Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger with Green Goddess Avocado Spread on Toast

"They weren't family, weren't the same age, or in remotely the same circumstances. They weren't colleagues either. But when Holly spent time with Vivian, she felt she was in the presence of a spirit akin to her own. They shared a peculiar mix of sentimentality and cynicism, as well as a mutual love of avocados.

--"The Virtues of Oxygen" by Susan Schoenberger

Publisher's Blurb:

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

The Virtues of Oxygen is a beautiful and poignant book about friendship, family, and when friends become your family. I liked that it had depth beyond a typical women's fiction story of small town life and friendship. Holly and Vivian are both resilient characters who are trapped in different ways--Holly by her financial obligations and trying to keep a roof over her family's head, and Vivian by the iron lung machine that has kept her alive for 57-years, since the age of six when she contracted polio. The story is told mostly from Holly's point of view with Vivian's perspective and the history of her life given through her 'podcasts'--part of her online presence and a way she interacts with the world. It's interesting that technology, the thing that has helped Vivian open up her enclosed world, is the same thing that is making the town slowly crumble in the recession and moving Holly's newspaper job toward obsolete. I found Vivian's history and point of view fascinating. In the acknowledgements, the author writes of an article she read back in 2009 about a woman, Martha Mason, who contracted polio at age eleven and lived seventy years in an iron lung, and Vivian emerged from that article and Mason's autobiography, 'Breath,' that I have now downloaded onto my Kindle. (As well as Schoenberger's first novel A Watershed Year--to explore more of her writing.) My only complaint about this book was how quickly the pages went by as I found myself sorry to see the story end, I wanted to spend more time in the town of Bertram Corners and with these characters. 

Author Notes: Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three   children. Connect with Susan at her website,

For my dish inspired by the book, I chose to go with avocados because of the shared love Holly and Vivian have for them. I too am an avocado lover and eat them regularly. Avocado toast is a common snack/meal for me--virtually any time of the day. Usually I keep it simple with just good bread, half of an avocado, a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a light sprinkling of Tabasco. Wanting something a little different and special to accompany this book review, I came across an Ellie Krieger recipe at for a Avocado Green Goddess Dip. Being a fan of Green Goddess dressing, it seemed like a great match for the avocado, as well as a nod to Vivian and Holly, two strong and admirable women. 

To keep it chunky for optimum spreading, as well as dairy-free, I made a few small changes, noted in red below.  

Green Goddess Avocado Spread
Adapted from Ellie Krieger for
(Makes about 1 1/3 Cups)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted and peeled (I used 2 small avocados)
2 scallions (both green and white parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk (omitted)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp sliced fresh chives
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

(I added 1 Tbsp lime juice) 
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (Note: As I wanted a chunkier texture and had two small avocados, I put one avocado in with the herbs, vinegar and lime juice and processed it until smooth. I then added the second avocado (chopped) and pulsed it several times so that it was still slightly chunky in texture.) 

Notes/Results: Creamy and herby with a nice bit of tang from the vinegar and lemon, this is a tasty spread--especially when slathered on a toasted piece of garlic bread. I liked the chunky texture which made it very satisfying. Although I show a knife and fork in the photos, it is best just picked up by hand and enjoyed. I will make this again. 

Note: A review copy of "The Virtues of Oxygen" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.  


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nigella's Happiness Soup: Yellow Squash, Rice (& Lentils) for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Can you find happiness in a bowl of soup? Nigella Lawson's Happiness Soup is a good place to start looking. A bright sunny hue of yellow squash, basmati rice, turmeric and lemon to which I added some split yellow peas to make it more substantial. It's a happy summer hug in a bowl. 

Nigella says, "Forgive the tweeness of the title, but this is a soup of such sunny, mood-enhancing yellowness that it overcomes even the most pervasively innate cynicism. To eat this is to feel cheered; even cooking it gives me a lift. It's incredibly easy to make, but that's not the clincher. This golden broth, rice-thickened and studded with a confetti dice of yellow courgettes and sprightly with lemon is pure joy. You only have to see it to believe it. And not surprisingly in some Middle-Eastern cultures, it is believed, in Claudia Roden's words, that 'eating yellow foods will result in laughter and happiness'. This, then, is a yellow soup to banish the blues."

