Monday, February 29, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Girl in the Red Coat" by Kate Hamer and a Recipe for Vanilla Date Caramel in Apple 'Sandwiches' + a Book Giveway! {#TLCBookTours}

How did Monday get here so soon?! At least there is a cure for the Monday doldrums--a TLC Book Tour stop with a review of an absorbing debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer. Accompanying my review is a recipe inspired by my reading--Vanilla Date Caramel--here sandwiched in between red apple slices. And, there is also a giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the book at the end of the post. Happy Monday!

Publisher's Blurb:

Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go

And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.

Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.

Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally
unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to
keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …

Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that
won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L.
Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s
impossible to put down . . . and impossible to forget.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Melville House (February 16, 2016)

My Review:

The plot of a missing child and a mother desperately looking for them and fighting the guilt of having let them out of their sight for only a moment is not a new one, but The Girl in the Red Coat feels fresh, different, and special. There is a bit of a misty, mysterious fairy-tale feel to this story that starts with Carmel vanishing at a storytelling festival, but remains throughout the book with the authors beautiful and descriptive words. Told in past and present, through the views of Beth, the mother, and Carmel, who disappears at age eight, it immediately drew me in and made me care deeply about both of them. Carmel's voice is of a child, intelligent for her years but often distracted, with a vivid imagination that makes the reader wonder what is real and what is in her mind. I have no children myself, but my heart went out to Beth, who for all of her worries about Carmel going missing and her vigilance so that it won't happen, loses sight of her in a foggy field of tents. A single mother, still reeling from her husband leaving her for a younger woman, Beth is crushed by her guilt and it is the thought of finding Carmel that causes her to push on for months and then years. I don't want to go too much into the plot of the story but it is made clear who has Carmel (and why they do) fairly early on and the premise felt realistic and chilling--how this child could so thoroughly disappear without a trace. Since there is no real mystery, the book is about the love between mother and daughter, the journey that each takes, and the anticipation of finding out if they make it back to each other. 

I was reading The Girl in the Red Coat while busy with work, house guests and life stuff and it was tough to read in the short bursts whenever I had a free moment simply because I wanted to keep reading it and not set it down. Although tagged as a psychological thriller and mystery, it's more a family drama that builds more angst and tension than being a roller coaster ride of thrills, but that makes it no less engrossing. My only complaint was the ending, which without divulging spoilers, left me partially satisfied but still longing for an additional chapter or two from Carmel's viewpoint. After so much emotional buildup and becoming so attached to her, I wanted to hear her feelings about the resolution. I would happily read a second book about the lives of this mother and daughter going forward.


Author Notes:  
Kate Hamer is a winner of the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize. Girl in the Red Coat is her first novel. It is shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for First Novel and a finalist for The Dagger Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales with her husband and two children.


Food Inspiration:

Between a mother looking and grieving for her missing child and a young girl now living a nomadic and somewhat hand-to-mouth existence, there is not much time for food inspiration in The Girl in the Red Coat--but there are some mentions. The day she went missing Carmel and her mother had hot dogs at the storytelling festival and before she went missing there was pizza after a school conference. When there is money in Carmel's new world, they eat chicken stew, a long sausage that Carmel thinks is a snake--that is heavily spiced because "we like our food with fire in it" and beans, ham sandwiches and apples. Beth's friends come to help her 100 days after Carmel is gone, bringing "a strange banquet" of cake and wine, soda bread, goat cheese, and plump purple grapes. As Beth becomes friends with her ex-husband and his new wife, they eat together and have asparagus risotto. 

For my book review dish, I decided to take inspiration from Carmel's name and the color red. Carmel does everything she can not to lose herself and holding on to her name is a big part of that, as is her love of the color red and her desire to wear a red coat, like the one she was wearing when she was taken.

'My name,' I say slowly, but trying not to be upsetting, especially as I liked the way she rubbed my head so much. 'is Carmel. Mum said it's a name of a place that's supposed to be like paradise and it's Catholic like her mum and dad. Dad liked it because it sounds like caramel.'
--The Girl in the Red Coat

Always interested in a little food magic in the kitchen, I have been wanting to try a vegan caramel made from dates that I have seen on Pinterest and some different sites. I thought it would be fun to make snack 'sandwiches' out of red apple slices with the date caramel spread in between and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top--kind of a healthier, deconstructed caramel apple.

