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. 


Muesli
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. 

Eating:
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.

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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.

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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.


 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ruth Reichl's Avgolemono Soup: Simple Lemon & Rice Goodness for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Ruth Reichl has an amazing way with words, and food, and words about food. With a few sentences, she can have me craving whatever she is writing about. This means I am craving roughly ninety percent of the recipes included in My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. I checked out this journal-style cookbook from the library as I am trying to curtail my cookbook buying, but I fear I am going to succumb and purchase this one at some point.
 

I was looking for a simple soup recipe for this weekend and was immediately drawn to her Avgolemono Soup. Since this soup is easy to make and uses pantry staples like broth, rice, eggs and lemon, I have made it many times and have several variations posted on the blog--including a few vegan recipes. Reichl's is probably one of the more basic recipes but that in no way takes away from the comfort and deliciousness of the resulting soup.


Avgolemono Soup
Slightly Adapted from My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
(Serves 6)

6 cups chicken stock (I used a veggie, non-chicken broth)
1/3 cup rice (I used 1/2 cup)
1 lemon
4 eggs
salt

Bring the stock to a boil. Add the rice, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl, then squeeze the lemon and add the juice to the rind. 

Separate the eggs, dropping the yolks into the lemon juice. (Save the whites for another purpose/use.) Add a pinch of salt and beat the yolks into the lemon juice and rind.

When the rice is tender, whisk about half a cup of the hot stock into the yolks, then slowly pour the yolks into the soup, stirring constantly. Cook gently for about 5 minutes, or until the soup is slightly thickened. Pour into bowls and eat slowly.   

 
Notes/Results: Silky, lemony, and delicious. This soup doesn't fail to make me happy. Reichl features it in the winter and says it is all the better if snow is falling outside but I think that it is good any time--even, or especially on a breezy spring day. I used a good vegan chicken-style broth and used 1/2 cup of long-grain white rice but otherwise kept the recipe the same. You could of course add in a carrot or some other veggies but I think it is pretty perfect as it is. I ate mine with some bread and a few slices of Gruyere cheese for an easy lunch. I will happily make it again.


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. 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 with delicious dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen from last week--let's have a look!


Melynda of Our Sunday Cafe shared Orzo Pasta Salad with Pistachio Pesto and said, "The thing I needed to see was something reminiscent of spring. Something a bit lighter to enjoy for our meals, something with rich flavor, yet something that could be made with limited ingredients. Fortunately, our local co-op carries a nice selection of fresh herbs and vegetables from local farmers. That combined with a very interesting cookbook from the library, and we have a lovely springtime pasta salad to enjoy."



Claudia of Honey From Rock made Hawaiian Style Gumbo and said, "According to Wikipedia, Gumbo "likely derived its name from either a word from a Bantu language for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (kombo).  I have a wee planting of both the purple and green varieties of okra, though they do not hold their purple color after cooking. What I put together, and you can call it Hawaiian Gumbo or just Delicious Gumbo, whatever,  I figure the basics you need for a pot of it are covered here."



Tina of Squirrel Head Manor brought Grilled Salmon Spinach Salad and said, "...we opted to stop and pick up some salmon for a healthier dinner one day this week.  It was excellent. A bit of soy and honey and turned once in a grill pan.  Served with healthy fresh steamed broccoli and baked sweet potato. Now that's getting back on track! There was enough salmon left to make a pretty good salad for the next day's lunch too. I pulled stems off  fresh spinach, chopped some green onions and cut up the leftover salmon. Dressing was an Onion Dijon vinaigrette. (Forgive the blue plastic bowls. They are the designated bowls for work.)


Mahalo to everyone who for 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!
 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Brown Rice Bowl with Stir-Fried Leek & Snow Peas, Grilled Tomatoes and Mahi Mahi with Heidi Swanson's Lemon Miso Compound Butter

I am way into compound butters. I probably shouldn't be way into butter in any form, but having a flavored butter in the fridge or freezer, ready to add a finishing touch and pop of flavor and goodness to a variety of dishes makes me happy. I love what a bit of intensely-flavored does to air-popped popcorn, roasted or steamed veggies, toast, and especially a piece of fish.


A tablespoon of compound butter will run you about 102 calories but it will go a long way in adding flavor and in making a dish more special and used judiciously, that's a calorie and fat splurge I am willing to indulge in. 

