Posts filed under ‘Books’

Untangling My Chopsticks by Victoria Riccardi

Before I left for Japan, I read a lot of non-fiction – travel guides, specialty books, personal memoirs, etc.  There wasn’t enough time to read everything.  Anyway, I did start this book before leaving and then finished it when I came back.  As I said in my previous message, I do post on Goodreads for my books and this site for my food/travel adventures.  This is a second crossover.

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*Untangling My Chopsticks is a biography in the same tradition as Under the Tuscan Sun or On Rue Tatin.  Basically, she travels to a foreign country, encounters difficulties, but manages to overcome and survive.  This sentence shows what is common but doesn’t really capture the whole story or some of the very charming characters that helped along the way.  Some of the help she receives follows a distinctly Japanese way of doing things and the reader is given an insight into what it might be like to try to live and work as an expatriate.  Not only does she learn tea kaiseki, she leaves with lifelong friendships.  If you’re headed to Japan, and Kyoto in particular, this would be one to skim.  It’s not quite as dreamy and story-like as the other books but it does give you a flavor of Kyoto.  I particularly liked the author’s description of making mochi.

*As in many of these books (fiction & non-fiction), there are recipes at the end of the chapters.  I made two recipes from the book.  The first one I made was the green tea ice cream. Rather than brewing tea, this recipe uses matcha – a concentrated green tea powder.   This is more true to Japanese flavors and Asian flavors in general – the ice cream is not sickeningly sweet and the tea flavor is very strong.  You can adjust the strength of the tea flavor by using less matcha.  You can also make a simplified version of this recipe by adding matcha to softened vanilla ice cream.

The second one I made was the Year Crossing Buckwheat noodles.  I did not use the fish cake – instead I used marinated tempeh.  I loved the flavor of the broth here and the runny egg yolk just adds another dimension.  For the fish cakes, you could probably also substituted cooked fresh fish or marinated/cooked tofu, as well.  I’d still like to try some of the author’s tofu recipes.

*After having visited Japan, I can tell you that it’s sometimes incredibly difficult, with the language the hardest part (at least for me).  With my upbringing and familiarity with Asian cultures in general, after one week I was able to blend.  However, I couldn’t really ask the more difficult questions or convey the more complicated ideas.  Of all the cities we visited, though, I loved Kyoto the best (with Nara a close second) but Tokyo was actually quite do-able for a big city and really, really clean.

*I loved trying all the different types of kaiseki meals when we were in Japan and you can read about one in my previous post.  (I will get to posting about some other meals.)  However, we found that the food from snack food to high end specialty restaurants was made with care and service was excellent.

August 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Brownies & Broomsticks – a tasty book review

Well, I’ve been meaning to write for a while but life has intervened this year to keep me from getting anything done – one step forward, two steps back, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I have managed to read a lot and have been keeping track of my books on Goodreads.  If you haven’t been there, then I highly recommend it.  You can get book recommendations that are related to your bookshelf and can be used as an addition to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So… what am I posting about today?  I read a lot of food related non-fiction; however often I read food related fiction, as well.  On Goodreads, you can find a section for people who read food in fiction.  Cooking from these fiction books has only marginally interested me; but, somehow, I just felt moved to try it yesterday.

The book:   Brownies & Broomsticks by Bailey Cates.

Summary:  Katie is left by her fiance and leaves her job to help her aunt and uncle start a bakery.  In a sense, she is starting all over.  Circumstances cause a much disliked woman in the community to be killed outside of the bakery and her uncle is accused of having killed the woman.  Katie is determined to find the killer and clear her uncle’s name.  This is a classic mystery novel scenario; however, a long the way, she discovers that her aunt is a witch and that she may be one, too.

What I disliked:  There was one section right in the beginning that seemed very disjointed.  This may be due to trying to fill in Katie’s background with the current action.

What I liked:  The ending was exciting and the mix of witchcraft did not seem over blown.

The recipes:  There were two recipes at the end.  Both sounded interesting; and, since my sister was bringing lamb chops and I was making sides, these two seemed to fit in with the dinner schedule.

*Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies – These are essentially straight brownies with a peanut butter mixture spread on top. The only change I made to the batter was to add chocolate chips and reduce the amount of sugar.  For the PB mixture, I reduced the butter by one half and mixed in 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.  (This reduces the saturated fat but still leaves the mixture smooth enough to put on top.)  I could not drizzle the mixture.  Instead I made lines of PB mixture across the sheet.  Then I took a knife and went up one way and back down to cover the length.  The pattern caused a lot of oohs and ahs when presented.  The extended family loved it.

*Cheddar-Sage scones:  OK… I don’t like sage – thyme was substituted.  I also wanted more servings and so I cut more triangles.  The baking time was not decreased, however, because I wanted them to be crispy and golden.  The extended family liked the way the cheddar flavor popped and were convinced it was due to baking just a bit longer.  If you try baking longer, be careful; because too much longer can produce a dry scone.  Although the flavor was good the next day, they were really best on the first day.

Take home message:  I think these two recipes were a success.  I think I might now try to make more of the recipes I encounter in the fiction that I’ve been reading.  Hopefully I’ll be inspired by something soon.

July 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment


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