How do you say I love you? It comes out of my mouth in the language of beer and cheese. Cracking open an IPA for the one that I love even if my brew is less hoppy and scoring the best Vermont has to offer when it comes to cheddar (he likes it extra sharp) might be the love language that can’t really be bought. I tasted a delightfully bold cheddar from Cabot Creamery at IFBC and it set a plan in motion. Some people give expensive gifts, trips, watches, or other finery. I give grilled cheese.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the idea because, let’s be frank, cheese has always played an important role in our relationship. So, I set out to make Dark Rye Grilled Cheese Sandwiches all rubbed down in garlic and as you might imagine, it was a good idea. I picked up a block of the Cabot cheese because I knew if I liked it someone else in my immediate proximity would love it.
But, this, friends, is no ordinary grilled cheese I concocted for my 2017 ILY. In fact, at just this moment, I’m going to make a bold statement inspired by the cheese to tell you it’s the best one I’ve ever eaten. When I presented the sandwich as a gift wrapped in crispy outsides concealing the symphony of flavors inside, the response to my I love you was one finger raised, requesting silence as he took a second bite. Not a bad reply especially when accompanied by a bear hug.
The inspiration for this year’s grilled cheese came from a lunch date we took years ago at a restaurant in San Francisco named Arlequin. We finished our sandwiches in the courtyard out back and they created taste memories. That twist of salty and sweet kind of made the sandwich amazing… until now. I started thinking more about the pears and in my excitement to start cooking with them they practically whispered in my ear what came next. Rosemary. A touch of maple. All sauteed in those priceless bacon drippings. So, make it for someone you deeply care about. Once a year. Call it an I love you in griddled challah bread and cheddar form.
Maple Pear Bacon Grilled Cheese
I love a good cooking hack. This sandwich can totally be prepped and grilled in advance of eating it. Reheat it at 280F for 8 minutes. Chances are kind of amazingly high that these maple pears sauteed in the bacon fat would be the stuff of legend as a topping for autumn pancakes. You’re welcome. Just let me know how they tasted and what else you put on them!
Makes 2 sandwiches
4 strips bacon
1 Bosc pear, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon maple syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces white cheddar cheese (cut into 6 slices)
4 1/2-inch slices challah bread
Cook the bacon in a skillet. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan. Reserve that extra bacon fat. Saute the pear slices with the rosemary, maple syrup, and salt over medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until the pears take on a bit of color and soften slightly. Remove the skillet from the burner, carefully swiping a paper towel through to clean it. Brush the top and bottom of the two bread slices with some of the reserved bacon drippings. Build the sandwich, tiling three slices of cheddar on both of the unbrushed sides of the slices of bread. Tile the bacon on one side. Tile the pears on the other side. Carefully close the sandwich. Set the skillet over medium low heat. Grill the sandwich for 3 minutes on each side or until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melty. Press down on top with your fingers as you steady a spatula underneath, carefully flipping the sandwich and grilling the other side. Prep the other sandwich while the first one is grilling and repeat the cooking instructions.
How did we end up here? It’s fall again. Lovely, wonderful fall, the season at the top of so many lists. And maybe a reason it’s a favorite is tied up in the idea of harvest. The idea of bounty. So, what happens when the bounty we find ourselves with is sorrow? Does it seem like 2017 has been particularly macabre? As I write this, the sky has been orange and hazy for two days, over an hour away from the wildfires in the Wine Country.
We have all grown up and into social media, we’re finding our ways of expressing sorrow and solidarity #sonomastrong #napastrong #prayforpuertorico #prayforlasvegas #prayforhouston #prayformexicocity #prayforflorida In the midst of all the hashtags, inevitably you’ll find commentary that hashtags are not enough. That we need to take action. And, that’s true. I sometimes wonder how the accessibility to almost instantaneous worldwide communications like twitter with its breaking news sound bites has made us better humans or shown inhumanity that was once locked away in our deepest selves? To not take a position is to take a position. I know that now.
In a recent issue of the New Yorker, an article sucked me into an idea of recreating paradise, hand-plucking each applicant for his/her skill set to live in paradise for one year. Paradise, as defined here, was ensconced somewhere in Wales, and according to the article, if you looked hard enough, you could find a way out of it. Imagine that: scaling a wall to escape “paradise.” That premise of starting over in a utopian state isn’t naïve, it’s hopeful and yet putting the idea into action is an invitation to foreshadowing. Because what I didn’t need to be told is that it wouldn’t work. That factions would break off. That William Golding’s encampment of young boy savages resides in the deepest hearts of all of us. But I’m not convinced that has to be the end of the story.