In this case, a savory Lemon-Miso compound Butter takes a brown rice and veggie bowl, topped with some mild-flavored local mahi mahi up a notch in flavor and helps make it a delicious dinner. The butter recipe comes from Heidi Swanson via her 101 Cookbooks Blog.


In addition to her Nori Compound Butter I made last month, Heidi Swanson has several posts with different varieties on her blog as well as inspiration for concocting your own flavors. Some of her compound butters include: Saffron Date Butter, Garlic Green Olive Butter , Scallion Dill Butter, and Roasted Strawberry Ginger Butter.  
 
On this blog I have posted my own recipes for Lemon Piccata Butter, Watercress Butter, and Quick Middle Eastern Spiced Butter. I typically make a compound butter out of my favorite curry powder that I use on popcorn--so good! There is no end to the possibilities. If you are vegan or dairy free, you can use vegan butter substitute and still enjoy all of the flavor.

 
Lemon-Miso Compound Butter
Slightly Adapted from Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks

Use a food processor to whip 1 stick (4 oz.) of room temperature unsalted butter until fluffy. Pulse in 1 tablespoon miso (I used white miso), zest of one lemon (or yuzu), 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon ground toasted cumin. 


Taste and adjust if needed. (I added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice) Fold in the sesame seeds. (I didn't see an amount of sesame seeds so used 1 heaping Tbsp.) Great on: brown rice bowls, roasted delicate squash, sautéed vegetables, roasted tomatoes...  

Heidi recommends storing your butter in the freezer in small amounts so that you can pop it out and add it to dishes. I like spooning at least some of the butter into a small silicone mold. (The molds I have are heart shaped and hold a scant tablespoon full of the butter.)  I freeze the molds, then pop out the butter and store it in an airtight container. It looks pretty and fun and doesn't melt too quickly when you top something with it.  Sometimes though, the compound butter doesn't make it out of the fridge before it gets used up. For example, some of this Lemon Miso butter is going to be added to a bunch of asparagus I just bought and will be steaming for dinner. Yum!


The Bowl: For my brown rice bowl, I used:
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked sprouted brown rice
  • Stir-fry mixture: 1 medium leek (white & light green parts only--cleaned, and sliced, thinly), a big handful of snow peas, (trimmed, but left whole), and two scallions, chopped; sauteed in 1/2 tsp macadamia oil +  1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil and topped with toasted sesame seeds.
  • Pan-seared Roma tomato
  • about 6 oz of mahi mahi fillet, divided into two pieces, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon and smoked paprika and grilled. 
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Miso Compound Butter


Notes/Results: satisfying, filling and delicious, this bowl made a perfect Friday night dinner. The Lemon Miso Compound Butter adds a savory and tart flavor and umami to the fish and helped perk up the brown rice. I like the combination of the miso and lemon flavor with just a touch of spice from the cayenne and the toasty cumin flavor. I wanted a bit more lemon, so I added a tablespoon of the juice to my butter and was happy with the flavor. I found that with the miso, I didn't need to add salt but you should taste your butter for seasoning and add if needed. I plan on using up this compound butter on more fish and veggies--like the steamed asparagus mentioned above. I will happily make it again.


I'm linking this post up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Accompaniments: Heidi Swanson recipes for sauces, condiments, toppings, spice blends of side dishes. You can see what people made by checking out the photo links on the post. 


And, 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

  
Happy Weekend!
 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir" by Jennifer Ryan, Served with a Recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Leek & Tomato

On today's TLC Book Tour I am reviewing the The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan, a lovely novel about life in an English village during World War II and told by the journals and letters of its various members. Accompanying my review is a simple dinner of Scrambled Eggs with Leek and Tomato.   


