Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Every Wild Heart" by Meg Donohue, Served with a Recipe for Simple Pasta with Butter and Parmesan

On today's TLC Book Tour stop I'm reviewing the mother-daughter novel Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue and along with my review, I'm serving up a bowl of simple Pasta with Butter and Parmesan, inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb: 

From USA Today bestselling author Meg Donohue comes a mystery, a love story, and a mother-daughter tale about two women on a precarious journey to uncover their true selves.

Passionate and funny, radio personality Gail Gideon is a true original. Nine years ago when Gail’s husband announced that he wanted a divorce, her ensuing on-air rant propelled her local radio show into the national spotlight. Now, “The Gail Gideon Show” is beloved by millions of single women who tune-in for her advice on the power of self-reinvention. But fame comes at a price. After all, what does a woman who has staked her career on being single do when she finds herself falling in love? And is the person who is harassing her in increasingly troubling ways a misguided fan or a true danger to Gail and her daughter, Nic?

Fourteen-year-old Nic has always felt that she pales in comparison to her vibrant, outgoing mother. Plagued by a fear of social situations, she is most comfortable at the stable where she spends her afternoons. But when a riding accident lands Nic in the hospital, she awakens from her coma changed. Suddenly, she has no fear at all and her disconcerting behavior lands her in one risky situation after another. And no one, least of all her mother, can guess what she will do next…

Hardcover: 304 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (March 14, 2017)

My Review:

Although I have had How to Eat a Cupcake sitting in my TBR pile for ages, Every Wild Heart is my first book from Meg Donohue, although it will not be my last. It is an easy read, not too heavy, and full of warmth, love and humor. Although there is certainly some drama and a touch of suspense in the mix, it is a mostly feel-good story about the relationship between a single mother (Gail) and her fourteen-year-old daughter (Nic) and the changes that they and their relationship go through after Nic has a riding accident. The story is told in dual narration with chapters alternating  between the two characters, each offering their perspectives. 

At first I was worried that there were a lot of sub-plots with Gail's career indecision, a angry 'fan' who seems to be stalking her, potential romances for both Nic and Gail, Nic's accident, and the horse riding and music (there's a great playlist in the back of the book) that are woven in throughout the story, but Donohue fairly masterfully fits its it all in and makes it work. It makes for a balanced and engaging book that while didn't deliver quite as much suspense as I was expecting from the blurb, certainly delivered in entertainment as there was just enough drama, romance, tense moments, and relationship/family drama to keep me turning the pages to find out what happened next. At it's core, Every Wild Heart is about growth, change, and moving forward despite our fears of letting go, as well as the changing relationship (but unconditional love) between a mother and daughter. It's a definite comfort read and manages to be sweet and thoughtful without being cloying. My only complaint? I would have liked more than 304 pages with these characters.


Author Notes: Meg Donohue is the USA Today bestselling author of How to Eat a Cupcake, All the Summer Girls, and Dog Crazy. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a BA in comparative literature from Dartmouth College. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in San Francisco with her husband, three children, and dog.
Find out more about Meg at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is no a lot of food in Every Wild Heart but there is mention enough to provide some inspiration, like a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, a kale, farro, and chia seed salad, plates of spaghetti, the meatball subs and tacos to be avoided in the school cafeteria--because of the "weird spice in it that makes your mouth feel kind of furry the rest of the day," cereal, doughnuts, comforting meals of pasta and stew, bagels and cream cheese, pizza and Kentucky Mules, chocolate and coffee.

It was homemade pasta cooked by stable owner Denny for Gail that became my book-inspired dish. Denny invites her over for a spaghetti dinner and they end up making homemade pasta (a "hobby" of his).

"Two minutes later, he pulled the pasta from the water with tongs and spun it around in a large porcelain bowl with a few hunks of butter, a sprinkle of parsley and black pepper, and a healthy spoonful of Parmesan cheese. The pasta was still steaming as he portioned it into two bowls and set them on the table.  ... The pasta was so good that we were forced to eat in silence for a full minute before either of us could say another word."

It sounded like one of my favorite "the world sucks right now and I have no energy and need some serious comfort food" go-to dinners based off a Nigel Slater recipe sketch. I don't make my own pasta and usually opt for pantry-handy boxed spaghetti--but in honor of Denny, I sprang for fresh linguine for this one.

