It’s “Read An eBook Week” and my recipes and read are available for immediate download! Host a Southern-style book club supper with “Almost Sisters” by Joshilyn Jackson and my “Sunday Best Dishes” menu.
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Last year I discovered authorJoshilyn Jackson and devoured every book she’s written in record time. For me, her characters, strong Southern women, strike a chord with so many attributes I aspire to. Her heroines face challenges that we can identify with, although hopefully in not such a dramatic manner!
For this book club, I’ve chosen the book “The Almost Sisters”. This is not her most recent book, but I find it to be very current given our present political climate. And although this book is in no way political, it does deal with issues in the headlines.
“With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.
Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight-year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes.
Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding.
Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.”
There’s a pivotal scene in the book that serves as the catalyst for bringing Leia home to Alabama and her grandmother. Birchie and her caretaker, Wattie attend a potluck supper after Sunday church. It’s Birchie’s out-of-character outburst in front of the parishioners that sends a distress call to Leia.
Here are a couple of book club discussion questions to get you started:
There are multiple relationships in the novel that fit the title The Almost Sisters description. How did the title take on new meaning to you as the story developed?
Despite her worsening dementia, Birchie is still a strong character throughout the book. How would you describe her lifelong friendship with Wattie? Did your impressions change throughout the novel? Why do you think Birchie chose to keep their true relationship a secret even as times changed?
Leia makes the decision to hide her pregnancy early on and keeps her secret throughout much of the story. Do you think Leia made the right decision? Were you surprised by the characters’ reactions when her pregnancy was revealed?
When the weather cooperates with the farmers, the bounty is just beautiful! This summer the sun shone through even when it rained! Our spring was cool and rainy, and the summer has proven to be warm, yet not hot. All in all, the mountains and foothills have flourished with lush greenery, abundant flowers and gorgeous, just gorgeous produce. It’s really, really hard to pass up the varieties of tomatoes, squash, lettuces and peppers.
I came home with a basket full…… (ok, two baskets and a bag) of tomatoes, peppers, chard, more peppers (shishito), basil and at least three varieties of baby squash. And the sunflowers… well I filled every vase in my house with these babies, the flowers of which were bigger than my hand!
Look at this haul:
I decided to make soup. The day was one of the few drizzle days signaling what I hope will be a long and languid Indian summer. I pulled out THE SILVER PALATE, one of my favorite cookbooks. There’s a recipe in there for a big batch of minestrone soup.
I used that recipe as I guideline, whilst merging my own farmer’s market ingredients, to create a soup that is just full of veggies, accented with spicy sausage and filling pasta. This recipe makes enough soup for you to share with friends or save for a busy weekday meal.
Maybe you can’t find a market near you, but don’t use that as an excuse not to make this soup. Grocery store produce will do just fine. And you needn’t worry about following an exact recipe… I sure don’t! Enjoy your soup!
Farmer’s Market Minestrone
serves a crowd
45 minute cuisine plus simmering
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 5 links Italian sausage, sliced into ½-inch circles
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and diced, about 2 cups
1 medium zucchini, diced, about 1 cup
2 medium yellow squash, diced, about 1 cup
2 poblano peppers, seeded and deveined, diced, about 1 cup
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
Outer rind of 2-inch piece of Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of kale, stems chopped, leaves rolled and chopped
Parmesan cheese grated
Chopped fresh basil leaves
12 ounces small elbow macaroni
Heat olive oil in a deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan. Add the onion, carrots, zucchini and squash to the pot. Cook until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes more.
Pour in the tomatoes and beef stock. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the sausage back to the pot. Tuck the cheese rind into the soup. Stir the kale into the soup. Add water to the pot to make sure all the ingredients are covered in liquid.
Continue to simmer the soup until the kale wilts and the cheese melts, at least 45 minutes and up to several hours on the stove over low heat. You can add additional water as needed. Continue to taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the macaroni and continue to simmer while the pasta cooks in the soup. When the pasta is plump and soft, the soup is ready!
Serve the soup with a garnish of grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of fresh basil on top.
