Our Summer 2012 Cook the Books Selection: Death by Darjeeling

22 06 2012

Our summer book selection here at Cook the Books is the first novel in author Laura Childs’ Teashop Mystery series, Death by Darjeeling. This delightful mystery series is set in Charleston, South Carolina and features tea shop owner Theodosia Browning, who left the high-pressure world of advertising to open the Indigo Tea Shop, where she and her knowledgeable staff serve and educate customers about how to properly brew and serve hundreds of varieties of teas. When Theodosia and her staff cater a historic homes garden party, one of the guests is found murdered, by a poison in his tea cup! It is up to our intrepid heroine to sleuth out the real murderer to protect her business reputation and avoid having her and her tea shop employees considered as criminal suspects.


Our featured author, Laura Childs, has graciously agreed to serve as our judge for this round, which ends July 30, 2012. In addition, she has also offered to send a copy of her latest installment in the Tea Shop Mystery series, Agony in the Leaves, the thirteenth novel so far, to our Cook the Books winner, who will also receive the coveted Cook the Books winner’s badge for their blog.

Since 2008, when Cook the Books was first started by me, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, we have read and cooked from 21 great books, ranging from chef memoirs to literary fiction to collections of food essays. Somehow, though, we have not dug into a culinary mystery, so I thought it would be fun to dive into this Tea Shop Mystery series. This book also gives us the opportunity to try out some new teas, tea-flavored goodies and tea-time treats, so break out your lace tablecloths, dust off your best china and let’s have a tea party with Theodosia and Company this summer!

To join in the fun, all you need to do is buy or borrow a copy of Death by Darjeeling, cook something in your kitchen inspired by the book and then blog about it. You can leave a comment below to let me know that you have written your post or email me at infoat oldSaraTogabooks dotcom. I have already received two mouthwatering (and fun to read!) submissions, so I am looking forward to receiving others in the coming weeks for a lovely tea-infused roundup. We especially welcome new people to join our band of regular Cook the Book readers.





A Posse of Outlaw Cooks Heads for the Roundup

24 01 2012

Our December/January book selection here at Cook the Books was John and Matt Lewis Thorne’s collection of essays, Outlaw Cook, a book your host has found very good reading indeed and was delighted to share with this merry band of blogging cooks. Though some of our regular book club participants found their holiday schedules were too crammed for reading (the horror!) and others found the book difficult to obtain in time for our deadline, an intrepid posse of outlaw cooks wrote up reviews of various chapters in the book and I think they were all marvelous.

First up is a new Cook the Books entrant, Julie of Cookbook Fetish, who was taken with Thorne’s review of artist Claude Monet’s cooking journals.  She enjoyed our featured authors’ “bubbling loquaciousness” and delved further into research about Monet’s culinary interests and Belle Epoque continental cuisine. She was inspired to cook up a Chicken Chasseur. As she notes, “the recipe turned out wonderful, meat sliding from the bone slathered in a buttery mushroomy tomato sauce.”  Welcome to Cook the Books, Julie!


Next we have Eliot’s Eats thoughtful post about various components of the Thorne food philosophy, (“one couldn’t have too many recipes”, and that cooking and experimenting with recipes is a way of enriching one’s life more so than the finished product). She particularly enjoyed the essay about the traditional English plowman’s lunch and incorporated three of the main ingredients, brew, onion, and cheese into a quick bread. As the English would say, Brilliant!


As an avid garlic eater and gardener,  Rachel, The Crispy Cook,  was taken with the chapter on exploration varieties of garlic soup.  I made an herb-infused garlic broth that was wonderfully restorative after a day out shoveling and battling the winter elements.


Simona of Briciole, enjoyed ruminating over the Outlaw Cook chapter on Ful Medames, the popular Egyptian fava bean dish. She made use of some lovely-looking locally grown dried favas and mixed them with green lentils, olive oil, and plenty of aromatics to create a great variation on this traditional recipe.  An Egyptian Plowman’s Lunch below?