Vanilla Date Caramel
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, inspired by Healthy Happy Life and Veganosity
(Makes about 1/2 cup caramel)

10-12 fresh medjool dates, pitted
1/3 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk) + extra as needed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
large pinch of sea salt, to taste

Place dates, 1/3 cup non-dairy milk, vanilla and sea salt into a high speed blender or food processor, adding additional non-dairy milk as needed and blending until dates are thoroughly blended, smooth, creamy and a dip-able/spreadable consistency. 

Place in fridge for an hour or so to firm up caramel, then spread on apple slices or use as a dip or topping as desired. 

Notes/Results: I had my doubts of how caramel-like the dates would taste, but it definitely has a caramel feel and flavor and was quite delicious when paired with the apples. I think I needed to let my caramel firm a little more and maybe thinner apple slices, as these sandwiches were messy to eat (the caramel oozing from in between when taking a bite), but they were worth a bit of mess. ;-) Using it as a dip/spread was a bit neater but maybe not quite as fun. ;-)  Although this isn't a low calorie or low sugar treat by any means, it is natural sugar from fruit and rich enough that a little goes a long way. If you don't have a high speed blender, use a food processor if you want a thicker caramel--a low-speed or low-power blender will require more liquid to blend successfully, resulting in a thinner caramel. This date caramel was quick, easy, and fun to make and it has lots of different uses--I'll make it again.

I will be sharing this book review and food pairing with Beth Fish Reads: Weekend Cooking Event, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


The publisher has generously offered a copy of The Girl in the Red Coat to one of my readers as part of this TLC Blog Tour. (Open to US/Canada addresses)

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me why you are interested in reading The Girl in the Red Coat.

There are a couple of other optional ways to get entries 1) Tweet about this giveaway (you can do this once per day if you like) or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) or get free entries if you already follow me.

The Giveaway runs until 3/14/16. Good Luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Note: A review copy of "The Girl in the Red Coat" 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, February 28, 2016

Creamy Potato Soup with Chive Pesto for Souper Sundays (Yep, We Are Back with a New Linkup!)

Sometimes I just crave a simple potato soup, creamy, hearty and satisfying. Mark Bittman is always an excellent source for simple recipes and this Creamy Potato Soup with Chive Pesto is from his How To Cook Everything Fast. It's actually a suggested variation from the Creamy Parsnip Soup with Parsley Pesto in the book.

I made a few adaptations to the recipe--taking out the butter and chicken stock and using olive oil and veggie stock. I also made my pesto in my mini chop instead of by hand and replaced the pine nuts with cashews (because they were handy). My changes are noted in red below.

Bittman says, "Vegetables that will be pureed need to be cooked until very soft. If you cut them into chunks, getting there can take 20 minutes, even longer. But grated, they're ready in a flash." Because I wanted a semi-pureed soup and wasn't too concerned about time, instead of grating, I chopped my potato into a small dice that still cooked quickly (about 20 minutes), but allowed me to keep some chunks in the creamy broth.

Creamy Potato Soup with Chive Pesto
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp butter (I used olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs potatoes (I used russet), peeled and chopped into small dice
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water (I used low-sodium veggie broth diluted with water)

Chive Pesto:
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/3 cup pine nuts (I used cashews), roughly chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil

Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and browning on the edges, about 10-15 minutes. 

Raise heat to high, add potatoes, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper and the stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer (it should bubble gently but steadily) and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine the chives, garlic, nuts, olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper in a small mixing bowl mash and stir with a fork against the side of the bowl until the pesto becomes a loose paste. (Or roughly chop all ingredients in a food processor until it becomes a chunky paste.)

Turn off the heat under the soup and run an immersion blender through it until desired consistency--or, working in batches, carefully puree it in a blender. (I blended 3 cups of the soup in a blender and added it back into the soup pot.) 

