Monday, April 27, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Finding Jake' A Novel by Bryan Reardon

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are used to seeing book reviews accompanied by a recipe inspired by the book. Unfortunately, personal life stuff has kept me away from home and blogging much so for today's TLC Book Tour stop for Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon, there's no food. But, there is a compelling and suspenseful novel about a family, a father, and what happens when a school shooting may involve their missing teenage son.

Hardcover: 272 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (February 24, 2015)

Publisher's Blurb

A heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son.

For sixteen years, Simon Connelly’s successful wife has gone to her law office each day, while he has stayed home to raise their children. Though Simon has loved taking care of Jake and Laney, it has cost him a part of himself, and has made him an anomaly in his pretty, suburban neighborhood—the only stay-at-home dad among a tight circle of mothers.

Shepherding them through childhood, the angst-ridden father has tried to do the best for the kids, even if he often second-guesses his choices. For sunny, outgoing Laney, it’s been easy. But quiet Jake has always preferred the company of his books or his sister to playdates and organized sports. Now that they are in high school, Simon should feel more relaxed, but he doesn’t. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines.

Then, on a warm November day, he receives a text: There has been a shooting at the high school.

Racing to the rendezvous point, Simon is forced to wait with scores of other anxious fathers and tearful mothers, overwhelmed by the disturbing questions running through his head. How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are reunited with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone. Laney has gone home with her mom. Jake is the only child missing.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for the mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought? Jake could not have done this—or could he?

As rumors begin to ricochet, amplified by an invasive media, Simon must find answers. But there is only one way to understand what has happened . . . he must find Jake.

A story of faith and conviction, strength and courage, love and doubt that is harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake asks us to consider how well we know ourselves . . . and those we love.

My Review

Finding Jake is a book that pulled me in from the start and didn't let me go; quickly and quietly building the suspense as the story unfolded. Told from the point of view of Simon Connelly, stay-at-home-father and part-time freelance writer, it follows the days after a horrific school shooting interspersed with of snippets from Jake's childhood. Simon isn't entirely comfortable with his role in a neighborhood where the bulk of the stay-at-hone parents are mothers. He struggles with things like group play-dates and over-analyzes the parenting decisions he makes, afraid that his choices are negatively impacting mostly Jake, but also his younger sister, Laney. Jake is an introvert, quiet and more solitary, while Laney makes friends easily with her outgoing personality. Rachel, Jake's wife, is a successful attorney with a busy schedule and the couple has pulled apart from each other over the years. Despite all of his angst, Simon has done his best to raise good kids who are kind to others, although Jake's befriending a social pariah classmate causes Simon much discomfort as he wars with his desire to prevent his son from spending time with Doug, who makes Simon uncomfortable. When Doug is quickly named as the school shooter and Jake is identified as having been with Doug and is now missing, Simon looks to both the past and present for answers and to find his son. When the media, neighbors, police, and even friends, seem convinced of Jake's guilt, Simon finds his confidence in Jake wavering and his own guilt building. 

Finding Jake was well-paced with the under 300 pages seeming to fly by--in fact I wanted more. The author's back and forth--a glimpse of current events followed by a look back at Jake's childhood, kept me engaged and trying to guess the truth of what really happened. Because Simon is the narrator, the reader gets only his perspective which makes it hard to get to know the rest of the Connelly's--Rachel, Laney, and especially Jake, however, I think it worked in this story as it allows the reader to make assumptions and judgements and keeps the tension building. Although not always an easy book to read with the all-too-real horror of a school shooting and the utter devastation of a family caught up in an unimaginable situation, Finding Jake is a book that will suck you in and keep you thinking long after the last page is turned. 

Bryan Reardon is a freelance writer specializing in medical communications. He co-wrote Ready, Set, Play with retired NFL player and ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth and Cruel Harvest. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Bryan worked for the State of Delaware for over a decade, starting in the Office of the Governor. He holds a BA in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with his wife, kids, and rescue dog, Simon.
Connect with Bryan on Facebook.

