The Kitchen last weekend. The ingredients are simply and with a little extra prep effort (peeling the skin off of the tomatoes) it is a stunning salad and one of the best Caprese salads I have eaten. Such great flavor in every bite. I got more tomatoes at the farmers market to make it again.

A Meat-Free version of Nigel Slater's Bánh Mì (aka Sour, Hot, Crisp, Soft. A Sandwich for the Senses') was amazing with his simple pickled vegetables piled on top. So satisfying with all of the color, texture and flavors. The pickled veggies are positively addicting on their own and perfect combined with the garlicky, Five-spice soy crumbles. If you make your own fish sauce (I did not), you can make it vegan, but any way you make it, this one is a keeper.

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just check out the Super Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details. 

Have a happy, healthy week!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

(Meat Free) Bánh Mì Sandwich (aka Nigel Slater's 'Sour, Hot, Crisp, Soft. A Sandwich for the Senses')

There are sandwiches and then there are SANDWICHES--bread that is packed so full of ingredients, flavors, and textures that they transcend ordinary sandwiches. I find a good Bánh Mì to be a SANDWICH, hearty, satisfying, and full of flavor. If you aren't familiar, Bánh Mì sandwiches are a Vietnamese dish that combine French ingredients like the baguette, mayonnaise or butter, pâté in a classic version, with Vietnamese flavors like cilantro, mint, pickled veggies and spices. Nigel Slater's version listed in Notes From the Larder as 'Sour, Hot, Crisp, Soft. A Sandwich for the Senses'--a very apt description.   

Meat Free Bánh Mì ('Sour, Hot, Crisp, Soft. A Sandwich for the Senses'
Adapted from Notes From the Larder by Nigel Slater

Nigel says, "This morning I make fresh, hot vegetable pickles. I thinly slice a raw carrot, 4 radishes, and a quarter of a cucumber. I bring to a boil a small wineglass of rice wine vinegar and the same of superfine sugar. In go 4 slices of raw ginger and 2 star anise. I then add enough Vietnamese fish sauce to make it interesting, about 2 tablespoons (everyone's tolerance to fish sauce is different; keep tasting as you go), put in the vegetables, and let the mixture cool. After an hour in the mixture, they have become crunchy. Two hours and they are full of zingy bite and refreshing crispness.

I get a wok smoking hot, pour in a little oil, then follow it with a few handfuls of ground pork from the butcher. As soon as it is brown on the bottom, I toss it around the pan, let it color even more, then add 2 copped garlic cloves and a finely sliced tiny, hot red chile, followed by a teaspoon of five-spice powder. When all is sizzling and highly fragrant, I chuck in a fistful of cilantro leaves. 

The hot, garlicky pork gets stuffed into a length of buttered baguette, the pickles are placed on top of the pork, and I tuck in 6 whole mint leaves and some more cilantro leaves. The resulting sandwich, eaten as a late lunch, was exciting , refreshing, comforting, crisp, soft, searingly hot, blissfully cool. I could go on..."  

Deb says: I stuck pretty closely to Nigel's recipe sketch--just switched out some of the ingredients. For the veggies--I used some baby carrots, a whole small cucumber, part of a red pepper, a chunk of daikon radish, a few pink radishes and some fennel--a great way to use up those random veggies in the crisper drawer. I sliced everything very thinly, using my mandoline where I could. Since I don't eat meat or poultry, I needed a substitute for the pork and ended up using soy crumbles because of the meat-like texture. I used extra garlic and five-spice to add more flavor to the crumbles. For assembling the sandwich, I omitted the butter and hollowed out both sides of the baguette a bit in order to better hold the filling. 

