Lit Pairings – The Feather Thief

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, 20-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins – some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them – and escaped into the darkness.

I first heard about this book on the mystery book podcast Read or Dead. And although non-fiction really isn’t my thing, this bizarre true crime tale was just too intriguing not to read. It really has everything – history, the underground world of fly tying, the ultimate heist and so much more! I learned so much from this book and I think if you give it a chance you will too.

When I first decided to write about The Feather Thief I couldn’t for the life of me think how I was going to pair it with any type of food. However, like most of you, I am social distancing and finding myself with a lot more time than I’m used to. And yesterday I had fully fallen down the rabbit hole of social media. But, it was a good thing because I came across this really cool video about the Victorian Era delicacy Mock Turtle Soup. Now I know if you watch this video you won’t be saying to yourself “I’ve got to run right out and find a calf’s head to throw in a pot!” and I get you, but there are more up to date versions of Mock Turtle Soup. This one actually sounds quite delicious and most importantly right now comforting!

So if you are brave, and much more accurately bored enough to try either version of Mock Turtle Soup, drop me a line and let me know how it went!

Lit Pairings – Ina Garten

So as most of you probably know by now Ina Garten is my hero. Like for real! I love everything about her and her husband Jeffery. They are really who I want to be when I grow up. Ina and her husband love Paris and even have an apartment there. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, but haven’t made it YET!

As Spring approaches I can’t help but think of Paris and all the wonderful french inspired food Ina makes. To start my ultimate day in french cooking I would make Herbed-Baked Eggs served with a delicious piece of toasted french bread. For lunch I would have to make Croque Monsieur and serve it with a tossed green salad and a glass of crisp white wine. For dinner it would have to be Lemon Chicken with Croutons served with another bottle of white wine. Make sure you finish this day of feasting with a nice cheese plate, more wine and then a nice cup of decaf espresso.

Most of these recipes can be found in Ina’s cookbook Barefoot in Paris, but I think you’ll find all of her cookbooks are amazing and tend to have a hint of frenchness to them.

If you manage to make this dream day of recipes and aren’t too stuffed after, drop me a line and let me know how amazing it was!

Lit Pairings – City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Usually WWII books just aren’t my jam. I feel like unless you’re a history buff, once you’ve read a few books on the topic you’re good. But I found City of Thieves to be the exception. I’ve never read anything that explained how desperate things got in Leningrad during that time. It was a moving story that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

So how should I write a food related blog centered on a book about war and starvation? Probably a little like my post about The Hunger by Alma Katsu that focused on The Donner Party. Like the Donner Party, the people of Leningrad were rumored to have resorted to cannibalism, but instead of showing you another rib recipe I think we’ll go another route. In City of Thieves you were considered lucky if you could even get your hands on a onion! So, how about you hope your neighbor has a tomato stashed away, you offer up your precious onion, like it’s your first born, and together you could make Tomato Onion Stew. If things started looking up you may find some wild creature roaming the bombed streets. Do your best to catch it, and make Old Fashioned Wild Game Stew. You probably won’t have any veggies to put in it but maybe, just maybe you saved a little of your daily onion and you could drop that in? Sounds like a plan to me!

All kidding aside City of Thieves by David Benioff is a wonderful read. Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Lit Pairings – My Life in France

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme

The bestselling story of Julia’s years in France—and the basis for Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams—in her own words.
Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story—struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly fifty-year long marriage that took the Childs across the globe—unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.

One night a few weeks ago I decided to snuggle up and re-watch “Julie and Julia”, and I realized although I had thoroughly read Julia Child’s cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” I had never read “My Life in Paris”. Luckily I work at a library and we had a copy available. I’ve never been much of a nonfiction reader and thought I’d probably just skim through it but after the first chapter I was hooked! What an amazing life Julia and her husband Paul had! Not only did they have the opportunity to travel and live in several amazing spots, but they were both incredibly intellectual and artistic people.

As you can imagine this book is FILLED with amazing food. Not just Julia’s recipes but also a vivid account of all the amazing meals she and Paul ate during their travels. As in the movie one of Julia’s first meals she has in Paris is Sole Meuniere.I’ve had this dish in a restaurant, and I’ve made it at home and it’s so delicious. I don’t think you can talk about Julia’s recipes without including her Boeuf Bourguignon. I think this dish would be perfect to make during these cold winter months. To end your meal I think you should do what Julia says they do in France and finish with a Cheese Plate.