Reheat the soup for a minute or two if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning. Divide into 4 bowls and spoon the pesto over the top of each serving. Enjoy!

Notes/Results:  A humble but tasty soup, creamy but hot heavy. I love the freshness that the chive pesto adds and the texture that it gives--it also has the vibe of a baked potato with chives on top. ;-) In addition to parsnip and parsley original and this variation, Bittman also pairs asparagus and mint, celery root and cilantro. I find this bowl of soup perfect for cool weather but hinting that spring is around the corner. I will make it again.

I am linking this post and its Mark Bittman soup up to Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--our chance to make any recipe form the current chef Ellie Krieger or any previous IHCC chef like Mark Bittman. You can see the chefs and dishes that everyone chose for February's potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

Many thanks to everyone who joined in last week for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays comeback. It's a slightly different format, making me less pressed for time on Sundays but still a fun way to see what soups (and salads and sandwiches that everyone is making). If you are not familiar, you can read about of the origins Souper Sundays' here

Here are three impressive soups shared last week from some of my good friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs:

Kim from Stirring the Pot tried Ellie Krieger's White Chili (and hominy!) for the first time saying, "Having never tried hominy, I can only tell you that I've clearly been missing out! Hominy is SO good! It has the most lovely and intense corn fragrance that I find incredibly appealing. The hominy itself is big and puffy, which is not only pleasing to the eye, but also to the palate. As far as I'm concerned, hominy is the star of this chili! In fact, I will be adding hominy to all my chili from now on, without question."

Joyce of Kitchen Flavours is back at Souper Sundays with Hearty Pork Stew from Ellie Krieger and says, "This stew is delicious. We love it. Thumbs up from the family, and a request to cook this again. The pork pieces are very tender, full of flavour from the red wine and all the other ingredients. The veggies are soft tender and I thought the green peas makes the bowl of stew looks even better with its fresh green colour. We had this stew with some homemade bread, and it was a satisfying dinner."

Finally, we welcome Flour.ish.en Test Kitchen to Souper Sundays with a version of Ellie Krieger's (notice a theme here?) Vegetarian Black Bean Chili with Ancho and Orange, saying, "What I like best about this recipe are the ancho chili with a little heat, and the orange zest and juice which give the chili the right amount of fragrance, brightness and acidity. This is such a tasty chili that I don't miss the meat at all, as strangely as it may sound."

To join in this week's linkup:
  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month) on the picture link below for the current week and leave a comment below.
On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Linkups will be open until midnight (PST) Saturday each week. 

Hope you join in the fun by linking up any soup, salad, or sandwich recipes this week!

Happy Sunday!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hard Boiled Eggs in Rich Moghlai Sauce with Basmati Rice & Spicy Cucumbers for Food 'N Flix February: 'The Lunchbox'

It's Food 'N Flix time again. The monthly event where we watch a film, then head to the kitchen to make a dish inspired by our viewing. This month we are watching a foreign foodie film (yes, that means subtitles) ;-) called The Lunchbox

I saw The Lunchbox when it came out and really enjoyed the story of two lonely people who get to know each other over letters sent in a lunchbox, so I was happy to see that Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla had picked it as our February movie. (See her announcement post here.) Since it had been a few years, I added it to my Netflix queue and squeezed in a viewing before the due date, paying more attention to the food this time. 

The story is about a mix-up in the famous "dabbawala" daily lunch delivery system in Mumbai India, where hot food in lunchboxes is collected from the residences of workers or restaurant services in the late morning and delivered to the workplace at lunchtime via bicycles and the railway, then the empty lunchboxes are returned to the residence or restaurant they were sent from that afternoon and the process repeats the next day. According to the dabbawalas, Harvard (who did a study), and most people in Mumbai, mistakes do not happen--but of course, the whole plot of the movie is based on a mistake. Saajan Fernandes is a widower who works in a government office in the claims department and gets his lunchbox from a local restaurant. Ila is a young wife who makes lunch daily for her distracted and distant husband, trying new recipes to entice him. One day the box for Ila's husband goes to Saajan by mistake and the pattern repeats itself. Ila realizes the mistake, but appreciating that someone actually "licked the lunchbox clean," she writes a letter in the next lunchbox. The letter sparks a correspondence between these two lonely people and changes their lives. It is a sweet, somewhat bittersweet film and well worth a watch--so I won't go into more detail about the plot or subplots--get over any subtitle issues you might have and watch it. ;-)

