Monday, July 11, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "In Twenty Years" by Allison Winn Scotch, Served with a Recipe for California Roll Poke Bowl with Sesame Sea Asparagus

This is a long and chatty post for a Monday. Today I'm a stop on the TLC Book Tour for In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch, I am reviewing this novel about life, relationships, and a long-overdue reunion between estranged friends. Accompanying my book review is a recipe for a California Roll Poke Bowl, along with an explanation of how a raw-fish filled dish was inspired by a book about what happens to six Penn State students in the twenty years since they graduated and vowed to be family for life.  

So settle in and read on my friends...

Publisher's Blurb:

Twenty years ago, six Penn students shared a house, naively certain that their friendships would endure—until the death of their ringleader and dear friend Bea splintered the group for good. Now, mostly estranged from one another, the remaining five reluctantly gather at that same house on the eve of what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday.

But along with the return of the friends come old grudges, unrequited feelings, and buried secrets. Catherine, the CEO of a domestic empire, and Owen, a stay-at-home dad, were picture-perfect college sweethearts—but now teeter on the brink of disaster. Lindy, a well-known musician, is pushing middle age in an industry that’s all about youth and slowly self-destructing as she grapples with her own identity. Behind his smile, handsome plastic surgeon Colin harbors the heartbreaking truth about his own history with Bea. And Annie carefully curates her life on Instagram and Facebook, keeping up appearances so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her own empty reality.

Reunited in the place where so many dreams began, and bolstered by the hope of healing, each of them is forced to confront the past.

Paperback 332 Pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 1, 2016)

My Review: 

This is the first book by this author that I have read. I was pulled to In Twenty Years by the description and the idea of friends grown apart reuniting, but having to deal with all of the baggage they have carried with them over the years. I am about 10 years older than this group and going to local schools, I didn't have the go-away-to university experience that forms the kind of bond this group had. However, I think anyone can relate to a having at least one past friendship that you thought would last forever, but has fallen by the wayside--for a big reason, or a small reason, or just simply growing apart. The chapters alternated with the viewpoints of the characters--Annie, a wealthy mother and devotee of showcasing her life on social media, Colin, plastic surgeon to the stars and models of L.A., Lindy, a famous pop star, and Owen and Catherine, the married couple in the group--a former attorney and current stay-at-home father and a craft blogger turned into a lifestyle brand respectively. Bea, the group's ringleader, who dies a few years after college (and is the reason they all come together twenty year later) sets up the story. I did have some challenges finding someone to like in this group initially--beyond Bea, who we find out quickly (from the blurb even) is no longer with us. Whether it is the years I have on them or their personalities, I found myself somewhat annoyed by most of the group and their actions. But, I will say that they grew on me and some of their thoughts, words and actions had me laughing ("There are no tears in craft design," Catherine says, incredulous...), so I did warm up to most everyone by the end. The characters also show growth throughout the book, which helped me with the likability factor and made me empathize with them even when I didn't agree with them. And, despite whether or not I would want to hang out with these people in real life, I definitely wanted to know what happened and that kept me engaged through the book.

Despite the poignant elements of the book--estrangement from the people you were closest too, grudges and hurt feelings over things that were said or done, the death of a someone close-that you felt held you together, In Twenty Years has light and funny moments and it is a great read for summer. Much of the action takes place over the July 4th weekend and the author captures that summer feeling well. If you like books about friendship, books that take you back and make you think about your life and what you were doing twenty years ago, and enjoy a summer-themed book that is a quick and mostly easy-breezy read despite some sadness and emotional angst, throw this one in your beach bag and enjoy it.


Author Notes: Allison Winn Scotch is the bestselling author of five novels, including The Theory of Opposites, Time Of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found. Her sixth novel, In Twenty Years, will be released in June of 2016. In addition to fiction, she pens celebrity profiles for a variety of magazines, which justifies her pop culture obsession and occasionally lends to awesome Facebook status updates. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Connect with Allison on her website, Facebook and Twitter


Food Inspiration: 

With one of the characters a The Crafty Lady--a lifestyle maven, thinking about and describing things in terms of food runs through the book, like: plum/eggplant bridesmaid dresses, a hint of mandarin orange in body lotion, "...a kid whose butt didn't look like raspberry jam" to describe diaper rash, a lip injury "the size of a Meyer lemon," "swollen like a potato," or "already the size of a walnut and growing." ("Why do I always compare injuries to foodstuff? Catherine wonders now, mulling Owen's upper lip...")