Linguine with Butter and Parmesan 
Adapted from Appetite by Nigel Slater

"For each person, grate 1/2 cup Parmesan or pecorino. I know this will look like a lot, but generosity is the only route to take here. Toss the hot pasta with a thick slice of your freshest butter (you really should open a new packet for this, as the sweetness of the butter is the whole point) and the grated cheese. The two will melt into a thin sauce that will lightly coat the spaghetti. Spoon over more cheese at the table--or on the floor or the sofa or in bed, or wherever else you might be eating this.

(Deb's Note: I have made a couple of small changes to this recipe--I cook the pasta in salted water and reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and toss it in with the grated cheese and butter. It thins it out just a bit and makes the sauce coat the pasta more effectively. Then I also add a good amount of freshly ground black pepper and here I've adding some chopped fresh parsley--not needed necessarily but it was in the book and makes it look prettier.)

Notes/Results: Simple but so decadent and so good. It's hard to tell from the photos but between the butter, Parmesan and pasta water, each strand is coated with a thin sauce of goodness. With the amount of cheese and butter Nigel recommends, this isn't the healthiest pasta dish, but boy does it comfort and restore a weary body and soul when you need it to. I make this periodically when I need a bit of an easy boost--it's an occasional necessary indulgence. ;-)

I'm linking this post up 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 the "Every Wild Heart" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours. 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 TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Creamy Shrimp and Corn Chowder for Cook the Books: "Dinner with Edward" by Isabel Vincent & Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I love few things more than a big bowl of creamy and delicious chowder--chock full of delicious ingredients. Today's is no exception, it's a flavorful Shrimp and Corn Chowder, inspired by Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent, our February/March Cook the Books selection.  

Hosted by Claudia at Honey From Rock, Dinner with Edward is a foodie memoir about a journalist who as a favor, starts having dinners with her friend's father to check on him as he is depressed after the death of his beloved wife. The dinners soon turn into a weekly event and a loving friendship that ends up helping both Isabel and Edward lead happier lives. Each chapter starts with the menu of a dinner that Edward cooked (An example: Grilled Sirloin Steak, Sauce Bourguignonne, New Potatoes, Chocolate Souffle, Malbec)   and the food is talked about as well as life lessons. Edward gets Isabel's company and purpose by helping her and Isabel gets delicious food, cooking tips, and the prompting and guidance to live and love more fully. 

I enjoyed spending time with Edward as much as Isabel did and was sorry to have the book end so quickly (it's only 224 pages). Of course any book that describes food so well and so lovingly gets extra points in my book--I wanted to eat and make so many of the dishes mentioned like soft shell crabs, fried in a light batter and served with hot melted butter, perfectly scrambled eggs, avocado salad with pungent blue cheese dressing, Fennel Remoulade over Lettuce, macarons and fleur de sel caramels, Pan-Fried Potatoes with Gruyere, Apricot Souffle and Apple Galette, to name just a few. 

Ultimately I decided to make the Shrimp and Corn Chowder from the dinner in Chapter 11 that also included Mussels Remoulade and Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting and Muscadet. "We were sitting at Edward's dining room table where he had set out two large bowls of creamy shrimp and corn chowder and thick slices of crispy baguette." Isabel later makes a version for a dinner party with friends and again when given some fresh herbs grown in the garden of her new love interest. And, as certain recipes do, it stuck in my mind, earning its place as my book-inspired dish.  

There are no recipes in the book but I make chowder enough to know what I wanted in mine and put together a veggie heavy mix of leeks, celery, fennel, carrot, red potatoes, and corn with plenty of thyme, celery salt, and Old Bay seasoning, and jumbo shrimp. Rather than make a roux or use dairy, I used coconut milk and pureed some of the (shrimp) broth and veggies to make it extra creamy. I think Edward would approve.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 8 Good-sized Servings)

2 Tbsp olive oil or butter, or mixed
3 small leeks, white & light green parts only, cleaned and sliced
3 large stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 medium fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
4 cups red potatoes, scrubbed, peels left on and cubed
sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp celery salt 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (I used the low-sodium one)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
4-5 sprigs of thyme
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
 4 cups broth or stock--chicken, corn or shrimp (I used shrimp stock)
2 cans coconut milk or 4 cups milk or cream of choice
4 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen 
2 lbs jumbo shrimp (21-25 per lb), peeled, de-veined

Heat the olive oil and/or butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in the leeks, celery, carrot, fennel, and potatoes and cook over medium, stirring, for 5-6 minutes until vegetables are softened. Add the celery salt, Old Bay, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt and black pepper and stir, cooking for another minute of two. Add the bay leaves,thyme sprigs, parsley, and the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and gently simmer about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are mostly tender. 