There is food aplenty in The Lunchbox, although not everything is named or easily identified. Some dishes that caught my eye or were mentioned --paneer (Indian curd cheese) in a red sauce, a dal with flatbread--probably roti, cauliflower, aubergines in a sauce, paranthas, Kheema Pao (a spicy minced mutton or chicken dish), chai, and what appeared to be a tomato rasam (spicy broth soup) being strained in a glass and sipped by Ila. In the end, I decided to go with what I might want in my own Indian lunchbox. (Sadly, I have no multi-layered metal "tiffin" lunchbox as in the movie, although I have long coveted one, so I had to settle for a few little dishes and plates for my meal.

I can eat all varieties of curry at all times of the day. but there is just something about a curry with hard boiled eggs that seems perfect for lunch. I went to the master for my recipe--Madhur Jaffrey, who offers multiple variations of egg curries in her many cookbooks. The rich sauce mentioned in the recipe for Jaffrey's Hard Boiled Eggs in Rich Moghlai Sauce caught my eye. Moghlai or Mughlai cuisine has origins dating back to the Moghul Empire and the food is often characterized by its richness and distinct aromatic flavors. Since the sauce is so rich, I decided to go with plain basmati rice and a spicy but refreshing crunchy cucumber side.
I made a few changes to the recipe--mainly replacing the chicken stock with low-sodium veggie stock and the dairy cream with coconut milk to make a veg-friendly, dairy-free version. Also, the cookbook, 100 Weeknight Curries by Madhur Jaffrey, is a tiny pocket book with itty-bitty fonts. Tiny fonts + a distracted Deb = an error in the amount of tomato paste added to the recipe. It was supposed to be 2 teaspoons and I thought it was 2 tablespoons. Whoops! ;-) So my curry has a darker color than it should have, but it was delicious so I don't feel so bad about the mistake.  

Jaffrey says, "This can be whipped up quite quickly. Here the sauce for the eggs is rich and creamy--hence the 'Moghlai' in the title (in other words in the style of the Moghlai court). Serve with rice or any bread. I even love these eggs with toast." 

Hard Boiled Eggs in Rich Moghali Sauce
100 Weeknight Curries by Madhur Jaffrey
(Serves 4)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 (medium-sized) onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp freshly grated  ginger
2 tsp tomato puree/paste (I accidentally used 2 Tbsp--whoops!)
1/2 cup chicken stock (I used veggie stock)
1 cup single cream (I used coconut milk)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander + more leaves to garnish
6-8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half lengthwise 

Mix the cayenne, cumin, garam masala, coriander, lemon juice, salt and some black pepper with 1 tbsp of water in a cup, stir to make a smooth paste and set aside.

Heat oil in a large frying pan and set it over a medium high heat.When oil is hot add the onion and stir fry until it turns brown at the edges. Add the ginger and stir for 10 seconds, then add the paste from the cup and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in tomato puree, broth, cream or coconut milk and fresh coriander and bring to simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes.

Lay the egg halves in the sauce in a single layer and spoon the sauce over the top. Cover and simmer very gently for another 2-3 minutes, then serve garnished with whole coriander leaves.


Spicy Cucumber Wedges
100 Weeknight Curries by Madhur Jaffrey
(Serves 4)

Jaffrey says, "These wedges are refreshing and deliciously crunchy and may be served with any Indian meal. It's best to prepare them at the last minute, just before you sit down to eat."  

1 cucumber (10 oz) (I used two 'mini' cumbers with peels left on)
1/3 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
juice of 1/2 lemon 

Peel cucumber and cut into half crossways, then cut each half into four lengthways. Arrange wedges on a plate. Sprinkle the salt, cayenne, pepper, cumin seeds and lemon juice over them and serve immediately.       

