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.
This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission.
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?
Occasionally, you stumble across a treasure your busy life would have you overlook. This happened to me last week when hubby forced me into the doctor’s office to get my flu shot. Whaaat… a treasure in a doctor’s office? Yup. As I was waited to get jabbed, I glanced toward the counter and saw a display of books – something to distract from the fact of my being here.
Here’s the backstory. The only reason I had time to get that flu shot was I was supposed to take grandson, Sammy for his birthday shopping trip. But, he got the flu … kinda karma isn’t it? So there I was, sleeve rolled up and nothing to do but page through the literature in an antiseptic lobby.
I spied this book. Its animated cover drew me in, as did its title, Puppydog Blues. I picked it up, flipped through the pages, and discovered the cutest collection of childhood poems
I have read in a very long time. Nostalgia and irreverent joy overcame me. The story was so very similar to books I’d read to Sammy when he was a baby, and felt blessed to still be reading my newest grandchild, baby Josh.
Take a gander at this sweet, impertinent and intelligently clever writing from Puppydog Blues, and read it to your little ones if you still have them. This stanza is a particularly fun one for you foodies to nosh on. It inspired the butternut squash risotto I went home and made after my doc appointment.
Eat Your Vegetables
Is stalking me.
It’s nothing I can prove.
I’m sure those
Aren’t “sweet” potatoes
That eye my every move.
Is a savage.
I think it wants my head.
Vowed to get us
When I’m sleeping in my bed.
The corn has ears,
It snoops and hears
It’s gone starch-raving mad.
Is talking trash-
It’s mixed up really bad.,
Is off its gourd!
So what’s a kid to do?
The message here
Is loud and clear
Eat your veggies or, I fear,
They’ll end up eating you!
The book is written by Marshall Silverman. For more information contact info@BookBaby.com. There are both a paperback and hardback edition of the book. I bought them both!
Now, for a weekly recipe. Keeping up with the theme of eating your veggies, here is my recipe for a tummy-filling risotto sweetened with chunks of butternut squash. Enjoy!
Risotto with Butternut Squash
serves 2 as a main and 6 as a side dish
20 minute cuisine
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ half red onion, peeled and diced, about ½ cup
½ medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into small chunks, about 2 cups
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the butternut squash. Sprinkle with Tuscan seasoning, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the rice and cook for 1 more minute to toast. Pour in the sherry and cook until the liquid disappears, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour in about 1 cup of the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid disappears, about 5 minutes. Add 1 more cup chicken broth. Continue until all the stock had been absorbed into the rice. The rice should be creamy with just a bit of a bite. You don’t want it to be mushy! Stir in the cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with parsley.
* I am a big fan of The Spice and Tea Exchange stores. I seriously could spend a whole afternoon sniffing and smiling in their Blowing Rock store. The great news is that you can find some of the blends on-line. If you don’t have the time to find Tuscan spice, substitute with a bit of paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Or…. choose any of your other favorite blends. It all works!
I wish every day was Mother’s Day. We don’t need an excuse to honor the most special women in our lives, or bask in love ourselves. Moms come in all shapes and sizes… whether they are your Mom, someone else’s mom, a best friend who acts like your mom, a neighbor who’s mom to the whole block……Whatever the case, here is my suggestion for a better Mother’s Day:
Get mom (or persuade your loved ones to get you) an experience rather than a thing. There are so many ways to spend time together. To my mind, doing it over good food and art is the best way to go about it.
This global database of food and wine festivals is worth taking a look at. If you surprise mom with tickets for an event that’s further down the road in 2019, it’ll give you something to look forward to. You’d be amazed at how many foodie fests are happening in your own backyard. My food blog editor just went to a Mixology event in an art museum, where food and alcohol vendors had their best wares laid out around the Picassos.
As for me….I found a really cool event out in Phoenix this spring. Check out the slide show below! I will definitely go to the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival again – and I’d be over the moon (hint, hint, my children) if someone arranged to take me next year as an ahem…Mother’s Day gift???
Food Nirvana happened the last week of April, so for me, it was kindof a belated birthday treat. Attending was a happy accident. I happened to be staying in the hotel where Food Nirvana was taking place. As part of our reservation, I received complimentary tickets to one of the events. I chose the Rosé Parté, an event housed in the famed Wriggly Mansion overlooking the city of Phoenix on one side and Camelback Mountain on the other. The views were breathtaking, even in 100° plus heat!
The festival featured all types of vendors with tastings of rosé wines and champagne. Local restaurants offered delicacies that included foie gras mousse wrapped in cigarette shaped tortillas, displayed in what appeared to be a garden of grass with edible flowers on the end of each roll.
There were individual deconstructed blood orange cakes, pastries of all shapes and sizes, and a Bloody Mary bar that rivals any I’ve ever seen. The Nirvana version of a charcuterie board was assembled on a gigantic dining table (which had to seat 20 or more) and laden with cheeses, meats and the most gorgeous loaves of bread I’ve ever seen. I tasted the Pâte à Choux, filled with salmon and topped with caviar and the tri-colored beet terrine. Oh, so special!
Yes, I saw celebrity chefs! Robert Irvine is cute, and as well-muscled in person as he is on TV! His dish consisted of a corn husk laid onto a plate, topped with beef short rib, splashed with the sauce and topped with what looked like an avocado cream and crunched tortilla chips.