Notes/Results: Oh my, this was indeed a SANDWICH--so amazingly good. Let's start with those pickled veggies--which are so simple and delicious. I was happy that I made extra and these will have a regular rotation on sandwiches from now on--if they last long enough to go on them. I noshed on a bunch of my extra veggies but had enough leftover to grace the top of a tuna sandwich--yummy. I think the key for pickled veggies on sandwiches is to keep them super thin, so you can pile them on in delicious layers. I have had Bánh Mì sandwiches where the pickled veggies are cut thick and large enough to go on a crudité platter and the effect isn't nearly as good. The soy crumbles were hot, garlicky and slightly spicy, the extra seasoning gave them a lot of flavor. A little more beef-like than pork-ish, it still worked well in the sandwich and the hot seasoned 'meat' contrasted well with the cool, crisp veggies and herbs. The fish sauce in the veggies keeps this meal from being vegan but you could sub in tamari or soy sauce or there are plenty of vegan 'fish' sauce recipes online if you want to make your own. I served the sandwich Spicy Thai Kettle Chips and the ginger and Thai spices paired well. This one was a winner for me--I will make the sandwich and most definitely the pickled veggies again.

We are 'In Quite a Pickle' at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week--making Nigel Slater dishes featuring pickles. You can see what pickled dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Happy Weekend!

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech with an Iron Chef's Summery Caprese Salad

There are books that seem made for a cold winter's night, those that are fitting for a rainy Sunday, or perhaps a breezy evening on the lanai. "Season of the Dragonflies" by Sarah Creech is a book that is made for a summer weekend. Summer is dragonfly season after all and this novel, full of family drama and magical realism, is a perfect escape for a sultry summer day, enjoyed with a big glass of icy-cold sweet tea and the scent of gardenias lingering in the air.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (August 12, 2014)

Publisher's Blurb:

For generations, the Lenore women have manufactured a fragrance unlike any other. Hidden in the quiet rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their perfumery guards unique and mysterious ingredients. A secret known only to a select clientele of movie stars, politicians, artists, and CEOs, the Lenores’ signature elixir is the key to success for the world’s most powerful women.

Willow, the coolly elegant matriarch, is the brains behind the operation. Her gorgeous golden-haired daughter, Mya, is its heart. Like her foremothers, Mya can “read” scents and envision their power to influence events. But Willow’s younger daughter, dark-haired, soulful Lucia, claims no magical touch; wanting no part of the family business, she has left the mountains to make her own way in New York City.

When a divorce leaves Lucia at loose ends, she returns to the Blue Ridge Mountains for an uncomfortable family reunion and discovers trouble brewing. Willow is experiencing strange spells of forgetfulness. Mya is romancing a younger man and plotting to take the reins of the business. A client is threatening blackmail. And most ominously, the strange, magical plants that provide the perfume’s secret ingredient seem to be dying.

With the Lenore empire at stake, the sister who can save their lucrative scent stands to inherit when Willow steps down. Though Mya schemes, Lucia has suddenly begun to show signs of possessing her own special abilities. And her return to the mountains—heralded by a swarm of blue dragonflies—may be the answer they all need.

Capturing the essence of sisterhood with the sweetness of flowers, Season of the Dragonflies is a beguiling tale of practical magic, old secrets, and new love.

I am a fan of the magical realism genre--particularly Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman, and Season of the Dragonflies has that same feel. I loved the setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the town of Quartz Hollow, where Lenore Incorporated was formed and "the most enigmatic, expensive, and successful perfume in history" was created. Creech's writing had me picturing (and smelling) the scenes in my head--the magical fields of the mysterious Gardenia potentiae flower in particular. The concept of a secret perfume that makes its hand-selected wearer the top of their respective field--dance, music, movies, politics..., was fascinating. As much as Season of the Dragonflies is about magic, it is also about family and generations of strong women. It did take me a bit to warm up to the Lenore family so the first part of the book drug a bit. Lucia was the most likeable right off, Willow felt a bit too cold and Mya too angry at the world. As more of their stories and their motivations unfolded, I found myself feeling closer to them, and their somewhat dysfunctional family dynamic felt real. That growing attachment sped up the second half of the book for me, as I wanted to find out what would happen--things get a bit dicey--especially for Mya. Overall, it is a well-written and engaging story--especially for a first novel, and I look forward to reading more from this author. 