Consider the city of Petaluma. In the midst of the fires, the city has rallied and come together to help evacuees. You too can volunteer / donate / find a resource for evacuees here. I called our local firehouse in Oakland this morning and offered to bake / bring items and was told they are helping fight the fire and cooking up in the Wine Country.
I have deep, deep ties to the Wine Country and have been on pins and needles as a person close to the fire but not so close that we can’t see the plume, even if our skies are smoky, even if we get our news by headlines ticking across Google search refresh.
It’s hard at a time like now to write about apples. It’s hard not to devour news like it’s a 24 hour buffet of food that doesn’t quite fill you up enough. The morning after the tragedy that unfolded in Las Vegas as Jason Aldean launched into his fourth song, I couldn’t help thinking about the previous morning, a friend excitedly recounting his trip the weekend before to Las Vegas and a Celine Dion concert.
It can be easy to read just the horror in the headlines, but sometimes we must excavate for the hope. Because, it’s there too. The vet who took action, tying off a bleeding appendage in a tourniquet, using someone else’s volunteered flannel shirt—he’s not alone in doing good, just the one guy who made it into a story. There’s the couple who ventured to Vegas to celebrate their anniversary and on Sunday evening, the husband covered his wife’s body with his own, sacrificially saving her. I can’t imagine what snaps inside a person to wrest against the impulse of self-preservation for other-preservation, but it exists. And, it makes me think of cobbler.
A cobbler calls to mind community tables. It’s a dessert best shared, fruit still bubbling in its own sweet juices. And, surely you know someone who could really use something sweet in their life. So, who can you bake for? Can baking a cobbler be in its way a response to all that loss? I know what it’s like to have someone I love ripped from my life in an instant. I may not have survived the same kind of loss as a hurricane or massacre in Vegas, or even an entire home being eviscerated, but I know the kind of onslaught of grief that grips you day and night. And, lest you think a cobbler is a pat answer, what it really is, beyond the biscuits baked on top, all craggy corners with an underbelly cooked by fruit steam—a cobbler is an offer to see someone else’s hurt and offer a gift of time to be with them in all that darkness, bringing provisions. And for that person, for that time, it can be enough.
Apple Maple Pecan Cobbler
Have you ever seen maple sugar at the store? It’s not cheap, but that’s because it’s priceless. Maple syrup has been cooked down into granulated crystals that make it acceptable to use in baking where liquid sweetener isn’t invited. You can always make your own, or if neither of those work, you could try equivalent white sugar with a teaspoon of maple extract. To keep the fruit from browning, make a bowl of acidulated water (aka lemon juice squeezed into water) and add the peeled, cored slices into it as you’re prepping the other ingredients, until ready to use.
Makes 4 servings
5 cups ¼-inch sliced apples, peeled and cored (about 2 Granny Smith & 1 Pink Lady)
1/3 cup maple sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon maple sugar
1teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease an 8×8 pan. Drain and pat the apple dry, if kept in the acidulated water. Toss the apples, maple sugar, flour, and cornstarch in a bowl until coated. Pour into the 8×8 pan.
Whisk the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter, two forks or fingers if your hands tend to be cold and quick. Once the butter resembles peas and almonds, pour in the buttermilk, stirring until it comes together in one shaggy mass, pulling any errant bits into the whole. Roll the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Press out disks of dough using a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter. Polka dot them on top of the apples.
Bake the cobbler for 50 minutes, checking on the topping at 35 minutes–if it’s golden brown, cover the cobbler with foil and continue cooking until a fork inserts easily into one of the apples. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.
When the end of September arrives, my pulse seems to quicken. Is it possible that certain seasons offer greater productivity? I’ve been writing behind the scenes. In coffee shops. At midnight. On napkins. On the phone. In my writing notebook. Sometimes writing requires certain parameters to get started. Other times, there is no road. All flat surfaces are fair game. The thing is don’t give up. Write through the rough patches until the street gets smooth.