Note: A review copy of "Finding Jake" 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.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jacques Pépin's French Peasant Soup (Bread & Cheese Soup) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Sometimes the simplest things can be the best. This French Peasant Soup, a little recipe 'snippet' from Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way uses just five ingredients--broth, bread, cheese, black pepper and thyme, but the result, especially when quality ingredients are used, is absolutely delicious and the perfect comfort food after a long day. When the hot broth is poured over the grilled or toasted bread, the cheese melts, and the thyme and black pepper release their fragrance, it has a certain magnificence from such a humble dish.

I used the last cup of Parmesan Brodo from the freezer, toasted my baguette in a grill pan, and used leftover cave-aged Gruyère. Instead of the chopped chives Chef Pépin suggests, I topped my bowl with a sprinkle of the lemon thyme leaves I had on hand. 

Peasant Soup
Adapted from Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pépin

Jacques says, "For this soup like the one my mother used to make, prepare croutons by baking slices of leftover bread in a conventional oven or toaster oven until brown and crisp. Divide the toasted bread among soup bowls, breaking the slices into pieces if they are too large, and grate a generous amount of Gruyère or Jarlsberg on top. Bring a good homemade chicken stock or canned broth to a boil and pour over the croutons and cheese in the bowls. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and a few chopped chives and serve.

Notes/Results: So quick and easy and so very good. It's hard to resist a bowl of bread covered in melty cheese in a delicious broth. Use a homemade broth if you can. The Parmesan Brodo I used, made from Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, garlic and herbs, lent extra richness and flavor. An excellent way to use up leftovers and a great bowl of simple soup to eat curled up in your favorite chair with a glass of crisp white wine. I will definitely make this again.

This simple but magnificent soup is linking up to this week's "C'est Magnifique!" theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs once that post goes live. You'll be able to see all the magnificent French dishes that everyone makes by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Let's check out the Souper Sundays kitchen where some good friends and their dishes await.

Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen is here with a Mexican Inspired Pasta Salad. She says, "This is perhaps one of my favourite cold pasta salad dishes.  I've made it at least 6 time in the past two months, not just because I like it, but because I had picked up a bundle of coriander, of course I had to have a reason. I often make a large batch, to last us for 2 -3 days during the working week; and sometimes to share with family and friends. While it sits in the fridge the jalapeno vinaigrette infuses the pasta further.  Just dig your fork in, you will find it flavourful and zingy.

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z + Body, Mind, Spirit Health shares this sunny Golden Beet Salad in Citrus Sauce. She says, "My supermarket often carries the organic golden yellow/orange beets which are delightfully flavorful, do not stain the way red beets do, and have a thinner skin which does not need to be peeled. ( but I did anyway).  ... Their golden color makes an appealing dish no matter what the recipe. I like to make mine in a citrus dressing because I think the citrus enhances the taste of the yellow beets. In addition, I like to add some diced organic red apple and some freshly chopped fresh mint."

Thanks to Shaheen and Judee 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! 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Fast and Easy Smoked Salmon Pizza on Naan Bread

It's April's Mystery Box Madness Challenge week at I Heart Cooking Clubs where we make a dish from Jacques Pépin or any former IHCC chef that must include at least three mystery ingredients out of a list of ten. 

April's Mystery Box Madness Ingredients:

*Sour Cream
White Beans

I did want to cook with Chef Jacques this time and found several recipes with two of the ingredients, and a scallop recipe with three of the MBM ingredients at Saveur (here you go for anyone looking for a scallop dish). But I just wasn't feeling the scallops or the 'fuss.' What I was feeling however, was the Smoked Salmon Pizza from More Fast Food My Way which had two of the MBM ingredients: sour cream and capers. Normally my MBM challenge recipes have had three or more of the ingredients without any substitutions but in this case, Chef Jacques used cilantro to top his pizza and I decided to swap it out for fresh tarragon. A choice I would likely have made even without the need for a third MBM ingredient (not that I don't love cilantro but tarragon or even dill appealed to me more with the smoked salmon and capers). A little bit of a MBM challenge 'cheat' this month but the heart wants what the heart wants and mine REALLY wanted this pizza for dinner.

