Friday, April 20, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Wild Inside" by Jamey Bradbury, Served with a Recipe for Easy Vegan Chili

Happy Aloha Friday! I'm kicking off the weekend by being a stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. It's a somewhat dark and spooky debut novel that just happens to be set in the wilds of Alaska, so I am accompanying my review with a warming bowl of simple vegan chili, made from the pantry and inspired by my reading. 

 Publisher's Blurb:

The Wild Inside is an unusual love story and a creepy horror novel — think of the Brontë sisters and Stephen King.” —John Irving

A promising talent makes her electrifying debut with this unforgettable novel, set in the Alaskan wilderness, that is a fusion of psychological thriller and coming-of-age tale in the vein of Jennifer McMahon, Chris Bohjalian, and Mary Kubica.

A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.

But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.

Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.

It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.

Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (March 20, 2018)

My Review:

I admit it was the "an unusual love story and a creepy horror novel--think of the Bronte sisters and Stephen King" quote from John Irving that had me signing up for this book tour, then it was the gorgeous cover and Alaska setting that pulled me into the book. I'm not sure what I was expecting going into the book but it definitely is different--a bit horror, a bit coming-of-age, some family drama, a dash of suspense, and yes, a little romance. It's also hard to explain in much more detail than the blurb gives without giving away spoilers for the story that are best left to unfold on their own. I will say that this is wild country and the main character, Tracy is just as wild. She's much more comfortable sledding with her dogs and hunting in the isolated Alaskan woods than she is with people--including her father and younger brother. She grieves for her late mother, who she feels is the only one who understood her and who has left Tracy with many unanswered questions. 

The story is at times quite dark, (remember 'creepy horror novel') so if you are someone who gets disturbed easily, this is probably not the book for you. Also, if a lack of quotation marks in books bothers you, you are not going to like The Wild Inside. The dialogue in the book doesn't have them, which does make it a challenge at times to figure out whether Tracy is talking to herself or to the other characters. Add to that Tracy's lack of grammar skills and it is an English teacher's nightmare (and no, that's not the horror I was referring to earlier). I think it kind of works here though, adding to Tracy's character and the tone of the book. I'm curious to hear the audio book to see how Tracy character is voiced.

I have long been fascinated by Alaska and sled dog racing and the Iditarod--the annual long-distance race from Anchorage to Nome, and I loved the glimpse into this world that the author provided. The beauty and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness is described in such a vivid way that it is almost a character. I also liked the author's ability to surprise me with the various twists and turns the novel took. There were a few things I saw coming but there were many more surprises. I found myself totally caught up in Tracy's world--even the more disturbing parts--and although I wouldn't call her exactly likable, I found myself rooting for her life to have a positive outcome and was sorry to see the book end. 

The Wild Inside won't be everyone's cup of tea or cocoa (cocoa seems more fitting for the wintry feel of this book) for the reasons I mention above-but if you like very unique stories and characters, horror and slow-burning suspense, and books set in beautiful but spooky and remote locations like Alaska, you will enjoy it.   


Author Notes: Born in Illinois, Jamey Bradbury has lived in Alaska for fifteen years, leaving only briefly to earn her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Winner of an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters, she has published fiction in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3, and she has written for the Anchorage Daily News,, and storySouth. Jamey lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Find out more about Jamey at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration: 

The Wild Inside is pretty dark and there some parts that are definitely not appetizing, but there was still some food to be found in the book including; jerky, canned applesauce, tomatoes and raspberries (maybe canned as jam?), fruit, cookies, whiskey and chili, soda crackers, salmon, moose, steaks and burgers ("as bloody as you wanted them"), bread, unspecified leftovers, eggs, leftover beans, bacon, brownies, sandwiches, meringue, blueberry cobbler, rabbit, chocolate pie, pizza, hot cocoa/hot chocolate, moose stew, a dark chocolate candy bar, toast, vegetables for a salad, and elk meat.

Not being a meat eater and not needing a batch of brownies, cookies, or cobbler, I decided to make chili. In the book, Tracy's father cooks it. "He stirred a pot of chili on the stove, more beans than meat, but the room smelled spicy and rich as me and Scott set the table." Rather than 'more beans than meat'--I'd make mine vegan with no meat at all and serve it with tortilla chips rather than the soda crackers the Petrikoffs eat with their chili.