My fellow Cook the Books founder and co-host, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, enjoyed discovering Thorne’s writing and described our featured book as one “to be savored, tucked into before bed, or revisited when a spark of inspiration is needed.”  She  was sparked up to whip up some Ful Medames, paired with a Cucumber, Lemon and Dill soup from the Outlaw Cook chapter “Soup without Stock”.

Our other CTB cofounder and cohost, Johanna of the Athens, Greece-based blog Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, enjoyed our featured book and was in agreement that “we should not be enslaved by recipes or food writers, but try to find our own voice in cooking”.  Johanna riffed away in the kitchen and produced a portabella mushroom pasta that was a tremendous hit with her husband. I would concur.

Our final submission is from Honey from Rock, Claudia’s Hawaiian blog. She enjoyed the book and notes that “There is so much here to inspire, encourage and challenge all of us who love to cook and to eat good food”. She loved the chapters on breadbaking, (be sure to check out a photo of her gorgeous outdoor bread oven back at her post), but ultimately settled on the chapter about Italian cooking before the tomato was introduced from the New World, entitled “Acetaria”. Thus inspired, Claudia made a sumptuous looking pan of Lasagna Cacciatora.

What a wonderful banquet of posts! I am sure that our guest judge, John Thorne, will enjoy reading our comments about the book and be interested to see what we all did as outlaws in our own kitchens. I’ll be back soon to announce the winner of this round of Cook the Books after Mr. Thorne gets back to me, but in the meantime you can all hunt down copies of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to get your juices flowing for the next installment in our book club reading.

Our 2012 Winter Reading: Outlaw Cook by John and Matt Lewis Thorne

13 01 2012

I wanted to check in and  remind everyone that the deadline for posting about our current Cook the Books selection, Outlaw Cook by John and Matt Lewis Thorne is January 23, 2012. I hope everyone is savoring this wonderful book as much I has have. As I was reading and re-reading it I found that I was bookmarking a lot of quotations for later reflection.  Here’s a few that caught my attention:

While researching and experimenting with the various ingredients of a classic plowman’s lunch (bread, cheese, onion, brew), Thorne notes:

“One of the differences between the universe of cooking as portrayed in beginner’s cookbooks and as we acquire it in real life is that the former knowledge progresses in an orderly fashion, while in real life it arrives in unique chunks of experience…and in no particular order. In this regard, it is more like doing a jigsaw puzzle: putting your hand on just the right piece can link several other unconnected-seeming pieces together into a coherent pattern.” (pp. 38-39)

That’s how I experienced learning how to cook. I had read a lot of cookbooks and jotted down a bunch of recipes when I was a teenager, but didn’t really translate all that theoretical knowledge into reliably delicious, or even edible, meals until I had to cook my own meals as a young adult.

Here’s another Thorne-y passage that really resonated with me.  Thorne notes that he does not consider himself to be a good cook, as defined by being able to whip out a range of complicated dishes with great skill.  However, he does not consider himself to be the opposite of a good cook, or a “capon”:

“…one of those armchair appetites who lovingly detail dishes they’ve conned their wives into confecting)…Why do I write about food at all if I’m not an expert in the art of good cooking, nor do I want my readers to be? Because I think you don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” (p. 78)


In a wonderful essay on cooking with microwave ovens and food processors, “Cuisine Mecanique”, Thorne again grabbed me by the lapels with this bit of writing:

“Imagine wanting to take a whole afternoon to leisurely prepare supper–without food processor, microwave oven, or cookbook. To live, after all, is to experience things, and every time we mince an onion, lower the flame under a simmering pot, shape the idea and substance of a meal, we actually gain rather than lose lived time. Such minutes are not only full and rich in themselves, but they brush a lasting patina of lived experience onto our memory” (p. 353)

Such thoughtful prose has really made this book such a pleasure for me and I have been waiting to share this new-found favorite author with you all. I’m looking forward to your posts and I’m sure our Guest Judge, John Thorne, will be too.

Do you have any favorite passages from this book?

Want to be an Outlaw in Your Own Kitchen?

