autumn reading, november edition

This month I review four titles: the first three are cookbooks and the fourth is a magical blend of myth and history. I am trying to do better about keeping Goodreads up-to-date.

book cover forest feast gatheringsThe Forest Feast Gatherings: Simple Vegetarian Menus for Hosting Friends & Family
by Erin Gleeson
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Does an extreme introvert need a cookbook geared toward events she’s unlikely to attend, let alone host? Yes. While my gatherings tend to be random lunches with a parent, I’m always looking for ways to make them more pleasant for everyone involved. While it’s unlikely, I could need to host a gathering and I know that Gleeson’s newest book, The Forest Feast Gatherings answers all my questions, and more, with cooking for and hosting a small crowd. It is beautifully laid out with drool inducing photographs and watercolors. Many pages look like pinterest pins, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing for this book. I know I respond well to visual cues. The step-by-step photos, helpful notes, and photography would guide me toward a successful event that I might otherwise dread.

While I’m sure I already have similar recipes on my bookshelves, the layout elevates them from a meal I don’t think much to something special with a few small tweaks and suggestions. As I know very well how to cook for what we generally consume, I found it very valuable when there are guidelines as to how to adjust and estimate for a crowd. An example of this is the Vietnamese lentil tacos, similar to what we ate last night. The spread featuring this menu item surprised me at how brilliantly simple and delicious it looked!

Of course there’s no need to only make these delicious vegetarian dishes for a gathering. I think there is a pear-thyme galette in my near future; it could bake while we eat dinner.

The Forest Feast Gatherings is a valuable and beautiful reference for my bookshelf.

book cover dandelion & quinceDandelion and Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs
by Michelle McKenzie
Roost Books
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

As a young child my eating, though varied, wasn’t as eclectic as it is today, mostly because I didn’t have access to the range of fruits and vegetables I do now. I’ve been lucky to find recipes and information about all of these items scattered across cookbooks and cultures. Dandelion and Quince is a useful resource for those unfamiliar with the unique seasonal bounty available at farmer’s markets and the vast options in many of today’s grocery stores and specialty retailers. McKenzie steps through 35 profiles and includes a few recipes for each.

The recipes are not daunting and include simple flavours, such as butter braised kohlrabi (yum) but also combinations I’d not thought to try, such as Carmelized Kobocha with Seeds and Shallot. What seeds you might ask? Pomegranate, sesame, nigella, and cumin. It sounds really good and I’m looking forward to autumn truly arriving so I can roast some of my favorite squash and try this dish. I see this cookbook as helpful to get out of my “it’s just easy to roast everything in olive oil” rut, I think Sunchoke and Chestnut Soup with Carmelized Chestnuts and Pumpkin Seed Oil (or Brown Butter) sounds really good for a grey autumn day.

Don’t despair, it is a seasonal cookbook; I’m reviewing it in the autumn so those flavours are appealing the most to me right now. There are ideas for bolting herbs, spring flower and lavender jelly, a watermelon salad with buckwheat sprouts and feta, and more. While I think any cook would appreciate the recipes in this cookbook, I think it is best suited for newer cooks who are beginning to branch out and discover new fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

book cover pho cookbookThe Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles
by Andrea Nguyen
to be published by Ten Speed Press in February 2017

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I’ve never enjoyed properly traditional pho, but after hearing many friends go on about how delicious it was, I sought out a recipe. I’ve been making my own vegan version for a few years now. I’m fascinated by this iconic soup and eager to learn more about it and perhaps find ways to improve mine. Nguyen’s newest, The Pho Cookbook, is everything I could hope for in a title dedicated to a single dish. It’s chock full of history, a range of recipes, and amazing photos that made me drool.

It begins with basics on how to assemble each bowl of pho in a myriad of ways, quick or more involved (and ultimately intense), and offered in both meat and meat-free broths. I love that if the order of adding ingredients is important, it’s explained.

I appreciate that there are iconic versions and options for vegetarian, vegan, and if not gluten-free they’re adaptable. As Nygen writes in her blog post featuring this book, No one should be left out of the pho action. I also appreciate the idea to use up extra pho broth in lieu of water (not that there’s every any left in our house) when cooking rice and some non-traditional approaches that incorporate the flavours such as pot stickers. The condiment and side kick recipes are appreciated. For reasons unknown, in my house the hoison sauce jar is either new… or I find an empty still in the fridge, now I can make it in less time and effort than it takes to run to the store.

The Pho Cookbook delivers for those looking to make pho at home for the first time and for many bowls to come.

book cover tje bear & the nightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel
by Katherine Arden
to be published by Ballantine Books in January 2017

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The promotional blurbs claim a magical debut novel that readers of Uprooted, The Night Circus, and other myth-rich fantasies (such as Summerlong) will enjoy, though I’m always wary. Can The Bear and the Nightingale live up to the hype?

Yes… and not quite.

I’m not intimately familiar with the corpus of Russian fairy tales and my medieval Russian history is shaky, so I found many moments when the story was at its most mysterious and wonderful. I found myself trying to read faster and cursing the time it took to turn pages, because I was not quite sure how it would proceed and I wanted to know what would happen next. There are many of these moments in the novel where the reader is transported to a far-away time and place. In these Arden has seamlessly blended and melded the best of fantasy, myth, and history to create a story.

I loved how our heroine Vasya, is blissfully unaware of her magic and power for the majority of the novel, not quite sure what to make of the whisperings of her witch’s eyes she hears among the village folk. It was wonderful to follow her as she grew up navigating this patriarchal society believed in by few yet beloved by her guilt-ridden father.

However, despite the vast world building, engaging prose, and a beautiful interwoven tapestry that blends new from myth and history, the magic couldn’t hold it completely together. For me, the finishing fell flat and ended not quite stop-at-the-edge-of-a-gully abruptly, but I felt without the same polish found elsewhere in the text.

As a first novel it is a delightful read that I recommend and think will be perfect for a miserable winter’s night while toasting one’s feet near a fire. I look forward to more from Arden and hopefully Vasya in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copies. The FTC wants you to know.