Happiness Soup 
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson
(Serves 4-6)

500g/ roughly 18oz yellow zucchini/courgettes (2 large) 
(I added one diced sweet Maui onion) 
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil (see my notes above regarding this)
1 tsp turmeric (see above also)
1 litre/ 4 cups chicken stock (I used 6 cups veggie mock chicken stock)
(I added 1/2 cup split yellow lentil/peas) 
115g/ 4oz basmati rice
Maldon or other sea salt & pepper

Wash and cut the unpeeled squash into very thin rings, and then dice them finely. Put them into the pan with the lemon zest and oil. (I started the onions first, cooked them for a few minutes and then added the other items.) Stir to coat, then cook on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly softened.  

Stir in the turmeric and pour in the stock and lemon juice and then drop in the rice (I added the yellow lentils at this point.) Cook, uncovered, for 2--25 minutes or until the squash, lentils and rice are tender. Taste for seasoning. Leave to cool slightly before serving so that you eat the soup warm rather than piping hot.

Notes/Results: A pleasing, thick and satisfying soup with bright lemony notes. You can't help being in a good mood looking at it. I liked the addition of the lentils to the mix to add some protein and the sweet local onion I added for more flavor. With the addition of the lentils, I added an extra two cups of broth but between the rice and the lentils, this soup sucks up a lot--if you want a brothier bowl, have more on hand to thin it out especially after it sits. A good soup for a summer evening, I would make it again. 

This coming week is Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the opportunity to cook any Nigel Slater dish or a recipe from any previous IHCC chef like Nigella Lawson. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links once the post goes live.

We have a couple of good friends with salads awaiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look.

Janet of The Taste Space shares this Creamy Curried Lentil Salad and says, "...itching to make something new, I decided to make a spin on two of my other favourite salads, aka The Best Lentil Salad and The Best Chickpea Salad. This time, I used lentils, capers and currants but with a dressing more similar to the tahini-maple-curry dressing from the chickpea salad. I added some greens, too, which I like to add to lentil salads. It was so delicious, it barely lasted one meal. Got to love simple salads like this."

Joanne from yummyveg is back with Pasta Salad with Kiwi Dressing. She says, "Tangy, sharp, surprisingly creamy, sweet, all of these words describe the kiwi dressing I´ve used on my pasta salad. It might seem like a lot of salad dressing but I have to say I didn’t actually use all of it. The thing is the pasta absorbs it so I think half isn’t quite enough. Better too much than too little. The watercress provides a spicy contrast to the tartness of the kiwi and the beans make this a complete salad which can be eaten as a one bowl meal."

Thanks to Janet and Joanne for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grilled Opah with Lemon Compound Butter and Lemon & Garlic Zucchini with Mint & Feta

My favorite weeknight dinners are a piece of grilled local fish and a side salad or veggie. Something that can be thrown together quickly, is satisfying and tastes great. These two recipes adapted from Nigel Slater meet that criteria. The zucchini dish is uses fresh mint, lemon and garlic for optimum flavor--I added a bit of feta I had in the fridge for even more flavor. Local opah (moonfish) already has a rich buttery texture so the lemon compound butter enhances it and makes it a bit decadent.  

Nigel says, "Middle Eastern cooking is flecked with the cool pepperiness of fresh mint. Italian, and especially Sicilian, cooks include mint with zucchini, often in tandem with garlic and lemon. I find mint invigorating with all summer squashes and often make a dish where they (pattypan is particularly suitable) are cooked in olive oil with mint and the merest hint of garlic. It is very good with grilled fish."  

Lemon and Garlic Zucchini with Mint & Feta
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater
(Serves 1-2)

small zucchini (14 oz)
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil (I used 2 Tbsp)
a good handful of mint leaves
a small handful of flat-leaf parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon
sea slat and black pepper to taste
(I added crumbled feta--about 2 Tbsp)

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and slice. Peel the garlic and coarsely chop it. Warm the olive oil in a shallow pan. Add the chopped garlic, let it fry for a minute over medium heat, then add the zucchini. Let them cook in the oil, turning them occasionally, until they are lightly golden and tender. Add the whole mint leaves and parsley leaves . Increase the heat, pour in the lemon juice, and let it bubble briefly. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Crumble over some feta.