Foie Gras Mousse with Edible Flowers
Pâte à Choux served on beet, carpaccio style
Blood orange cake with a sweet glaze & lavender ice cream
Nirvana version of a charcuterie board
The most epic Bloody Mar Bar you have ever seen
The pictures say it all. I had a blast and encourage you (with or without your Mom) to attend a food and wine festival if you get a chance. It is a HAPPENING! But, seriously… Mom is really the most special person on Earth, and if you need any food or entertaining advice helping her realize that, I am here. Email me at Jorj@Jorj.com and I will reply before May 12th!
I’ve been cooking and craving Southern food from the Carolinas. Among my favorite things are those delicious cornmeal fritters known as hushpuppies. You can find hushpuppies in every diner worth its salt – the appy is served right from the fryer, into the paper-lined basket. You see them at every church fish fry, and on every barbecue buffet. No longer just a southern thing, you can find some version of hushpuppies on fast food menus across the country and around the world.
The lore behind the name has variations of the same tale. Confederate soldiers, Southern mamas and even nuns were said to use a deep-fried concoction of cornmeal, egg and seasonings to throw to the barking dogs to quiet them down. But, if we look back through America’s early written history, we can find references to fried cornbread that predates these stories.
Southerners have been eating fried cornmeal for a long time. Early writings refer to Red Horse Bread which was famously made by a well-known South Carolina fisherman. He served fried fish with all the fixins from his shack along the river; not only to locals but to prominent gentlemen and politicians from far and wide. An early newspaper columnist wrote, that Red Horse Bread was made by “simply mixing cornmeal with water, salt, and egg, and dropped by spoonful’s in the hot lard in which fish have been fried”. As it turns out Red Horse also refers to the type of fish caught and then fried.
How Red Horse Bread evolved to hushpuppies, is still a question for historians, but one theory is that these tasty cornbread fritters are used to hush the dogs howling in your your grumbling tummy.
This is my own version of that South Carolina fisherman’s special recipe. The great thing about it, is – you don’t have to follow it precisely to get a tasty result. Be as creative as you want with add-ins and sauces. I only ask one thing…. Please don’t feed them to the dogs!
With Spicy Remoulade sauce
serves a crowd
30 minute cuisine
These fritters are rich and doubly corn-full! They are really easy to prepare and a great appy for your Southern barbecue!
2 cups Hushpuppy Mix (like House-Autry brand)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup frozen corn, thawed and chopped
¾ cup prepared chunky salsa
4 green onions finely diced
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons chili sauce
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 to 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (like Frank’s)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 green onions, finely diced, about 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat vegetable oil in a fryer or deep pot to 350°. You need only enough oil to fill about 3 inches of your pot or pan. Stir together the hushpuppy mix, eggs, corn, salsa and creole seasoning. Allow the batter to rest for 3 to 5 minutes and then stir it again. Carefully drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. (Do this in batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan.) Use a wire basket to gently turn the hushpuppies in the oil so that they are golden brown on all sides, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Stir the ingredients together to make the sauce. Serve warm hushpuppies with the sauce on the side!
Here are a couple of last minute tricks you can use to make some tummy-filling treats for your Halloween crew; whether it’s a block party filled with kids, or just adults at an office Halloween bash. Because there are going to be as many individual tastes as there are costumes, I created a menu that is universally loved – from the six-year-old dressed like Dracula, to the middle aged couple decked out like Anthony and Cleopatra.
Honestly, these buffet style recipes are good no matter what time of year it is. Pull out these easy party recipes again for an Easter or 4th of July gathering, and everyone will still want more!
Jorj.com has REAL DEAL KETCHUP recipe!
Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cut it into 1-inch lengths. Wrap one strip of puff pastry around one hot dog. Continue with as many dogs as you like. Bake at 425° until the puff pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Offer ketchup and mustard for dipping!
Who ate one of my chili rolls?!
Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Spread left-over chili (or chili-seasoned cooked ground beef) over the top. Douse with more cheese. Roll up the pastry over the filling, like you would a cinnamon roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch slices, and place cut-side up in a baking dish sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Place them a bit apart from each other to allow the puff pastry to cook all the way through. Bake at 425° until the pastry is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Line a skillet with nacho chips. I used a large, cast iron skillet for this. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Place re-fried beans (15-ounce) can into a pot over medium-low heat. Stir in a little chicken or beef broth. This will thin the beans enough to make them spoonable. Cover the cheese with half of the beans. Top the beans with chili-seasoned cooked ground beef. Repeat the process so that you have two layers of chips, cheese, beans and meat. Top the skillet with more cheese. Bake at 400° until the cheese is melted, about 20 to 30 minutes. You can place the skillet under the broiler to really toast the cheese; after it has melted if you like. Top the nachos with your favorite toppings, like sour cream, salsa, chopped avocado, green onions and cilantro.
Melt butter and stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Any amount works for this. The cheese is a salty component for the fingers. Mix panko bread crumbs with seasoned breadcrumbs. Season chicken fillets with salt and pepper. Dip the fillets into melted butter and then into breadcrumbs. Place each one onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 425° until the crust is golden and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.