Daniel Arroyo has suffered a lifetime of guilt over the sudden death of his infant sister, who died when he was eight years old. He now lives his middle years between that guilt and worsening episodes of PTSD from a Vietnam he left thirty years ago. When a violent encounter on a dusty highway forces Daniel to face what haunts him, he finds himself pulled back to the neighborhood of his youth, where old houses hold tired secrets. What really happened on that steamy August afternoon? The answer comes spilling from the old neighborhood, and Daniel begins to find his way home.
Corran Harrington takes the reader along the Rio Grande, from its headwaters to the sea.
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Arbor Farm Press (April 14, 2016)
It is difficult to describe Follow the River Home well and do its beauty justice. It's a short 200-ish pages, but there is so much going on with shifting time frames and multiple perspectives from Daniel, as well as the people, and sometimes even objects that he comes into contact with--or that are in a degree of separation or two from him. Does that sound slightly strange and confusing? Yes, occasionally there are times that the book becomes a bit like a section of choppy rapids that spin you around and make you a little dizzy, looking to reorient yourself, but then things calm down and it meanders along with a smoother flow--much like the river of its setting might. It is vivid, lyrical even, and although there is much guilt, sorrow and loneliness found in the pages, there is also hope, beauty and grace mixed in. The author's descriptions of the river and its banks make the area come to life, I could almost smell the wild asparagus growing, feel the winds, and hear the sounds of the Rio Grande, giving me a clear picture of a place I have never been. This book and Daniel's story in particular touched me. Follow the River Home pulls you in from the striking, softly-painted cover to the gorgeous words within and is a novella to curl up and savor in quiet moments. Lovely.
Author Notes: Corran Harrington is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Santa Fe Writers Project finalist, a Hidden River Arts Eludia Award finalist, a Bosque Fiction Contest finalist, and a New Millennium Writings Award semi-finalist whose short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. A former lawyer, Harrington also has a background in cultural and linguistic anthropology. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Connect with Corran on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
I would definitely not call Follow the River Home a foodie book, but there is food mentioned. Throughout the book there is mention of the sight and sweet scent of the wild asparagus that grew on the banks of the irrigation ditch in Daniel's neighborhood. In addition to being somewhat of a place of refuge for Daniel, the ditch and its banks are where several key and life-altering moments happen for him.
"The ditch. That magic place he discovered as soon as he was old enough to walk around the corner. It ran only during irrigation season, March through October. It was lined with old cottonwoods, just like the one in his front yard, an you could sit on its banks and dangle your bare feet in the water that went muddy every time a bullfrog broke its surface. Box turtles slept on old wood, while blue dragonflies darted among the cattails. And the wild asparagus that grew there--Daniel's mother could always tell he had been at the ditch by the sweet smell of the wild asparagus on his jeans."
There are also mentions of enchiladas, bizcochitos, fresh baked bread and chocolate cookies, Doritos, French fries, fresh fish barbecue, warm tea and a can of soup, black bean soup, scrambled eggs, fish and chips, corn, peppers and squash, bologna sandwiches, Boston brown bread and sliced apples, butternut squash soup and warm rolls, dry roasted peanuts, tamales at Christmas, and cherry pie.
Ultimately I knew my book inspired-dish needed to include asparagus because of the numerous mentions throughout the book--mostly the wild asparagus of the ditch bank of course, but there was mention of Daniel's daughter rearranging the asparagus "into an accusatory arrow on her plate" and a dinner of baked halibut and steamed asparagus. I have no wild asparagus near me, but there is still plenty of local asparagus to be had. I wanted to include salmon. mainly because of a wonderful thing that Daniel does for Emily, his best friend's younger sister, who is now homeless and has mental issues. Her only remaining relative at that point in the story is her sister, who tries to give Emily money and get her to stay with her--especially in the winter months. Daniel brings Emily home with him, offering to cook her dinner, and she asks for salmon. This grace and kindness and the resulting dinners and warm place to stay at night that he provided Emily until he could build trust and get her to go stay with her sister, are just some of what made Daniel such a great character. So salmon and asparagus were my starting points.
I wanted something with a southwest, Mexican feel, so I went to Rick Bayless, online where I found a couple of asparagus recipes that would work. I will not lie, it has been a crazy week which is why his recipe for Golden Halibut and Asparagus with Spring Green Tomatillo Sauce grabbed me. It looked amazingly quick and uses his Frontera brand Tomatillo Salsa, which I happened to have in my pantry as they sell it at Safeway. The dish does have a spring feel but the grilling, frozen sweet peas and still readily available local asparagus made it an easy pick, just subbing in wild King salmon (from my freezer) for the halibut. The salmon is integral to the book as it is what Emily asked for. (If you are worried about my local fish consumption, check out my last couple of fish posts featuring monchong and ahi!) ;-)
The dinner Daniel cooks for her is simple grilled salmon and a salad of arugula and mixed greens which Emily left mostly untouched. So I made a salad but didn't put much time or thought into it--simply dressing local baby arugula with a touch of olive oil, lemon and sea salt and topping it with toasted pumpkin seeds, a variation also on the grilled salmon and arugula salad that Emily thinks about, served at a local cafe, with slivered almonds atop.
Salmon and Asparagus with Green Tomatillo Sauce
Adapted from Rick Bayless via FronteraFiesta.com
(Serves 2 to 3)
2 or 3 fresh fish fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each (I used salmon)
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch medium-size asparagus, ends trimmed
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shelled fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup Frontera Tomatillo Salsa (or salsa verde of choice)
1/2 firm-ripe avocado, diced
1 tsp thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
fresh mint or parsley sprigs for garnish
Toasted pumpkin seeds, optional for garnish
Pat fish dry; season with salt and pepper.
Heat a well-seasoned grill pan or nonstick skillet until hot. Add asparagus, a little oil and sprinkling of salt. Cook, turning often, until asparagus are golden and tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, or more or less time depending on asparagus thickness. Set aside.
Drop peas into a small pot of boiling salted water; cook 1 minute. Drain well. Return peas to pot and add salsa; heat just until warm. Remove from heat, stir in avocado and sliced mint. Season with salt.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Once oil is hot, add fish flesh side down, in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, without turning, until nicely browned, about 7 minutes--depending on preference and thickness of fillet. Carefully flip over fish and cook just long enough to crisp up the skin, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
Arrange asparagus on warm serving plates. Top with fish. Gently ladle sauce over fish. Serve right away garnished with mint sprigs and pumpkin seeds if desired.
Notes/Results: Really easy, really delicious. the tangy salsa sauce with it's sweet peas, cool mint and creamy avocado works so well with the rich salmon and tender but firm asparagus. It goes together in a snap--toast the pumpkin seeds, grill the asparagus, heat the peas and salsa and stir in the avocado and mint, and grill the salmon. You can get it ready in about 20 minutes. If you can't find Frontera salsa, any salsa verde will work. (Shh... don't tell Rick!) I liked the richness of the salmon here but halibut or a local fish like opah or monchong would work equally well. Quick, simple, tasty and healthy, you can't beat that! I will happily make it again.
I am linking this post up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week. The time to make any recipe from our current featured chef or any of the previous IHCC chefs (like Rick Bayless). You can see what everyone made by following the picture links on the post.
I'm also linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, 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 "Follow the River Home" 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.