Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Color of Our Sky" by Amita Trasi, Served with Masala Chai & Samosas

Today's TLC Book Tour takes us to Mumbai, India for a review of an often heartbreaking but ultimately satisfying story; The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi. Accompanying my review is Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for Masala Chai--shown with the book and also a few tastysamosas from my favorite Indian market.


Publisher's Blurb:

In the spirit of Khaled Hosseini, Nadia Hashimi and Shilpi Somaya Gowda comes this powerful debut from a talented new voice—a sweeping, emotional journey of two childhood friends in Mumbai, India, whose lives converge only to change forever one fateful night.

India, 1986: Mukta, a ten-year-old village girl from the lower caste Yellama cult has come of age and must fulfill her destiny of becoming a temple prostitute, as her mother and grandmother did before her. In an attempt to escape her fate, Mukta is sent to be a house girl for an upper-middle class family in Mumbai. There she discovers a friend in the daughter of the family, high spirited eight-year-old Tara, who helps her recover from the wounds of her past. Tara introduces Mukta to an entirely different world—one of ice cream, reading, and a friendship that soon becomes a sisterhood.

But one night in 1993, Mukta is kidnapped from Tara’s family home and disappears. Shortly thereafter, Tara and her father move to America. A new life in Los Angeles awaits them but Tara never recovers from the loss of her best friend, or stops wondering if she was somehow responsible for Mukta’s abduction.

Eleven years later, Tara, now an adult, returns to India determined to find Mukta. As her search takes her into the brutal underground world of human trafficking, Tara begins to uncover long-buried secrets in her own family that might explain what happened to 
Mukta—and why she came to live with Tara’s family in the first place.

Moving from a traditional Indian village to the bustling modern metropolis of Mumbai, to Los Angeles and back again, this is a heartbreaking and beautiful portrait of an unlikely friendship—a story of love, betrayal, and, ultimately, redemption.

Paperback: 416 pages 
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 18, 2017)

My Review: 

I am always slightly leery of book blurbs that claim a new book is similar to favorite books or authors. The Color of Our Sky is said to be "in the spirit of" works by Khaled Hosseini and Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I was worried that it wouldn't live up to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, or Secret Daughter and The Golden Son--all books I loved. It turns out that I didn't need to worry, The Color of Our Sky holds it own with these other books and is a beautifully crafted and moving story. It isn't always easy to read, delving into harsh subjects like the caste system, human trafficking and the sexual slavery of women and children, prostitution, violence, poverty, and illness. I think it walks a good balance of being heart-wrenching but hopeful and it showcases the courage and strength of two women, friends of unequal backgrounds who are torn apart but who never forget each other. 

The story is told in the alternating points of view of Tara and Mukta, from the 1980s up through 2008, and illustrating the very different paths their lives take on a fateful night in 1993, shortly after the Bombay bombings. Mukta's chapters are the hardest to read, she's born into a family of temple prostitutes in a small village and it seems she is going to be able to break away from that fate until she is kidnapped from Tara's home and sold into slavery. Tara and her father move away from India and its memories and she has an easier life in California--although neither she or her father are ever the same due to their losses. Tara holds a lot of guilt from her role in what happened that night and comes back to Mumbai as an adult to find Mukta, in part to assuage that guilt. It took me longer to warm up to her than it did Mukta and stop judging her for her childhood mistakes. There are bright moments throughout the book--mostly Tara and Mukta's memories of the times they shared and although the book is close to 400 pages, the back and forth and the tension about whether or not Mukta would be found made it move quickly. I found myself completely caught up in the story and vested in the well-drawn characters, full of hope that redemption would happen. As tough as the parts of Mukta's life in the brothels are hard to read, it is important to be aware of the enormous and shameful problem of human trafficking that is rampant all over the world and this book gives what feels like a very realistic view. Ultimately it is a beautiful book about friendship and love and although not one for the "light and breezy" pile, it is absorbing and well worth reading.

-----

Author Notes: Amita Trasi was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She has an MBA in human resource management, and currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two cats.
 