I get cravings for chili and tend to keep a few cans on hand for quick meals but honestly, I have yet to find a store-bought vegetarian or vegan chili that I really like. It all tastes like the cans to me, fake, too salty, and not fresh. I am always more satisfied when I take the time to throw a simple chili together and it's a great way to use up the extra cans of beans in my cupboard, fading vegetables from the crisper drawer, and play with my spices. I had purchased some Daiya vegan cheese when Whole Foods had it on sale a couple of weeks ago and I also had a half-bag of tortilla chips to use up. I used a mix of beans and boxed crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, plus a variety of spices to give it some complexity. 

Easy Pantry Vegan Chili
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder of choice, or to taste (I use a mix of chipotle-garlic & Aleppo chili powder)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp celery salt
1 (26.4 -28 oz ) box or can, or 2 (15 oz) cans, crushed or diced fire-roasted tomatoes with their juices if diced
3 (15 oz) cans low sodium beans of choice (I used 2 black beans & 1 black-eyed peas)
1 cup vegetable broth or 1 vegetable bouillon cube + 1 cup water
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp of liquid smoke, optional
1 1/2 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, optional (can sub pickle juice or lime juice)
sea salt and black pepper to taste

To Garnish: chopped green onions, vegan cheese, pickled jalapenos, tortilla chips as desired.

In a large heavy pan, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion, carrot, and celery and cook about 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent and vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, and celery salt and cook for another minute, or until spices are fragrant. 

Add the crushed tomatoes (or the diced tomatoes with their juices), broth, soy sauce/tamari and liquid smoke, stir and bring to a simmer. Cook at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in the jalapeno juice and sea salt and black pepper to taste. 

Serve chili hot in bowls, topped with green onions, vegan cheese (I used Daiya pepper-jack) pickled jalapenos and tortilla chips. Vegan sour cream and/or avocado are nice too.

Notes/Results: I was really happy with this chili. It hit the spot on a grey, rainy day. Although made mostly from cans/boxes in the pantry, the combination spices and additions of liquid smoke, tamari/soy sauce, and jalapeno juice give it a fresh taste with depth of flavor. It also has a smoky, meaty vibe from the cumin, smoked paprika and liquid smoke. Play around with the spices you have and the heat level you like. I use a chipotle-garlic blend which isn't mouth-burning hot, along with some Aleppo pepper and find this chili to have some heat--especially on the end notes, but it's not too hot. I would happily make it again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

I'm also linking this tasty chili up to Souper Sundays here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup 


Note: A review copy of "The Wild Inside" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Hurricane Season" by Lauren K. Denton, Served with a Recipe for Pimento-Cheesy Eggs on Toast

Happy Tuesday and Tax Day! If like me, even if you have done your taxes already but just the idea of 'tax day' has you craving solace, you'll want to curl up with a good book and some comfort food. I can help with that. I am delighted to be on the TLC Book Tour for Hurricane Season, the new novel by Lauren K. Denton. Accompanying my review is the ultimate comfort food--Pimento Cheesy Eggs on Toast, inspired by my reading. 

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the USA Today bestseller The Hideaway comes another story of families and mending the past.
Betsy and Ty Franklin, owners of Franklin Dairy Farm in southern Alabama, have long since buried their desire for children of their own. While Ty manages their herd of dairy cows, Betsy busies herself with the farm’s day-to-day operations and tries to forget her dream of motherhood. But when her free-spirited sister, Jenna, drops off her two young daughters for “just two weeks,” Betsy’s carefully constructed wall of self-protection begins to crumble.
As the two weeks stretch deeper into the Alabama summer, Betsy and Ty learn to navigate the new additions in their world—and revel in the laughter that now fills their home. Meanwhile, record temperatures promise to usher in the most active hurricane season in decades.
Attending an art retreat four hundred miles away, Jenna is fighting her own battles. She finally has time and energy to focus on her photography, a lifelong ambition. But she wonders how her rediscovered passion can fit in with the life she’s made back home as a single mom.
When Hurricane Ingrid aims a steady eye at the Alabama coast, Jenna must make a decision that will change her family’s future, even as Betsy and Ty try to protect their beloved farm and their hearts. Hurricane Season is the story of one family’s unconventional journey to healing—and the relationships that must be mended along the way.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 3, 2018)

My Review:

I was excited to sign up for this book store as I really enjoyed the author's first book, The Hideaway (see my review here) and much likeThe Hideaway, I was immediately drawn to the cover of this one. Lauren K. Denton has the most gorgeous covers on her books--I like to just sit and look at them. But the appeal to Denton's books is also what is inside the covers, where she writes beautiful stories about relationships and creates well-developed and enjoyable characters. 

