January 2020 comes to a close today and with it, this round of Cook the Books, our bi-monthly virtual foodie book club. Of course, I would be me if I wasn't running in at the last minute with my entry! This month we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats and while maybe not necessarily a foodie novel, it is definitely food-filled and related, and a very good book that I enjoyed. Also, it provided the inspiration for the delicious appetizer you see below.
From the Publisher;
"The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic
expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red
roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in
communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the
foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only
connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now
eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria
realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she
chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger
has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s
forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide
whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness."
I will say that it took me a while to get into the book and to grow care for Victoria. I certainly empathized with her and was horrified of the life she led in foster care and when she got out of it--but she is not an easy person to like. Also, I kept picking up happier books because there was A LOT of struggle to find the happy in this book, and I wasn't sure things were going to turn out. So, although it started out as feeling like the book was an accident I couldn't look away from, at some point in the middle it drew me in and I began to root for Victoria. The Language of Flowers is definitely about love (romantic, familial, and love of self), family, second-chances, and hope, and the writing is beautiful. I especially loved reading about Victoria creating her boxes of flower photos and their meanings, and her business creating the perfect flower arrangements for brides and others seeking just the right way to say something with flowers. So in the end, I really enjoyed the book and I am happy that Debra chose it. I had picked it up a few times in the library, but I might not have gotten around to reading it or stayed with it without Cook the Books and Debra.
So for food there was a good amount including chili, lots of fruit and produce from the farmers market, fish and chips, chocolate milkshake, pasta, ham, cherry tomatoes, apples, American cheese, peanut butter, donuts, wine grapes, peach-banana pancakes, sliced pear and a muffin full of warm chunks of banana and peanut butter chips, Thanksgiving dinner, chicken curry, white rice with soy sauce, sandwiches, soup, canned beef ravioli, chocolate souffle, rosemary new potatoes, blackberry cobbler and homemade ice cream, a whole baked fish with spices and some kind of root vegetables, beans, peas and potatoes with parsley, mushroom soup, eggs over easy, raisin bread, rib roast, cupcakes, vanilla yogurt, burritos, cinnamon rolls, milk, tofu casserole, trail mix, grilled cheese sandwiches, tea, cheesecake, butternut squash soup--extra hot, a whole roasted chicken on a silver platter with a long tray of roasted vegetables, and lentil soup.
For my bookish dish, I was going to make donuts--maple ones from biscuits like my mom used to make when I was growing up or the banana and peanut butter chip muffins, but then I saw a passage (see below) about the appetizer that Grant made Victoria of a stuffed baguette with cheese, capers, olives and herbs. I liked the sound of that and the chance to use the herbs, a least close to flowers, in it. Also, although that night did not end well, I liked how Grant taught himself to cook and how he fed the always ravenous Victoria. Food is love, after all.
I followed what the book described other than adding some tiny pickled peppers and laying mine in a circle on the plate--like a flower. I used the herbs I had on hand or could get from the grocery--although I included their meanings in the recipe (from Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers in the book and also my own book of the symbolism of herbs for the ones not mentioned) and it is a very mixed message! ;-)
From the book:
"Grant had set out slices of a baguette stuffed with something--cream cheese, maybe, or something fancier--with bits of chopped herbs, olives, and capers. The appetizers were arranged in rows on a square ceramic plate. I started at one end and went down the rows, popping each circle into my mouth whole. I looked up before I ate the last one, and Grant was watching with a smile. "You want it?' I asked, pointing to the last slice. "No. You'll need the sustenance to wait for the next course; the rib roast still has forty-five minutes.' I ate the last one and groaned. 'I don't think I can wait that long.'"
Stuffed Baguette with Cheese and Herbs
By Deb, Inspired by The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
(Serves 3 or 4, or one hungry Victoria...)
1 small baguette about 10-inches long
about 6 oz cream cheese, softened to room temp
about 12 oz goat cheese, softened to room temp
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup sweety drops or peppadews (tiny red peppers from the olive bar), diced
1/3 cup olives of choice, pitted and diced
2 Tbsp capers, drained, chop if desired
About 1 Tbsp each finely chopped:
-basil (hatred, yikes!)
-thyme leaves (activity)
-dill (luck or wealth)
About 1/2 Tbsp each
-sage (good health and long life)
-rosemary leaves (remembrance)
freshly ground black pepper and a little salt (only if needed) to taste
Slice off the ends of the baguette. Using a long thin knife, working from both ends, carefully hollow the baguette out leaving about 1/2-inch
thick of bread and crust all around the edges.
In a medium bowl, mix the soften creamed cheese and got cheese together with a fork, until smooth and
lump-free. Stir in the garlic, peppers, olives, capers and herbs until thoroughly mixed together. Taste and stir in black pepper and salt if any is needed, to taste.
Using a spoon and working from both ends, fill the hollowed baguette with the cheese
mixture, packing in the filling tight with the back of the spoon. Wrap the stuffed baguette well
in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to two days.
Directly before serving, slice the baguette into 1/2-inch thick slices and
serve. Wipe down your knife in between slices to keep it neat. Arrange on a serving plate (I did mine in a flower shape) ;-) and enjoy.
Notes/Results: Such a great little appetizer, I am sure I will be making variations of this often. You could definitely change it out with your favorite ingredients in your favorite soft cheese and be perfectly happy noshing away. I ate a bunch for dinner and took the remainder to work with me with my vegan soup. I think they look pretty cool too. I will happily make them again.
The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is today, January 31st and Debra will be rounding up the entries on the CTB site soon after. If you missed this round and like food, books, and foodie books, join us for our February/March pick, Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran and hosted by Simona of briciole.
I'm also sharing this post with 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.