Lemon Compound Butter
Adapted from "A Simple Sole" --Notes from the Larder by Nigel Slater
(Serves 2)

"I grate the zest of a small lime lemon into about 3 tablespoons of butter, mash in the juice (easiest to do when the butter isn't too cold), then fry the fillets in a little oil in a non-stick pan. Then I serve it with the butter melted on top.

Notes/Results: This was a fabulous dinner for a summer night. I loved the flavors in the zucchini dish--especially with the added feta. Next time I might throw on some pine nuts. Portion wise, Nigel says it serves two and I didn't weigh my zucchini, but I would consider it medium and felt like it would not be enough to feed two people--so if making for more than a single serving I would use more zucchini. (It looks deceptive in the picture because I used a salad-size plate.) The lemon compound butter was from a simple sole dinner recipe in Nigel's notes. Since I didn't have a lime on hand, I used lemon which went well with the side dish anyway. You could do this with any fish and it would be great. I will definitely make both of these again.  

It's Zest It Up! week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see the of the citrus dishes the participants made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Desire Lines" by Christina Baker Kline and Sesame Bagels with Homemade Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread

Desire lines--"Strictly speaking, it's a landscape-architecture term for the paths people create when they cut across the grass instead of taking a prescribed route--people who follow their desires, if you want to be literal."  In Desire Lines, a novel by Christina Baker Kline, they represent the paths we take in life, or the paths we find ourselves on. In Kathryn's case, she finds herself lost and aimless in her failed marriage and unsatisfying career. She heads back to Bangor, Maine, where she grew up and where her life stalled with the disappearance of her best friend Jennifer on graduation night back in 1986. Tasked with writing an article for the local paper to coincide with the 10-year class reunion and Jennifer's disappearance, Kathryn looks for answers and tries to find herself along the way. 

Publisher's Blurb:

On the night of her high school graduation, Kathryn Campbell sits around a bonfire with her four closest friends, including the beautiful but erratic Jennifer. “I’ll be fine,” Jennifer says, as she walks away from the dying embers and towards the darkness of the woods. She never comes back.

Ten years later, Kathryn has tried to build a life for herself, with a marriage and a career as a journalist, but she still feels the conspicuous void of Jennifer’s disappearance. When her divorce sends her reeling back to the Maine town where she grew up, she finds herself plunged into a sea of memories. With nothing left to lose, she is determined to answer one simple question: What happened to Jennifer Pelletier?

Paperback: 384 pages 
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 12, 2014)

This is my second Christina Baker Kline book, (you can read my Book Tour review of Sweet Water here--along with the recipe some tasty Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade.) I liked the characters, especially Kathryn (although at times I wanted to shake her), and her high school friend and currently developing romantic interest Jack. The family dynamics between Kathryn, her divorced parents, grandmother, and dad's second wife seemed realistic. I related to the high school in the 80's flashbacks--the music, the times, and the author's description of the reunion reminded me of my own 10-year. "Age and experience are recorded differently on each face--some are fleshier, some fit, some shockingly older, some virtually unchanged." The book has enough of a mystery to have me change my mind several times on who was responsible for Jennifer's disappearance while wondering who knew what, and what actually happened to her. In the end the mystery isn't completely wrapped up but it was satisfying enough.There were a few suspenseful moments but the story unfurls itself slowly, in small bits and is more on the relationships--friends and family, Kathryn's self discovery, and her realization that she  doesn't know her friends as well as she thought she did--everyone has some secrets that they hide. Overall an easy and enjoyable read for a summer weekend.

Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine. The author of five novels, including the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, Kline has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Fordham. She lives outside of New York City.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

There is food mentioned in the book--vegetable lasagna, mussels and salad, curried chicken salad and cold artichokes, pizza, banana-walnut pancakes with maple syrup, cold cereal and frozen pot pies, dinner at an Italian restaurant with 'meatballs the size of tennis balls' and a bagel shop with bialys and an oddly appealing matzoh-ball pea soup. Blueberries, a popular Maine fruit, were mentioned a few times--trains 'carrying potatoes from Fort Kent and blueberries from Cherryfield,' Blueberry lager, and a blueberry-filled jelly doughnut. While trying to come up with an angle to start the story, Kathryn finds herself at the Bagel Shop with a cup of coffee and a sesame bagel with blueberry cream cheese, and that's what I decided to make as my dish inspired by the book. A big puffy toasted sesame seed bagel slathered with homemade Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread is a great way to start a summer morning. I like the combination of lemon and blueberry so I added lemon juice and zest and a touch of good maple syrup to sweeten things up.  