And there are of course many actual mentions of food such as macaroni and cheese, Hershey's Kisses pressed into heart-shaped cookie cutouts, rice pilaf, Thanksgiving in July, Granny Smith apples, firecracker cookies, pizza, lasagna, Greek salad, garlic knots, boiled lobster, melting butter on grilled corn, froyo, scrambled eggs and an omelet on a breakfast buffet, cereal-Cocoa Puffs mixed with Honeycombs, chicken fingers, a pumpkin muffin, cheesesteaks and hoagies, hot wings, Pop Tarts, a reference to a raw/vegan diet and "recreating uncooked carrots in as many ways as she could find on The Crafty Lady," a can of beans and hot dogs, late-night snacks of Corn Nuts and yogurt pretzels, curry, homemade gnocchi and to-die for tiramisu, convenience store donuts, a breakfast burrito from Taco Bell Express, pumpkin coffee cake, homemade butter, olive oil and almond milk, frozen corn kernels, pot roast, banana bread, succulent stew recipes, home-baked bread, "salads in bowls the size of wheelbarrows," an oversize pretzel, ice cream, freshly made blueberry muffins, and marzipan-vanilla wedding cake. There are lots of beverages too (especially alcohol), like; Absolut, lemonade, a green-tea energy drink, Heinekens, Amstels, Grey Goose, a double espresso, Bloody Marys, orange-juice, Jamba Juice, tequila, a July 4th special of "blue beer with red limes," club soda, Hi-C, tea, Jack Daniels, martinis, cosmos, pinot, coffee, ginger ale, and red and blue Jell-O shots.
Probably the most obvious food inspiration and a close contender for my bookish dish was the oft-mentioned French toast that Catherine perfected and that she fed to her flatmates: "French toast. That's what Lindy remembers about Catherine. She'd make it for them every Sunday, tweaking the ingredients until finally, in April of their senior year, she declared it perfect. The rest of them thought it was close to heaven already: gooey and crunchy and honey and cinnamon tangled together. The house smelled like love the rest of the day."  

I just wasn't quite feeling the French toast and I decided that rather try to pull a dish from the book, I would go with the overall story and think back to where I was twenty years ago and what I was eating. Turns out that 1996 was a watershed year for me in terms of career, food and life, which is how I ended up making a California sushi roll Hawaiian poke bowl for a book set mostly in Pennsylvania, with nary a mention of raw fish to be found. ;-) 

Bear with me--there is some backstory necessary to get to my inspiration! You may or may not know that before moving to Hawaii in 2001, I was in Seattle working for a ubiquitous green coffee giant (yes, THAT one), in training and HR. In late 1995 and early 1996, I was leading the retail management training program for the regional office when I got asked to help on a special project, coordinating the training for some partners from Japan as we were gearing up to open internationally. I was delighted since I had a fascination with Japan ever since writing a sixth-grade report. Much as I loved the project, when an International Training Manager position was posted, I had no intention of applying because I assumed I had no shot--I spoke no other languages and other than a few random trips over the border to Canada, I had never been out of the country. I was encouraged to apply anyway and after a 6+ month interview process where the job changed multiple times, I went through a bazillion interviews and even had to write a report on how I would go about getting partners from multiple countries and business partnerships to drink the Kool-Aid (or coffee) and live the company culture in their countries, I actually got the job.