In what you now consider to be a moment of questionable good sense, you have invited an extended group of family and friends to your house for Thanksgiving dinner. Oops. Before you know it you will be staring at a frozen turkey asking yourself, why me? Since this is a holiday steeped in tradition, it’s not one that is easy to improvise. After all, you can’t possibly substitute a store bought ham or frozen lasagna for a golden roasted, aroma-flowing turkey. Can you? Well….
Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving or a Thanksgiving, the love among guests is unconditional, and a perfect excuse to blend new holiday traditions with the old ones. What’s a Friendsgiving, you ask? That’s when you hold a turkey day celebration with friends instead of family, because you’re a college student, on a business trip or far away from loved ones. OR, it simply means you may decide to host more than one gathering this November.
Friends don’t judge, and Friendsgivings were made for fun experimentation!
I think it’s a beautiful display of gratitude, playing party host. Here are my tips:
First thing’s first, you have to plan
Since you are the host, you take on the star of the meal: the turkey and gravy. Choose from the million or so side dishes that are designed to accent the bird. Peruse your file box, favorite cookbooks and websites (I recommend Sur La Table) to assemble the yummiest recipes.
Now, call upon your most reliable friends to contribute everything that surrounds the main feast. I may just get my best friends, who just happen to be my recipes testers, to bring the best family style recipes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES.
Cardinal rule #1: Let your guests help!
A little bird told me that party guests actually love to help get food on the table!
Ask Aunt Edna…
to bring her scrumptious crab appetizer. (Closed-mouth Edna is never going to give away that secret recipe anyway.) When once-removed cousin Jack offers to make his broccoli and avocado gratin, laced with chopped pecans and garnished with candied lemon zest, take a deep breath. Instead, offer to email him your simple recipe for sautéed green beans. Hopefully, battle weary Jack will oblige with this creative and edible veggie side dish.
If you have time to prepare a perfect pumpkin pie a day or two in advance, good for you. However, in a pinch, the corner bakery offers a long list of mouth-watering holiday treats.
Direct your most kitchen impaired pal to make a well thought out choice when it comes to dessert. Bake Me a Wish is just one of many examples!
Every year I share my new tradition’s side dish recipes, like corn soufflé casserole and white raisin dressing with my best pals (write me at jorj.com if you’d like either of these emailed to you!) – and they share theirs in return. We try to find dishes that can be made in advance and then baked ahead of time and brought warm to the dinner. My favorite dressing for Thanksgiving was published to jorj.com last year, and I’ll be rolling it out this year too!
Pick a shopping day a week or two in advance
Check out specialty markets for hard to find ingredients like white raisins, aged sherry and new varieties of fresh herbs. It may shock you to know that early planning can be fun: autumn scented candles, cakes and coffees!
Start trying new things, and auditioning the possibilities….
GET IN THE MOOD! Make your first shopping day stop, your favorite coffee house. Order a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee and a fresh baked pumpkin and butterscotch scone. While you are there, buy a pound of coffee you will eventually serve to Friendsgiving or thanksgiving guests!With tummy full, stroll the aisles of your favorite food boutique for cranberry relish or chutney. Look for jars of pumpkin butter for a fragrant and appealing addition to warm, fresh rolls.
Visit the butcher at your grocery store, and place an order for your great big bird. His first question is, “Do you want fresh or frozen?” Both are full of flavor and easily prepared. My quick rule of thumb is to choose a fresh turkey if you have room to store him properly in your refrigerator and have the time to pick him up the day before. Choose a frozen bird if you have more freezer space than time to run errands. Remember, the bigger the bird the longer the defrosting time.
Shop…then get ready at home
Thanksgiving is the holiday that takes advantage of your best china and crystal. Take stock of your tableware early. Make sure you have enough for all of your guests. Coordinate the place settings, but remember, they don’t have to match — an eclectic table is loads of fun. Go antiquing for that tablescape!
F-U-N blends with functionality when you pre-plan the table. Do you have several gravy boats or pitchers? Can you find enough serving platters and utensils? Bring out any special place card holders, porcelain salt and pepper shakers and newly popular pieces like menu holders.
On shopping day, squeeze in a side trip to your favorite second hand store, antique shop or mall store china department to browse for some new fun pieces that will bring your table together. Find an antique mall near you, with this fabulous link!