Find out more about Amita at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.






-----

It's hard for me to read any book set in India and not immediately crave Indian food and although it's not a focus of the book, there was definitely food to be found--along with many cups of hot and cold chai. Food mentioned included: saffron in pulao (rice), turmeric in dal, sweet rasgulla (a dessert), golas (crushed ice pops), ice cream, and sherbet, tea and sandwiches. energy bars, rice, pickles, chutneys, curries, pakoras (fried vegetable snack) Limca (lemon lime soda), jalebi (sweet fried dessert), chapati, paratha, and roti (flat breads), dahi wadas (lentil dumplings), American finger foods at a party like cheese and crackers, chicken tenders, salami, chips and dips, and veggies like carrots, tomatoes. onions, potatoes, and brinjal (eggplant).


I ended up deciding to make chai or tea, since there was so much tea in the book and chai masala which is spiced tea, often with milk. I make masala chai frequently at home, drinking it both hot and iced but I wanted to see how my favorite Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey makes hers. I have several of her cookbooks and recipes abound but I found this great article on Food 52. that talks about how she changed her recipe to use whole spices and less milk and I wanted to try it. 

I have included the recipe below but I encourage you to read the article as it has all of her tips and tricks in it. 


Madhur Jaffrey's Masala Chai
Slightly Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey via Food52.com

3 cups water
4 cloves or so
4 cardamom pods
4 peppercorns
1-inch piece of cinnamon bark or cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp ground ginger (Jaffrey says fresh ginger can curdle the milk)
3 black tea bags
1 cup whole milk or milk of choice (I used coconut)
sugar or honey to taste (Jaffrey uses 4 teaspoons of sugar)

Place the 3 cups of water into a medium saucepan. Add the masala--cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and ginger and the three black tea bags and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the milk and sweeten to taste, bring to a gentle simmer again, then remove pan from heat and pour contents through a fine mesh strainer into your teapot or serving vessel. Discard tea bags and spices. Taste and add additional sweetener or milk if needed. Serve and enjoy.


Notes/Results: Making your own chai at home will make you wonder why you bother ordering it at Starbucks or other coffee shop. It infuses the kitchen and house with the heavenly aroma of spices and it is quick, easy and you can store any leftovers in the fridge for iced chai or heat it up (just be sure not to boil it so the milk doesn't curdle). I like Jaffrey's blend, which is fairly close to my own although I tend to work in some star anise and coriander seeds into my blend. But the beauty of it is that you can put in your favorite spices and change the amounts to your preferences. You can also use whatever kind if milk--dairy or non-dairy you prefer and adjust the sweetness. I used about 3 tablespoons of honey in my blend because I don't like mine that sweet and it was perfect. I also used Bigelow Tea's "Constant Comment" black tea which is flavored with orange rind and sweet spice as I like the touch of citrus flavor it adds. You could also add orange rind to your masala mix. I was low on cardamom pods and it gave me an excuse to stop by the Indian market on the way home from a meeting where I gabbed some of their homemade samosas. Their spicy pea and potato filling went perfectly with the tea for an afternoon snack.


This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs for Potluck week--our week to make any dish from our current or any past IHCC featured chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links.


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.


Note: A review copy of the "The Color of Our Sky" 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, April 23, 2017

Turkish (Red Lentil) "Bride" Soup with Fried Egg for Food 'n Flix April: "A Touch of Spice" and Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays {#foodnflix}

It's Food 'n Flix time again, where an amazing group of bloggers watch a movie (foodie or not) and head to the kitchen to create a dish inspired by it. This month our movie is the Greek film. A Touch of Spice (it's titled "Politiki Kouzina" which means 'Cuisine of the City' in Greek), hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla. (See her announcement post here.)


