Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Possessions" by Sara Flannery Murphy, Served with a Recipe for (Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata

Today's TLC Book Tour stop features The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy,
an atmospheric, unique and slightly creepy thriller, with a touch of the supernatural about it. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a lemony (Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata, a dish inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances.

In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies”, wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients.
But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls.

After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.

A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper (February 7, 2017)

My Review:

This book is difficult to review in much detail beyond the blurb above without giving away plot points and the mysteries contained in its pages and I don't want to spoil it. I will say that it is strange and has a somewhat dystopian vibe and a bleak sort of beauty to it that drew me in almost immediately. The city and time it is set in are unnamed and there are times it feels futuristic and other times it feels like it could be set in the current day, or at least in the very near future. The author has woven the story together adeptly so that the less believable, more supernatural bits are cottoned in enough reality to make them convincing, while still being very *trippy* and fantasy-like. 

I often have challenges with books where I don't connect in some way with the main character and Eurydice (Edie) is difficult to connect tonwith her sparse way of relating what is happening and her purposeful distancing of herself from others. It worked though--providing added mystery and making me second-guess what would happen next. I also enjoyed the moral questions the novel made me think about. What if it were possible to channel a loved one through a service that offered up the 'bodies' of workers to communicate with and spend time with them, or say something that was not said while they were alive. Morally, is it justifiable? What are the ways it could be a positive and does that outweigh the negatives of altering the natural order of things?   

At times the pacing was erratic--it felt slow in various spots where I wanted more tension-building and then other times it felt too quick when I wanted more details and time to absorb them. Not everything is tidily wrapped up at the end--but overall it engaged me and left me thinking and wanting more. The fact that it is a debut novel makes it even more impressive in its uniqueness and execution.


Author Notes: Sara Flannery Murphy grew up in Arkansas, where she divided her time between Little Rock and Eureka Springs, a small artists’ community in the Ozark Mountains. She received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis and studied library science in British Columbia. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son. The Possessions is her first novel.
Find out more about Sara at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

There isn't a lot of food in the pages of The Possessions--various alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, whiskey and champagne, along with coffee and pink lemonade. There's mention of lunch in a cafe with the smell of fresh bread, food on delicate wicker trays, and a sandwich with red pepper and tomato. There are the visuals of the lotus pills, plum--both the fruit and the vivid lipstick on the cover, a bowl of cereal leftovers with pinkish rings, and birthday cake. The most detailed mention is the one I ended up taking my inspiration from for my book-inspired dish; a dinner that Edie cooks for Patrick of chicken capers and lemon. 

I've brought a bottle of wine to Patrick's house tonight. Glossy pink chicken under plastic, a glass bottle of brined capers, two lemons, olive oil. 

"What are you making?" he asks.

"It's a recipe my mother used to make." 

--The Possessions, Sara Flannery Murphy

I made the assumption that the dish was a chicken piccata--one of my favorite dishes when I still ate meat and poultry and one which I dabble in making meat-free variations that capture the flavors. 

I really wanted to make a stir-fried lotus root dish since the pills the bodies used to channel the dead were called lotuses and whether or not they were made from lotus--it made me think of the flowers. Unfortunately, likely because I was looking, I could find no lotus root at any of my local stores this week. Instead, I decided to make a meat-free version of Edie's family dish. 

Having a strong love of lemon and capers, I have made several meat-free versions of chicken piccata before--using mushrooms or chickpeas to stand in for the chicken breast. For this dish I wanted to use a vegan chicken replacement as a nod to the bodies, becoming the loved ones of their clients through an artificial means (how deep is that?!) ;-) Unfortunately, without driving into Whole Foods or a natural foods store, I couldn't find the right type of chicken substitute best for this dish (a scallopini-style chicken breast) and instead ended up with a package of grilled strips. I decided to supplement the mock-chicken with mushrooms for better flavor and texture.  

(Not) Chicken and Mushroom Piccata
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2 to 3)

2 Tbsp vegan butter or olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced
about 12 to 14-oz total chicken substitute of choice, or mushrooms or combination of both
3 cloves garlic,thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp cold water + 1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup light vegetable stock
3 Tbsp capers, drained
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
linguini or pasta of choice, cooked al dente according to package direction 

In a medium-large pan, heat vegan butter/oil over medium heat. Add onions and chicken substitute if using saute for 6 to 7 minutes, or until onions are softened and chicken pieces are lightly browned. Add the garlic and thyme saute for another minute or two. Add mushrooms if using and cook about 5 minutes, until mushrooms begin to brown and soften, releasing their juices. 