Hurricane Season is the story of sisters Betsy and Jenna, who were extremely close as children but who have grown apart in adulthood. Betsy is the responsible older sister, married to her dairy-farmer husband, working with him to grow their business, and longing for a child. Jenna is the less conventional younger sister, a single mother with two young daughters who works at a coffee shop to support her family. Betsy was Jenna's champion and caretaker when they were younger and when her sister asks her to keep Addie and Walsh for two weeks while she attends an arts retreat to work on her photography, Betsy can't say no. She also doesn't consult Ty, which causes a strain in their relationship. When Jenna sees a better future through her photos, she extends her stay at the retreat and between caring for the children and working the farm in the midst of the hurricane season with a big storm on the horizon, Betsy and Ty feel their world changing.

Betsy and Jenna both have more depth to their characters than they appear to at first--their actions aren't always likable, but I found myself liking and relating to them both. I also enjoyed Ty and Jenna's two girls, who were precocious without being annoying so. I am not a big reader of Christian Fiction but Denton's books are on the lighter side of it and faith exists as an aspect, rather than the center of the story. Much like her covers that capture the mood of the book and pull me into the setting, Denton paints the charming southern locations vividly with her words and I found myself wanting to visit both the Halcyon artist retreat and the Franklin Dairy Farm. I found myself quickly caught up in the story and was sad to see it end. Hurricane Season is a sweet book and would make a great beach read for anyone who enjoys books about sibling/sister relationships, family drama, and southern fiction. 


Author Notes: Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books.

Connect with Lauren on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration: 

There was a decent amount of food in Hurricane Season including breakfast casserole, coffee, eggs, cookies, pancakes and scrambled eggs, ice tea, snap beans, pecans, chocolate pudding, yogurt, ice cream, cake, mimosas, chicken salad with grapes and nuts, pinot grigio, margaritas and tapas, Cheetos, sweet tea, spaghetti, pizzas, crackers, strawberries, pound cake, milk, apple juice, chocolate bread pudding, snickerdoodles, catfish plate, grilled shrimp, wild rice, salad, brownies, grilled cheese sandwiches, chips, apple slices, a pimento cheese sandwich, tea and homemade biscuits, fried chicken, potato salad, fried shrimp, fruity frozen drinks, chocolate milk, field peas, collards, butter beans, fried okra, cornbread, watermelon, pasta with capers, blueberry muffins, orange juice, chocolate chips, Goldfish crackers, barbecue, macaroni and cheese with bread crumb topping, fluffy biscuits, broccoli salad, tres leches cake, banana pudding, pecan pie, canned beans, Ritz crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey sandwiches with apple slices and carrots, and shrimp po'boys.   

Although pancakes, spaghetti/pasta and potato salad all came up a few times, I wanted to a make something different and I wanted it to be a dish that acknowledged the Franklin Dairy Farm where much of the story took place so I knew I wanted it to include eggs and milk or cheese. I also was craving pimento cheese--which Betsy made into a sandwich for Ty, and which I have made a couple times before on this blog. Since I had already stuffed that pimento cheese into a grilled cheese sandwich (here), I wanted to change it up and add it to an egg dish.

After seeing a recipe on Food52 for Cheese-Crusted Eggs--where fried eggs are cooked on top of melty cheese, I played around with it, making some delicious eggs with Parmesan and cheddar. I wondered if I could do something similar with pimento cheese. After all, I've seen recommendations to spread your grilled cheese with mayo--so would it melt well for eggs cooked on top? I made a small batch of pimento cheese and gave it a try.

It didn't turn out quite like I was hoping, but I wasn't too disappointed in my plate of eggs on top of melty pimento cheesy goodness on crisp toast. See Notes/Results below. 