Add the coconut milk and corn kernels to the pot and simmer another 5-6 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs (gently pulling off any remaining leaves and adding back to the soup, discarding the stems) and the bay leaves. If desired, take 2 to 3 cups of the broth and vegetables and puree in the blender until smooth, then return to pot. Increase heat to medium high and stir in the shrimp, cooking until pink and opaque--about 4 to 5 minutes.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with a little extra smoked paprika or Old Bay Seasoning as desired. Enjoy! 

Notes/Results: This chowder made me so happy. It was so good and completely hit the spot with its flavors, colors, and textures. Since I don't eat meat, I added smokiness to the flavor profile with the Old Bay Seasoning and smoked paprika. I was a bit bummed because I saw fresh local corn in the store last week but this weekend there was none, but the frozen corn (I bought the sweet nibblet kind) was still quite good--it's just nothing beats local corn right off the cob and although I can usually start finding it this time of year, it's probably a month or so before it starts becoming plentiful. I used shrimp stock from my freezer for the chowder (I save my shells and make it up) but if you do have fresh corn when you make this--making stock from the cobs is easy and also adds flavor. You really can't go wrong--the beauty of chowders is that you can adapt them based on what you like and have on hand and it always turns out well. I made a bunch because I will eat this all week and be happy as a clam (or shrimp) ;-) and it's impossible for me to make small amounts of chowder. But if you don't want that much, you can certainly cut the recipe down.  

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is Friday, March 31st and Claudia will be rounding up the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for April/May  when Debra of Eliot's Eats will be hosting with the foodie memoir, Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin. Hope you join us!

I am linking this post up with Foodie Reads 2017. I have not done a good job so far this year in joining in this fun event celebrating all kinds of foodie books but this will be my second entry. You can check out the March Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.   

We have some good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some delicious dishes last week--let's have a look!

Debra of Eliot's Eats shared two dishes with Souper Sundays this week. First her pretty Nectarine Salad with Oil and Vinegar. She said, "All the News I Need is not a foodie book but because it delves into the day-to-day existence of the characters, there is of course basic sustenance.  Since both characters are misanthropic throughout the majority of the novel, there are no glowing descriptions of food, even during their sojourn in France. A few descriptions did stand out to me though. There’s one of Ollie’s many self-chastisements, “Why did I buy those nectarines out of season” (21) which reminded me of an aging Prufrock’s peach questioning. Ollie later describes the contrariness of Fran: “Sympathy and scorn, oil and vinegar” (56). I decided to use these two lines for a salad inspiration."

Debra's second dish is this Two Potato Soup with Sriracha Swirl inspired by the movie The Martian. Debra said, "I decided on a potato soup because some of what Watney ate was a gruel-like soupy substance. I added the  sweet potato to mimic the Red Planet’s color.  This soup is a vegetarian version because his survival relied on what he could grow in the red dirt of Mars. The swirl of Sriracha is an homage to his ketchup addiction (the only thing he had to add flavor to his bland meals). Plus, there’s the scene where he finally gets into the disco beat to “Hot Stuff” (à la Donna Sommers)."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor and Novel Meals shared Black Bean Veggie Chili inspired by a craft book and said, "The inspired recipe from this book is soup. But we haven’t been eating much meat lately and so, while I planned on chicken soup….I diverted to a veggie chili. Very different but one of the biggest components in this book features healthy eating. I made a black bean chili with finely chopped zucchini, green onions,tomatoes, mushrooms and a little bit of water. Once everything started thickening up I added about 3/4 cup of brown rice."

