Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Week in Books and Food

What I have today is a series of brief blurbs on interesting eats and reads from the past several days.

The success of the quinoa pinto bean salad that I posted last week means that many more hearty salads are going to be put together. I cooked a big batch of short pasta (bows and corkscrews) and had some left over. Somewhere, I had seen an idea for an avocado pasta sauce and that's how this salad came to be: cooked pasta tossed with sauteed zucchini, cooked black beans, raw shredded red cabbage and a creamy sauce made by blending ripe avocados with a bit of yogurt, mayo, lemon juice, salt and pepper and handfuls of cilantro. Sound more than a little hodge-podge, but it was a treat to eat cold out of the fridge on a warm afternoon. I drizzled my portion with a little sriracha sauce.

Neighbor Girl and I celebrated our birthdays recently and exchanged gifts and cards by mail (sob!) She sent me nice-smelling handmade soaps and the most gorgeous cookbook (more on that another time), and I sent her freshly-baked cookies and a gift certificate for a massage at a spa local to her (Thank you, Internet). The cookies were these espresso shortbread cookies and they were good but not great. I felt like something was lacking. She was gracious enough to gush about them anyway.

On Sunday, we had some people over and for a very casual meal, we set up a grilled cheese bar. We set out:
Breads- sourdough, sliced multigrain, ciabatta rolls;
Cheeses- brie, cheddar, cream cheese, goat Gouda, mozzarella, etc.
Fillings- sauteed spinach, mushrooms, marinated artichokes, caramelized onions, bananas and apples, sliced tomatoes, and a potato-pea mixture for Indian style sandwich toasts;
Sauces- mustard, jalapeno jelly, raspberry jam, peanut butter, pesto.

Everyone was invited to assemble their own grilled cheese. All sorts of crazy combinations were made and enjoyed. One was a peanut butter, banana and brie, grilled and then slathered with raspberry jam. The one in the picture is cream cheese, artichokes and spinach. Oh, it was fun.

From food to books...

Image: Goodreads
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith (fiction). This was a real treat, starting a new (to me, that is) series from one of my favorite authors. McCall Smith wrote a serial novel for a Scottish newspaper, and the book is a collection of the episodes. 44 Scotland Street is a small apartment complex, and we get acquainted with the quirky residents- a child prodigy and his helicopter mother, a college student and her narcissistic roommate, and so many others. Just like the sitcom Seinfeld ("a show about nothing"), nothing earth-shaking ever happens but these are stories about the hilarity of everyday situations, and the diverse personalities that make up life on this city block. I'll definitely read the rest of the books in this series.


Image: Goodreads
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams (fiction; YA mystery). I picked up this book for the Criminal Plots reading challenge that I signed up for, and one of the challenges is to read a YA crime novel. The story is a bit implausible but hey, it's a story that someone made up so one has to go with the flow. Ingrid is 13, athletic, a lover of Sherlock Holmes and an aspiring actress. From her very normal, suburban background, she finds herself in an unusual situation that connects her to the murder of a woman in her town. Of course, she has to investigate, and the resulting story is fast paced and quite entertaining. This book is the first in the Echo Falls series but personally, I'm in no hurry to go out and read the others.



Image: Goodreads
No Rest for the Dead by Andrew Gulli and 25 other authors (!) (fiction; mystery). Again, as part of the Criminal Plots reading challenge, the goal was to read a crime novel written by more than one person. I picked one that's written by 26 people, no kidding. It was pretty interesting to think about how a couple dozen writers could have collaborated on one story and kept up the flow pretty well. For all the mysteries I read, I knew only 1 author out of the 26- and that author was Alexander McCall Smith. The premise of the story is devastating- a woman, a mother of two small children, is accused of murdering her husband and is executed. But she is innocent of the crime. The book tells the story of how the repentant lead detective goes back and solves the crime. The story is engaging enough but there's a 600 lb gorilla in the room- the woman is dead and no neat wrap-up of the mystery will ever bring her back. What a horror capital punishment is.

While I certainly enjoy my share of fiction, there's nothing quite as rewarding as reading a non-fiction book/article and learning something about this world that we live in. Much of the time, I come away fascinated, thinking, "Wow- you can't make this stuff up". Some of the most interesting non-fiction articles that I read come from the New Yorker magazine (the only magazine we subscribe to, as it happens). A website called Longform recommends non-fiction articles, and their selections are often really compelling. (Longform= my favorite way to kill time at the computer when I should be doing something more important).

Image: Goodreads
Confessions of an Alien Hunter by Seth Shostak (non-fiction). My mother picked up this book from the library and I ended up reading it as well. Shostak is a senior astronomer in the SETI program- the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This is a breezy, entertaining and informative book giving an insider look into the real-life version of the X files, discussing whether alien life is already out there, what forms it might take, and what it could mean for humans. The writing was a bit cheesy for my taste and liberally sprinkled with dorky jokes. And the book is very light on technical details, which is a pity because the average reader is intelligent enough to learn something new about the science of astronomy while she's at it.