Blueberry Cream Cheese Spread
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 1/4 Cups)

1/2  cup fresh blueberries + extra to garnish
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 Tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener (optional)
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Rinse and drain blueberries, making sure to remove any stems/dried leaves. Place blueberries into a small saucepan and add the maple syrup, lemon zest and juice. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes or until berries have softened. Remove from the heat and cool completely. (You can also put them into the fridge to cool faster.)

Place the cream cheese into a mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, slowly add in the berries a bit at a time until thoroughly mixed into cream cheese--scraping down the bowl to make sure it is all mixed in. Add as much of the berry liquid as needed to maintain a good creamy, spreadable consistency. I like to have it slightly 'chunky' with bits of berry but you can process it until it is the consistency you like. Leftover berries and liquid are good on ice cream or on top of yogurt.

Place in serving dish and refrigerate, covered, until firm or until needed. Garnish with extra blueberries. Spread on toasted bagels and enjoy. 

Notes/Results: Gorgeously purple and studded with little chunks of blueberries, this is a creamy and indulgent bagel spread. If you want a smoother spread and/or don't have fresh blueberries, you could sub in a good blueberry jam. The lemon brightens things up a bit and depending on how sweet your berries are and how sweet you like your spreads, you can omit the maple syrup or adjust it to your taste. Simple to throw together and more flavor than the store-bought variety, it's worth the small amount of time and effort. I would make it again.   

Note: A review copy of "Desire Lines" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Potato and Parsley Soup with Herb-Caper Pesto: Storm-Worthy for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

It's been a crazy week with potential hurricanes Iselle and Julio looming over the islands. Besides stocking in supplies, making sure the 'hatches were battened down' around the house and making sure that work projects that needed to be out by Friday were emailed, there was cuing up the weekend blog posts just in case the power went out--something that seemed quite likely. Lucky for us, although Iselle lashed out at The Big Island and then at Maui--causing power outages and damages from winds and rain, she tuckered out before hitting Oahu and it certainly could have been much, much worse where she hit. Julio moved north of the islands and although they thought we might get wind and rain, so far it has been sunny and clear. Thanks to everyone who Tweeted, emailed, Facebooked, and/or texted their positive thoughts and concern. A few days of stress and a sleepless Thursday night waiting for something to happen and listening to the winds and rain are all minor and I feel very blessed to have such good friends and family who care. 

It was a good time for a hearty, warming, comforting soups. When I think of comfort soups, potato soup always comes to mind. Simple, creamy, nourishing and a bit soul-filling as well. This week I picked Nigel Slater's Parsley and Potato Soup which he had topped with sauteed garlic mushrooms. The mushrooms looked fabulous but I had a slightly different topping in mind that felt a little less fall/winter--a variation of a favorite Nigel Basil-Caper Pesto that I keep making since I tried it with pasta last month. I thought that the tangy capers and white wine vinegar combined with the herbs would go well with the simple soup. It seemed like a better topping to accent a cold potato soup too--in case the power went out. I wanted to use up a selection of herbs I had on hand--basil, tarragon, parsley and dill, so I adapted Nigel's recipe slightly--noted below.

Served with baguette (when better to carb load than during a storm?) ;-) and some Cotswold cheese (similar to a cheddar cheese and with onion and chives and recommended by the lady at the cheese counter at my local specialty foods store), it made for an easy, satisfying dinner.  

Potato and Parsley Soup with Herb-Caper Pesto
Adapted from Nigel Slater via
(Serves 4

750g (2.25 lbs) floury potatoes
2 cloves of garlic
a large rib of celery

(I added 3 cups of veggie broth)
2 bay leaves
8 stems of flat-leaf parsley

Herb-Caper Pesto to garnish (recipe below)

Peel the potatoes, dice them, then put them into a saucepan. Peel and chop the garlic, roughly chop the celery, then add them to the potatoes and pour in enough water to cover. Drop in the bay leaves. Remove the parsley leaves and set aside.