I almost had to sit this round out as the movie is a bit obscure and the only way I could seem to get a copy with English subtitles in time to participate was to order the DVD from Amazon and between the price and the extra to get it delivered to Hawaii in time for the due date, it was about $32--which was a bit too expensive for my budget. But, back to those amazing bloggers that I mentioned at the beginning of the post, when one of them saw my comment about not participating on Food 'n Flix's Facebook page, she sent me a message offering to send me her copy. How sweet is that?! Sarah of Chef Sarah Elizabeth is my hero and I had the movie in a few days and watched it this weekend--so I am actually several days early for this round. (Almost unheard of!) Food bloggers are the best kind of people! 


From the Amazon editorial review: "A Touch of Spice is is a story about a young Greek boy (Fanis) growing up in Istanbul, whose grandfather, a culinary philosopher and mentor,teaches him that both food and life require a little salt to give them flavor; they both require... A Touch of Spice. Fanis grows up to become an excellent cook and uses his cooking skills to spice up the lives of those around him. 35 years later he leaves Athens and travels back to his birthplace of Istanbul to reunite with his grandfather and his first love; he travels back only to realize that he forgot to put a little bit of spice in his own life." 

The movie is beautifully filmed--especially the scenes of the city and the spices and food. If you love Greek food at all, it will make you hungry. I found parts of the story a bit hard to follow at times but part of that is my attention span when watching subtitled movies I am sure. All in all it was a wonderful foodie film to watch (again thank you to Sarah!) so if you can get your hands on it (I am happy to pay it forward and mail it out to anyone interested), it is well worth watching.


Food in the movie seen or mentioned included: sugar, eggplants, artichokes and oranges at a market, a table of appetizers and drinks, ouzo, spices--cumin, cinnamon--mentioned as an ingredient in meatballs with mince, breadcrumbs, garlic and onion, pepper, stuffed grape leaves, oregano, nutmeg and chilies, oysters and walnuts, a pressure cooker and sauteed mussels, vegetables and a salad, yellowtail tuna, beans, stuffed eggplant and grilled fish, stuffed red and green peppers, roast chicken, fried and boiled eggs, hunikar beef, cinnamon rolls, milk and sugar for a cake and a table of desserts.


Although I didn't see soup featured in the movie, it was what I wanted to make as it can be both an appetizer or a main course. Or in the case of Turkey, sometimes a breakfast dish. When Fanis's uncle tells him he is going to marry Lela and "The only thing Lela knows how to cook is fried eggs"--I knew I wanted to serve my soup with a fried egg on top. I also wanted to include some of the spices mentioned in the movie like pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. 

When I googled Turkish Soups, Turkish Bride Soup kept coming up and  I found this passage on it from TurkeyHomes.com

"Known as the soup of Ezo the bride, this flavor has a rather sad love story attached to its humble roots. The story says that Ezo was an incredibly beautiful woman who lived in the southeastern Gaziantep region in the early 20th century. Despite her goddess looks, love was never easy for her and her first marriage failed after her husband had an affair and her second marriage took her across the border to live in Syria. Homesick for many years, she died in the 1950s after bearing nine children, but her story and recipe at this point had become a legend and the soup is a soothing comfort for brides and their uncertainty for their future. Traditionally made from lentils, what sets this soup apart is the addition of bulgar and cayenne pepper and paprika as ingredients rather than garnishes."


This passage made me think of the scenes where the family's brides are taught to cook (with disastrous results) from the 'secret' and stinky ingredient; "kissa mamout." Although I looked to the online recipes for inspiration, my soup is not traditional with the additions of carrot, (mainly for color), the extra spices, swapping in Harissa paste for the tomato paste and cayenne, and putting an egg on top but I think it only adds to the simple and delicious soup so indulge me! 


Turkish Bride Soup
Adapted and added to by Deb with inspiration from this recipe,and this one
(Serves 6 to 8)
 
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large sweet onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
3 Tbsp Harissa Paste (or tomato paste)
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
a large pinch of cayenne pepper (if not using harissa
2 cups red lentils, sorted, rinsed and drained
1 cup bulgur wheat
12 cups of vegetable stock or water (I used a mix of non-chicken broth and water)
2 Tbsp dried mint
2 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
juice of one lemon, or to taste
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fried eggs to garnish if desired

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot and cook onion and carrot over low heat until onions are very soft (about 10 minutes). Stir in the harissa paste, paprika, cumin, and cinnamon and cook for another minute or two. Add the red lentils, bulgur and broth/water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the dried mint, fresh mint and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired with salt and black pepper. Cover pot and allow flavors to meld for 10 minutes.