Add white wine to pan and cook 3-4 minutes to reduce by about 1/2. Meanwhile, make a slurry by thoroughly combining cold water and cornstarch in a small bowl until completely mixed. Add the slurry and the vegetable stock to the pan and cook, stirring over medium heat until sauce is thickened--about 5 minutes. 

Add chopped parsley, capers, and lemon juice and cook another minute or two. Taste and add sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To serve, place a small mound of pasta in a shallow bowl and top with the sauce and piccata mixture. Garnish with additional parsley, lemon zest and black pepper if desired. Enjoy! 

Notes/Results: Taste was spot on and the dish, had I used just the mushrooms, would have been an A+. Unfortunately, I should not have stuck to my desire to have a vegan chicken substitute in the dish and just gone with the meaty crimini mushrooms when I couldn't find the best type of chicken. Although these strips had an OK texture, the mushrooms were markedly better and they brought my self-rating down to a B. Still the recipe was tasty and it can be adapted to whatever you want in place of the chicken--pressed tofu, meat substitute, cauliflower steaks, chickpeas, etc.--even chicken if you are a carnivore. ;-) I like my piccata sauce plentiful and slightly thick for topping pasta (or rice or mashed potatoes) but you can omit the cornstarch slurry and have a thinner sauce as well. All-in-all, even with the chicken-sub mix, this dish hit the spot and solved my piccata craving. I will happily make it again. 

I'm linking this post up to 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 the "The Possessions" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and 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, February 19, 2017

Nigel Slater's Tomato, Fennel and Cod Soup: A Unique Fish Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

This is a two-fish-dish week. I'm both working through some frozen fish and trying to add a little more protein to my diet this week. I had a bit over a pound of wild cod in the freezer and had been wanting to try this Tomato Fish Broth recipe from Nigel Slater in the The Guardian. I like unusual flavor combination and the combination of the fish, fennel, tomato and mushroom with the olives, pickles, dill and sour cream sounded tempting. 

I think dill can be a polarizing ingredient that people either love or hate (my sisters both detest it while I adore it) but if you do enjoy it, you will likely love this soup which has wonderful and unique flavor. I made a few changes to the recipe--noted in red below. It was perfect--light but warming for a cool breezy weekend.

Nigel says, "It was intriguing to come across a soup seasoned with sour ingredients. The version I ate in Helsinki was made with what they call pike-perch, but any sustainable white-fleshed fish that holds together well can be used." 

Tomato Fish Broth
Adapted from Nigel Slater via
(Serves 4 to 6)

onions: 2 medium (I used sweet yellow onions)
olive oil
garlic: 1 clove (I used 2)
tomatoes: 5 medium-sized
fennel: 1 small bulb
button mushrooms: a couple of handfuls
water or vegetable stock: 1 litre or 4 cups (I increased the amount for a brothier soup & used 3 cups shrimp stock & 3 cups light, low-sodium veggie broth)
gherkins: 2 medium-sized  (I used 5 baby dills + some juice) 

(I added 1 Tbsp capers)
olives: 16 (I used
Picholine green olives)
(I added about 1/4 cup of tiny pickled sweet red peppers)
parsley: a few sprigs
dill: 3 bushy sprigs
white fish fillets: 500g (about 1 1/4 lbs) (I used cod)
sour cream 4-6 tbsp (I used kefir labne--yogurt cheese)

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Soften them in a little olive oil in a heavy-based pan over a moderate heat. Peel and crush the garlic and add to the onions. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan. Let them cook to a slush with the onions. 

Finely slice the fennel and mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the fennel has started to soften a little. Pour in the water or stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, adding salt and black pepper.

Slice the gherkins, stone and halve the olives, chop the parsley and dill and set aside. Lower the fish into the stock and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the fish is just opaque. Stir the gherkins, olives, parsley and dill into the soup. Correct the seasoning and, if you wish, add a little of the liquid from the gherkin jar. Ladle into warm bowls and add a spoonful of soured cream to each.

Notes/Results: I really love this soup which is unique in flavor profile and quite delicious when it is all combined together. The sour, tangy bites of the pickles, olives, dill and capers, along with the yogurt take the simple tomato-fennel-onion-cod combination to another level. I used good broth--some homemade shrimp stock and some good low-sodium veggie stock base and added some of the optional pickle juice which gave it a nice depth of flavor. The added tiny red pickled peppers were mainly added for color and the capers because I love them but they added to the mix. The kefir labne made a great substitution to sour cream and adds protein and probiotics with a great tangy flavor when stirred into the mix, but you can used the sour cream or crème fraîche or even plain yogurt. The only thing missing was some good bread that I forgot to buy to soak up the extra broth. I would definitely make this again.