Author Notes: Born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sarah Creech grew up in a house full of women who told stories about black cloud visions and other premonitions. Her work has appeared in storySouthLiterary MamaAroostook ReviewGlass, and Glimmer Train. She received an MFA in 2008 and now teaches English and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in North Carolina with her two children and her husband, a poet. This is her first novel. Find out more about Sarah at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

Although not a primary focus, there is food in this book--simmering vegetable stock with herbs, sushi, roast beef with rosemary, hummus and carrots, a grass-fed venison roast with a currant and coffee sauce, sour cherries for a pie, sausage biscuits and cinnamon-infused moonshine.  When Lucia is trying to make homemade supreme pizzas for a dinner with Ben, Willow helps her with the dough then makes a tower of a cherry tomato, a piece of mozzarella, and a basil leaf and pops it in her mouth. That got me thinking of a Caprese salad--one of my favorite salads. When done well, it is like summer on a plate. Then I was watching The Kitchen on Food Network over the weekend and they had a show about tomatoes. Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian made his version of a Caprese--simple in terms of ingredients, but a bit more prep than I often take with my tomato salads. Zakarian doesn't like tomato skin, or blanching tomatoes to remove the skin so he quarters his tomatoes, then cuts off the skin with a pairing knife then cutting them into bite-sized pieces. His salad looked amazing and I knew it had to be my dish for the book.

I adjusted the recipe to fit the local tomatoes that looked the best--using larger red vine tomatoes and sweet golden baby tomatoes. With the small basil leaves and little balls of Mozarella, it made for a beautiful plate of salad. 

Summery Tomato & Bocconcini Caprese
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian via The Kitchen at Food
(Serves 4)
1 vine-ripened red tomato
1 yellow tomato
1/4 cup currant tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes cut in half)
1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, cold
1/4 cup loosely packed baby basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the red and yellow tomatoes into quarters, and using a paring knife cut the skin away. Cut the quarters into 1-inch pieces. Scatter the cut tomatoes and currant tomatoes over a platter. Distribute the mozzarella balls between the tomato pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with basil and season with salt and pepper.

Notes/Results: Probably one of the best Caprese salads I have eaten, every flavor note was spot on. Taking the time to remove the skin from the tomatoes and cut them into sections makes them even juicier and it is much nicer to eat than sawing through the slices that come with your average Caprese. The little tomatoes add a wonderful candy-like sweetness to the mix. Zakarian said he never uses balsamic because it overpowers the tomatoes and I agree, the olive oil--chilled before dressing and the pepper and sea salt (I used local Alaea salt--sea salt mixed with red alae volcanic clay) allowed the tomatoes and baby basil leaves to shine. Baby basil is another good call--using the small leaves that are tender and bite size works really well in this salad. In fact, with the bocconcini, everything in this salad is bite-sized and easy to eat. Zakarian says this serves 4 but I would say two comfortably as a starter and one hungry girl as dinner. ;-) A little more effort than my normal Caprese but very well worth it and perfect on a humid night. I will make this again.  

Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" 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.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse for Food 'N Flix August: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

This month's Food 'N Flix is a double feature of the animated movies Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and/or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Selected by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, there is plenty of food in both of these films--if you don't mind it falling from the sky or running around chasing you. 

Having seen the first film when it came out, I was going to view it again and then watch the second film, but time got away from me as usual and I was just able to squeeze in CWACOM Part 2. In this one, Flint Lockwood and his friends are back to Swallow Falls, where the foodimals generated by Flint's invention have taken over the island and Flint has to find his FLDSMDFR and stop the hybrids from taking over the world. 