Flash forward to July 1996, I was about to meet International's second partnership, a group from Hawaii who were arriving to start 3-months of training in Seattle, I was also waiting for my newly ordered passport to arrive for my first real International trip to Tokyo to open the first location in the Ginza district, and I was madly trying to master chopsticks and develop a love for raw fish. After countless "lectures" from the president of International about willingly eating food I wasn't used to (not usually a problem but he worried) and afraid of causing an International incident of any kind, I was eating sushi at every opportunity. I had dipped my toes into the sushi waters a few years before, but had mostly stuck to the safer-feeling rolls, beginning with the California roll--usually imitation crab, avocado and cucumber wrapped in nori with rice on the outside (the training wheels of sushi-eating). Now I was moving to the more advanced slabs of sashimi--raw tuna, yellowtail, salmon... and even (ugh) uni (sea urchin) although I still haven't found uni that I like--but that's another story. By the fall of 1996, I had developed a taste for sushi and a bunch of other new-to-me dishes from Japan, Hawaii, Singapore, and other Asia-Pacific countries. I successfully survived Japan in August, and was headed for Hawaii for the opening/blessing of their offices and management training. There I was introduced to poke (raw fish 'salad'--poke means to slice or cut in Hawaiian). From my frequent trips to the islands over the next five years, I fell in love with both poke and Hawaii and ended up settling on Oahu, joining up with the group I once trained and who are now my Hawaii ohana (family). So you might say that 1996 changed a lot for me and I wanted a nod to that in my dish, while also making it fit my life twenty years later.

Today, I love raw fish--sushi and poke and I eat it as frequently as I can. Hawaiian food, especially poke and poke bowls have been gaining their fame lately outside of Hawaii and showing up at restaurants, in food magazines and online. I make poke bowls often--usually with whatever leftover rice I have on hand, something green to break up the rice and fish, and usually store-bought poke. I like to stop and grab poke from Foodland on my way home--they have a good selection to choose from. I usually lean towards their simple Hawaiian-style ahi poke, but when I am feeling like indulging, I grab some of their California Roll Poke--all of the good things in a California Roll, tossed with a spicy Sriracha mayonnaise sauce.

Thinking about my early sushi forays, the Hawaii-Japan connection, craving a favorite poke, and the thought that Catherine from the book--as The Crafty Lady--looking for new ideas to 'borrow' would be all over poke bowls, led me to make my homemade version of a California Roll Poke Bowl

I used a recipe for a Deconstructed Ahi California Roll by Chef Keoni Chang on Foodland's website and a taste test of the store's poke this weekend as my starting point for the sauce and poke ingredients and adjusted it to my tastes. I have also included the recipe for Sesame Sea Asparagus, a favorite salad of mine and something green (besides avocado, cucumber and scallions) ;-) to put in my poke bowl. I can get locally-grown sea asparagus (aka samphire), but if you can't get it where you live, you can always make this recipe with regular asparagus or you can add any greens you like.

California Roll Poke Bowl
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen--Inspired By/Adapted from Foodland Hawaii
(Serves 2 to 3)

Make rice and sriracha mayo ahead before forming bowls. I prefer my rice just slightly warm with the cold poke on top, but you can chill rice if you prefer or aren't immediately eating your bowls. 
Sriracha Mayo:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used vegan Just Mayo--garlic flavor)
2 Tbsp Sriracha 
1 Tbsp sweet chili sauce
1/2 tsp honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp rice vinegar 

Combine all ingredients. Taste and check for seasoning. Add a touch of salt or soy sauce if desired. Chill for an hour or so before using.


California Roll Poke:
4 oz fresh sushi-grade ahi, cubed
4 oz imitation krab, sliced or shredded thinly (or real crab!)
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes
1 small Japanese cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp green onions (green and white part) sliced finely
1 1/2 Tbsp furikake rice seasoning or finely chopped nori
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup Sriracha Mayo 

Combine ahi, krab, avocado, cucumber, green onions, furikake seasoning, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a mixing bowl. Add Sriracha mayo and gently mix until blended. 

Poke Bowl:
1-cup cooked rice of choice (I used sushi rice)
1 cup California Roll Poke
1 cup of something green--like Sesame Sea Asparagus (recipe below)
radish sprouts to garnish if desired

Divide rice into serving bowls. Top with California Roll Poke and whatever greens you are using. Garnish with radish sprouts and serve.

Sesame Sea Asparagus
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
(Serves 24

8 oz fresh sea asparagus (samphire), soaked in cold water for 1 hour and rinsed
1/2 Tbsp garlic mac nut or olive oil
1 tsp sesame seed oil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, add the asparagus and blanch for 1 minute. Drain, rinse with cold water and put blanched sea asparagus into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes to cool completely. Drain 

Place drained sea asparagus, oils, and sesame seeds into a lidded container. Place lid on tightly and gently shake to evenly distribute oil and seeds. Serve. 