Any interesting recipes or books you'd like to tell us about? I'm all ears.

P.S. Please come back on Friday if you want to sign up for the next round of the Spice and Something Nice Swap

36 comments:

  1. The salad sounds delicious, I have 7 avocados that are ready to eat :-) so I'll be making all kinds of avocado recipes this week. I feast on avocados here in summer like I used to feast on Alphanso's in India.

    And I love your idea of grilled cheese bar. I love all the options you had there. We have grilled cheese nights but I've never been so creative and rather looked at it as a 'too tired to cook' alternative before. Now I can't stop thinking of all the possibilities! Thank you, Nupur.

    Two books that I am thoroughly enjoying at present are 'The Full Cupboard of Life' by Alexander McCall Smith and 'Cooked' by Michael Pollan.

    'Cooked' makes you look and think of cooking in a very refreshing way. I have just started reading it and it really compels one to think about the importance of cooking, to see mundane cooking processes in a different light and inspires you to go in your kitchen get cooking and enjoy the same process with the new found vision. :-) I love Pollan's writing and the way he presents his thoughts. I have re-read some para's just for the joy of reading something so thought provoking presented so beautifully.

    - Priti

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    1. 7 avocados? That's a feast right there :) Cooked sounds very interesting and I'll definitely look for it! It is indeed a pleasure to read something that is thoughtful and well-written.

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  2. Nupur:

    Speaking of longform, I have 3 more websites that feature all sorts of interestingness ...if you don't already know them :) Do check out brainpickings, 3 quarks daily and the american scholar

    ps: that's a very good looking sandwich! There are some superb vegan sammiches hers in Toronto that feature avocado instead of cheese. YUMM

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    1. Ooh Thanks for the website suggestions, Janani! I can see how avocado can replace dairy in a sandwich with that wonderful creaminess and mouth-feel.

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  3. Nupur, I tried publishing a comment on your earlier post, but I am not sure it went through. You were featured in a Pune newspaper over the weekend as blog of the week, and I thought you'd like to know. Here's a link.
    http://lite.epaper.timesofindia.com/getpage.aspx?pageid=20&pagesize=&edid=&edlabel=PMIR&mydateHid=18-05-2013&pubname=&edname=&publabel=MM

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    1. Thanks, Shilpa! I did know about it because the author contacted me for permission to use a picture, and someone sent me a picture of the newspaper article. Thanks for this link, although it takes me to a sign-in page; I guess there's a subscription required.

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  4. Love the grilled cheese sandwiches idea. I've read the Scotland Street series a few years back. Agree with your review!
    I'm curious now about the cookbook you got as a gift. Look forward to reading about it.

    -Anu

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    1. Oh, forgot to say..Belated Happy Birthday!!

      -Anu

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    2. Thanks Anu! The cookbook is called "Plenty" and has absolutely ravishing vegetable recipes. I'll cook from it and report back soon.

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  5. Nupur, I loved your idea of the grilled cheese sandwich bar! I'm going to steal it.
    The only new recipe I tried this week was Andhra style Gongura/Ambadi chutney. As much as I loved the recipe, I'm very partial to Ambadichi bhaji.
    The current book on my shelf is Secret Daughter by Shilpi Gowda. An emotional read after finishing The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella - a completely frivolous read =D.

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    1. Please steal the grilled cheese bar idea and have fun with your peeps! Gungura/ambada is very new and unfamiliar to me. It wasn't a vegetable cooked in my parental home at all. I'll have to look for Secret Daughter.

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  6. Belated Birthday wishes, dear Nupur!
    the Sandwich bar idea rocks! I will try it. Do you use a panini press or a skillet?
    Oh what I'd give to scarf down a PBJ s'wich!

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    1. I love grilled PBJ :) when the jam gets melty and bubbly...

      I used one cast iron tava and one of the guests got her panini press. We used both to make them. The ciabatta rolls were perfect in the panini press and the sliced bread sandwiches were ideal on the tava.

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  7. I read Anne Tyler's "The Beginner's Goodbye" and loved it, it starts off a little slow but after a while I got into the book and ended up loving it very much.. A week after I was done reading the book, I am still thinking about it, Ms. Tyler is a great writer.

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    1. Anna Tyler is a good writer- I've read a few of her books and they have stayed with me. Will look for this one.

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  8. loved the idea of grilled cheese bar..though, how did everyone grill their sandwiches? did everyone grill their own sandwich, r did you just batch processed them in the oven?
    In the reading dept I am currently on the second book of the shiva trilogy..though not liking it much. Also recently finished reading 'Room'.

