Lit Pairings – The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera–the only one on the property–pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

This was the perfect summer read! You could feel the heat and the camp atmosphere because here in Kansas we were living it! Now as we slowly edge out of summer maybe we can remissness by making some of our favorite camp food at home.

To start out your day you might want French Toast Sticks. Instead of reaching for those sad but tasty frozen ones, why not make a delicious and easy Overnight French Toast Bake that could feed a crowd? One of my favorite sleep away camp meals is Sloppy Joe’s, and this slow cooker version will sever you well no matter what the season is. Then, to finish up your camp themed day why not make Easy S’mores Bars? You may or may not decide to eat them while singing Kumbaya in front of your fireplace, and I won’t judge you for it!

What were your favorite foods at camp? Drop me a line and let me know!

Lit Pairings – The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick

Diana Cooke was “born with the century” and came of age just after World War I. The daughter of Virginia gentry, she knew early that her parents had only one asset, besides her famous beauty: their stately house, Saratoga, the largest in the commonwealth, which has hosted the crème of society and Hollywood royalty. Though they are land-rich, the Cookes do not have the means to sustain the estate. Without a wealthy husband, Diana will lose the mansion that has been the heart and soul of her family for five generations.

The mysterious Captain Copperton is an outsider with no bloodline but plenty of cash. Seeing the ravishing nineteen-year-old Diana for the first time, he’s determined to have her. Diana knows that marrying him would make the Cookes solvent and ensure that Saratoga will always be theirs. Yet Copperton is cruel as well as vulgar; while she admires his money, she cannot abide him. Carrying the weight of Saratoga and generations of Cookes on her shoulders, she ultimately succumbs to duty, sacrificing everything, including love.

Luckily for Diana, fate intervenes. Her union with Copperton is brief and gives her a son she adores. But when her handsome, charming Ashton, now grown, returns to Saratoga with his college roommate, the real scandal and tragedy begins.

Let me start by saying I’ve read and loved all of Goolrick’s books. He has a way of writing human nature and tragedy like no one else. While reading I become consumed and often find myself flipping to the authors picture in the back of the book and wondering how such a kind faced man came up with such heartbreaking stories.

As you can image a book set in Virginia must have some amazing food. Every scene that included a meal had be drooling and running for my kitchen to try to find something, anything that would sate my appetite. There were traditional southern favorites like Paper Bag Fried Chicken  and Ham Biscuits but there were also unknown (at least to me) mentions of Sally Lunn  , a bread that’s similar to brioche and Sugar Toads, a type of puffer fish that is apparently crazy tasty.

If you make any of these recipes or especially if you find Sugar Toads, drop me a note and let me know how delicious it all was!

Lit Pairings – The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.

This is one of those beautifully heart warming stories that really makes you believe everything can work out in the end. If you find yourself down in the dumps or maybe lately you’ve just been reading books that are way too serious, you need this story in your life! Like right this minute! FOR REAL!

And the food. Oh the food! I think food, or perhaps meals are a major character in this book. When Arthur is on his own he keeps it pretty simple. He takes a sandwich to the cemetery everyday for his lunch. Though they tend to be simple I think the fact that he rotates his filling choices shows he still cares a little bit about his noon meal. At dinner Arthur seems to feel more alone and that is reflected in his cooking or lack there of. But I will say I love the way he threw together his beans! I think beans can be one of the most simple and comforting meals. This isn’t Arthur’s recipe but it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy beans Shrimp with White Beans on Toast. 

Another character, Arthur’s neighbor Lucille, is one heck of a baker and chef. She likes to show her love through food, and she woos Arthur with wonderful confections like her Orange Blossom Cookies  which he thinks about often. When Lucille decides to start teaching a cooking class she agonizes over what her first recipe should be. She settles on her Pistachio Party Cake. I’m not sure what her exact recipe is but I knew she would be appalled if I included one that used a box cake mix! At Thanksgiving Lucille is in full crazy holiday cooking mode! She decides to make 14 things but assures Arthur and Maddy it’s really not that big of a deal since two of the 14 are cranberry sauces. When she finds out there will be a last minute guest she decides she really needs to make Pumpkin Tea Bread, because you can’t entertain without it. Lucille is a lady after my own heart!

The Story of Arthur Truluv truly shows what “Food is Love” really means. I think cooking for and sharing food with those you love is one of the greatest experiences humans can enjoy. Let me know if you make any of the recipes from the book or just enjoy reading it.

 

Lit Pairings – The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak

Many children have grown up in the shadow of Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary. Most of them—sons and daughters of corrections officers and staff—left the place as soon as they could. Yet Ginny Polk chose to come back to work as a prison cook. She knows the harsh reality of life within those walls—the cries of men being beaten, the lines of shuffling inmates chained together. Yet she has never seen them as monsters, not even the ones sentenced to execution. That’s why, among her duties, Ginny has taken on a special responsibility: preparing their last meals.

I found this book to be beautiful is so many ways. The relationships between the characters, the shifting of perspective, the atmosphere and most importantly the FOOD! Even something as simple as making biscuits seemed calming and magical the way Mikulenacak describes it.  The detail I enjoyed most about this book was finding all of the recipes listed throughout the story in the back of the book. None of them of anything fancy, just southern comfort food but that’s what makes them even more irresistible! I never thought I’d want to make something call Pork Neck Stew so bad in my life! However, if you read this book and still aren’t enticed to make the stew rest assured there are several other recipes I’m sure you will enjoy.

Also, I found this article/interview with Mikulenacak I think you might want to take a peek at.

If you make any of the recipes in the book let me know how they turn out!!

Lit Pairings – The Hunger by Alma Katsu

This post won’t have anything to do with it, but Happy Mother’s Day!