17 12 2011

I am hereby announcing our formal kick-off  for the next round of Cook the Books.  I (Rachel, The Crispy Cook) will be your host and hope you all will enjoy reading John and Matt Lewis Thorne’s book “Outlaw Cook” as much as I have.  My friend Myra has been a fan of  Thorne’s food writing for many years and when I finally got my hands on a copy of “Outlaw Cook” last year it went right to the top of my teetering bedside pile. I have been reading and re-reading bits of this collection of food writing ever since and am so pleased to share it with you all in our online book club.

John Thorne has graciously agreed to serve as our Guest Judge for this round, which will end January 23, 2012.  From now until then, anyone is welcome to join in the fun by reading the book and then posting up your thoughts about it and any dish (or two) that you may be inspired to cook up. Let me know that your post is live by leaving a comment below or by sending me an email at oldsaratogabooks AT gmail dOTcom.

I hope that everyone finds some time to relax and read during this busy holiday season.

-Rachel, The Crispy Cook

(Extra Crispy this time of year!)



Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: A Cook the Books Roundup

26 07 2011

Summer in the northern hemisphere is prime gardening season and it is also a great time to loll about with a novel in hand, so reading Sarah Addison Allen’s novel, Garden Spells, seemed to hit just the right chords with the participants in this round of Cook the Books. Most readers really got into using flowers and herbs in our cooking and using food ingredients to invoke certain reactions and I think we all had a lot of fun reading and cooking and writing this time around.

We have a couple of first time CTB entrants, and I would like to extend a hearty welcome to them. The more the merrier in these interpretations of our selected foodie book selections and so first off I will present our newbies to you all:

Elizabeth is the force behind The Law Student’s Cookbook, which chronicles her adventures in her California kitchen when she is not reading constitutional law textbooks.  She notes that the main character in our book, Claire, the caterer, made up a batch of cinnamon rolls in one chapter and Elizabeth knew that Claire probably would have thrown in some of her garden herbs for flavoring and magical attributes so she spiked her batch of cinnamon rolls with Lemon Verbena.

Also joining us for the first time at Cook the Books is Danielle, The Growing Foodie, who revels in her love for reading and cooking.   She made up a batch of Fresh Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Rose Topping and served this sassy and romantic dessert to her favorite Boston bachelor.

Another welcome is extended to Maria from A Platter of Figs, who made a delicious looking Lemon Lavender Bread. Maria loved learning about the alchemy of food and herbs in this novel and sought to brighten up the clarifying effects of the lavender with the lemon in this moist and fragrant tea bread.

We can all thank Heather the Girlichef for the nudge to pick this great novel for our June/July CTB selection.  (Thanks Heather!)  For her re-reading of Garden Spells, Heather was inspired to make a technicolor Fruit and Grains Salad with Edible Flowers and Strawberry Vinaigrette. You can also check out an earlier post Heather wrote about this book and cooking with marigolds. Spectacular!

A Voluptuous Veal Piccata was on Arlene’s dinner table over at the Food of Love.  Arlene notes that capers have long been noted for their aphrodisiac powers and so she liberally added them to her dish. A tasty and sexy looking offering indeed. I think Claire would approve.

English transplant Foodycat showed off a lovely photo of her own backyard apple tree in her blog post -unlike the tree in our featured novel, it does not fling apples or show people ominous events in their lives- and used her own rosebush petals to crystallise and garnish her Rosewater and Lime Pannacotta.

Rose geraniums are in the garden and on the menu at Texas-based Eliot’s Eats, in the form of Rose Geranium Sugar Cookies.  Eliot was inspired by a passage in Garden Spells about Claire’s magical Rose Geranium Wine, which has mystical powers of remembrance for those who imbibe.

Can’tbelieveweate’s weblog was captivated by the idea of using ingredients to achieve an emotional result and was transported into her own garden to use mint flowers for the first time in her “delightfully bright” Zucchini Carpaccio. Pass the fork!

At The Crispy Cook, I was taken with the character of Evanelle, Claire’s cousin who has the gift of providing people with strange little gifts which they will find the need for after a short time. I also learned that Bachelor Buttons, which are gorgeous little cobalt blue flowers, are edible, so I used them to garnish a simple summer salad of garden lettuce, radishes and raw asparagus.

There are more edible flowers in the post and recipe from Simona of Briciole, who used chive blossoms and sprigs of flowering lemon thyme in a rye bread recipe that was a great success.