Notes/Results: Yum! Not an exact duplicate of the California Roll Poke that I buy, but maybe even better since I can better control the heat, type and amount of mayo, and what I put in it. I used more avocado, krab and cucumber than I find in the store-bought version and made a thinner, slightly less gloppy sauce (if you look at the collage above, the store's version is on the left and my finished version is on the right) that I liked. I am normally not a big fan of imitation crab but it works in this poke. Poke is not hard to make but chances are, I won't stop buying a half-pound to take home and top my own rice and greens with when I am not in the mood to chop. ;-) In this bowl, the heat of the poke is tempered by the rice and the salty tang of the sea asparagus, so it all works together nicely. A fun kitchen experiment that I will happily make again

I'm 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

And, since poke is considered a kind of salad (and the sesame sea asparagus is too), I am linking this post up to this week's Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays post here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on a weekly post or here--we would love to have you!

Note: A review copy of "In Twenty Years" 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.



  1. Ok, where do I start. I very much enjoyed your synopsis of the book and you have me wanting to add it to my to-read list. It sounds interesting. After I finish The Twelve by Justin Croin (big, fat book) I will get this one in the lineup.

    Your life in Seattle and your settling in Hawaii is fascinating. I love getting a glimpse of your life like this. Also, the dish you made is something I would definitely try. Loving sushi since I was introduced to it a few years back.

    1. Aww, you are so sweet! Thanks for the positive feedback Tina!
      If you love sushi you would love poke and poke bowls. ;-)

  2. It all looks really good! I almost signed up for this tour but your thoughts on it make me wish I had.

    I love that you pair your book reviews with a recipe. I might borrow that idea from time to time if you don't mind.

    1. Thanks Vicki! I should have probably done the giveaway with this one but I think so of the stops have it if you want to take a look. ;-) And yes, I'd love to see your recipe/book pairings too!

    2. Thanks Deb, I'll check the other stops out.

  3. I will definitely be using that Sriracha Mayo! It sounds like my kind of thing. I'm not sure I'd make the rest but I'd love for someone to make it for me! This book sounds interesting and I love how you showed us your own life 20 years ago. And how is 1996 20 years ago??? That just doesn't seem right. I remember 1996 far too well for it to have been that long ago!

    1. Katherine--I know, right!?! I was having lunch with a friend (from the group in my story) recently and he introduced me to someone that came in and we freaked that we met 20 years ago. Where does the time go?! ;-)

  4. I've been meaning to try sea asparagus, will have to look for it. And though the book doesn't sound like something I'd like, I did enjoy your 20 year review, and how it all fit in with the poke bowl.

    1. Thanks Claudia! I really like sea asparagus so hope you find and try it. Just soak it and them blanch it first--otherwise it is REALLY salty. ;-)

  5. I'm not sure what poke is. I'll have to google it. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

    1. Hi Carol--a brief explanation is in the post--poke is a raw fish salad (with a link to the longer Wikipedia explanation). Poke means section/cut/slice in Hawaiian. Have a great week yourself.
      Aloha, Deb

  6. Your story sounds just as interesting as the book.

  7. You have me craving a poke dish and sadly there aren't many of those ingredients to be found locally. Looks like I'll have to get creative!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. Poke and poke bowls are pretty versatile Heather--especially if you can get good sushi-grade fish. But if you can't tofu or cooked shrimp are also often used.

      Thanks for having me on the tour! ;-)

  8. Oh I loved getting to know more about you. I live in Pennsylvania now, but miss the foods of the Pacific Northwest (where I got my masters degree) and Hawaii (where I worked for two summers doing research at the Bishop Museum)-- soooooo this post was for me. Ha!

    Sorry I was so late getting here this week -- we were off camping and had almost no internet connection.

    1. Thanks Beth! I think I knew you lived here for a bit but not that you worked at the Bishop Museum doing research. Very interesting!

      Hope you had a great time camping. I think Internet connection defeats the purpose of it anyway! ;-)


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