Serve in warm bowls, topped with a fried egg if desired. Enjoy!


Notes/Results: This is a simple but quite satisfying and tasty soup. The spices, along with a little fire from the Harissa paste and the freshness of the lemon and mint give good flavor and the body is thick from the red lentils and bulgur. The egg isn't necessary or in the traditional recipe but as eggs do, it adds a lot to the experience when you break all that yolky goodness and stir it into the soup. You could also top it with some Greek yogurt as some of the online recipes I found suggested.You don't have to be a bride to enjoy this soup. I would happily make it again.




The deadline for this round of Food 'n Flix is Thursday, April 27th and Camilla will be rounding up the entries on her blog shortly after. If you can't join us this round and you like food, movies and foodie movies, join us for May when I will be hosting (the not-so-foodie-but-one-of-my-favorite films) The Princess Bride here at Kahakai Kitchen. I know I can count on my Food 'n Flix friends for some wonderful dishes and good fun! It would be inconceivable if you didn't join us!  


We are all about sandwiches this week in Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look!


Vicki of I'd Rather Be At The Beach shared a Hawaiian Grilled Cheese Sandwich and said, "This sandwich was so good! I’ve never added oregano and parsley to the bread when making grilled cheese, and I loved the flavor it added. Quick and simple, and very yummy, I’ll be making this again!"

 
Tina of Squirrel Head Manor enjoyed a Turkey Wrap and said, "So on Saturday, instead of a cheeseburger, I selected a turkey wrap stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, sweet peppers and light Italian dressing. It's never a hardship for me to eat a wrap, I love 'em. As you can see this one was packed. By the end of the second half I was just picking out the veggies and eating them as I was getting too full to continue eating the tortilla. Whew.....glad I didn't order the corn nuggets as I had originally planned."


Here at Kahakai Kitchen, I used some pickled turmeric eggs and made some lovely tea party-worthy Curried Egg Salad Bites on Naan Bread for Blog Party #44--Tea Party, a virtual event my friend Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness was having. They were delicious and I will be making more of the turmeric pickled eggs from Heidi Swanson's recipe just to have the egg salad again.


Mahalo to Vicki and Tina for joining 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 Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).


Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto: Pantry Comfort Food Dinner

With just a few good ingredients--hopefully most of which you have in your pantry (I only had to add a ball of fresh mozzarella to my shopping list) and some stirring at the stove time, you can have this slightly decadent, comfort food dish: Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto, on the table in about 35 minutes. 

The recipe comes from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, our current featured chef at I Heart Cooking Clubs from his column in The Guardian discussing the benefits of having tins of tomatoes on your pantry shelves.


Hugh says, "I'm not a fan of chopped tinned toms – the supposed convenience is just not worth the disappointment in terms of the flesh-to-juice ratio. They always seem on the thin side, lacking sauciness and oomph. So I buy tinned whole plum tomatoes, tip them into a bowl and crush them to a pulp with my hands, picking out any tough, stalky ends and bits of skin. Brands do vary a lot in quality, though, and it's worth paying a few pence extra to get more tomatoes in a thicker juice..."


Hugh says, "If you don't have fresh stock, use a high-quality cube or granules. As with the gratin, the mozzarella can be replaced by cheddar, parmesan or scraps of bacon, or even left out altogether."

Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via TheGuardian.com
(Serves 2) (Deb says serves 3 to 4)
 
450ml (about 4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1 (15-oz) tin tomatoes, crushed, with juices
1 large knob butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (I used 4 cloves roasted garlic)

(I added 2 tsp dried parsley and 1 tsp dried basil)
125g (about a cup) risotto rice

sea salt and black pepper
1 ball buffalo mozzarella

extra-virgin olive oil, to finish

Put the stock and tomatoes into a saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer and keep over a very low heat.
 