Of my two fellow Cook the Books founders and co-hosts, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, enjoyed her rereading of this book and used some of the herbs she grows in her Honolulu garden to make a fragrant and luscious sounding Lemon Verbena Creme Brulee.  Just be careful when caramelizing the tops of your desserts if you use a kitchen torch, as Deb knowingly advises!

While on holiday, the other CTB cofounder and cohost, Johanna of the Athens, Greece-based blog Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, enjoyed our featured book and found it captivating.  She was inspired to make an old favorite with a new twist, Spaghetti and Meatballs with a splash of cumin, oregano and cinnamon. Sounds like a great variation!

Our final submission is from Honey from Rock, Claudia’s Hawaiian blog. She enjoyed “this little gem of a novel” and was pleasantly surprised to learn that chive blossoms are edible. She used the white flowers of her own garden-grown garlic chives and some dill to garnish a cold Russian/Estonian style borscht. Look at those gorgeous colors!

And now our guest judge, Jenna, of Literature and a Lens, is going to review these posts to pick a winner that strikes her fancy, so stay tuned to see who wins the fabulous Cook the Books Winner badge for her blog.  Thanks again to Heather, the Girlichef for recommending this great read and to Sarah Addison Allen for writing it!

The School of Essential Ingredients Roundup

1 08 2010

There were so many stunning and creative entries this time round for our reading of Erica Bauermeister’s novel “The School of Essential Ingredients”.  I am happy that so many other of my Cook the Books friends enjoyed reading this evocative book and found time (one the MOST essential ingredients) to think, write and cook about their impressions about it.  I always hold my breath when I select a book for our little band of readers, hoping that others will luxuriate in it as much as I have, and I was gratified to see so many other readers fall in love with this special novel and its characters.

Join me now in exploring our different reactions to Bauermeister’s writing and see how we all interpreted what we read into words and food:

The book’s Valentine’s Day fondue cooking lesson inspired Foodycat to break out her fondue pot and skewers and regale us with a nutmeg and kirchwasser-perfumed pot of hot molten cheese.  A perfect dish to inspire leaning in together and chatting with your cozy fondue partakers, as she notes.

It was fondue of a different stripe for Claudia of the Hawaii’an food blog, Honey from Rock.  She understood the lesson that using prime ingredients was one of The Essential Ingredients in cooking and taking care of our family and friends. She turned to her own tropical garden for the freshest fruit and even her own homegrown and processed chocolate (whoa!) for a Chocolate Fondue with Pineapple.

Joanne of  Eats Well With Others wrote a very funny post about the book, taking away the idea that “Everyone falls in love.  In some way. Or another.  With each other.  With themselves.  With the process of creating something from scratch and being able to say.  Here.  Yes.  I did this.”  Her take on this essential lesson was to make pasta from scratch, with Linguine with Zucchini, Capers, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Herbs.

Undaunted by sweltering temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Glennis of  Can’t Believe We Ate was motivated to recreate the Pasta with Bolognese Sauce that Tom makes in Bauermeister’s book.  A classic!

Tina, who lives  Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor, was taken with the passage in the book where young Lillian manages to pry her mother away from her over-obsessive reading with the smells, coolness and taste of a newly picked apple.  Tina’s ode to this book resulted in a Pork Tenderloin cooked with Apples.

This moment in the book when Lillian’s mother reconnects with her daughter was also a favorite bit of writing for Simona of Briciole.  A mention of mascarpone in another chapter of the novel inspired her to her to make a batch of this fresh cheese in her kitchen which she used in a gorgeous Crostata Con Crema al Mascarpone e Mirtilli, or Mascarpone and Blueberry Tart.

Let’s extend a hearty welcome to It’s A Food Life, who joins us for the first time at Cook the Books, and found our present book selection charming and provocative, and like others have mentioned in their CTB posts, found so many passages in the novel to be possibilities for kitchen inspiration.  Utimately, she decided upon making a sexy red wine reduction sauce for a romantic meal with her beloved, based on the passage in the book where one student bemoans the fact that his kitchen creation will be devoured all too soon:

They’ll eat it, he said, and then it will be gone.  That’s what makes it a gift, Lillian replied.”