Finally here at Kahakai Kitchen, I made a really yummy Shrimp Salad Sandwich inspired by a novel, The Mermaid's Daughter. It is a take on a simple shrimp or lobster roll, with cooked shrimp, celery and green onions dressed with mayonnaise (in this case vegan mayo), lemon juice, Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt and black pepper. For some green color and texture, I added a layer of butter lettuce and thin slices of cucumber to my grilled baguette slice before piling on the shrimp salad. 

Mahalo to everyone who joined in this week! 

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

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).

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Muesli in Space or at Home: Overnight Oats for Food 'n Flix March Pick: "The Martian"

It's time for Food 'n Flix again and this month I am actually not running right at the deadline for once. I actually had may dish made last week, it just took a while for me to find time to post it. Baby steps! This month we are watching the 2015 science fiction film, The Martian, starring Matt Damon and hosted by Wendy of Our Life on the Farm. (You can see her announcement post here.)

If for some reason you haven't seen it--in short, The Martian is about Astronaut Mark Watney, who is struck by debris and believed dead after a storm hits Mars and forces the Ares III to abort their mission and take off back to their orbiting space vessel. Since there are no signs of life from Watney or his suit, he is left behind and must try to survive in order to have a chance of rescue. There isn't enough food and supplies to last until a potential rescue  so Watney is forced to "science the shit" out of his circumstances and grow potatoes and ration the leftover supplies to live. The film shows his fight to survive and the attempts made by NASA to rescue him.

I watched and enjoyed this film on Netflix when it came out but this time (with a DVD from the library), I watched it for the food. In addition to the potatoes Watney grows in his improvised green house, there are mentions and glimpses of food throughout the film--not always obvious but there for the finding. Most of what I wrote down came from an inventory list that Watney was making to count up the leftover rations. I stopped and paused and wrote down the parts of the list I could see to find a dish to make. There was Breakfast: Muesli and French Toast, Lunch: Mac & Cheese, Beef Goulash, Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, and Vegetarian Soup and Dinner: including Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Beef Teriyaki, Meatloaf, Veg Stew, and Meatloaf with Gravy.

I decided that the start to any long day whether in space or at home is a hearty breakfast so I decided to make muesli as my dish. If you aren't familiar with muesli, it is a breakfast dish based on raw oats, grains, seeds, nuts, and dried and fresh fruit that was usually mixed with milk or yogurt and left overnight for the oats to soften, then eaten cold. Muesli was developed in the early 1900s by Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. The original Bircher muesli was soaked overnight with water and lemon juice and then mixed with yogurt to eat the next day.  

Muesli comes in many different styles and forms now pre-packaged and fresh, and like Overnight Oats which became popular in the blogosphere several years ago and remains fairly popular today. I am not a huge hot oatmeal fan but I go through phases where I make up batches of muesli and make overnight oats for breakfast. It is filling, easy to take on the go, keeps me satisfied for hours, and living in a climate that remains fairly warm year-round, I appreciate a cold breakfast many mornings. 

I have a few muesli recipes on the blog, including one for muesli bars but I usually make a variation from a Jamie Oliver recipe he calls Pukkolla from The Naked Chef Takes Off. I have changed it up over time and what goes in it depends entirely on what I have in the pantry but it is always delicious and although you need to plan enough to get some in the fridge the night before, it takes just a minute or two to pull out and add a few touches to have breakfast ready in the morning. 

I'm not sure how the muesli works in space--I tried to do some research and the most I could find is that the cold cereals in ration packets are usually dehydrated and a powdered milk added, then water is added when ready to eat. In this case, since I didn't have to worry about transporting it to Mars, I kept the powdered milk out and added unsweetened almond milk and Honeycrisp apple the night before, then fresh raspberries, a few coconut chips for crunch and a drizzle of maple syrup the next day for eating at home. For my-to go version--also pictured, I made it in a jar, using the grated apple and almond milk and then topped it with cacao nibs for a little crunch. (I would have added a chopped banana but I forgot to buy more!) ;-)

The base for this batch was rolled oats, ground flax, flax seeds, chia seeds, chopped raw walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and a mixture of dried fruit including golden raisins, dried cherries, dried pear and apricot and dried blueberries. 