Years ago, I made a Tomato Basil Oatmeal Bake and as the calendar flipped to October, I craved the heartiness available in whole grains. Have you ever cooked whole oat groats, wheat or rye berries? The toothsome chewiness of those long sturdy grains make a fiber full addition to your day. You can find rye berries in the bulk section of some natural food stores and co-ops or from Bob’s Red Mill. Cooking the rye berries is a cinch. When you’re batch cooking or doing meal prep for the week, make a pot of rye berries. Reserve two cups to make the rye berry breakfast casserole below. Hang onto the rest of them to toss into salads for a bit more whole grain heft.
Tomato Rye Berry Breakfast Casserole
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 large eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup almond milk
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups cooked rye berries
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of Sun-Gold and red is pretty)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease an 8×8 pan. Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, olive oil, salt, and pepper together. Stir in the rye berries, tomatoes, Parmesan, and thyme. Pour into the pan, finessing a few of the tomatoes into place, but nudging them into the batter if needed. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the custard has set / is not jiggly. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Michael Waters pulled out a small notebook during workshop one day. He pointed to it as the repository for ideas, quotes, scraps of life that he might need a lifeline to find later on in his poetry. I still remember him talking about reading articles about art in the New York Times, how one form of creativity informs another. And it makes sense.
In poetry there is such a thing as ekphrasis. It’s one of my favorite poetic forms when done well because it’s a type of call and response. Have you ever encountered that kind of experience? You’re at a museum, looking from one painting to the next and then, gobsmacked. Riveted. Nothing can pluck your attention away. That kind of visceral emotional response doesn’t always elicit a response in the form of the written word, but when it does, oh, baby!
I always liked photography, but perhaps unsurprisingly? it really caught me in its craw during poetry school. We read books, each other’s work all day long that it made sense to then read the sky, the light dappling through the tree branches, the smile on a classmate’s face or the wry expression on another’s. The administrator of the program liked my photos enough she used them for a time in printed pamphlets for the program and on the program website. For my graduation gift, my mom proudly toted along a DSLR camera for me to continue pursuing photography.
Going into 2017, I knew it would be unlike anything we’d been through in 2016. I needed it to be. It’s not that 2016 was a bad year– it taught me valuable lessons, offered great opportunities, but I needed to move on from it. Who knew what 2017 would hold? And yet, it became the year of pushing myself creatively, going deeper and saying yes to the people and chances that could take me there.
I started the year with a question posed by a food photographer and writer whose work resonates with me: What is your visual voice? I continued asking myself this question and trying to answer it on my own to little avail. I plied friends (poor things!) with the question and didn’t even pretend to offer pretense. I came away always with the question in one hand, the other hand empty.
I guess you could liken visual voice in photography to drinking wine. In the beginning, you don’t have words for what you like and don’t like. You just know it when you taste it. Over time, with repetition, breadth, and a bit of bravado, you begin to find the language. A wine becomes “earthy, barnyard.” “Hint of green apple. Smacking of blackberry jam and pepper.” The appreciation takes on poetry. And this is where I found myself, amassing a collection of appreciation for so many different styles of food photography that over time a through line emerged from my favorite food photo artists.
This past June made all the difference in girding me with what I needed to go deeper as I attended the California Food Photography Workshop in Northern California. The three day intensive workshop was exactly what I had been looking for– generous hosts / teachers in Sarah of Snixy Kitchen, Alanna of the Bojon Gourmet, and Gerry of Foodness Gracious. As part of my “Say Yes” year to creative endeavors, I snagged a spot once I learned about the workshop.
Unlike a one-day photo workshop I attended, loved, and that helped me begin thinking about light and composition in making pictures of food, one thing that resonated with me in the California Food Photography Workshop was its length. Getting away for a few days immersed in photography with likeminded photographers passionate about food made it a creative bootcamp. The schedule stayed full with us shooting and styling breakfast and lunch before eating what was on-set. Our intimate group gelled pretty quickly (what a gift!) and that created this safe space to try things out. Finding the photo in the editing process reminded me of Jeff Friedman’s poetry advice to “find the poem within the poem.”
At night, we lingered around the table, wine glasses tinkling and laughter punctuating our conversation. It’s not understating it to say that the workshop left an indelible impression on me. I thank Sarah for her quick wit, Lightroom savvy and the way she deftly zhuzhes food, giving it that final tweak. I thank Alanna for the artistry of her hand shots and the light she seeks after that feels painterly. I thank Gerry for his good nature and his secret to shaping the perfect scoop of ice cream for a photo. I thank Carla for sharing a simple detail that unlocked an insight for my photography.