The many foodimals were fun and at first I was going to make some Tacodiles--the somewhat scary taco-crocodile hybrids, but I changed my mind and decided to do a dish in tribute to one of my favorite foodimals--Barry, the cute strawberry with the big eyes that Flint's girlfriend, Sam Sparks, befriends and names. I was thinking something pudding or mousse like and when I went online looking for recipes, I came across a Strawberry Marshmallow Mousse on BBC GoodFood. Perfect as Flint finds and is later rescued by a large family of marshmallows. So, in honor of Barry and the marshmallows, we have a sweet, fluffy (and pretty cannibalistic I guess) 'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse ;-) 

'StrawBarry' Marshmallow Mousse
BBC (from GoodFood readers Gemma Newman & Ruth Allott) 
(Serves 4) 

250 mg (8-ish oz) fresh strawberries, halved
25g (1 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
140 mg (5 oz) mini marshmallows
200 ml (6.78 oz) heavy cream

Put all but 2 of the strawberries into a pan along with 7 tbs water and the sugar. Over a medium heat, cook the strawberries until soft enough to mash, about 3 minutes. Take off the heat and squash the berries, using a fork, until pulpy. Add the marshmallows, then stir them into the hot strawberries until they dissolve. Leave to cool.  

Whip the cream until it holds it's shape. Fold the cream into the cooled strawberry mix, then spoon into one bowl or separate pots and chill for about 2 hours or until set. Cut the reserved strawberries in half to decorate.

Notes/Results: I thought this mousse might be cloyingly sweet with the marshmallows but, although it is sweet, it is light and fluffy with a pleasant strawberry and cream flavor. You taste the strawberries at the start and then the marshmallow flavor and texture comes through at the end. I would recommend 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup servings depending on the size of your cups/ramekins. This recipe goes together quickly and then it is just a point of waiting for it to set up. I found that the 2 1/2 hours I gave my mousse to set up before taking the pictures wasn't quite enough and that they were better after about 4 hours, or even overnight. This recipe would be a kid-pleaser for sure. I would make it again.

Thanks to Camilla for a fun movie pick! Submissions for this Food 'N Flix round are due August 29th. If you missed this month and like food, movies, and foodie movies, join us for September. We will be viewing the classic Funny Girl starring Barbara Streisand, hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nigel's Pappa al Pomodoro: Tomato & Bread Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

In terms of looks, Pappa al Pomodoro is a bit of a hot mess in a bowl. Definitely more peasant, than elegant. Flavor and satisfaction are where its beauty lies. The chunks of thick bread sopping up all of the lovely ripe tomatoes and their juices. This is Nigel Slater's Classic Pappa al Pomodoro, with a bit of a twist that he mentions--adding roasted red pepper for a more Mediterranean feel. Using a combination of canned plum tomatoes plus perfectly ripe local Romas and fresh basil, it's a bit of summer in a bowl.

Nigel says, "The deeply satisfying classic soup pappa al pomodoro is an excellent way of using up a glut of tomatoes. A thick soup, no doubt designed to make tomato soup substantial enough to eat as a main course, it is often made entirely with canned tomatoes, but better if you include some sun-ripened fresh ones."

Pappa al Pomodoro Soup
Adapted from Nigel Slater via The Guardian
(Serves 4)

200g (about 8 oz) ripe tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic (I used 3 large cloves)
400g (14-15 oz) can plum tomatoes
12-15 basil leaves
4-5 slices bread

(I added 1 cup packed of roasted red pepper puree)
(I drizzled pesto and sprinkled small basil leaves on top)

Roughly chop 200g ripe, sweet-sharp tomatoes. Warm 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan, then add a couple of cloves of peeled and sliced garlic. Let them soften for a minute or two then add the tomatoes and a 400g can of plum tomatoes, then a can full of water. Bring to the boil, then immediately turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. 

Add 12 -15 large basil leaves, salt and black pepper and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Tear up four or five thick slices of good bread, push them down into the soup then serve in deep bowls, trickled with olive oil. 

The Twist: I have eaten versions of this soup with roasted peppers in, turning it instantly into something more Mediterranean. Add them finely sliced and with a good pinch of sugar once the tomatoes have softened. I also like to blitz a little basil with olive oil to make a highly fragrant seasoning to pour over at the end.

Notes/Results: Thick, rich and very satisfying and quite a vibrant color too. I like the addition of the red pepper flavor. Nigel recommends slicing them thinly but I was looking for the flavor rather than the texture. The thin pesto drizzled on top adds a nice touch too. A great bowl of soup for a summer evening outside. I would make this again.