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. When foaming, add the onion and sweat it for eight to 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more, then add the rice and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
 
Now start adding the hot stock and tomato mixture, about a quarter at a time. Let the risotto cook, stirring often, adding more stock as it is absorbed. After 20-25 minutes, the rice should be cooked with just a hint of chalkiness in the middle and you should have used up all the stock and tomato mix.

Stir in some salt and pepper, then tear the mozzarella into chunks and add. Cover, leave for a minute, then stir the melting cheese through the rice, so there are lots of nice, stretchy, melty bits. Serve topped with a generous trickle of extra-virgin olive oil, with some peppery leaves on the side.


Notes/Results: Oh yeah, this is good. Really good. I did add a few touches--just some dried parsley and basil and some leftover roasted garlic (increasing the amount) and I used good Italian tomatoes--whole and self-crushed ala Hugh's advice and good garlic-vegetable stock so it had great flavor. It's hard to tell from the photos but the fresh mozzarella does melt into the most glorious strings as I am sure you can imagine from pizza, making it fun albeit a bit messy to eat. One thing is that Hugh says it serves two and I would say it serves at least three. That's about a third of it in the bowl in the picture and that is plenty for a serving as rich as it is. If you like spaghetti and you like risotto--this recipe is the best of both worlds. I will definitely make it again.


Linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where the theme this week Is Pantry Suppers. You can see the Hugh, pantry-friendly dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

 
Happy Aloha Friday!
 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

(Pickled Turmeric Eggs) Curried Egg Salad Bites on Naan and Chai Tea Whiskey Toddies for Blog Party #44: Tea Party!

I just had my ninth year Blogaversary and I forgot! Whoops! 

But yes, nine years ago last week I made my first blog post and it's been a fun nine years and 1,626 posts ever since that first one. Since I didn't have a party, ;-) I am joining in with my friend Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness as she has resurrected one of my favorite blogging events from those early years: Blog Party!


I *met* Stephanie not long after I started blogging through her Blog Party event when it caught my eye. The object of Blog Party is to make an appetizer and cocktail to go with a monthly theme. I didn't join in until Blog Party #34--The Buffy Bash, where for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme, I made Spiked DoubleMeat Sliders & Garlic Fries with Hellmouth Dipping Sauce and Soylent Green Cocktails. (Note: It was from my meat & poultry-eating and bad blog photography days!) It was fun and I took part in the next nine Blog Parties--up until Stephanie stopped having them. 


Stephanie drops by Souper Sundays occasionally when she has a soup to share and so when she tweeted a message to some of the old Blog Party attendees that she was having a Blog Party #44, I really wanted to take part. The only trouble was that it was really short notice (gotta love those impulses!), less than a week in fact--so I knew if I did join in, it would be with something simple and from my pantry. 


Flash forward to this afternoon, when I turned some of Heidi Swanson's Pickled Turmeric Eggs that were in a jar in my fridge into some delightful and delicious Curried Egg Salad Bites on Naan Bread and partnered them with quick Chai Whiskey Toddies. I gotta say, with just a little planning and using up leftovers, these were perfect for an impromptu tea party. 

 
I highly recommend that you try the Pickled Turmeric Eggs for the egg salad--they add such a great tangy bite to the curry mayo and are easy to make and loads of fun. 

(Pickled Turmeric Eggs) Curried Egg Salad Bites on Naan
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen with Heidi Swanson's Eggs
(Makes about 2 scant cups of egg salad)

4 turmeric pickled eggs (recipe here) or regular hard-boiled eggs
3 Tbsp vegan mayo or mayo of choice
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp celery salt
salt and black pepper to taste
2 pieces naan bread
1 tsp olive oil
Garnishes like: cilantro, celery leaves, Nigella seeds or black sesame seeds, pickled onions from the turmeric pickled eggs.