But, I also thank each person who attended the retreat. Fawni, for her elegant way of placing her food and making it look whimsical. Jenna, for her perspective and making the drive to Sebastapol fun. Denisse, for how we hit it off in the parking lot, camaraderie carried on throughout the next few days and going for it on set, styling the prettiest salad that inspires me still. Kim, for trying out a messy food style and also for the great conversation on the drive up. Alisa, for her friendship and a conversation that helped me define a blind spot in my food photography that allowed it to be unfettered. Annette, for her styling that reminded me of the beauty of including a pretty element of edible flowers. Renee, for her clean compositions and sass. Judy, for her fun-loving spirit reflected in her food photos. Reah, for her partnership on set pouring chocolate tahini sauce on cue and her sweet warmth. Lisa, for her keen eye as she took photos of guest Chef Green and friendly demeanor. There isn’t enough space here to encapsulate the wonderfulness of Alysha, who shared her rock star photography skills on set and kept us laughing late into the night. The days passed too quickly!
To talk too much about the time would be to dispel the magic of it. If you were to ask me now what my style is, I discovered it with a little help from my friends, up at the California Food Photography Workshop.
As a final exploration of visual voice, a yogurt bowl will tell the story. I kept moving it, getting a different emotional pull from each background. The time to play on set added a crucial element to photography. Chasing the light and considering the possibilities–these are two of my favorite ingredients of food photography. Does one speak more strongly to you?
I should start by telling you anything I could possibly write about Irvin Lin’s first cookbook would be biased. I hung the equivalent of a save-the-date postcard for cookbooks of Irvin Lin’s Marbled, Swirled, and Layered in the coveted spot on the front of my fridge months before his book had even reached his hands hardbound. I bought the book. Attended a book signing. Asked at least one inquisitive question during Q&A. So, as my full disclosure to you, I can give you more than you might ask for in a cookbook review. I can go behind the scenes.
You need to know that when I worked on my cookbook proposal for Steeped, I wrestled with images to include in it, having a very specific aesthetic I was looking to accomplish (and that my fellow lover of words and images, Stephanie Shih realized wonderfully in the printed book). Irvin and I had been friends for years at this point and recently had teamed up at a food photography workshop that proved to be quite productive. When I asked if he would shoot the photos for my proposal, he didn’t hesitate and we spent an afternoon under the overcast skies making pictures.
I say this because to understand what Irvin’s trying to accomplish in his cookbook comes from a place of generosity. It’s not often you see the front matter in a cookbook really seek to instruct instead of just providing a basis for why a baker uses certain equipment and ingredients. In Irvin’s hands, you’ll find six paragraphs dedicated to eggs with handy tips (freeze egg whites in a dedicated ice cube tray; freeze egg yolks with a pinch of salt or sugar to help with clumping when defrosting). A giddiness echoes in the way he shares these nuggets, much like a friend pulling you into earshot to spread news that’s too good not to share. For as long as I’ve known Irvin, he has always wanted to write a baking cookbook and notably one with suggestions on how to tweak recipes for gluten-free sensibilities. Early on in our friendship, we shared this sensitivity for friends who have Celiac disease or an intolerance that showed me we were kindred spirits. You’ll find a gluten-free conversions section before the recipes arrive where he shares his whole-grain gluten-free flour blend and chocolate gluten-free flour blend (p. 29).
The recipes in Marbled, Swirled, and Layered evoke Irvin’s unique sensibility for baking. His recipes are never one note. I described them recently, when I brought the Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl (p. 99, recipe below) to music practice as being emblematic of how he dresses. It’s not unusual to find him wearing a mix of several kinds of stripes in candy-colors where instead of them clashing they make him look dapper and one-of-a-kind. His baking is like this and it’s one reason I’m glad that the title includes the word layered. It’s never enough to just create a riff on linzer cookies with hazelnuts and cocoa, but the jam includes blackberries and mint (p. 59) citing in the headnote how blackberries and hazelnuts both come from Oregon and pair well together especially with “an extra layer of flavor (fresh mint.)”