Publisher's Blurb:

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead “carry on singing.” Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit– a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past– we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life. In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Crown (February 14, 2017)


My Review: 

I read a lot of historical fiction set during World War II, It is a time period that I find interesting. I especially like novels that give me glimpses into civilian life in the different countries involved, so I was happy to be on the tour for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. The book did not disappoint, it's a lovely story, told in a epistolary style through the journals, letters and documents of the main characters. Mrs. Tilling (a widowed nurse with a son recently sent to fight), Kitty Winthrop (a thirteen year-old who longs to be a singer and marry a childhood friend who is infatuated with her older sister) and Silvie (the ten-year-old Jewish Czech evacuee, staying with the Winthrop family) write in diaries and journals--the author mentions in her afterward that ordinary civilians were encouraged by an Organization called Mass Observation to document daily lives during the war. Kitty's older sister Venetia (eighteen and the town beauty) writes detailed letters to a friend in London and Miss Paltry (the local midwife and an opportunist and bit of a grifter) writes to her sister. These five relate the story of life in the village of Chilbury, and what happens when Miss Prim, a newly arrived music teacher helps them start a women's choir as their church choir, with the majority of the town's men off to war, has been shut down. The all-female choir is shocking proposal for some, but soon even the reluctant members are coming together in song.  

If this sounds at all sleepy and boring, it isn't. There is plenty of intrigue going on in this small village and in addition to the main characters, we get to see both the joys and the heartaches of many of the villagers in this time of war. There are dark dealings, births, deaths, and romance in the six months in 1940 that we spend with Chilbury. I really enjoyed the different voices and perspectives--some characters likable, some not, and some both grew as individuals and even grew on me. The 380-some pages flew by and I found myself sad to leave this group of women. (There's a great Read It Forward article by Jennifer Ryan where she "explores" the village of Chilbury here.) If you like epistolary novels, historical fiction and unique takes on life during WWII, and books with strong female characters, you will surely enjoy this one. 

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Author Notes: Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor.

You can connect with Jennifer on her website or Facebook.

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Food Inspiration:

There is food to be found in The Chilbury Ladies' Choir even during the war and the rationing for food. (Here's an interesting article on food rationing in Britain from the BBC if you are interested in learning more.) There were sandwiches--jam sandwiches, and several mentions of cucumber sandwiches with tea. Tea was also served biscuits, cake, porridge, and scones with strawberry jam. There were mentions of cod--baked cod and a fish supper and "a slap round the face with a freshly caught cod." There are mentions of sherry and stale cheese straws served at a party, potatoes for dinner, vegetable gardens and a large leek dug from the garden in Hattie's kitchen. A simple dinner of scrambled eggs that the Colonel cooks for Mrs. Tillings and another dinner of oxtail soup and bread and butter. There was a hidden jar of honey that tasted of rose petals and syrupy sweetness, a chestnut tree, cherry blossoms and a peachy perfume, and chocolate. There was soup and good food like eggs and bacon, meat and fruits to nurse Venetia back to health. There were also memories of non-war time foods too; cocktails at the Ritz and picnics full of pies, cherries and French madeleines and some traditional British fare like roast pheasant and Spotted Dick


For my book-inspired dish, I decided to combine the leek from Hattie's house, with the dinner of scrambled eggs that the Colonel cooks. While looking for inspiration for eggs scrambled with leeks, I saw a simple recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Leek and Tomato on a UK Co-Op site and since I had a locally-grown Roma tomato that needed to be used, along with a couple of leeks and local eggs, it seemed like a great match.
 

Scrambled Eggs with Leek and Tomato
Adapted from TheCo-op.com
(Serves 2) 

4 eggs
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 medium leek, white and light green parts trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, halved (I used Roma tomatoes)
4 slices bread of choice (I used 1 slice of sprouted wheat bread per serving), toasted 

In a small bowl, whisk eggs with sea salt and black pepper. Toast bread.  

Place butter or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the thinly-sliced leeks and halved tomatoes, cut side down. Cook for about 5 minutes, until leeks are soft, stirring so as not to burn them. Turn tomatoes over after about 3 minutes, once they are lightly browned and softened on the cut side. Once tomatoes are cooked, remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Distribute the leeks evenly in the pan and pour the eggs over the leeks, cooking them about 2-3 minutes, stirring them with a spatula and scrambling them until the eggs are set and they reach the desired consistency/doneness.

Plate toast with eggs on top and tomatoes on the side. Enjoy!


Notes/Results: This made a perfect light dinner, as the scrambled eggs were in the book but would be equally welcome at breakfast or lunch. The leeks are sweet and mellow and get the scrambled eggs a little something extra and the tomatoes add their sweetness and a pop of color on the plate. I made a single serving--two extra-large local eggs and one leek and one local Roma tomato and just used one slice of toast. I have another leek in my veggie drawer and if it doesn't find its way into the soup pot, I'll happily make this again tonight.  


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 "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir" was provided to me by the publisher 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.