Loosely Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off, Jamie Oliver
(Makes a Bunch) 

Muesli is one of the best things you can have for breakfast as it's got everything you need to kickstart your day. The great thing about this recipe that you can adjust it to your own preference with whatever fruit, nuts, milk or add-ins you want. Keep the dry muesli mix in a large airtight container. Then, the night before, pull out the portion(s) you want and add the milk and apple. Finally, as you are running out the door, you can top the muesli with some fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

Muesli Dry Mix:
8 large handfuls of organic rolled oats
2 large handfuls of ground bran, flax seed or wheat germ (optional for extra nutritional boost)
3 handfuls of chopped dried fruits of choice (such as raisins, golden raisins, dates, dried pineapple or papaya, chopped dried apricot, dried cherries or cranberries, etc.)

1 handful of crumbled or chopped walnuts or nuts of choice 
1 handful of pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds 
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Add your oats and bran (or ground flax seed or wheat germ) to your airtight container along with the dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon. Place the lid on and shake well to mix. This dry mixture will keep for a good couple of months very happily in your airtight container, but you'll probably have eaten it by then!

The Night before: 
milk to cover (*can use non-fat milk, almond milk, soy, etc.)
1/2 crunchy apple per serving, washed and unpeeled

You can make this anytime, but letting it sit overnight (or for about 8 hours), gives it a more smooth. Place the amount of dry muesli you want to eat in a bowl or small, lidded container. (Remember the dry muesli will almost double in volume so an average serving is about 1/2 to 1/3 cup of dry mix.)

Grate in around 1/2 an apple per person, cover with your milk of choice and stir immediately to keep the apple from discoloring. Place in the fridge. 

1/2 banana per person, peeled and sliced or mashed or 1/2 cup blueberries frozen or fresh, or other fruit of choice.
honey or maple syrup to taste

Remove the container/bowl from the fridge. You will find that it has softened and thickened, so loosen with a little additional milk. Add your banana, sliced or mashed or blueberries. You will find that a lot of natural sweetness has come out of the dried fruit, so add honey or maple syrup to taste. Serve and enjoy.

Notes/Results: To me, the homey crisp apple grated in the night before is what makes the muesli--that and the assortment of seeds and fruits that are like little treasures in the mix. You can of course make it to fit you specifications and dietary needs. For example, use less fruit to reduce the sugar, add more or less nuts and fruit to control calories, use your favorite kind of milk and fresh fruit, or even stir in yogurt or nut butter for some extra protein. This one was very tasty--I had a bunch of dribs and drabs of dried fruit, nuts and seeds for granola bars and such in my pantry and so I had a lot of variety in the mix. I liked the dried pears and cherries and the pumpkin seeds the best. It makes a bunch so I have the dry mix in a container and have been noshing on it for breakfast during the week--switching out the fresh fruit topping. I will happily make this again. 

I'm linking up this post at I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck this coming week, our chance to make any recipe from our current, or any of our past featured chefs. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

I'm also linking this post up 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

The deadline for this round of Food 'n Flix is Thursday, March 30th and Wendy will be rounding up all the dishes on her blog. If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, join us for April when the film pick is A Touch of Spice, hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures With Camilla.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Mermaid's Daughter" by Ann Claycomb, Served with a Recipe for Shrimp Salad Sandwiches

On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am happy to be reviewing the unique and magical novel, The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a tasty Shrimp Salad Sandwich inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendant of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family.
Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that.
Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen’s phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen’s mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.
In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined.  Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death…

Haunting and lyrical, The Mermaid’s Daughter asks—how far we will go for those we love? And can the transformative power of music overcome a magic that has prevailed for generations?
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 7, 2017)

My Review:

The Mermaid's Daughter is such a unique book that it is hard to explain and do it justice.  As mentioned in the blurb, it is a modern update of the fairy tale, The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. It is as dark, actually probably even darker, than the fairy tale and set in the world of music and opera--giving it a different and interesting spin. The story is told by Kathleen, a young opera singer and student, her girlfriend Harry (Harriet) a fellow student in the music program, her father, Robin, a composer currently commissioned to turn The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne into an opera, and finally a chorus of witch-like voices who tell the dark stories of the generations of women in Kathleen's family. Kathleen suffers from pains in her feet and mouth and has been hospitalized multiple times for breakdowns with no medical explanation for her symptoms. Her family has a tragic history of the women committing suicide, usually in their early twenties, and Harry and Robin are determined that Kathleen not share their fate. This takes Kathleen and Harry to Ireland where they uncover the secrets behind the tragedies. In keeping with its operatic setting, the story is divided into three acts and the book includes an after story called The Mermaid at the Opera about Hans Christian Andersen and the origins of The Little Mermaid. Although I have enjoyed an opera or two, I wouldn't consider myself an opera lover, but this book had me wanting to listen to operas and fascinated about how they are composed and staged. I would definitely buy tickets to operas based on The Scarlet Letter or The Little Mermaid