Over at The Seventh Level of Boredom, thinking about our CTB book pick produced the Italian-inspired Thanksgiving turkey breast prepared by cooking students Antonia, a kitchen designer, and Isabelle, an older woman whose memory is starting to fail.  Beth Anne says she was captivated by the novel and really felt connections to the various characters.

My Athens, Greece-based Cook the Books cohost, Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, was also inspired by the Thanksgiving cooking class chapter, and made her own version of Stuffed Turkey.  Johanna found that reading our chosen book was the perfect bibliotherapy to help chase away some of the new mommy blues she is enduring, and we all wish her well in teaching her sweet baby girl to learn to sleep through the night soon.

Heather the Girlichef immersed herself inside our book pick and wrote a chapter of her own about falling in love with Mexican food and culture at an early age and finding the love of her life, who, as destiny would have it, was also from  Mexico.  It’s a magical and very personal bit of prose which finishes with a Pozole Rojo that she shared with her family and graciously with all of us.

Wendy, the brains behind Celiacs in the House, noted that she had been lucky enough to attend a writer’s workshop featuring Ms. Bauermeister and several other Seattle area food blogger/writers, and was delighted to read “The School of Essential Ingredients” anew.  She tackled a dinner of homemade gluten-free pasta with a garden-fresh sauce of homegrown tomatoes and zucchini.  How luscious is that!

My CTB cohost Deb, of the Hawaiian-based blog Kahakai Kitchen was inspired to create a dinner for Isabelle, one of the cooking club participants in Bauermeister’s novel, who is gradually suffering memory loss and shows up at the restaurant on the wrong night, when the restaurant is open.  Our heroine Lillian takes it in stride and seats her to dine on salmon over cannellini beans with some fried sage and a lemony tart for dessert.

Natashya, the mastermind behind Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, enjoyed this “magical” book and found herself ruminating about the lives of the characters in it.  When her husband showed up at home bearing two flats of fresh figs for his muse, she whipped this sensuous, book-inspired dish:  Baked Figs with Grand Marnier and Whipped Cream.   Love that sexy, anthropomorphic food photo!

We were joined by another first-time Cook the Books participant, Daphne, the Food Junkie from Texas, who showcases a lot of healthy food recipes on her delicious blog.  She took a break from being entirely a virtuous foodie (one must do so regularly, I say!) by whipping up a White on White Cake, the poignant metaphor in our novel about the longtime marriage between Carl and Helen.

Rounding things up is my own entry, an Eggplant Salad with Shallots, Lemon and Basil, (and the Essential Ingredient of Love) that I made to welcome home my hot, tired husband after a softball road trip.  The Crispy Cook really savored this book selection and was delighted to see that so many other blogger friends enjoyed the novel too.

What a splendid array of posts this was!  While no one dared attempt to cook up a pot of live crabs as I had hoped to see through a series of interesting blog photos, I think most all of the other food scenes in the book were represented here and it was a treat to see other interpretations of Bauermeister’s prose.

I would like to thank all of the bloggers who joined us this month in reading our delectable book pick and particularly welcome our first-time participants, It’s a Food Life and Food Junkie from Texas.   Welcome aboard!  I think we all have fun dipping into new books, especially ones that we might not have selected ourselves at the bookshop or library, and then using them for inspiration in the kitchen.

Thanks too to our featured author and guest judge, Erica Bauermeister, for agreeing to read through our musings.  I can’t wait to see what she thinks of all our thoughts.   I’ll be back with her judging comments as soon as I get them.  In the meantime, you can seek out a copy of our next two Cook the Books picks: Madhur Jaffrey’s memoir “Climbing the Mango Trees” and Bill Buford’s “Heat”, which will be hosted by my two dear CTB cohosts, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food.

**A little Cook the Books housekeeping note: I try to keep our “Books We’ve Read” tab above current so that first time participants can see what books we’ve dipped into and what other books are on the roster for future reading, so you can keep checking that.  Also, I add links to Cook the Books participants’ blogs once they participate at least twice in a Cook the Books roundup so let me know if I need to update this section with a link to your blog.