Notes/Results: I realize that not everyone is a hard boiled egg-in-their-curry fan but if you are or you love hard boiled eggs and curry separately, this is a lovely dish. The sauce is rich with delicious flavor from the spice and a slow building heat from the cayenne. It is also very quick to make (especially if you boil your eggs ahead of time) and with a well-stocked spice rack, it's an easy pantry meal. One note on the hard boiled eggs, I am always looking for the easiest way to peel them and this method of bringing the water to a boil, then carefully lowering the eggs in and cooking them until desired 'doneness'--then putting them in ice water and back in the pan to crack against each other, resulted in the easiest peel eggs of my long-standing egg peeling attempts. I will definitely use it again. The cucumbers were simple, crunchy and spicy and went well with the richness of the curry. I was very happy with both of these dishes and will make them again.

In addition to being my entry for Food 'N Flix, I am linking this post and its Madhur Jaffrey recipes to Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--our chance to make any recipe form the current chef Ellie Krieger or any previous IHCC chef like Madhur Jaffrey. You can see the chefs and dishes that everyone chose for February's potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

I am sliding in close to the deadline of Sunday, February 28th for this month's Food 'N Flix fun. Camilla will be rounding up the film-inspired dishes on her blog, shortly after the deadline. If you missed out on this round and like food, films, and foodie films, join us for March and A Walk in the Clouds hosted by Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm.  


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "My Sweet Vidalia" by Deborah Mantella, Served with (Healthier) Sweet Tea with Honey & Mint

Today's TLC Book Tour stop features a review of the novel, My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella. Since it's Southern fiction, my review is accompanied by a recipe for a (healthier and less sweet) version of that Southern beverage staple, Sweet Tea, inspired by my reading.  

Publisher's Blurb:

On July 4, 1955, in rural Georgia, an act of violence threatens the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal Jackson’s pre-born daughter. Despite the direst of circumstances, the spirit of the lost child refuses to leave her ill-equipped young mother’s side.

For as long as she is needed–through troubled pregnancies, through poverty, through spousal abuse and agonizing betrayals–Cieli Mae, the determined spirit child, narrates their journey. Serving as a safe place and sounding board for Vidalia’s innermost thoughts and confusions, lending a strength to her momma’s emerging voice, Cieli Mae provides her own special brand of comfort and encouragement, all the while honoring the restrictions imposed by her otherworldly status.

Vidalia finds further support in such unlikely townsfolk and relations as Doc Feldman, Gamma Gert and her Wild Women of God, and, most particularly, in Ruby Pearl Banks, the kind, courageous church lady, who has suffered her own share of heartache in their small Southern town of yesteryear’s prejudices and presumptions.

My Sweet Vidalia is wise and witty, outstanding for its use of vibrant, poetic language and understated Southern dialect, as well as Mantella’s clear-eyed observations of race relations as human relations, a cast of unforgettable characters, an in-depth exploration of the ties that bind, and its creative perspective. My Sweet Vidalia is a rare, wonderful, and complex look at hope, strength, the unparalleled power of unconditional love, and a young mother’s refusal to give up.

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Turner (October 6, 2015)

My Review:  

Set in the Georgia in the 1955, My Sweet Vidalia has a unique and lovable narrator, the spirit child Cieli Mae, who died before she had a chance to be born to her young mother Vidalia Jackson. It is agonizing enough for any mother to lose a child, but the fact that Vidalia's husband, JB, beat her until she lost the baby makes it even worse. It's no wonder that Vidalia needs her connection to Cieli Mae and the comfort of feeling that Cieli Mae is watching over her, protecting her and the younger siblings (two sets of twin boys born after Cieli Mae) that she never got a chance to know. My Sweet Vidalia challenged me as a reader, with the harsh reality of domestic violence that permeated the book. JB is truly an awful character and just when you thought he had reached the pinnacle of evilness, he would do something even worse. There were times I cringed and times that I had to put the book down and pick up something lighter to read until I could start up again. I also got frustrated by how complacent some of the people close to Vidalia (her 'support group' if you will) were with the truly terrible things that were happening. I know that domestic violence is a complicated situation (especially given the time period and setting here)  and that you can't help someone who is not willing to take their own steps out of the situation, but the amount of time it took for Vidalia to start to stand up for herself and for others to help her was agonizing. I wanted her parents, her family doctor, the church, and even her mother-in-law to help her. Although I could sympathize with Gert, JB's mother, not wanting to believe that her son was completely evil and without redemption, she had grandchildren to protect.