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    1. We had 7 people at the party, so it was a small group. For a bigger crowd, I would have used large baking sheets in the oven. But as it turned out, I used one cast iron skillet on the stove and a panini press (borrowed from a guest- I don't own one) and each sandwich only took a couple of minutes. I let everyone assemble their own sandwich and then stood by with a bowl of soft butter to help them grill!

      What did you think of Room? The recent case in Cleveland (man holding women hostage) gave me chills and totally reminded me of that book.

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    2. Well, the fact that the writer was able to pull off the narration of something so gruesome from the pov of a 5 year old was in itself amazing. The book did leave me with a sad kind of hangover..but then as with life, all stories cannot be rosy and happy. And inspite of all the sad undertone, I did feel that the book was uplifting on many levels.

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  9. Belated bday wishes to you and neighbor girl.
    Loved your grilled cheese bar idea. Sounds like so much fun and a great way to experiment with new (and wacky) combinations.

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    1. Thanks for the b'day wishes :) Yes, the fun was in coming up with whacky combinations of fillings- and they all tasted good, somehow.

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  10. Hi Nupur,u keep makin us cum bak to blog for reading the comments now,its gr8 to make tis online platform to share ideas!i tried the mexican bread pudding,its interesting bcos thers a mix of sweet,salt n spice in it(i followed my diverse kitchen recipe)..bookwise-i tried reading the audacity of hope by Barack Obama,but sumhow the spark of the book is his family man image we all love i guess!

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    1. Mexican bread pudding sounds good! And yes, I'm so thankful that people leave comments with lots of interesting ideas for me and for other readers.

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  11. Hope you had a wonderful birthday Nupur. I like the sandwich ideas here and the espresso cookies sound great too...

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  12. Happy birthday belatedly, Nupur! I love your grilled cheese bar idea. Re: books that I just read - I loved Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I'm currently reading A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. I love your blog and all your wonderful recipes. Rashmi

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    1. The books sounds interesting, Rashmi! I've never read anything by Maeve Binchy. I read Major Pettigrew...a while back and thought it was OK.

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    2. Oh and thanks for the sweet words! I'm so glad you enjoy my blog.

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  13. Hi Nupur, glad ur liking Scotland street. I'm on the third book at present. Ramsey Dunbarton presents some hilarious memoirs in the second book ;) Apart from these two books I've read Love Lies Bleeding- another Crispin - this time set in a boy's boarding school. I also read Max and mady and the chocolate money mystery- a children's McCall Smith. This was an OK read. For me no- one beats Enid Blyton's Five Find Outers mystery series for kids.
    I made a delicious egg roll recently with the Kawan paratha (=v unhealthy) and stuffed with cucumber, radishes, red onion, chat masala and lime and coriander) w hot and sweet and mango habanero sauce on the side!
    Arpita

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    1. I'll grab the next installment- Espresso Tales- on my next visit to the library! I tried Crispin (Toyshop) but somehow did not get into it. Sometimes I just have to be in the mood for something. OOh you're getting me excited about looking for some Blyton books. Now that would be a blast from the past.

      The paratha sounds SO good!!! You've got me craving egg rolls.

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    2. If in the future you should be able to read the moving toyshop I think you will enjoy it. Sometimes you need to be in the right mood though. I've been forcing myself to read Love in the Times of Cholera for the past few months; I know it's a worthwhile read but it's just not kicking off. Every ten years or so I read the Blyton series I talked about. The first one in the mystery of the burnt cottage. Blyton is v difficult to find in the US apart from the famous five series. Only recently the mystery series I talk about that got me interested in mysteries as a child has started to become available via kindle. Such a shame! I would hate to think my daughter would grow up w/o having read the magic faraway tree and other such Blyton classics.

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  14. Belated birthday wishes to you and the 'neighbour girl' I don't know how, but I was under the impression, she had moved around the time you did. I'm finding it so cute and hilarious to not only following your blog, but, 'neighbour girl' too.

    In the books department, I get a complex with you as I hardly read.

    The grilled cheese bar is a super idea which I'm going to borrow from at least once a week until it rains here in Mumbai.

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    1. LOL this is becoming a soap opera with too many characters ;)

      Yes, Neighbor girl moved from the midwest to the mountains and is loving her life there.

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  15. A while back I ordered several Enid Blyton series (famous five, five find- outers, secret seven) from an Indian supplier here in the US. I will look for the name. A week in winter was okay but not great. I hear her other books are better. Rashmi

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  16. navrang sells Enid Bluton books in the U.S. Rashmi

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  17. hi nupur, i just love reading your blog and i feel so glad tat i got a chance to see you and know you, coz i was your junior in school....looking forward to take some inspiration frm you(i mean it)...

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Thank you for taking the time to say hello!