Add the stalks to the pan with half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a lively simmer and cook for 15 or 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft and on the verge of collapse.

Chop the parsley leaves. Pour the potatoes and their cooking water into a blender or food processor, add the parsley leaves and blitz till smooth. Take care not to over-blend as it can send the mixture gluey. I do it in short bursts. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as you think fit.

Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, melt the butter in a shallow pan, add the peeled and crushed garlic, then cook them till nicely coloured and sizzling. Season. Chop the parsley leaves and stir into the mushrooms.

Warm the soup thoroughly – until piping hot – then ladle into four bowls. Top with a spoonful of the Herb-Caper Pesto below. 

Herb-Caper Pesto
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Notes From the Larder
(Makes about a cup)

Take a couple of good couple of handfuls of basil (and other herbs--I used basil, parsley, tarragon and dill) , a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of capers, pureed with enough olive oil to make a thick pouring consistency. Stir some salt and pepper to taste. 

Notes/Results: Just a homey soup with great flavor and a pretty green color. I made a half batch-ish in case storage became a problem and it made three good-sized bowls. The soup is mild--I used veggie broth for a richer flavor--so the topping really sets it off and makes it more interesting. I liked the addition of the other herbs to the caper-basil pesto. I had been making it just with basil but the tarragon and dill make it a bit more complex. If you like Vichyssoise, this soup works well cold too. I would make it again and I know I will continue making the pesto. Love those capers. ;-)

This week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is "Moreish Meals"--Nigel Slater dishes that you want more than one serving of. Both the soup and the pesto fit that category well. You can see what the other participants wanted more of by checking out the picture links on the post.

If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my sidebar for all of the details.  

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Sweet Water' by Christina Baker Kline with a Summer-Perfect Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade

Packing up her unsatisfying life in New York City, Cassie moves to Sweetwater, Tennessee after she is left a house and land from her grandfather. Cassie doesn't know this part of her family, having been taken away by her father after her mother's death when she was a small child. Looking for both a chance to start over, and to learn more about her mother, the circumstances of her death, and her grandfather's role in it, Cassie is soon embroiled in family drama and dark secrets in today's TLC Book Tour stop, Sweet Water, a novel by Christina Baker Kline.

Publisher's Blurb:

"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train comes a novel about buried secrets and the redemptive power of forgiveness

Cassie Simon is a struggling artist living in New York City. When she receives a call from a magistrate telling her she has inherited sixty acres of land in Sweetwater, Tennessee, from her grandfather, whom she never knew, she takes it as a sign: it’s time for a change. She moves to the small Southern town where her mother, Ellen, grew up—and where she died tragically when Cassie was three.

From the moment she arrives in Sweetwater, Cassie is overwhelmed by the indelible mark her mother’s memory left behind. As she delves into the thicket of mystery that surrounds her mother’s death, Cassie begins to discover the desperate measures of which the human heart is capable."

Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint Edition (July 1, 2014)

I was not very familiar with Christina Baker Kline although I had heard good things about her novel Orphan Train. I signed up to be on the TLC Blog Tours for her first four books (being reissued after the success of Orphan Train), based on the descriptions alone--a bit of a risk if I ended up not liking her writing style I suppose. Sweet Water is her first novel, originally published 1993. The story alternates between Cassie and her grandmother Clyde with Clyde's sections going between present day and glimpses from the past. I found Clyde difficult to like--she definitely isn't what comes to mind when you think of a grandmother. As her story unfolds you begin to understand the reasons behind her brittleness and feel some sympathy for her, but her actions make it difficult. I did find that her parts of the storytelling were the most absorbing however, as it is where the secrets are unraveled bit by bit. Cassie is likeable, although at times lacking in maturity and making some questionable decisions--particularly when it comes to her romantic life. I don't want to go into the details of the romance too much--for me it felt out of place, and the family dynamics and drama were interesting enough without the added complication. There is plenty of family drama to be found--with Cassie, Clyde, and the rest of the family--her aunt, uncle, their spouses and children. There is suspicion and some resentment of Cassie for being favored by the inheritance, and past resentments of her mother's favored place in the family. 