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy…or the feelings that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it’s a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

I think a lot of people continue to be interested in the Donner Party. It’s just one of those terrible train wreaks in history you can’t look away from. Katsu puts a completely believable (at least to me) paranormal spin on it that makes you really wonder what happened to those poor people???

Right about now you may be thinking “Where in the world is she going to take us with the food portion of this post”? Well I bet if you think about it for a second you can guess…… RIBS! Yup, I think we need to go there!

I don’t have an Instant Pot, but someone told me they made them and they’re wonderdful, so if you do have an Instant Pot you should definitely make these Instant Pot Country Style Ribs.  What sides you do like with ribs? I polled my co-workers and they all said coleslaw so I would try this fun Dill Pickle Slaw.  Then finish it off with a nice cornbread and you’ve got some good eats!

Now run right to your kitchen and make all of these recipes and let me know what you think!

Lit Pairings – Dining In by Alison Roman

If you’ve read my other posts I’m guessing you already know I’m a lover of food. So I think it goes without saying that I also LOVE cookbooks! But even though I love them I really don’t own too many. I’m not a fan of clutter and being a librarian means I can almost always find a way to get my hands on any cookbook I want to peruse. However, once I laid eyes on Dining In I knew I’d have to own it.

When we received it at the library I took it home and instantly fell head over heels. Alison’s recipes are a breath of fresh air. They aren’t too difficult or trendy. They don’t call for a crazy amount of ingredients you can’t find or cooking techniques you need a culinary degree to master. Her book is just filled with wonderful food you can’t wait to make and beautiful pictures that spark the desire to get in the kitchen and make something amazing for those you love.

Thankfully my husband knows me well and without any hints he purchased this book for me as a Christmas gift. Since then I have made and loved several of the recipes. The Perfect Steak with Buttered Radish Toast is probably my favorite, but Anchovy-Butter Chicken with Chicken Fat Croutons comes in a close second. I also really enjoyed the Persimmons and Pears with Blue Cheese and Spicy Pecans.

 

If you love to cook or just love to eat I urge you to give this wonderful book a try. If you do, please let me know what you made and how it turned out.

Lit Pairings – I was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920
: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself. The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Lawhon’s other two books The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress and Flight of Dreams  as I have then you are probably really excited to settle in and consume this one too! If you haven’t read any of these then I think it’s obvious I highly recommend them. Lawhon has a way of doling out little tasty clues and hints throughout her stories that make you change your mind about what’s really going on several times until the very end when she hits you with a great twist.

The recipes I picked to accompany I Was Anastasia don’t focus on the Romanov’s when they were in power, but like the book highlight the time they spent is exile. This amazingly comforting Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup seemed like just the thing to get you through a cold winter’s night in Siberia. I took a short cut and used Trader Joe’s Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni instead of making the dumplings from scratch. If you’re a baker I would suggest making a nice Russian Black Bread to go with it. However, if you’re like me you’ll just go to your local grocery and pick up a tasty loaf of dark rye, throw it in the oven to warm it and call it good.

Let me know if you make the Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup, and I’d love to know what some of your favorite cold weather reads and recipes are?

 

Lit Pairings – Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’ Nan

Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, the Red Lobster hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift–just four days before Christmas and in the midst of a fierce blizzard–with a near-mutinous staff and the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

I find that most people have serious feelings about Red Lobster. If you grew up when I did, in the late 80’s and the 90’s going to “The Lobster” was a big event! It was probably someone’s birthday or other special occasion, and best believe you were hoping there was an “all you can eat shrimp” situation going down.

However, as I’ve aged my love for The Lobster has waned. Like most food/restaurants we loved as kids it just doesn’t seem to taste as good now. So while reading this book I decided to do a little mini Lobster feast at home. First and foremost you need the Cheddar Bay Biscuits. In my opinion these are just as good if not better then the originals. Next you need to plan your fishy feast. Although not an official Lobster recipe I promise you won’t be disappointed with The Barefoot Contessa’s Baked Shrimp Scampi.

I’d love to know what were your favorite Red Lobster recipes growing up? Do you still enjoy it as an adult?

 

Lit Pairings – Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

I first heard about this series while listening to the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. The reviewer said this was one book she really thought was best enjoyed on audio. So I put it on hold through RB Digital, and because of  it’s popularity I had to wait for it for several weeks. Let me tell you it was worth the wait! Because the story takes place in Quebec there are so many beautiful accents and french words I would have butchered them without having it read to me! This series spoke to me in so many ways. The characters are amazing and the descriptions of the meals they enjoyed were drool worthy. I will admit that the first book wasn’t an earth shattering read, but if you enjoy it please move on to the next book in the series. I think each one is better than the one before.

Now on to the FOOD! It’s really hard to narrow it down to just a few recipes, but I think keeping with the french bistro vibe is the way to go. Steak Frites is one of my favorite bistro dishes and it’s really very simple and delish. Serve with a nice red wine and finish with this easy French Apple Tart.

You may or may not know this but if you live in or around the Wichita KS area you are lucky enough to have a french bistro close by. You could take  your audio book to Georges French Bistro and enjoy a lovely meal with no dishes to clean afterward. I’m planning to go once the weather warms up and sit outside on their Paris inspired patio.

Let me know what french dishes are your favorite!

 

Book Review – Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down by Lousie Luna

First Line – Jamie Brandt was not a bad mother.

Summary – When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

Highlight – This is the kind of book that has you sitting on the edge of your seat, unable to put it down until you finish the last page.  Great original characters and so many twists and turns! I hope this spins off into a series.

Lowlight – I can’t really think of any.

FYI – Some graphic scenes involving children.