Grate pickled eggs on the large holes of a box grater into a small bowl. Add mayo, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and celery salt and mix together well. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  

Brush a pan lightly with olive oil and heat on medium-high. Use a biscuit or cookie cutter to make small rounds out of the naan bread and lay those circles into the pan. Cook until lightly toasted on each side, about 3 to 4 minutes total. Remove naan circles from the heat and allow to cool.

To Assemble: lay the naan circles on a serving plate. Scoop a small amount of the egg salad onto each round, spreading it out to cover the edges. Top the egg salad mixture with garnish of your choice (I used celery leaves, black sesame seeds, and chopped pickled red onions from the Turmeric Pickled Eggs.)

Serve and enjoy!


Chai Whiskey Toddies
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 2 8-oz drinks)

1 cup Chai Tea Latte Concentrate (or strongly brewed chai tea)
1 cup coconut milk
honey to taste
2 ounces whiskey or Bourbon

Heat chai concentrate and coconut milk together in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Add honey to taste--depending on how sweet you want it. (I used about 1 Tbsp.) When hot, remove from heat and stir in whiskey. Pour into mugs or tea cups and serve immediately. Enjoy.


Notes/Results: I am not sure these two are perfectly paired but it kind of works and they are both delicious--and hey, in this case they are for an entire tea party with other food and drinks so you don't have to have them together. ;-)  I am going to make more Turmeric Pickled Eggs in order to have more curried egg salad--it was so good, especially on the toasted naan bread. I love the bright notes of the vinegar (it kind of takes the place of mustard) in the egg salad when it combined with the curry. A really fun way to change up a basic egg salad sandwich. The warm chai toddy was really tasty--creamy and with a little kick from the Maker's Mark Whiskey I used. For coming together with bits and bobs from the fridge and pantry, I was very pleased with how it all turned out.
 

Thanks to Stephanie for hosting! I hope Blog Party becomes a regular thing again. The deadline for Blog Party #44 is tomorrow, Friday, April 21th and Stephanie will be rounding up the BP entries on her blog soon after. You can get the details here

 
I'm linking up these tasty little sandwiches 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  


 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Women in the Castle" by Jessica Shattuck, Served with a Recipe for German Sweet Braised Cabbage & (Vegan) Grilled Sausages

Happy Tuesday! On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the wonderful World War II novel, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. Along with my review, I cooked up a plate of German Sweet Braised Cabbage inspired by the book and served it up with some (vegan) smoked apple sage sausages for a homey, German-themed meal.
 
Publisher's Blurb:

Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold
 
Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.
 
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.
 
First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.
 
As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.
 
Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (March 28, 2017)


My Review:

I do love a good World War II historical novel and I have worked my way through many of them over the years. I have come to seek out the books that give me a different perspective of the war and The Women in the Castle does just that, exploring the lives of three different German women, brought together and caught up in the war--each suffering and looking for redemption in their own way. The women--Marianne, Benita, and Ania, are unlikely to be friends outside of war, it is only a promise Marianne makes to look after the wives and children of the resisters who along with her husband and her best friend and past love, tried to stop Hitler by assassinating him. When that plan fails, the men are condemned to death and it is only the fact that Marianne is a woman and her husband was from a privileged and well-thought of family, that leave her able to survive, make a life for her children in the family's castle, and bring Benita, Ania and their children to stay with her. 

The women are very different--Marianne is bold and judgmental, Benita is fragile and shattered, and Ania is strong and practical. Each are flawed and human and through the chapters which move from 1938 and before the war, the horrible war years and the years afterward up to 1991. Shattuck portrays each woman through her story and her memories--giving glimpses of what led them to the role they played and how they ended up at Burg Lingenfels. Often times when you read about the war, it is easy to judge people for what they did or did not do. Looking at the German perspective was especially interesting to me as it isn't one I read about often. Shattuck makes these women relatable, giving me insights to their plight and allowing me to empathize with them and their sorrow and guilt--even if I didn't always like them or some of their actions and decisions. As in most books of war, not everything ends happily for everyone, but things are wrapped up in a satisfying way that felt authentic to the characters and story. I really enjoyed The Women in the Castle--it is absorbing, unique and it touched my heart. Highly recommended.