This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where the coming week is our February Potluck--our chance to make any recipe from our current chef Heidi Swanson, or any of our previous IHCC featured chefs. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

We have some good friends with delicious dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen from last week--let's have a look!

Ali of Fix Me a little Lunch shared Macadamia Lemon Shrimp Salad and said, "I’ve been curious about the whole Whole 30 thing – by and large, minus the carbs, cheese and dairy, Clay and I eat a pretty healthy diet.  However, my lunches have been a little decadent here of late (I’m blaming the weather and the need for comfort food).  As spring is finally starting to peek around the corner, I think I’m ready for some healthier lunches.  So this week’s recipe is my inspired #FoodBlogerLove salad, which is Whole 30, quick, easy and definitely healthy."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor tried Ina Garten's Pea Soup that she described as "more like pea sludge." She said, "No matter how much broth I added it would absorb.  Like pancakes soak up became a sludge.  Yes, I did eat it and bless his heart, my supportive husband ate it too. It tasted fairly good considering the texture was like hummus. We had to use bread to scoop it, like hummus, rather than soaking up the non-existent broth.  Too weird.  Why am I sharing this dumpster fire of a meal?  Because we learn from mistakes in the kitchen and I know I don't want to make this recipe again."

Debra of Eliot's Eats shared Lentil Soup with Chorizo inspired by a recent book review. She said, "I wanted to make that lentil soup that she and her skiing partner ate for every lunch while in Cerro Catedral (Patagonia).  The ate so much of this soup their “pee started to smell weird.” (That’s a great endorsement to make this soup, don’t you think?  My motivation came from her description that it was sooooo good that they ate it every day.) This is a hearty dish and I would eat it everyday for lunch as well if I could."

Here at Kahakai Kitchen I made Scrambled Egg Sandwiches with Sriracha-Garlic Mayo for a recent book review. I love egg sandwiches and the Sriracha-Garlic Mayo is my adaptation of a spicy garlic aioli that is served on avocado toast at my favorite local coffee shop. It went well with the eggs and took the basic sandwich to a new level. 

Mahalo to everyone who joined in this week! 

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 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.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

 Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Heidi Swanson's Nori Compound Butter with Salmon and Brown Rice and/or Baby Radishes

I love nothing better than a simply cooked piece of good fish or roasted veggies or grains topped with a bit compound butter--it adds so much flavor and richness. I love making compound butter with different ingredients so I have been wanting to try Heidi Swanson's Nori Butter--a blend of toasted nori seaweed, sesame seeds, yuzu or lemon zest, cayenne and cumin. 

In her Near & Far cookbook, Heidi has the nori butter paired with baby radishes--which sounded good, but I envisioned it topping a piece of salmon and I liked her idea of mixing it into some brown rice.

Paired together, it made for a delicious dinner. 
Nori Butter
From Near & Far by Heidi Swanson
(Makes 1/2 Cup of Compound Butter)
1 (8-inch) sheet of nori
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1/4 tsp yuzu or lemon zest
4 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground toasted cumin

Toast the nori by waving it over a gas burner or toasting in the oven or in a dry pan until it brightens and crisps up. Let cool, then crumble and/or chop into the smallest pieces you can manage. Set aside.

Using a spoon, cream the butter in a bowl until light. Add the nori, salt, yuzu or lemon zest, sesame seeds, cayenne, and cumin. Stir until the ingredients are evenly distributed. 

Place butter into a ramekin or other container, or place in silicone molds for fun shapes and chill in the fridge or freezer. 

Serve alongside radishes or other raw veggies, over fish or warm brown rice. Store covered in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes/Results: I love this butter--lots of flavor and it went perfectly with the salmon and in the rice. It would pair with any fish--even the lighter-flavored ones as well as any vegetable you want to give a pop of umami to. I tried it with the baby breakfast radishes that Heidi recommends in the book and the pairing of the sharp radish and savory, slightly salty butter works really well together. For the rice, I stirred the butter into the warm rice and topped it with a bit of extra nori pieces and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. I am going to try it on popcorn this weekend--I used a curry compound butter on some a while back and think this one would be equally good. I'll let you know. ;-) I will definitely make this recipe again.

I'm linking this post up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Foods We Love--Heidi Swanson recipes featuring our favorite ingredients. You can see what dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Mermaids of Lake Michigan" By Suzanne Kamata, Served with a Scrambled Egg Sandwich with Sriracha-Garlic Mayo (+ a Giveaway!)

Happy Valentine's Day! I'm excited to be kicking off the TLC Book Tour for a new coming-of-age novel, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata that publishes today. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a Scrambled Egg Sandwich with Sriracha-Garlic Mayo inspired by the book and there's also a giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of your own

Publisher's Blurb:

Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal–the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana–has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one’s allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. 

Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.

Paperback 176 Pages 
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (February 14, 2017)

My Review:

I admit to being a sucker for a good coming-of-age story, especially one set in the 70s or 80s with an engaging main character. Elise Faulkner of The Mermaids of Lake Michigan won me over from the start. A bit of an introvert, Elise would rather read a book or write to her pen-pals from other countries than actually interact with others. She believes in mermaids (her great grandmother was a wreck diver who swore she saw one once) and she feels different and set apart from her family and the people in her small town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The summer she is seventeen she befriends Chiara, her neighbor's granddaughter and falls in love with a young Romani drifter and her life changes as she tries to navigate life and adulthood.

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan is less than 200 pages but it feels like a longer book with its beautiful writing and depth of character and story. Suzanne Kamata skillfully captures the feelings of growing up in a small town in the 1970s and although I went through my adolescence about a decade later, across the country in the Pacific Northwest, I could definitely relate to Elise and her thoughts and feelings. There is a bit of magical realism woven into the store but it is subtle and doesn't take away from the very real moments. This is a wonderful book to curl up with and go back in time to adolescence, both the heady, brilliant moments and the painful, sometimes crushing ones. 

Author Notes:  Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She is most recently from Lexington, South Carolina, and now lives in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications including Real Simple, Brain, Child, Crab Orchard Review, and The Japan Times. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/ Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival Award, and winner of the Half the World Global Literati Award for the novel.

Connect with Suzanne on her website or Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is definitely food in The Mermaids of Lake Michigan from the banana bread that Elise's mother bakes to the grilled cheese, canned soup, charred pork chops and spaghetti Elise makes as she attempts to learn to cook. Elise's mother often went all out for company, cooking Jacques Pepin recipes and dishes like Coq Au Vin and bird's nest soup, or a simple meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green peas, blueberry muffins and strawberry shortcake for Chiara. There were mentions of tea and crumpets, homemade dill pickles, carnival food like corn dogs, cotton candy, candy apples, ice cream and popsicles. There were restaurant dinners of quesadillas, tacos and beans, chips and fried ice cream and spaghetti with chunks of bread and Italian wine, and take out of McDonalds and fried clams, French fries and coleslaw. There was Elise's sister's tofu and raw egg, yogurt and wheat germ breakfasts contrasted with Elise's Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, cornflakes, scrambled eggs and jelly toast

Recipe Inspiration:

For my book-inspired dish, I picked something simple--Elise's favorite breakfast, updated with a little spicy Sriracha-Garlic Mayo. 

"On my birthday I got the royal treatment. Mom made my favorite breakfast - a scrambled egg sandwich with lots of mayonnaise smeared on the bread."

I am a big fan of scrambled egg sandwiches and lately I have become addicted to a spicy garlic aioli sauce that my favorite coffee shop serves on top of their avocado toast. I thought it would be delicious on an egg sandwich and so I have recreated it below.

Sriracha-Garlic Mayo
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1/2 cup)

1 garlic clove, finely grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use vegan garlic mayo)
2 1/2 Tbsp sriracha, or to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp tsp garlic salt
1/2 Tbsp pickle or caper juice

Stir together ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and add additional Sriracha or seasoning as desired. 

Cover and chill until ready to use. Will keep for about a week in fridge.

Notes/Results: Delicious! My garlic sauce isn't an exact match for the one I crave (it uses a smoked-paprika and garlic spice mix), but it is close and pretty darn good. I think this sauce with its flavor and spice, would be good on pretty much anything, but it definitely complements the egg and buttery oat bread toast and makes this egg sandwich even better. I enjoyed this sandwich for dinner with slices of fresh tomato, but it would be  perfect for any snack or meal of the day. I will definitely make the sandwich and the mayo again. 

I'm linking this post up to 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 am also linking this sandwich up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!

***Book Giveaway!!!***

The publisher is generously providing a copy of The Mermaids of Lake Michigan to giveaway (U.S. and Canada addresses, please) here at Kahakai Kitchen.

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me about a place that was special to you growing up and/or why you would like to win a copy of the book

There are a couple of other optional ways to get more entries to win: Tweet about this giveaway or follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii), and/or author Suzanne Kamata (@shikokusue), and/or Wyatt-MacKensie Publishing (@Wymac) on Twitter
(Note: You can still get the extra entries even if you already follow me, Kamata, and/or Wyatt-MacKenzie on Twitter.)

Deadline for entry is Monday, February 27th.

Good Luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Note: A review copy of the "Mermaids of Lake Michigan" was provided to me by the publisher and 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.