He’s chatty in real life and you can hear it in his headnotes where his stories set up the recipe below. If you read his blog, eat the love you’ll know stories of his life make up a big part of the recipes he shares. It was a fun surprise to find that a cake he and I had eaten inspired the Carrot and Parsnip Layer Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting (p. 139). I remember when he won the pie contest he describes as a lead-into Lemon-Blackberry Chess Pie (p. 197). The baking and raw ice cream pop-up he notes with the Jumbo Arnold Palmer Cookies (p. 33) did sell out quickly of said cookies, and I was happy to get there to snag one of the cookies before they were gone. I’ve hosted yearly cookie swaps during the holidays and am pretty sure the Cinnamon-Honey Bun Cookies (p. 36) and the Chocolate-Vanilla Checkerboard Cookies (p. 45) both have made appearances here. Along with Anita and Shauna, for several years, we co-hosted a Food Bloggers Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry on a Saturday in the Spring where we would set up shop over by Omnivore Books. His bake sale contributions always had the best branded packaging showing his skill at graphic design with bakeshop quality cookies inside.
On more than one occasion, I subtly (and not so subtly) nudged him that he needed to open a cookie shop because his cookies surpassed what was available in my opinion at neighborhood bake shops. So I suppose it’s not surprising that’s where I focused the bulk of my interest when reading Marbled, Swirled, and Layered—you too can see why if you try baking his Malted Chocolate Chip and Reverse Chip Cookies (p. 81)—his textures are everything I want in a cookie: chewy in the middles, deep flavors, crispy edges, and usually at least one esoteric ingredient. I have every intention of making the Pumpkin S’mores with Maple-Brown Sugar Marshmallows and Dark Chocolate (p. 77) when tomato / apple season ends and pumpkin season officially begins. Wink, wink. The cakes, pies, muffins, and a little bit more sections all have something to offer, (believe me, he’s a master in those categories and bakes for DAYS prior to hosting a dessert party that’s been a can’t miss event in my calendar in past years) but some part of me gravitates back to cookies and bars… especially his Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Glaze.
Back when I worked at the cereal company several years ago, we had agreed to meet for lunch. He brought the dessert, a recipe he was working on for his cookbook. I, a self-declared lover of the darker-the-better chocolate became smitten with roasted. white. chocolate. A strawberry balsamic jam swirled the crispy tops providing a counter-note of tangy fruit to the toothsome bar. He left me several of these brownies and I squirreled them away as treats for teatime during the week. Once I’d exhausted my stash I couldn’t stop thinking about them! White chocolate had never held this kind of spell over me before or since and I bided my time until I could make them at home. Roasting the white chocolate gives the usually cloyingly sweet chocolate a burnished edge to layer in unexpected flavor. It’s kind of like Irvin himself. He adds a bit of his unmistakable charm and flavor wherever he goes, his inquisitive passion for baking so beautifully captured in a book to enliven the kitchens of intrepid home bakers.
ROASTED WHITE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH STRAWBERRY-BALSAMIC SWIRL
Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl excerpted from MARBLED, SWIRLED, AND LAYERED© 2017 by Irvin Lin. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
When you’re picking up the ingredients to make these brownies, Irvin says, “make sure the white chocolate you purchase has cocoa butter listed in the ingredients. Bypass white chocolate chips or cheap white chocolate (which uses vegetable oil in place of the cocoa butter) as he notes those don’t melt or caramelize well.”
MAKES 24 small brownies
1 2⁄3 cups (10 ounces or 285 g) chopped
white chocolate (in about 1⁄4-inch chunks)
3⁄4 cup (170 g or 1 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
3⁄4 cup (165 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1⁄4 cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 1⁄2 ounces or 160 g) chopped
strawberries (in about 1⁄2-inch chunks)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
ROAST THE WHITE CHOCOLATE
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread the white chocolate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir with a clean spatula until the browned chocolate at the edges is evenly mixed with the uncooked white chocolate in the center. Once completely stirred, the white chocolate should be the color of dark peanut butter. If it isn’t, continue to bake in 5-minute increments to darken it. Watch the white chocolate closely once it starts to brown, as it can burn pretty fast. Let cool on the baking sheet while you make the brownie batter.
MAKE THE BROWNIE BATTER
Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray and then line it with parchment paper, with 2 inches of the paper overhanging the edges of the pan. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.
Place the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and beat to incorporate. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg to incorporate completely and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl before adding the next one. Add the oil and beat to incorporate. Scrape the roasted white chocolate into the bowl (it may have hardened and gotten a little grainy, but don’t worry about that) and mix it in. Add the flour and mix on low speed until absorbed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
MAKE THE STRAWBERRY-BALSAMIC SWIRL
Place the strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and smashing the berries, until the strawberries release their juice and fall apart, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir the cornstarch into the water and then drizzle it into the strawberries, continuing to stir and cook for a minute or two until the mixture has thickened into a jam. Continue cooking for about 2 more minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Drop generous tablespoons of the strawberry swirl over the brownie batter and then use a butter knife or chopstick to swirl them together. Don’t overmix; just gently pull the strawberry swirl here and there and pull some brownie batter over the strawberry swirl as well.