This soup is linking up for Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. The chance to make any Nigel Slater recipe or any dish from the previous IHCC chefs. You can check out what everyone made via the picture links on the post.

In the Souper Sundays kitchen with me this week is Joyce of Kitchen Flavours sharing her version of Giada's Chicken Stew. Joyce says, "No wonder there are so many good reviews about this dish at foodnetwork. This is one delicious stew! We ate this for our dinner on Sunday, with store-bought crusty bread. Such a simple meal, yet so satisfying. The veggies are tender-soft without being mushy. I cut the cooked chicken meat into bite-sized chunky pieces, discarding the bones, and the meat is tender and so tasty from the simmering with the herbs and veggies. I can see this stew appearing in my kitchen anytime in the near future!

Thanks to Joyce for joining me this week. 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.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger with Green Goddess Avocado Spread on Toast

"They weren't family, weren't the same age, or in remotely the same circumstances. They weren't colleagues either. But when Holly spent time with Vivian, she felt she was in the presence of a spirit akin to her own. They shared a peculiar mix of sentimentality and cynicism, as well as a mutual love of avocados.

--"The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger

Publisher's Blurb:

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

The Virtues of Oxygen is a beautiful and poignant book about friendship, family, and when friends become your family. I liked that it had depth beyond a typical women's fiction story of small town life and friendship. Holly and Vivian are both resilient characters who are trapped in different ways--Holly by her financial obligations and trying to keep a roof over her family's head, and Vivian by the iron lung machine that has kept her alive for 57-years, since the age of six when she contracted polio. The story is told mostly from Holly's point of view with Vivian's perspective and the history of her life given through her 'podcasts'--part of her online presence and a way she interacts with the world. It's interesting that technology, the thing that has helped Vivian open up her enclosed world, is the same thing that is making the town slowly crumble in the recession and moving Holly's newspaper job toward obsolete. I found Vivian's history and point of view fascinating. In the acknowledgements, the author writes of an article she read back in 2009 about a woman, Martha Mason, who contracted polio at age eleven and lived seventy years in an iron lung, and Vivian emerged from that article and Mason's autobiography, 'Breath,' that I have now downloaded onto my Kindle. (As well as Schoenberger's first novel A Watershed Year--to explore more of her writing.) My only complaint about this book was how quickly the pages went by as I found myself sorry to see the story end, I wanted to spend more time in the town of Bertram Corners and with these characters. 

Author Notes: Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three   children. Connect with Susan at her website,

For my dish inspired by the book, I chose to go with avocados because of the shared love Holly and Vivian have for them. I too am an avocado lover and eat them regularly. Avocado toast is a common snack/meal for me--virtually any time of the day. Usually I keep it simple with just good bread, half of an avocado, a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a light sprinkling of Tabasco. Wanting something a little different and special to accompany this book review, I came across an Ellie Krieger recipe at for a Avocado Green Goddess Dip. Being a fan of Green Goddess dressing, it seemed like a great match for the avocado, as well as a nod to Vivian and Holly, two strong and admirable women. 

To keep it chunky for optimum spreading, as well as dairy-free, I made a few small changes, noted in red below.  

Green Goddess Avocado Spread
Adapted from Ellie Krieger for
(Makes about 1 1/3 Cups)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted and peeled (I used 2 small avocados)
2 scallions (both green and white parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk (omitted)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp sliced fresh chives
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

(I added 1 Tbsp lime juice) 
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (Note: As I wanted a chunkier texture and had two small avocados, I put one avocado in with the herbs, vinegar and lime juice and processed it until smooth. I then added the second avocado (chopped) and pulsed it several times so that it was still slightly chunky in texture.) 

Notes/Results: Creamy and herby with a nice bit of tang from the vinegar and lemon, this is a tasty spread--especially when slathered on a toasted piece of garlic bread. I liked the chunky texture which made it very satisfying. Although I show a knife and fork in the photos, it is best just picked up by hand and enjoyed. I will make this again. 

Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" 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.