-----

Author Notes: Jessica Shattuck is the award-winning author of The Hazards of Good Breeding, which was a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, Wired, and The Believer, among other publications. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, Massachusetts.
 
Find out more about Jessica at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

-----

Food Inspiration: 

Although much of the story takes place in the thick of war, there is food to be found in The Women in the Castle. Some examples include: At the castle in 1938 there is a party with champagne, potted fish, smoked meats, pork meatballs with parsley sauce, steamed dumplings, asparagus wrapped with ham, jelly molds, pineapple flambe, caviar on toast, pork roasts, apple tortes, and cake. During the war, the castle suffers food shortages but does much better than many with plenty of carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, as well as fresh raspberries, gooseberries, and other fruit in the summer. There is porridge, soup and broth, dried meat, bread, cookies, stollen and plum schnapps, shelled peas, eggs, spinach soup, barley, and pickled vegetables. Several German dishes are mentioned like schnitzel, various sausages and wursts with curry ketchup, pfeffernusse kuchen, kaiserschmarrn and kartoffelpuffer, along with weissbier to drink. Holiday packages from America included oranges, chocolate bars, gum, and Kraft cheese. Finally, a picnic at the castle (a happy day for the characters) featured cold meatballs, potato salad, pickles, fresh plums and cake with raisins.  


Ultimately I went to one of the three most mentioned foods for my inspiration. Along with carrots and potatoes, it seemed like every German garden contained heads of cabbage and dishes like cabbage, potato and carrot soup were a common meal. I looked online for a cabbage dish that sounded good and found a recipe for Sweet Braised Cabbage from Just Like Oma: Quick German Recipes

It seemed simple and interesting with its sweet and sour flavor. Being a meat-free eater, I was going to serve it with trout (a fish mentioned in the book) but then I saw some vegan Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausages and since sausages were also mentioned frequently, I decided to serve them along with the cabbage for a German-inspired dinner. 


Just Like Oma says, "Bayrisches Weisskraut, aka Bavarian Cabbage, comes from the Bavarian region of German. Sauerkraut seems to be the most commonly thought of German cabbage recipe. This, however, is a very easy way how to cook cabbage and is often used as a side dish to accompany many German meals. There's a certain sweet/sourness to this braised cabbage dish that's like eating candy! It really does taste great with almost anything!"

German Sweet Braised Cabbage
Slightly Adapted from Just Like Oma: Quick German Recipes
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
3 Tbsp sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed (I used 3 cloves, roasted garlic)
1/2 large white (green) cabbage, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds (I used 1 Tbsp)
1 cup water or broth (I used veggie broth)
1 Tbsp vinegar or to taste (optional) (I added)

(I added some chopped fresh parsley to serve)
(I thickened the sauce as noted below) 

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add the onions and brown slightly--about 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the sugar and let the onions caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, garlic, caraway seeds, and water or broth to the onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until the  cabbage is tender, stirring occasionally and adding extra water or broth if needed. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary and add vinegar to taste if desired.


*Note: To thicken the sauce, dissolve 1 Tbsp corn starch in a bit of cold water. Slowly add just enough to the simmering liquid until it thickens.


Notes/Results: I realize cabbage isn't always a popular food but this preparation is quite good--it has plenty of flavor between the onions, vegetable broth and caraway seeds and the sugar and vinegar give it a lovely balance of sweet and sour tastes that perfectly offset the meaty flavor of the vegan sausages. I love caraway and added extra seeds, as well as thickening my 'sauce' with the cornstarch and adding a bit of parsley for color. Vegan 'meat' substitutes are an infrequent choice for me because I don't always love the texture or the processing, but these Field Roast sausages are not bad--especially when grilled on all sides so the outside is a bit crisp. Of course you can pair this cabbage with regular sausage or anything really. All together, it made for a not-too-heavy, but still satisfying lunch that (vegan sausages aside) ;-) captured the spirit of the book. I will happily make this cabbage recipe again. 


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.

 
Note: A review copy of the "The Women in the Castle" 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.