For the Pimento Cheese: I reduced and slightly modified this recipe (using less mayo and green onion in place of white) for Classic Pimento Cheese from Quick Fix Southern by Rebecca Lang. 

1/2 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp jarred diced pimentos, drained
1 Tbsp diced green onion
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Grate the cheddar cheese using the large holes of a box grater. Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, onion and Worcestershire sauce in a medium mixing bowl. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week. 


For the Pimento Cheesy Eggs: 

Pimento Cheese--see recipe above
2 eggs
pepper and/or smoked paprika to taste for garnish
one or two pieces of toast

Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add about 2/3 the pimento cheese. As the cheese begins to melt, crack the eggs into the skillet over the cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

If the eggs don't cover all of the cheese, gently try to spread the whites over the cheese or scrape the cheese towards the egg. Cover and cook the eggs until the whites are set, or to your preference. Transfer to a plate, grind a bit more black pepper and sprinkle with smoked paprika if desired and enjoy.

Notes/Results: So the mayo in the pimento cheese kept things super melty and oozy rather than getting a slightly crispy and chewy crust like just cheese does. Rather than sliding it out of the pan, I just scooped it and the eggs out on top of my toast--like a cheesy gravy. I do plan to try the recipe again sans the mayonnaise but with the cheddar, pimentos and green onion and see what happens. Honestly, I can't complain too much about all of the oozy goodness that blanketed my eggs and topped my piece of toast. It's so rich that in the future I would probably do 1/2 the cheesy mixture and just one egg, but I managed to eat most of my salad plate full for brunch. This was a fun and tasty kitchen experiment that I am glad I tried and will work on perfecting. ;-)

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "Hurricane Season" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

'Cure-All Lentil Soup' from "Sweet Potato Soul" by Jenné Claiborne for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

My friend Debra of Eliot's Eats reviewed Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul by Jenné Claiborne last month and I thought it sounded like a cookbook I would love. Since I am trying to buy fewer books, I checked out the library e-book to give it a try.

It's a great book and there were a lot of recipes that looked tempting including the Coconut Corn Chowder that Debra tried, but since I am trying to kick a cold, the Cure-All Lentil Soup and its mix of ingredients and spices was calling to me. 

Jenné Claiborne says that calls this soup the "cure-all" because of how nutritious it is. She notes that she modeled it after her Nana's chicken soup--replacing the chicken with lentils. I added extra potato because I had two Yukon Golds I needed to use and used the smaller Puy green lentils because I had them in my pantry and like the firmer texture they add.

Cure-All Lentil Soup 
Very Slightly Adapted from Sweet Potato Soul by Jenné Claiborne
(Serves 4 to 6)

2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced celery
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup diced carrots
1 unpeeled white potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used 2 Yukon Gold potatoes)
1 cup dried green lentils, sorted and rinsed (I used 1 1/4 cups green puy lentils)
8 cups good vegetable stock 
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp soy sauce (I used tamari which is gluten-free)
1 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

In a large heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, potato, lentils, and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, then add the fennel seeds, thyme, celery seeds, sage and bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Season the soup with the soy sauce and white pepper and season to taste with salt if needed. Serve hot. (Deb says: I don't think it necessarily needs a topping but I added some garlic-pepper crispy onions-just because.) 

Notes/Results: A really tasty soup. I make different lentil soups regularly and this one is simple but has lots of flavor. I liked the fennel and celery seed in particular--I add celery salt and celery seed to a lot of dishes and along with the thyme and sage it is a great combination. The soy sauce or tamari adds a little pop of flavor, much like the dash of vinegar I sometimes add to lentil soups. I do prefer the puy lentils to your standard green-brown variety. They cost more but they hold their shape so well, it adds a lot to the texture. With a healthy dose of fiber, B-vitamins, potassium, zinc and the punch of garlic, I don't know if this soup will actually cure my cold, but I'll eat well for its duration.

Let's take a look in the Souper Sunday's kitchen!

Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen shared a salad of Three Coloured Pasta with Roasted Squash and Sage. She said, "The three coloured pastas are: tomato, spinach and plain. It bulked up with roasted squash and sage and a good grating of vegan cheese. The sage fragrant hits you quite strong, but the flavour not so much. I didn't mind this Three Coloured Pasta Salad, it made a change from the usual tomato, cucumber and black olive one that  I often make. But D was not that keen. I think he would have preferred if I had made a sauce of the butternut squash to smother the pasta, but he still ate it. Good man.

A mistake at a restaurant caused Tina of Squirrel Head Manor to make this Cheeseburger Soup. She said, "We ordered a cheeseburger and were told by the waiter it would only be 30 cents more for a double. "No, thank you," we said, "we only want a single patty." So what does he return with?  Two double cheeseburgers.  It was way too much and we could have probably split one but....there you have it. Almost impossible to eat as you would a regular burger and we cut it in pieces. Obviously that was more meat than we wanted or could eat. So I brought home the equivalent of one serving and used the meat for soup."

Thanks for joining me at Souper Sundays this week Shaheen & Tina!

About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ellie Krieger's Shrimp with Spinach, Garlic and Smoked Paprika

When cooking is the last thing you want to do on a Friday evening, healthy but delicious recipes like Ellie Krieger's Shrimp with Spinach, Garlic and Smoked Paprika. Once your shrimp is peeled and deveined and your garlic sliced and spinach chopped, it comes together quickly in one pan. I put rice in the rice cooker while my shrimp defrosted and had a low effort, high flavor and healthy dinner on the table and in my belly in about 30 minutes.

I made just a couple of small changes to the recipe--using smaller shrimp because that's what I had on hand and using a smoked paprika spice blend that contains garlic, chili pepper, and chives.

Shrimp with Spinach, Garlic and Smoked Paprika
Slightly Adpated from
(Serves 4)
1 1/4 lbs large shrimp (about 20 per lb), peeled and deveined, tails on (I used 31-35 size)
3 large cloves garlic
5 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (5 oz)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp smoked paprika (I used a smoked paprika, garlic, chili & chive seasoning blend)
¼ tsp salt
pinch cayenne pepper (see above seasoning blend)

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry with a paper towel. Thinly slice the garlic. Coarsely chop the spinach.

Place the oil in a large non-stick skillet and heat over a medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. Watch closely so the garlic does not burn. Transfer the garlic to a small dish using a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the skillet.

Raise the heat on the skillet to medium-high, add the shrimp, paprika, salt and cayenne and cook until the shrimp turns pink and is nearly cooked through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach and return the garlic to the pan and cook until the shrimp is opaque throughout and the spinach is wilted, 1-2 minutes more.

Nutritional Information: Serving size: 1 1/4 cups (about 6-7 shrimp)
Calories 260; Total Fat 13 g; (Sat Fat 2 g, Mono Fat 7.8 g, Poly Fat 2.1 g); Protein 30 g; Carb 6 g; Fiber 2 g; Cholesterol 215 mg; Sodium 410 mg
Excellent Source of: protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, phosphorus, selenium 
Good Source of: niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, copper, magnesium, zinc

Notes/Results: This recipe goes together quickly and tastes delicious. Smoked paprika, garlic, shrimp and spinach should always hang out. This is a recipe where you'll want to have all your components prepped and ready and then it comes together in under 15 minutes--in once pan--or another pan or rice cooker if you are adding rice. I was using up my partial bags of rice so this is part jasmine rice and part wild rice blend. I recommend using extra spinach as it does cook down a lot--I think it's a bit stingy divided among four--it made 2 healthy servings for me--even with the rice, but the calorie count is still reasonable if you eat more. I would happily make this again.

Linking up at I Heart Cooking Clubs where our it's our Monthly Ingredient/Dish Challenge and the theme is Healthy Meets Delicious--healthy but yummy recipes from any of our featured IHCC chefs.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness" by Christine Lahti, Served with a Recipe for Cacio e Pepe

Happy Wednesday! I'm excited to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour of True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age by Christine Lahti. Accompanying my review is a recipe for an easy and delicious pasta dish.