Baker Kline writes beautifully, painting pictures with her words. "Later what I remembered most was the sky, the way yellow and violet overlapped like layers of frosting on a slice of birthday cake, the way the sun slipped behind and in front of clouds, gold-tipping them like illuminated manuscripts as the violet turned to purple and the yellow deepened. By the time I went inside, the sky resembled a ripe bruise, the blood beneath it drawn up close to the surface." I could picture the details in my mind--the house, Cassie's sculptures, the town and countryside, and that is what I liked best about this novel. Least liked--I found the ending somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying. Although the major secrets come out and things seem on track to being resolved, it felt like it was missing something. Still, overall, Sweet Water kept me interested and would be a good read for fans of women's fiction, family dramas and secrets, and self-discovery. 

Author Notes: Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine. The author of five novels, including the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, Kline has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Fordham. She lives outside of New York City. Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Being a family drama set in the south, there is food in the novel--casseroles, turkey, coleslaw, creamed corn, cornbread, green beans, home-canned veggies, pound cake, and plenty of iced tea and lemonade to wash it all down. I love homemade lemonade, particularly lemonades infused with herbs. I am particularly attached to tarragon lately so I was set on making a tarragon-infused lemonade. Then I came across a recipe for Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade from Bon Appetit. Cassie mentions drinking gin and tonics--made up mostly of gin, in college, saying that "The gin helped me see everything with incredible clarity..." Having all of the ingredients needed to make the cocktail and loving any excuse to "muddle"--I knew this drink was what I wanted to make to represent the book. (Plus it goes so beautifully with the cover!) ;-)

Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade
Recipe from Alison Roman, via Bon Appetit, June 2013
(Makes 6 Servings)

10 large sprigs tarragon
2 lemons, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup gin
3/4 cup St-Germain (elderflower liqueur)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 (12 oz) can club soda

Muddle tarragon sprigs, lemon slices, and sugar in a large pitcher. Add gin, St-Germain, lemon juice, and club soda. Add ice and stir to combine. Serve over ice.   

Notes/Results: A delightful summertime sipper--crisp, slightly sweet, refreshing with the tangy lemon, the anise notes of the tarragon. A little sophisticated with the slightly floral elderflower liqueur and the piney notes of the gin. Definitely easy to drink and perfect for a humid afternoon or evening outside. I will make this again.

Note: A review copy of "Sweet Water" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here. 

Happy Aloha Friday! Keep your fingers crossed for the State of Hawaii as we are facing 2 hurricanes/tropical storms in the next few days. This post is scheduled to go just in case I end up without power this weekend. Here's hoping everyone gets through it intact. I'll keep you posted as I am able. ;-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Help for the Haunted" by John Searles with Cherry-Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches

A late night call is usually not a good thing. For Sylvie Mason, it is a somewhat common occurrence-- usually a potential client calling for the "help for the haunted" her parents provide out of their basement. This night is different as the call is from her sister, gone from home for 3-days and telling Sylvie's parents that if they want to talk, they need to meet her at a church. Sylvie's parents don't come out of that church alive and this particular late night call becomes a terrible, life changing event for Sylvie. Today's TLC Book Tour review and recipe stop is Help for the Haunted, a creepy and compelling novel by John Searles. 

Publisher's Blurb:

"Sylvie Mason’s parents have an unusual occupation: helping “haunted souls” find peace. After receiving a phone call late one snowy night, they are lured to an old church on the outskirts of town, where Sylvie falls asleep in the car and is awoken by the sound of gunshots.

Orphaned on that night, Sylvie comes under the care of her reckless, distant older sister, still living in the rambling Tudor house that guards the relics of her parents’ past. As she pursues the mystery of their deaths, Sylvie’s story weaves back and forth between the time leading up to the murders and the months following, uncovering the truth of what happened that night—and the secrets that have haunted her family for years."

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 15, 2014)

 "If there is good, there is bad. If you believe in one, you must accept the existence of the other.”

