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Nibbles and Sips Around Town: ‘Spring Cookbooks And A Sensational First Novel From Ruth Reichl’

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Delicious! A First Novel from Ruth Reichl 

When seasoned food writer and four-time James Beard Award-winner Ruth Reichl debuts her first novel (two more are planned), foodies everywhere sit up and take notice. The former restaurant critic, first at the LA Times-later a six-year stint at the New York Times, is better known for bestselling memoirs like Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires, books that seamlessly blended essays with recipes.  In Delicious! (Random House 2014) she proves she can cook up a tale as eloquently as penning a review.

Reichl’s keen insight and food knowledge lend authenticity to a storyabout an aspiring young writer who leaves her family for an entry-level job at a bespoke food magazine that soon after goes belly up. Though she claims her characters evolved on their own, “Over time, all the characters claimed their own territories, refusing to do the things I wanted them to do, taking on their own strong voices”, Reichl’s ten years as Editor-in-Chief of the much beloved, and sorely missed, Gourmet magazine, inform their motivations through every twist and turn. Oh, the parallels!

This light-hearted mystery will intrigue the reader with its ethno-botanical references, intriguing anagrams and culinary clues.  Did you know that NYU’s Fales Library had eclipsed Radcliffe’s as America’s largest collection of antique cookbooks?  Just one of the little known facts where Reichl reveals her insider’s savvy on epicurean esoterica.

The story is filled with the adventures Billie Breslin and her discovery of a trove of wartime letters between the mysterious Lulu and James Beard. Yes! Reichl has channeled the august James Beard who offers his kindness and wisdom to the budding journalist.  Other colorful characters are drawn from Reichl’s vast experience with food emporia and her years in the New York publishing world. When Breslin takes a weekend job at a Greenwich Village cheese shop, you’ll swear you’re on Bleeker Street buying mozzarella di bufala at Murray’s Cheese.

Reichl will be speaking and signing Delicious! at DC’s Politics and Prose on May 29th.

Spring Things 

Getting a fresh start on the season once meant foraging for whatever wild edibles popped out of the ground. That means spring sprouters like ramps, violets, redbud flowers, tulip petals (not wild but certainly edible especially when stuffed with herbed goat cheese), mint, the tender shoots of the greenbriar, young dandelion leaves, and the lovely morels and chanterelles found in leaf-strewn woods. If you live near a stream, or even a roadside culvert, chances are you’ve already found watercress for your salads and tossing in a few shards of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to finish it off.

If you are city-bound and need a jumpstart to your diet, or just want to amp up your workout performance, pick up one of these cookbooks.

Can a Vegan Be a High Performance Athlete?

Canadian Brendan Brazier’s fourth in his series of health-minded books, the Thrive Energy Cookbook (Perseus Books 2014) is perfect for those in high performance training who may be on a plant-based diet or even for those looking for meatless options. As a former Ironman competitor and two-time Canadian Ultra-Marathon Champion, this high-intensity athlete doesn’t sacrifice taste to get the results he wants. As Head of Nutrition for the Garmin-Sharp Pro Cycling Team and creator of Vega, a fantastic award-winning line of whole food nutritional products, he’s expected to please picky athletes. Celeb clients Hugh Jackman, MLB All Star Brian Roberts, and Olympic Gold Medal triathlete Simon Whitfield, follow this regime for optimum performance.

The book has 150 plant-based recipes, a pantry list of must haves, and tons of colorful photos. Okay, what fruit or veggie isn’t colorful?  Brazier leaves out yeast, wheat, meat, dairy and refined sugars, but doesn’t neglect desserts, smoothies or power-packed veggie shots. This was one of the hardest books to choose a recipe from, since they are all quite original and delicious. But here’s one that should make your summer a whole lot cooler.

Super-Fruit Sangria from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Energy Cookbook

Serves 1 – Makes 2 ¼ cups (550 mL) – Gluten Free, Super Nutrient-Dense – Prep Time: 5 minutes – Special Equipment: high-speed blender

  • 4 or 5 fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 10 fresh or frozen raspberries
  • ½ cup (125 mL) fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped pineapple
  • 2 fresh mint leaves
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Zest of ½ lime
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) pomegranate juice
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) acai berry juice
  • 6 tbsp (90 mL) coconut water
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • About 2 cups (500 mL) ice cubes

In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the ice. Add ice to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the liquid line. Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy. If using frozen fruit, use less ice.

Cha-Cha-Chia:  Not Just for Growing Green Hair on Clay Critters

Superfoods for Life, Chia by Lauri Boone (Fair Winds Press 2014) is a 75-recipe book jam-packed with doable ideas for using chia seeds in your daily diet.  High in fiber, protein, minerals and essential fatty acids (They’re the good kind!), this tiny seed is cropping up everywhere these days-in kombucha drinks, crackers, cereal and baked goods. And it’s no wonder. Known as an inflammation fighter and natural source of potent omega-3 fatty acids along with other nutrients, chia seeds can boost stamina, aid in weight loss and improve digestion.  Le Pain Quotidian serves it up in puddings and Boone offers a few tasty options for making yours at home including a no-cook one for chocolate lovers.

Boone gets her street cred as a Registered Dietician, raw food instructor and writer for One Green Planet, Self and Oxygen Magazine. She has appeared on CNNBBC Radio and NPR and blogs regularly about a holistic approach to health and wellness. And we’re all paying more attention to that!

Here’s an easy recipe from Boone’s cookbook.