Jacques says, "I love to make pizza with my own dough, as well as with lavash, tortillas, pita bread, and naan, a wonderful Indian flatbread now available in most markets. I crisp the flatbreads in the oven or in a skillet on top of the stove, then top them with smoked salmon, which is available in different styles from Scotland, Ireland, and Canada at the deli counter. This smoked salmon pizza is great cut into bite-size pieces for hors d'oeuvres."

Smoked Salmon Pizza
Adapted from More Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pépin
(Makes 4-6 First Course Servings)

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 naan flatbreads or other style of flatbread you prefer (I used garlic naan)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp bottled horseradish, drained (I used 3 tsps)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion (I did a quick pickle of my red onions--see note below)
8 oz sliced smoked salmon
2 Tbsp drained capers
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (I subbed in coarsely chopped fresh tarragon)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees or heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush baking sheet or grill pan with oil and turn the naan in the oil to lightly coat both sides. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bread is crusty and brown, or crisp in the pan 3-4 minutes per side or until nicely browned. Let cool to lukewarm. 

Mix the sour cream and horseradish in a small bowl. Spread on the bread and sprinkle half of the onion over the sour cream mixture. Arrange the smoked salmon slices on top. Sprinkle the capers over the salmon and add the remaining onion and some freshly ground black pepper. Finally sprinkle with the cilantro (tarragon) leaves. Cut the pizza into wedges or slices and serve.

Quick Pickled Red Onions: This recipe had a lot of red onion in it and I was concerned that if left raw, they would overpower the other flavors. I did a quick pickle with about 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt shaken together in a jar with a very thinly sliced red onion. I left it to sit about 45 minutes before using on the pizza. I also drained the onions for the pizza and patted them dry with paper towels. It took the bite out perfectly. Since I had plenty of leftover onion, I added some to my salad and used a bit of the pickling liquid, mixed with an equal amount of olive oil as dressing.

Notes/Results: This was the perfect busy night dinner with a lightly-dressed "use it up" green salad with (all local) romaine, shaved fennel, and baby tomatoes, topped with some of the onions I pickled for the pizza and shaved Gruyere cheese (a fourth MBM ingredient on the plate). ;-) Such great flavor--if you are a fan of bagels with lox, you will love it. The horseradish I had in the fridge said cream on the bottle and was fairly mild, so I added an extra teaspoon for a little more kick. Pickling the onions is something I would recommend unless you are a fan of them raw. Finally, I really liked the substitution of the tarragon instead of cilantro. It has that nice bittersweet anise flavor that complemented the other ingredients. Quick, simple and so very delicious, I will definitely make it again. 

You can see what mystery ingredients, recipes and chefs other participants chose for April's Mystery Box Madness Challenge by checking out the picture links on the post at the IHCC website.


Monday, April 13, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Ivory Ghosts' by Caitlin O'Connell, Served with a Recipe for Chewy No-Bake Peanut Butter Muesli Bars (+ eBook/Giftcard Giveaway)

I am unlikely ever to go on safari in Africa--too many shots needed, too many mosquitoes ready to suck all my blood, too much money to do it in a comfortable way (roughing it is not my style), but I have had a long fascination of animal life there--particularly the majestic elephants. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I got to head to Africa without leaving the comforts of home via Ivory Ghosts: A Catherine Sohan Elephant Mystery by Caitlin O'Connell, an intense thriller full of poaching, murder and mayhem. My review is accompanied by a recipe inspired by the book, Chewy Peanut No-Bake Butter Muesli Bars--perfect for munching on safari or while curled up with a big cup of rooibos tea and a great book. You'll also find a giveaway at the bottom of the post, where you have a chance to win an eBook copy of Ivory Ghosts, plus an e-Giftcard for the eBook retailer of your choice. Happy Monday! ;-)

Publisher's Blurb:

In a blockbuster debut thriller brimming with majestic wildlife, village politics, and international intrigue, a chilling quadruple homicide raises the stakes in the battle to save Africa’s elephants.

Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.

But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.

Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.