Publisher's Blurb

A fiercely intelligent, hilarious, and deeply feminist collection of interrelated personal stories from Academy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award–winning actress and director Christine Lahti.
For decades, actress and director Christine Lahti has captivated the hearts and minds of her audience through iconic roles in Chicago Hope, Running on Empty, Housekeeping, And Justice for All, Swing Shift, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, God of Carnage, and The Blacklist. Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.
In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her childhood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as “Kidnapped” and “Shit Happens,” and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as “Mama Mia” and “Running on Empty.” Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.
Lahti’s wisdom and candid insights are reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Joan Rivers’s I Hate Everyone—and yet her experiences are not exclusive to one generation. The soul of her writing can be seen as a spiritual mother to feminist actresses and comedic voices whose works are inspiring today’s young women, including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Caitlin Moran, and Jenny Lawson. Her stories reveal a stumbling journey toward agency and empowerment as a woman—a journey that’s still very much a work in progress.
True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is about the power of storytelling to affirm and reframe the bedrock of who we are, revealing that we’re all unreliable eyewitnesses when it comes to our deeply personal memories. Told in a wildly fresh, unique voice, and with the unshakable ability to laugh at herself time and again, this is Christine Lahti’s best performance yet.

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper Wave (April 3, 2018)

My Review:

I was quick to sign up for this book tour because I am a big fan of Christine Lahti, stemming from her movies the eighties; Running on Empty is a favorite, as are Housekeeping, Gross Anatomy, Swing Shift and Just Between Friends with Mary Tyler Moore. I like coming across her on television movies or shows like No Place Like Home, Amerika, Chicago Hope, Law & Order SVU and even as McGarrett's mother on Hawaii Five-O. She is a talented actress with plenty of awards for her work and she has always struck me as very real and earthy--someone who would be fun to share a bottle of wine with and listen to her stories. It turns out that is very much what her book is like--storytelling in a honest, conversational way.

True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is made up of short essays that all relate in some way to three important parts of her life; her childhood, the beginning of her career, and her current life as an actress and feminist. Lahti speaks her truth with wit and dry humor, with sometimes poignant honesty, sharing happy and funny moments along with harsher and hurtful ones. As Lahti states in the Introduction:

"This book is a collection of my true stories. They are my emotional memories, the goo that surrounds the facts, the parasitic muck that attaches to them. These are the stories that altered me in some way, even just temporarily. They chronicle events when something inside me stirred or quaked. There was a shift in my focus. A tremor up my spine. A hot flash of injustice, of shame. A gut-punch of reckoning with my own bullshit. An acceptance. A forgiveness. A way to survive."

I went into the book thinking it would be full of Hollywood tidbits--probably given the era, there would be plenty of examples of harassment and #metoo moments, and there are those--such as casting couch propositions or the times she was told she was too tall and her nose not perfect enough to be successful as an actress. There are her memories of love scenes (both good and bad) and industry relationships--although she doesn't do a lot of name-telling. But as much as I love celebrity moments, to me the stand-out chapters of the book are when Lahti gets the most personal in her recounting of family stories, both humorous and heartbreaking. I can relate to the sibling relationships in a large family, both the humor and the dysfunction, as well as the difficulties of dealing with a sibling with mental illness and depression. Lahti tells of facing the deaths of her older brother, younger sister, and both her parents and the guilt and regrets they bring. She also tells of the high and low points of her own marriage and motherhood, again with candor and wit. The book's title, True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, acknowledges that these are Lahti's memories and her perception of what happened and I can appreciate that. It's interesting to me how with six older siblings, our take on shared moments from childhood can be alike in some cases and very different in others. Lahti states that her siblings "cried foul" on how she remembers or saw certain events and that happens to all of us based on the significance of the moment or the filters we view it through. 

The book's subtitle is "A Feminist Coming of Age" and the essays certainly contain Lahti's awakening and focus as a feminist--she calls it the "lens" through which she "sees just about everything," but this book has many different layers and nuances to it. Her writing had me laughing as well as getting angry along with her, and even tearing up a few times. I think if like me, you are already a fan of Christine Lahti and you read her book, you will be even more impressed by her, and if you aren't that familiar with her, you'll start looking for her work on both the big and small screens. I hope she continues to write--it is certainly another skill she can add to her acting and directing talents. 