Lemon, Coconut & Chocolate Chia Bark 

This is an incredibly simple and decadent sweet treat combining smooth and creamy dark chocolate with crunchy chia seeds, dried coconut, and lemon zest. I like to use dark chocolate chips, which have a higher percentage of heart-healthy cacao than other varieties, but feel free to use your favorite chip, including nondairy chocolate chips or carob chips.

  • 1 bag (9 ounces, or 255 g) dark chocolate chips
  • 1⁄2 cup (43 g) shredded dried coconut
  • 1⁄4 cup (50 g) chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon (6 g) lemon zest
  • Pinch of sea salt 
  • Melt the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth and creamy.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the dried coconut, chia seeds, and lemon zest.
  • Spread the thick mixture into an even layer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Freeze until hard, about 30 minutes.
  • Break into bite-size chunks. Store in an airtight container. 
  • Yield: About 24 pieces

Probiotics Rule 

It may seem that an entire book on yogurt may be overkill. But I assure you it is not. Sonia Uvezian knowledge of the tasty dairy product originates with her upbringing in Armenia and Lebanon, both of which incorporate yogurt in their daily diet.

In The Book of Yogurt – An International Collection of Recipes (HarperCollins) she has compiled both old and new recipes using yogurt. I especially like her Chilled Cherry Soup for summer and Ghivetch, a Rumanian veggie casserole that uses 12 vegetables plus grapes and greengage plums. Though the book has been out for a while, I thought it would add to the health-consciousness of this scribble.

Off the Beaten Track with Fred Sauceman 

Fred Sauceman’s Buttermilk and Bible Burgers: More Stories from the Kitchens of Appalachia (Mercer University Press 2014) is the latest for author, NPR radio broadcaster and college professor whose celebration of the American South is legendary. I’ve already seen most of his documentaries,  “Red Hot Dog Digest”, “Mountain Mojo: A Cuban Pig Roast in East Tennessee”, “Beans All the Way: A Story of Pintos and Persistence”, “Smoke in the Holler: The Saucy Story of Ridgewood Barbecue” and “Ramps & Ruritans: Tales of the Revered and Reeking Leek of Flag Pond, Tennessee”. The titles say it all.

The 57-year-old’s love for the rural, most especially the backwoods and backstory of Appalachian foodways, is infectious – like riding down a dusty road in the cab of an old pickup listening to a country boy spin stories. Just hearing him honor the food culture and traditions of South is as satisfying as seeing a curl of smoke rise up off a rack of ribs at a roadhouse.

A native of Greenville, Tennessee, Sauceman is Senior Writer and Associate professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. He’s also known for his radio appearances on “Inside Appalachia”, a radio program produced on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, daily newscasts on WETS-FM/HD and “Food With Fred” which appears monthly on WJHL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Johnson City, TN.  He is also a regular contributor to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum of New Orleans where he writes for the museum’s magazine Okra.  His three-volume book series entitled “The Place Setting” Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, From Bright Hope to Frog Level”, was also published by Mercer Press.

Recently I interviewed Sauceman by phone in anticipation of the release of his latest book.

Whisk and Quill – How many years have you been teaching and chronicling the food ways of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky?

Fred Sauceman – I’ve been writing about food-related topics since the mid-1990s and taught American Literature courses in the past. In 2005 I began offering a first-of-its-kind course entitled “The Foodways of Appalachia”, which has become the most popular course in Appalachian Studies at ETSU.

W&Q – What are your other writing outlets?

Sauceman – There are a number of publications I write for, among them the Johnson City Press where I have a monthly food column, “Potluck”, as well as the “Flavors” page for Blue Ridge Country Magazine.

W&Q – What is your connection to the Southern Foodways Alliance?

Sauceman – In 2010 edited the organization’s book “Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing”, and created the book Home and Away: A University Brings Food to the Table” in 2000. In 2010 I was one of the authors of “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook”.

W&Q – How many years have you been in radio?

Sauceman – I started in radio when I was 15 with a rock and roll program on Saturday and Sunday nights.  Later I became a country music DJ while working on my degrees. I also worked in television news with the ABC affiliate in Kingsport, TN.

W&Q – How can people order your DVDs?

Sauceman – Through the university at www.ETSUstore.com.

W&Q – What’s your favorite BBQ joint?

Sauceman – The Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff City, Tennessee.

Easy Peasy Cooking for Diabetics 

Robyn Webb’s The Smart Shopper Diabetes Cookbook offers real time strategies for making stress-free meals.  Designed with the harried home chef in mind, the book sources ingredients from the deli counter, freezer, salad bar and supermarket shelves to put a healthy meal on the table in no time flat. It comes with the stamp of approval from the American Diabetes Association.

As an author, nutritionist and Food Editor of Diabetes Forecast, Robyn already has fifteen cookbooks under her belt and is a two-time award winning author of The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook.  She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Radio, Food Network, Discovery Channel, CNN, ABC, CBS, ESPN and more, and as a local food writer her work has been highlighted in the Washington Post along with a ton of national magazines 

A resident of the DC Metro area, she conducts cooking classes, speaks to groups on nutrition, and even caters special events keeping in mind those with diabetes, pre-diabetes and heart conditions.

Here’s a recipe for the perfect cold summer side dish. Or serve it hot with melted goat cheese on top. I might try it as a main course with a fresh green salad and a bowl of Robyn’s Ginger Honeydew Soup to start.

Ratatouille recipe

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