On Sale: April 07, 2015
eBook: Pages: 240
Published by : Alibi

Ivory Ghosts is an intense page turner with a strong message--a great balance of mystery/thriller and an in-depth look at elephants, poaching, and the illegal ivory trade. I love it when a book not only sweeps me up in a fascinating story but teaches me something along the way. Author Caitlin O'Connell's background and knowledge of elephants and life in Africa make her words ring true and she writes in a way that is very accessible and engaging--nothing is too technical or detailed for non-scientific types or non-world politics experts to understand. Her vivid descriptions pulled me immediately into the book and made me feel like I was flying over Namibia counting elephants along with the lead character. Catherine Sohon is a great heroine--she is strong, independent, and brave enough to fight for the elephants and the people of Africa, but she is not perfect and she's normal enough to find being in the middle of a hyena hunt is terrifying along with being thrilling. (OK, maybe 'normal' would be to find it way more terrifying than thrilling!) ;-) The story had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing about who the 'bad guys' were. I changed my mind several times, which I liked as I enjoy being at least a bit surprised at the end of a mystery. Although there is some romance thrown in, the mystery is the heart of the story and it is a compelling one--your heart can't help but break for the elephants when reading about their senseless slaughter. Ivory Ghosts will appeal to mystery fans, animal lovers, those who like books with strong female leads, and anyone who enjoys a fast paced and well-written thriller. I am looking forward to more Catherine Sohon adventures.   

Author Notes: A world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNU Photonics. She is the author five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media. When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.

Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of food in the book. Catherine relies a lot on crackers with peanut butter and honey and muesli "rusks" (a kind of double-bake biscuit or cookie--much like a biscotti for dipping into tea or coffee). She brings along a tin full of tea in her gear (honey rooibos; from 'redbush'--a South African-grown herbal tea is a favorite), eats canned vegetable curry, and carries canned sardines or pilchards with her. Local fair includes koeksusters (a sticky deep-fried pastry), greasy fried chicken and Portuguese sausage rolls, mieliepap (porridge/polenta) and roasted mealie (corn on the cob). The local game lodge has "a nice lady's rump" on their lunch special (apparently a lady's rump is 8oz of meat instead of 12oz). Jon Baggs, Conservation Ministry Head and potential romantic lead, wants to quit and open a restaurant someday called The Sated Rabbit--the specialty being rabbit stuffed with quail. He cooks lamb rib with lemon rosemary and and leg of lamb rubbed with garlic, and brings a traumatized Catherine mushroom stroganoff and rice. I thought about making Rock Shandies--ginger ale or soda with lemon and bitters on top, but ultimately for my book-inspired recipe, I went back to the rusks that everyone kept grabbing for breakfast or snacks with their rooibos.

These bars are a very loose interpretation of a muesli rusks. Muesli being a mix of raw rolled oats and other ingredients like fresh or dried fruits, seeds and nuts that is usually mixed with milk and eaten for breakfast. I say very loose because rusks are hard, double-bakes and personally I am not a big fan of double-bakes, biscotti or their other forms. Given a choice between soft-chewy and hard-crunchy, I will take soft-chewy every time. Now rusks have a very practical use when you need to preserve bread and are traveling across the deserts sands or in the African bush doing an elephant census but, since I am safely at home, I decided to capture some of the flavors of a muesli rusk in a chewy granola bar form. I partnered the bars with one of my favorite rooibos teas; Trader Joe's Ruby Red Chai.  

Chewy No-Bake Peanut Butter Muesli Bars
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 12 bars)

1/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey or sweetener of choice
pinch of sea salt

1 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup mixed seeds (I used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds)

2 Tbsp cacao nibs (optional)
2 Tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup chopped dried fruit (I used sulfite-free wild blueberries, papaya, mango, banana)

Line a small baking pan with parchment or waxed paper, leaving the sides long enough to cover the top of the pan. Set aside. 

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt peanut butter, coconut oil, honey, salt, cinnamon and cardamom until smooth and bubbles start to form along the edges. Reduce heat.

Meanwhile, in a large pan (I used my wok), toast oats over low heat until lightly browned. Stir in the seeds, cacao nibs, coconut and dried fruit. Pour the liquid mixture into the oat mixture and stir to combine well. Cook mixture for 2-3 minutes over low heat to soften the ingredients, enabling them to stick together better.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing firmly with the back of a wooden spoon to ensure it is evenly spread.