I did struggle a bit in the beginning to find my rhythm with this book--the magical aspects combined with the dark fairy tale feel and the changing perspectives of the narrators--but once I did, I had a hard time putting it down and the 430-ish pages seemed to fly by. Kathleen is an interesting character and you can't help but feel for her pain and her uncertainty about it. The love that Harry has for her is strong and true and when combined with Robin's fatherly love, the lengths they go through to save Kathleen from herself are admirable. The elements of the fantastical about the story are crafted well--it's a fairy tale that had me caught up in the magic while believing in its plausibility. The Mermaid's Daughter is beautiful, otherworldly, dark, and imaginative. It is intense, sad but still hopeful, and I have a feeling I will be thinking about it for some time to come.


Author Notes: Ann Claycomb’s fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, Zahir, Fiction Weekly, Brevity, Hot Metal Bridge, The Evansville Review, Title Goes Here, and other publications. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University.


Food Inspiration:

There were some food mentions in The Mermaids Daughter, including: champagne (Veuve Clicquot), coffee, granola and cereal, sea salt caramels, seafood, a hamburger, steak salad, clam chowder, salad, fish and chips, a breakfast of melon, grainy Irish sausage, and toast, soup and brown bread with butter and honey, a dinner of shrimp with rice and a salad, a mention of spicy scallops with orange peel, breaded zucchini and and coconut fried shrimp, sea scallops, Turkish coffee, linguine, pad Thai, and orange gelato with chocolate sauce. 

For my book-inspired dish, I decided to go with Shrimp Salad from a meal Kathleen and Harry have on their last full day in Ireland. "The restaurant was as beautiful inside as out, all blond wood and sheer white curtains, no colors to distract from the food or the view. We ate celery root soup and shrimp salad on crusty white bread and drank a bottle of Riesling."

I decided to serve my shrimp salad as an open-faced sandwich on crusty baguette slices. I just did my own recipe, a take on a simple shrimp or lobster roll, with cooked shrimp, celery and green onions dressed with mayonnaise (in this case vegan mayo), lemon juice, Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt and black pepper. For some green color and texture, I added a layer of butter lettuce and thin slices of cucumber to my grilled baguette slice before piling on the shrimp salad. I served my sandwich with my favorite salt and pepper kettle chips. 

Shrimp Salad 
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2)

1/2 lb cooked large shrimp, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 green onions--green parts only,  finely chopped
2 Tbsp mayonnaise of choice (I used Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp celery salt
freshly-ground black pepper to taste
In a small bowl mix together all ingredients. Taste for seasoning adding freshly-ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt if needed. Chill and serve on lettuce leaves or on bread as a sandwich.
For Sandwich: 2 thick slices French bread, grilled,  green or butter lettuce leaves, thinly-sliced cucumbers. 

Notes/Results: Super simple but really delicious. The slight sweetness of the shrimp is complimented by the tangy lemon and the slight kick of the Old Bay Seasoning and celery salt and the vegan mayo isn't too heavy, allowing the shrimp and crunchy celery to shine throw. I wanted an open-faced sandwich and piled the shrimp salad on a thick slice of baguette for the photos. Next time, I would probably cut the baguette slices in half to make it a bit easier to eat. But, even a tad messy, it was well worth it--especially when served with the salt and pepper kettle chips. I enjoyed the leftover shrimp salad the next day for lunch, served on top of lettuce. I would happily make this again.  

I'm linking this post up 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

I am also sharing it with Novel Foods #29, an event celebrating food inspired by the written word and hosted by my friend Simona at Briciole. This deadline for this round of Novel Food ends Thursday, March 23rd.

Finally, I'm linking up this tasty sandwich to Souper Sundays, hosted here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup 
Note: A review copy of the "The Mermaid's Daughter" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours. 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 TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.