While not completely scary--this book has a definite creepy vibe. (If there happens to be an old Raggedy Ann doll sitting in your house, I recommend locking it up somewhere--especially while reading this book.) I watched the paranormal movie The Conjuring a few months ago, about a real-life couple who were paranormal investigators--Ed and Lorraine Warren (best know for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case). Searles grew up in the same town as the Warren's and they were an inspiration for Sylvie's parents. Searles doesn't ask the reader to believe in the supernatural but he certainly makes you wonder like Sylvie does about what is real and what is not. Sylvie isn't sure what to believe about her parents, their abilities and the paranormal world and Searles brings us along on that journey with her. She is a great character who feels very real, loyal, loving and I wanted her to have a better lot in life than what she had been given. From her parents, to her sister, her uncle, and the various adults involved in her life, most everyone is selfish and not looking out for her welfare above their own interests and that is sad. It makes the connection to Sylvie's character strong but it's hard to connect to anyone else, especially her older sister, Rose. Overall, Searles crafts a well-written story with plenty of twists, turns and misdirections in the plot. A little frustrating at times but the guessing and trying to put it all together made this book an absorbing read for me and made the 400 pages pass quickly. Help for the Haunted is a bit of a mix--mystery, family drama with a bit of paranormal thriller thrown in. If you like your fiction entertaining, with an overlying feeling of dread and anticipation, you'll like this book.  

Author Notes: John Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He frequently appears as a book critic on NBC’s Today show and CBS’s The Early Show. He is the Editor-at-Large of Cosmopolitan. His essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other national newspapers and magazines. He lives in New York City and can be found on Facebook and also on Twitter: @searlesbooks.

Food is not in the forefront of this book, Sylvie isn't exactly being nourished in the care of her sister saying, "Rose refuses to bother with grocery shopping except when Cora is scheduled to come by with her clipboard. Most nights, we eat Popsicles for dinner. Potato chips for breakfast. Mayonnaise smeared on bread in the middle of the night." Sylvie's counselor Arnold Boshoff likes to read cookbooks at night when he has trouble sleeping and flashbacks of Sylvie's mother have her cooking meals for the family like pot roast, vegetable lasagna and Lady Baltimore cake. With Rose away, Sylvie, her parents and Abigail, the girl they are trying to help spend the summer evenings getting ice cream and swimming at a local pond. I took my inspiration from the Popsicles-- Sylvie finds the cherry ones to be "the best kind" and the chocolate ice cream, making a vanilla ice cream studded with fresh cherries and mini-chocolate chips. Sandwiched between small, thin wafer cookies they are as portable as a Popsicle but a bit more fun. 

Cherry-Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 12)

2 cups plain Greek yogurt of choice
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup or sweetener of choice
1 tsp vanilla
tiny pinch salt
1 cup pitted cherries, diced (fresh or frozen), chopped
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips + extra for garnish

24 chocolate wafer cookies 

In an ice cream machine combine yogurt, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Churn according to ice cream maker instructions.  Once it is mostly frozen, add the cherries and chocolate and combine for another minute or two until ingredients are well-mixed. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze about 30-45 minutes until firm but scoopable/pressable.  

Place six wafer cookies (upside down) on a plate covered with wax paper. Place a small scoop of frozen yogurt on top of cookie and sandwich with second cookie, pressing gently together. Role the edges in mini chocolate chips to garnish and freeze about 30 minutes to set up. (Note: If the fro-yo becomes too soft, refreeze until firmer and not mush.) Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Just a simple but tasty little ice cream/fro-yo sandwich. I like that these little wafer cookies (the kind you use to make icebox cake), are small--good portion control unless you eat a bunch. ;-) The yogurt adds a nice tangy element to the sweet bing cherries and the tiny chocolate chips. It's plenty good on its own if you don't want to bother with the sandwiching. A fun summer treat for a suspenseful and enjoyable book. I would make them again. 

Note: A review copy of "Help for the Haunted" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here

Special Offer / Cool Opportunity for Book Clubs: John Searles has a goal to talk to a book club in every state. Book clubs that sign up to chat with John Searles about Help for the Haunted could win a tote bag of books for each member of their book club. Find out more details about John Searles’ goal to speak to a book club in each state of the United States over at Book Club Girl.