Fold the parchment/wax paper over the granola so the top is covered. Press the granola very firmly, packing it as tightly as you can. Use your hands, a cup, or a can from the pantry to pack it in tightly and evenly.

Place in refrigerator and allow to cool completely for a few hours or overnight. 

Remove granola block from pan and cut into bars. Wrap individually in waxed paper and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Notes/Results: Chewy, moist and good flavor, these are tasty little bars. They are nicely sweet from the dried fruit and honey and a little salty too. The flavor of the peanut butter is there, as well as hints of the cinnamon and cardamom so they paired really well with the Ruby Red Chai Tea. You could of course substitute another nut butter, or even sunflower seed butter if you want a nut free bar. If you want them stickier and less soft, you can omit the nut butter and add another 1/4 cup of honey instead. You can also change up the fruit and seeds to your liking or what you have on hand. Satisfying for a snack or breakfast and easy to make, I would make them again.

This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice + an eBook copy of Ivory Ghosts. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway 
Note: A review copy of "Ivory Ghosts" 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.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Creamy Carrot Soup with Fennel Pesto for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

This soup comes from Vegetarian Times by way of my "Souper Sundays Inspirations" Pinterest Board. It caught my eye with the bright color and the words fennel pesto. I find it hard to resist pesto on and stirred into soup and love to try variations. This one is made from toasted fennel seeds and fennel fronds and its hit of anise and herby flavor contrasts well with the sweet and creamy carrot soup.

Vegetarian Times says, "Wispy fennel fronds from the tops of fresh fennel bulbs are ground with fennel seeds to make a flavorful pesto."

Carrot Soup with Fennel Pesto 
Adapted from Vegetarian Times, Sept. 2010
(Serves 6

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium leek, thinly sliced (1 1/2 cups)
4 large shallots, thinly sliced (1 1/4 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced (1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 cup dry white wine
1 3/4 lb carrots, sliced (4 cups)
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp chopped fennel fronds or fresh dill
1 Tbsp pine nuts
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

To make Soup: Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek and shallots, and sauté 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and wine; simmer 5 minutes. Add carrots, broth, and 2 cups water. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 45 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

To make Pesto: Heat fennel seeds in skillet over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes, or until seeds darken, shaking pan frequently. Transfer to bowl, and cool. Place in mortar and pestle, and pound until finely ground. Add fennel fronds, pine nuts, garlic, and salt, and pound to paste. Stir in oil and lemon zest. 

Purée Soup in blender until smooth. Thin with up to 1 cup water, if necessary, to achieve desired consistency. Serve Soup garnished with Pesto.

Notes/Results: A surprisingly creamy carrot soup with no dairy, and with a lot of flavor before the pesto even hits the top. With the shallots, garlic, and leek added to the carrot the sweetness is pronounced but not overpowering, probably due to the dry white wine. Still, when the slight sharpness of the pesto is stirred in, the layers of flavor are further enhanced and particularly appealing. A great way to use up those extra fennel fronds and a rich but not too heavy soup, perfect for spring. I would make this again. 

We have a couple of good friends hanging out in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look. 

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor and Novel Meals is back this week with a classic Potato & Leek Soup inspired by a recent novel she read, The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. Tina quotes the passage in the book that inspired her dish, "I lingered by the window, hoping, imagining the soup – ham, leek and potato – bubbling atop our wood stove, filling our tiny kitchen with its salty film of steam. So vivid was my imagining I could smell the broth…" 

My friend and Cook the Books co-host Simona of briciole brings us a bowl of healthy Spinach Soup and says, "The soup comes together in a matter of minutes and it sparkles in terms of both color and flavor (colore e sapore). It is nutritious, yet light. In between CSA shares, I made it once with a mix of other leafy greens, mostly from my vegetable patch: rainbow chard, Red Russian kale and collard greens. I liked the result (takes a bit longer to cook), but prefer the spinach version."

Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe shares colorful Beetroot, Raspberry & Feta Salad and says, "I think my mum had eaten it in a restaurant.  It is one of those salads that should be tossed about to eat so all the flavours bounce off each other.  However I couldn't resist arranging slices of beetroot and making it a triumph of style over substance.  It looked a mess on the plate but tasted wonderful.  Sweet and salty and a little tart."

Thanks to Tina, Simona and Johanna 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!    

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Little Beach Street Bakery" By Jenny Colgan, Served Up with a Recipe for Fabulous Sweetcorn Fritters

"Polly was very specific about bread. She loved it. She had loved it in fashion and out of fashion; as a child, as an adult. It was the favorite part of going to a restaurant. She loved it toasted or as it was; she loved bagels, and cheese on toast and pain d'epices and twisted Italian plaits. She loved artisan sourdough that cost six pounds for a tiny loaf, and she loved sliced white that molded and soaked up the juices of a bacon sandwich."
-Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan 

Ahh, bread! The staff of life. I don't actually have bread for you today, but I do have a review of Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, a novel full of those delicious carbs. For today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am pairing my review with a recipe from the book, a tasty biscuit-like Sweetcorn Fritter. These little fritters are perfect for dipping into honey accompanied by a cup of tea, or as a side dish for a flavorful fish dinner.   

Publisher's Blurb:

In the bestselling tradition of Jojo Moyes and Jennifer Weiner, Jenny Colgan’s moving, funny, and unforgettable novel tells the story of a heartbroken young woman who turns a new page in her life . . . by becoming a baker in the town of Cornwall.

A quiet seaside resort. An abandoned shop. A small flat. This is what awaits Polly Waterford when she arrives at the Cornish coast, fleeing a ruined relationship.

To keep her mind off her troubles, Polly throws herself into her favorite hobby: making bread. But her relaxing weekend diversion quickly develops into a passion. As she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, each loaf becomes better than the last. Soon, Polly is working her magic with nuts and seeds, chocolate and sugar, and the local honey—courtesy of a handsome beekeeper. Packed with laughter and emotion, Little Beach Street Bakery is the story of how one woman discovered bright new life where she least expected—a heartwarming, mouthwatering modern-day Chocolat that has already become a massive international bestseller.

Paperback: 448 pages 
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 31, 2015)

I am always a sucker for stories where the lead character by choice or necessity, chucks it all and starts over. In this case, it's necessity as Polly's life crumbles when her long-term relationship with Chris is over, they have no money, and their shared business goes bankrupt. Forced to downsize, she finds herself renting the upstairs flat of a decrepit shop/bakery on the tidal island of Mount Polbearne on the Cornish coast. Connected to the mainland by a causeway during low tide, it is small fishing community filled with quirky characters and lacking decent bread which is how Polly ends up delving back into her old hobby of baking. Unfortunately, Mrs. Manse, Polly's new landlady and the proprietress of the only bakery in town (with just one kind of bread and pastries brought in from a commercial vendor), is none-to-happy to have Polly's skills threatening her livelihood, so Polly soon finds herself sneaking in bread sales and trades to her new friends as she looks for a job. 

Polly is a great character, kind and optimistic, despite getting knocked down--she bounces back. At first I thought she lacked a bit of a backbone, but I quickly grew to love her. And speaking of love, Polly rescues a baby puffin on her first night in town and although advised by the local vet, not to name him or become too attached as she will need to release him back to the wild, Neil quickly works his way into her heart. How can you resist a baby puffin?! Named Neil?! I want one. Also hard to resist are local fisherman Tarnie and ex-pat American beekeeper Huckle, who bring some potential romance into Polly's life. The book is full of great and lovable characters, the kind you would want for your friends and neighbors--especially Polly's sarcastic best friend Kerensa, Huckle's swaggering millionaire friend Ruben, and Tarnie's loyal fishing boat crew. 

I needed something light and fun to read and Little Street Bakery is just that. It's a sweet book, as inviting as a slice of bread, warm from the oven and slathered with butter and honey. It is fun and engaging, especially the relationships between Polly and the other characters and their witty banter--with just the right amount of snark. It has its poignant moments too, and manages to be romantic without being too sappy. A great book to escape, the over four hundred pages just flew by and I found myself wanting more. Goodreads says that there is a sequel--here's hoping it releases soon to the United States. This is my first Jenny Colgan book and I am eagerly looking to read more of her work.