Bake until the brownie is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then remove the brownies by grabbing the sides of the parchment paper and pulling directly up. Transfer the entire slab of brownies to a cutting board. Cut and serve.
alternative to strawberry balsamic swirl
ROASTED WHITE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH CHOCOLATE-HAZELNUT SWIRL
Make the brownie batter. Omit the strawberry-balsamic swirl. Make the chocolate-hazelnut swirl by placing 1 cup (130 g) hazelnuts, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1⁄4 cup (30 g) natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process), and 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor. Turn the processor on and slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil while the processor is running. Blend until a paste forms. Add up to 3 teaspoons more olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, if the paste is too thick (you want a peanut butter–like consistency). Swirl into the brownie batter in a decorative pattern. Assemble and bake as directed. Or cheat and use 3⁄4 cup Nutella to swirl into the brownie!
I’m not sure how long summer days summon a different strain on what I want to read but without looking for it, I begin craving memoir and fiction. Throughout the rest of the year, my regimen largely consists of cookbooks and poetry (stay tuned early autumn for a book of food and poetry in a scintillating way).
If there was a pool nearby, you could find me next to it, slipping off my flip-flops and slipping into someone else’s story—either as they remember it or as it‘s made up.
If you also read throughout the year but your summer appetite’s voracious, you might find something unexpected to pick up from my 2017 summer required reading list below. Several of these books actually were released last year but found enough of a foothold that they made their way to trade paperback this year. Others you can’t help but hear about from interviews on NPR with the author or a splashy cover on Poets & Writers magazine. There’s a bit of variety in this year’s mix. Something to know is to expect full-on book reviews for a few of these titles. The titles are not listed by order of importance, but instead as they are being read. Since I haven’t tackled a few of the titles yet, join me in reading them. I will update this post with a mini synopsis of the books after I’ve read them. I could cheat and share details from the jackets, but even when I was a waitress, I preferred to try the different dishes on the menu so I could better describe them.
2017 Summer Required Reading List
For the historical fiction fan, Feast transports you to ancient Rome through the lens of a cook in their patrician master’s kitchen. Think Downton Abbey meets Rome. This book’s particularly good for the beach. Every reader’s dream is to interview the author and I had a chance to chat with Crystal King about how she brought the world of Apicius to life.
I became acquainted with Dillon years ago through his now defunct music band and regularly attended his shows. I knew he moved onto start a non-profit, produce a documentary about childhood slavery but never really understood how that all fit together. In Selfish Plan, his premise is simple. All that makes you you is what the world needs to challenge the big issues of our time that seem insurmountable. It’s deeply inspiring and has hit me time and again with hopeful truths that any reader might pick up on: why are we here? What are we here to do? His prose reads like poetry, evidence of deep roots in music.
You may have heard by now the underlying story to Hunger already, and no spoilers here, but Gay addresses with such piercing the prismatic reality of being fat in America—a taboo topic usually tabled in place of side eye, cutting remarks, and the like. There are moments in reading the memoir where I stepped away because it felt too relatable and other parts I can’t relate to at all. One question she fielded in a KQED interview recently is something I’m still chewing on too. I found light in her chapter on Ina Garten and renewed appreciation for her writing.
This book startled me. I thought I had it figured out based on the synopsis printed on the back but it exceeded any expectations of a Kitchen Confidential meets coming-of-age (aka coming-to-the-City) tale. The author does a tremendous job depicting the allure and camaraderie of the restaurant family making me want to go join their ranks but then turning that notion onto its head, not allowing it to become sentimental. She uses this tactic of poetic form to distill moments in the book with clarity. One of the most interesting devices in the book is that the heroine is not named until page 216, (the book is only 352 pages long) supporting the idea that this heroine wants to be anyone other than who she is until the ultimate moment of clarity when the reader and heroine can’t see any other possibility than the one she’s to take.
- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
- Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
- A Year Right Here by Jess Thomson
- The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
What are your don’t-miss books this summer? Have you read any of the books on my list?