As Julia would say – Bon Appetit!

Lit Pairings – The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

Thirty-something Colquitt and Walter Kennedy live in a charming, peaceful suburb of newly bustling Atlanta, Georgia. Life is made up of enjoyable work, long, lazy weekends, and the company of good neighbors. Then, to their shock, construction starts on the vacant lot next door, a wooded hillside they’d believed would always remain undeveloped. Disappointed by their diminished privacy, Colquitt and Walter soon realize something more is wrong with the house next door. Surely the house can’t be haunted, yet it seems to destroy the goodness of every person who comes to live in it, until the entire heart of this friendly neighborhood threatens to be torn apart.

Let me start by saying I absolutely LOVED this book. I stumbled upon it while obsessively scouring the interwebs for haunted house fiction, you know like one does around Halloween. This gem of a book was written in 1978 and is now one of my top 10 favorite books. But, before you run right out and find a copy of this to read, just know I’m an odd bird and this book isn’t for everyone.

My favorite things about this book besides the obvious scary bits was all the cocktail time Colquitt, Walter and their friends enjoyed! There weren’t cell phones, computers or a bazillion channels to watch so everyone did something almost foreign to us today – they got together and enjoyed each other’s company!! At the start of the book Colquitt invites a neighbor lady over for a pitcher of Bull Shots. Having never heard of this particular drink I immediately googled it and found out that like this book it might not be for everyone, but I plan to bring it back! I could go on and on about all the wonderful cocktails in this story but I should probably include a food one as well. After an abnormal cold spurt hits the south Coquitt makes Split Pea Soup for them both and then curls up on the couch with Walter in the den for a lazy, cozy day. How amazing does that sound?

If you do find a copy of The House Next Door please drop me a line and let me know what you thought.

Lit Pairings – The Lady in the Lake

The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

I REALLY enjoyed this book, and I gave it 5 starts on goodreads! A lot of reviews weren’t great saying the story had too many POV’s, but that’s what I ended up liking most about the story. I think the multiple POV’s might make it hard to listen to as an audio so make sure you read this one.

Since The Lake in the Lake takes place in 1966 I thought it would be fun to check out some of the popular and timeless recipes from the 60’s. One of my favorites is Chicken à la King. After looking at this recipe I think I’ll be adding it back into my rotation this fall! Another full on comfort food recipe that would be amazing to make this winter is Beef Bourguignon.This is of course Julia Child’s recipe because that should be the only one you ever use. After you enjoy either of these dinners you have to make this recipe, that won the Pillsbury Bake Off in 1966, Tunnel of Fudge Cake for desert.

I hope you enjoy The Lady in the Lake as much as I did. Hopefully the retro vibe will inspire you to make one of the recipes. If you do, drop me a line and let me know how it went.

Lit Pairings – Vintage 1954

Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain

When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties.

The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who’s on his first trip to Europe. After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows.

But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017, and time is of the essence.

Every once in a great while I just want a sweet little read to put me in a good mood. When I’m over the thrillers and the horror that usually occupy my reading lists, Antoine Laurain seems to always be there for me. His books are short, sweet and most importantly French!

Of course a book set in 1954 Paris gives me unlimited amounts of food inspiration. If I were to recreate a day from this story I would start out the morning with a Bloody Mary at Harry’s Bar. This recipe includes celery salt which I understand the original from Harry’s didn’t, so you’ll need to make your own judgement call there. Around mid day I’d pack a Traditional French Picnic and head to a cozy spot with a good book. Then after what I’m sure would be a wonderful afternoon of snacking, reading and lazing about I’d stop by the fish market on my way home and pick up a Whole Trout to roast and perhaps a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to go with it.

Unfortunately I can’t travel back in time to Paris in 1954, but I think I can still recreate this food day right here in the present. I’m going to give it a go before fall sets in. Let me know if you do the same!

Lit Pairings – Into the Jungle

Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik

Lily Bushwold thought she’d found the antidote to endless foster care and group homes: a teaching job in Cochabamba, Bolivia. As soon as she could steal enough cash for the plane, she was on it.

When the gig falls through and Lily stays in Bolivia, she finds bonding with other broke, rudderless girls at the local hostel isn’t the life she wants either. Tired of hustling and already world-weary, crazy love finds her in the form she least expected: Omar, a savvy, handsome local man who’d abandoned his life as a hunter in Ayachero—a remote jungle village—to try his hand at city life.