With shopping day done, kick off your shoes and flop into that favorite chair. The menu is complete, the china sorted. You’ve purchased hard-to-find ingredients and bought all of the pantry staples you will need. Your favorite recipes have been texted or PM’d to friends and family. Guess what – you are well on your way to a stress free, yummy Thanksgiving Day… the start of your NEW TRADITION.
If you only have 10 minutes until it’s time to eat, and are scrambling to find a side dish that rounds out a full spread dinner, this citrusy and delicious spin on green beans is just what you need. The reason it’s a hit and pairs well with just about any entrée is its nutty, garlicky flavor. You can save extra green beans for use later in the week. They are excellent in soups and chopped salads – even with a little tuna fish. Nicoise salad anyone?
I find that if you don’t do fish –or lean vegetarian – that swapping out the anchovies in this recipe for Kalamata olives works just as well. Anyhow, get ready to transform these babies into something truly special! I bought mine at the farmers market this week. Florida’s grow season is pretty much RIGHT NOW, and we’re the green bean capital of the world. You can always find huge bags of fresh green beans on the cheap at the grocery store too.
Citrus Sautéed Green Beans
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 anchovy filets, about ½ tin
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced, about ½ cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Zest of 1 medium orange, about 2 teaspoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about 1/3 cup
Steam the green beans until just crisp tender. Do this in a microwave oven or using a steamer on the stovetop. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add the anchovies. Stir until the anchovies completely dissolve. If the oil sputters reduce the heat to low. The anchovies will dissolve quickly. Add the onion to the pan. Turn the heat up to medium high. Cook until the onion are soft and just beginning to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the green beans to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add the orange zest and orange juice. Cook until the liquid begins to disappear. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the beans to keep warm until ready to serve. Reserve extra beans to use later on.
We all know it starts with the bird. But, how are you cooking your bird this year? Are you shooting him up with butter and seasonings, are you bathing him in an overnight brine? Are you getting him ready for the fryer? Or, if you are like me, are you rubbing him down, inside and out, with fresh herbs and olive oil and stuffing him with oranges and apples? Whichever way you plan to cook him, the bird goes on your menu plan as the shining star of the meal.
I have traditional appetizers that I have made for years, and that my mother and grandmothers made before me. I make a salmon mousse spread, and a garlic and sherry infused chopped liver pate. I think two appetizers are great, one that is lighter and one that is rich. Think crudité and bruschetta, cheese board and roasted veggies, savory onion dip, and blue cheese stuffed endive leaves. It’s about balance here. Appys are the lead up to the big event.
And then there are the desserts. Pumpkin pie, of course. We also include chocolate pecan pie, and good old-fasioned chocolate cream pie. All served with a heaping ladleful of bourbon and vanilla laced whipped cream.
Every year it’s the sides that get my imagination going. Here’s where I change it up a bit (much to the chagrin of the family). And, every once in a while I hit a home run! There are the standards: whipped potatoes and dressing. The accompaniments are as endless as your Thanksgiving Day waistband.
In place of a sweet potato dish, this year I’m making a savory carrot pudding served with creamed onions and peas. (You see, three vegies in one!). I’m also serving fresh green beans sautéed in olive oil, with thin slices of garlic and julienne sundried tomatoes (The recipe is below). I’m also considering creamed spinach and saucy succotash. It’s a dilemma. A good one! Here’s my recipe for changed up green beans.
With Sliced Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 6 to 8
20 Minute Cuisine
Here is a really simple recipe that you can make in minutes, and is as perfect for a weekday meal as it is when company comes a callin’. You can make everything in advance, and then reheat just before serving. The best part is that leftovers are delicious in a pasta salad for tomorrow’s lunch!
1 (4-ounce jar) julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
Place the sundried tomatoes into a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Blanch or steam the green beans until crisp-tender. I use the vegetable setting on my microwave for this. I place the green beans in a bowl with a little bit of water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the oven. The green beans are usually crisp-tender in about 4 minutes. Drain the water from the bowl.
Place the green beans into the skillet and toss with the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
You can find those fancy, skinny green beans in the grocery store, already cleaned and bagged. These are delicious in this recipe. The only change to make is that you do not have to blanch them first. To make this an even heartier side dish, add baby new potatoes, halved and blanched until they are tender. Green bean, tomatoes and potatoes all in one dish…. Well that’s good!