I don't want to say it was all dark, there are moments of brightness, humor, kindness, and love in the story. In addition to loving Cieli Mae, I adored Misses Ruby Pearl Banks, who steps in and takes care of Vidalia and her boys despite her own pain of losing her husband, murdered by local clan members. Misses Banks faced considerable risk helping Vidalia and her children in the racially charged rural south of the 1950s and showed courage where others had not. Although I got frustrated with Vidalia, she was such a warm and caring person that I really needed to see her find a way out. The author did a wonderful job of capturing the place and vibe of the 50s and 60s rural Georgia setting through her descriptions, the dialect, and culture. She took a somewhat fanciful premise of a spirit child and made it feel real. While it is hard to call My Sweet Vidalia a completely enjoyable book due to the domestic violence, it was a well-written and memorable one.


Author Notes: A transplant to the South, Deborah Mantella has lived and taught in various cities in the Northeast and the Midwest. Now a resident of Georgia she lives outside Atlanta with her husband. Mantella is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club, the Authors Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This is her first novel.

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


Food Inspiration: 

Food is not plentiful for Vidalia and her family for much of the book. She makes sweet tater pies for the church which JB destroys on the day he beats her and she loses her baby. They get some handouts from Doc Feldman--powdered milk, cookies, canned goods and meats and fresh produce, as well as food dropped of from the local churches on Sundays--"baked goods from the Baptists, fried chicken from the Methodists, tuna and potato chip casseroles from the Lutherans, or the spaghetti and fried pork chop dinners brought home from the Catholic Sunday school." Vidalia eventually manages to get money away from JB and buys groceries to feed her children, and there is a light meal of Ritz crackers and Campbell's tomato soup mentioned. When Misses Ruby Pearl Banks enters the picture, there are much better dishes like biscuits with home-canned blackberry jam and churned butter, fried ham, black-eyed peas and collard greens, breads and muffins, chocolate gravy and elderberry jam, and eggs, bacon and red-eye gravy.

Sweet tea makes an appearance in almost every book set in the South and My Sweet Vidalia is no exception to the rule, so I decided to make it as my book-inspired dish. *Real* sweet tea is usually black tea with a SCARY amount of refined sugar added in while hot, then chilled and iced down. After coming off of reading and reviewing Sugar Crush, about the impact of sugar on our health making sweet tea, even a healthier version, made me cringe a bit so I lessened the amount of sweetener considerably. I also used honey in place of white sugar since I am currently not consuming added refined sugars. The result was sweet, but more refreshing than cloying and perfect for a warm day--especially with some mint and lemon added. 

Healthier Sweet Tea with Honey and Mint
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 2 Quarts)

6-7 black tea bags
4 Tbsp raw honey, or to taste
4 cups boiling water
4 cups ice and/or ice water
fresh mint and lemon slices to garnish (optional)

Bring 4 cups of filtered water to a boil in a medium pan. Reduce heat, add tea bags and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover pan and let tea steep for another 10 minutes. Remove teabags and stir in honey until dissolved. Pour tea into a large picture and add 4 cups total of cold water and/or ice. Stir and refrigerate until cold. 

Serve in glasses with ice, garnished with fresh mint leaves and lemon slices if desired. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Probably no real Southerner would find this tea sweet enough, but it was plenty sweet for me since I always drink my iced tea unsweetened. ;-) I like the honey flavor combined with the bit of crisp mint. (Next time I will muddle a few sprigs of mint to have even more minty flavor.) I will continue to drink gallons of unsweetened ice tea and keep the sugar down, but this makes a nice occasional treat on a warm day.

I will be sharing this book review and food pairing with Beth Fish Reads: Weekend Cooking Event, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "My Sweet Vidalia" 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 learn what other reviewers thought about the book here on the TLC Book Tour Website.