When Omar learns that a jaguar has killed his four-year-old nephew in Ayachero, he gives Lily a choice: Stay alone in the unforgiving city, or travel to the last in a string of ever-more-isolated river towns in the jungles of Bolivia. Thirty-foot anaconda? Puppy-sized spiders? Vengeful shamans with unspeakable powers? Love-struck Lily is oblivious. She follows Omar to this ruthless new world of lawless poachers, bullheaded missionaries, and desperate indigenous tribes driven to the brink of extinction. To survive, Lily must navigate the jungle–its wonders as well as its terrors—using only her wits and resilience.

Into the Jungle is an atmospheric thriller I couldn’t put down! But be warned this isn’t your ever day run of the mill thriller. This book will definitely take you out of your comfort zone and drop you head first into the horrible reality of the Amazon jungle.

This book poses some challenges as far as recipes are concerned! Although, I do know someone who has roasted a whole pig in their backyard, I don’t think that is something most of us will ever find ourselves doing. Instead how about this delicious recipe for slow roasted pork carnitas. Once you crisp up the pork you can just pretend you spit roasted a whole pig. Another ingredient that plays a key roll in the story is yuca. I don’t know about you but I’ve never made yuca??? After some serious internet searching I think this recipe for Cuban-Style Yuca would be a tasty side dish to serve with the carnitas. All you need to round this meal off is a few cold cervezas. Pile up your plate and head out into this ridiculously muggy Kansas heat and you’ll feel just like you stepped Into the Jungle.

Lit Pairings – Jaws by Peter Benchley

I think you would probably be from a different planet if you said you hadn’t heard of Jaws before so instead of a synopsis I’ll just include this bit of info…

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in the early 1970s, he meticulously researched all available data about shark behavior. Over the ensuing decades, Benchley was actively engaged with scientists and filmmakers on expeditions around the world as they expanded their knowledge of sharks. Also during this time, there was an unprecedented upswing in the number of sharks killed to make shark-fin soup, and Benchley worked with governments and nonprofits to sound the alarm for shark conservation. He encouraged each new generation of Jaws fans to enjoy his riveting tale and to channel their excitement into support and protection of these magnificent, prehistoric apex predators.

I’ve always had a weird fascination with sharks. For some reason the adults in my life didn’t see anything wrong with 5 year-old me watching this terrifying movie. But hey, it was the 80’s and I don’t think the parents of that generation or the generations that came before were too concerned with parenting. So little me had a hard time even getting into swimming pools, let alone large bodies of water for several years without being certain I was going to be ate by a shark! With all that being said I’m not sure why I felt it would be a good idea to take this book with me to read while I’m vacationing ON AN ISLAND!!! I’m sure the rest of my summer will be filled with that old terror while I sit poolside certain that if I get in the water it will end with death by shark.

All death scenarios aside the summer food on the east coast is super yummy. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life a Lobster Roll would be on top of the list. I can also always get behind a Oyster Po’boy. I think you could finish off either of these delicious sandwiches with some homemade Ice Cream.

Whether you’re going on vacation this summer or maybe just planning a staycation I think you should pick up Jaws and make one or all of these amazing recipes. Happy Summer!

Lit Pairings – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Click here to place a hold on NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.I’ve been in a reading slump for quite awhile now. Do you ever get in those? No matter what genres I picked up nothing could keep my interest! So what made me think a 692-page book would be the right thing to pull me out of my slump??? Well first of all NOS4A2 has been adapted into a TV series on AMC that started on June 2. The previews looked amazing and I hate to watch a movie or TV show that’s been adapted from a book without first reading it. And second the author Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’ve never read Hill before, but he’s been on my list for a long time and I’d heard great things about his writing style. NOS4A2 didn’t disappoint! It was just what I needed to get myself reading again. Now I just have to hope the TV series does the book justice.

I know you’re thinking this is an odd book to pair food with. And you would be 1000% right about that, but I loved the book so dang it I’m going to make it work! Instead of doing the obvious Christmas themed treats I want to focus more on Vic’s summertime at Lake Winnipesaukee. At the diner “Terry’s” she and her parents would have Frappes (you can’t call them milkshakes). This article will explain the difference between the two and give you a great recipe. I don’t think any summer diner experience could be complete without a really good burger. This recipe is great for those yummy thin burgers that are cooked on the griddle and get all kinds of crispy around the edges.

This is one of those books that you can enjoy in summer or around the holidays. I hope you decide to give it a read and maybe get inspired to make one or both of the recipes listed above.