Author Notes: Christine Lahti is an acclaimed director and stage, television, and film actress with a career that spans over forty years. She won an Oscar for her short film, Lieberman in Love; an Oscar nomination for Swing Shift; a Golden Globe Award for No Place Like Home; an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Chicago Hope; and an Obie Award for Little Murders. On Broadway, she starred in God of Carnage and The Heidi Chronicles, among many others. Her films include Running on Empty and Housekeeping. Her television shows include Jack and BobbyLaw & Order SVU, and The Blacklist. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.
Follow Christine on Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is not a lot of food in the book, but I did find some foodie mentions and references like; a classmate having "cauliflower ears," freshly made muffins, an open-face peanut butter and honey sandwich, Neapolitan ice cream, a piece of cake, tomatoes, chili, filet Mignon, sausage, a Papaya King hot dog, peanut butter and jelly, a Reuben sandwich, peanuts and red hots mix, gefilte fish, eggnog and Christmas cookies, fudge, oatmeal, whipped cream, smog thick as pea soup, French fries, roast beef, apples and pretzels. There were also a plethora of beverages like Sanka, Manhattans, a martini, champagne, Torch Lake Specials (lemonade, whiskey, blue curacao & maraschino cherries), milk, beer, fruity cocktails, Chardonnay, Rob Roys, and White Russians.

I ended up taking inspiration for my bookish dish from Chapter 12: What I Wish I'd Known About Love Scenes. In the essay she talks about doing a love scene when you can't stand the actor you are paired with:

"Sometimes when I have to look adoringly into someone's eyes, I imagine that they're the eyes of Nellie, my golden retriever. I'm sure there've been many actors who've looked into mine and thought about their dog or their favorite pasta dish or sports team. There's always something we can find to help us 'fall in love.'" 

I decided to make a pasta dish worthy of a look of love! 

I am usually not at home on Saturdays to watch The Kitchen on The Food Network but I DVD it to watch later. (That way I can speed through the meat recipes and the hosts that I don't like.) ;-) I do like Geoffrey Zakarian. His recipes often tempt me and his little tweaks to classic dishes usually give me great results (his Caprese Salad is a favorite). On the recent pasta episode, he made his version of Cacio e Pepe and it looked absolutely delicious. When Lahti wrote about thinking of a favorite pasta dish this one definitely came to mind first--since I hadn't stopped thinking about it since I saw it. 

I've made cacio e pepe before. It's a pasta dish that basically means "cheese and black pepper." It's a simple, easy to make pantry meal, but done right, it is sublime and has a bit of elegance to it. The main difference in Zakarian's recipe is cooking the pasta in a pan with less water and letting it reduce to a starchy liquid that when blended with the cheese, makes a creamy sauce. He also toasts the freshly ground pepper which adds toasty notes.

Cacio e Pepe
By Geoffrey Zakarian via 
(Serves 4)

12 oz thick-cut dried pasta
kosher salt
30 turns fresh ground pepper on the coarsest setting, plus more for serving
1/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

In a pan just wide enough to hold the pasta, place enough water to fill the pan 1 inch from the bottom. Season the water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Spread the pasta in the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Allow the pasta water to reduce; do not add more, as you want the starchy water to be minimal when the remaining ingredients are added.

Meanwhile, add the coarse black pepper to a separate small pan over medium heat. Toast a minute or two until fragrant.

Once the pasta is al dente and the pasta water has reduced so only a slight coating remains at the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat and add the toasted ground black pepper and Pecorino-Romano. Stir and toss vigorously until both ingredients are well incorporated into the pasta. Toss in the olive oil and season with salt.

Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and garnish with more black pepper, Pecorino-Romano and extra-virgin olive oil.

Notes/Results: I think that if I had to pick a favorite pasta shape it would be bucatini--it is so thick and the hole that runs through the noodle grabs the sauce so well, it just seems to have more flavor than spaghetti or linguine. Cooking it in the pan with an inch of water, stirring with tongs to ensure it doesn't stick and making sure the bucatini is perfectly al dente adds to the pleasure of the dish. But the biggest revelation is toasting the black pepper--it mellows it and keeps it from being sharp and overpowering. With the nutty and slightly salty Pecorino-Romano cheese, it comes together in a dish you don't want to stop eating. I can definitely imagine thinking of this pasta when faced with something unpleasant--whether a love scene with someone you aren't attracted to or a work problem you are mulling over in your head. I will happily make this again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "True Stores From an Unreliable Eyewitness" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.