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.

 

Book Review – Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I received this ARC from Netgalley.

First Line – My dear friend, Roz Horowitz met her husband online dating, and Roz is three years older, and fifty pounds heaver than I am, and people have said not as well preserved, so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much.

Summary – Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss–and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics. She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up–an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.

Highlights – Zevin has a way of writing about peoples flaws that feels very natural. You find yourself rooting for all the characters, and it doesn’t matter if you like them or not.

Lowlights – There were times where the story felt like it was being drawn out more than it needed to be.

FYI – Sexual situations and some strong language.

Book Review: Final Girls

Final Girls by Riley Sager

 

First line: “The forest had claws and teeth.”

Summary: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Highlights: Once you’re hooked you can’t put it down. It had lots of twists and turns and you’ll never guess how it ends.

Lowlights: It really took me longer to get into then I thought it would.

FYI: Lots of graphic violence.

Creating Great Summer Memories

I don’t know how you feel about summer, but my daughters and I start counting down the days shortly after Christmas. There are so many things to look forward to! Not having to hit the ground running every morning as soon as the alarm goes off. The almost transformative way laying in the sunshine by the pool makes you feel like a new person. The excitement of planning a summer vacation (with or without family). Most of all, at least for me, it’s the idea of making great memories that will keep us remembering the warmth even through the dead of winter.

I’ve found that when I’ve gone overboard to create the “perfect” summertime memory, those are never really the ones we remember. I’m usually stressed from trying too hard and it never lives up to the idea I had in my head. No, the times we end up talking about well into the next summer are the little things that don’t require much effort at all. Playing games outside and then staying out until dark eating dinner and watching them catch fireflies. Allowing them to have cheesy tots and pop at the pool. Letting them play outside in a summer rainstorm.  Going to Riverside Park with a picnic they choose themselves and telling them about when we were actually allowed to go down the rocket ship slide.

Going to the park is still as cool to my girls as it was to me when I was young and in this day and age I think that’s really saying something. It must be the same for a lot of kids and their families because every time I drive by Madison Avenue Central Park here in Derby it is always buzzing with activity.

So in honor of “Creating Great Summer Memories” the Derby Public Library is hosting a free outdoor concert at the Madison Avenue Central Park on Monday, June 12 at 7:00 p.m., featuring the group Hungrytown. Worried about dinner? The food truck B.S. Sandwich Press will be in the parking lot serving up some  delicious treats! We will also be collecting non-perishable food items to donate to the Derby Community Food Pantry.

 

To find out more about Hungrytown visit www.hungrytown.net

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