Author Notes: Jenny Colgan is Scottish born and bred, born in Ayrshire in 1972, but currently lives and works in London. After graduating from Edinburgh University, Jenny worked for six years in the health service whist moonlighting as a cartoonist and doing stand-up in the outer fringes of London’s comedy circuit.

Find out more about Jenny at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

This is definitely a foodie read, particularly heavy in the baking of bread. I do not remember a cupcake reference in the book which makes the cover, while striking, an odd choice in my mind. Based on the storyline, I would have pictured bread, perhaps a loaf with a cut slice drizzled with honey. But, I digress, let's get to the food that is in the book. Bread--simple white bread, sesame, whole wheat, and honey and flax seed to name a few. There is focaccia fragrant with rosemary, cheese straws, bagels, pissaladière with caramelized onions, sweeter treats like sugar bread rings, brioches, and pains au chocolate, and cream horns. There is plenty of honey from Huckle's bees, along with tea, coffee, and iced tea with mint (Polly's first) and the mead Huckle brews from the excess honey. Since it is a fishing village, there is the classic fish and chips, and the fries and Fanta that Polly and her BFF Kerensa get after nights at the pub. There is the cod given to Polly by Tarnie--he tells her to "Fry it up in a bit of butter and lemon and it'll be right good." Later on their fishing date, Polly catches a large herring and Tarnie adds butter, lemon and parsley, wraps it up in tinfoil and cooks it on the fire. Polly makes some socca--little pancakes made of chickpea flour to go with Ruben's langoustines with garlic and lemon and rocket salad. I thought seriously about making those as my book-inspired dish, but lacked the brick oven to make them as good as Polly's socca.   

There are even seven recipes at the back of the book. Since most of them were for bread or bread-ish things and not only am I not a much of a baker, I have a fear of yeast and bread baking, I chose the recipe for Sweetcorn Fritters. In addition to being the favorite of the author's husband, they were mentioned along with chorizo and "anything that looked even vaguely like pizza" as things that worked well and sold out quickly in Polly's Little Beach Street Bakery. I had some leftover fresh local corn that I used instead of canned, and I served my fritters two ways--as more of a breakfast or snack with local honey for dipping, and as a side dish for a fish dinner. For the dinner, I used local monchong, lightly fried and topped with a compound butter of local sweet cream butter, lemon, and parsley. In fact, with the exception of the flour, pepper, and oil, used for frying, it was pretty a local food dinner. 

Jenny Colgan says, "These are my husband's absolute favorites so he gets woken up with them on his birthday. Actually, I should make them more often now I think about it; they're lovely and tasty and easy."

Sweetcorn Fritters
Adapted from Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
(Made about 6 small cakes

Beat 1 egg.
Add a tablespoon of water, 1 cup of flour, 1 small can (7.5 oz) of sweetcorn (or half a standard size, or double everything else and use the whole can) and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. 
Season to taste (in our case, we use lots of salt and pepper).
Form into cakes and fry on medium heat. Take off and drain on a paper towel. Yum!

(Note: I made a few changes to the recipe. First, I used fresh local corn that I lightly steamed beforehand. In stead of all-purpose flour, I used mochiko flour (sweet rice flour) because it is what I had on hand. My mixture was a bit too dry--maybe due to the mochiko flour, so I added a second tablespoon of water. In addition to the salt and black pepper, I added about 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh marjoram to add a little green and some herby notes.)   

Notes/Results: These are fun little fritters, almost biscuit-like in texture so I shall think of them as 'friscuits.' ;-) I loved the sweetness of the corn and the little herby touch of the marjoram in the tender batter. Although they worked really well accompanying the fish and salad, I will confess that I couldn't get enough of just the warm fritters dipped in honey. A little bit of heaven. I can see why the author's husband is so fond of them. I will definitely make them again.

I am linking this foodie book review post up to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking Event. This is my first time linking up to this 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 "Little Beach Street Bakery" 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