Turkish Delight: Revani

Kurt Seyt

When I began thinking about what food to pair with Nermin Bezmen’s fascinating book Kurt Seyt & Shura, my mind went to to different cuisines: Russian and Turkish. Russian, most of the action occurs in Russia, and Turkish, because the hero and author are both Turkish. Further, the story concludes in Turkey, where the main characters find refuge and a home after the traumatic events of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, and the book was originally written in Turkish. I toyed with the idea of blinis or borscht, but that cuisine is not so far removed from what I grew up with, and I wanted to explore. Because, as you probably know, I’ve never met a cuisine I haven’t liked!

Well, this little foray into Turkish cuisine left me wanting seconds. Once I began looking for recipes, I found so many foods I’m itching to try. I nearly made savoury cheese-filled boreks, and indeed, they might be on the menu this week, but I decided on a sweet instead. But what sweet, you ask. Perhaps baklava, that nut-and-honey-drenched ecstasy in phyllo? Or lokum, commonly known as Turkish Delight? Both very tempting, but I have made both before and wanted to learn something new. Eventually I decided to try Revani, because it looked and sounded delicious, and the ingredients are all easy to find in a North American supermarket.

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Revani is a light yogurt-based semolina cake, drenched in a sweet citrus-tinged syrup. It has been popular in Turkey since the Ottoman period and is named in honour of the sixteenth-century Turkish poet by that name. There is also evidence that the cake is Sephardi in origin. Similar syrup-soaked cakes are found all around the Mediterranean basin, but I like this version because it is nut-free, which makes my allergies happy.

The recipe I used is based on that of Ozlem Warren, from her website Ozlem’s Turkish Table.  Where I changed it was in the syrup: I added a bit of orange blossom water as the syrup was cooling. I’m not sure how authentic this addition is, but I love orange blossom water and use it whenever I think it will work. It does. Trust me.

A couple of notes:

  1. Use the finest grind of semolina you can find. I found some semolina for pizza at my favourite Italian supermarket down the street.
  2. Let the syrup cool before pouring it over the cake. That means you have to make it ahead and not slurp it all up while the cake is baking. Sorry.

So, without further ado, the recipe:

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Revani

 

Syrup

  • 1-1/2 (300g) cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (375g) water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 TBSP orange blossom water (optional, but use it anyway)

Cake

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 scant cup (200g) sugar
  • 1 cup (170g) fine grain semolina
  • 2 TBSP regular flour
  • 1 cup (250g) plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 TBSP olive oil (I used a combination of extra virgin mixed with some regular veg oil to cut the strong taste)
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

 

  1. To make the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil, then let simmer on medium-low for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and simmer 2 more minutes, then add the orange blossom water and let simmer one more minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Do not eat with a spoon. Yet.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C and prepare a pan. The original recipe calls for an 8×10 pan liberally greased with olive oil. I used an 8×8 silicon cake pan that I didn’t grease at all.
  3. In an electric mixer (or with a whisk if you’re feeling energetic), whip the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar is completely incorporated. Then add the semolina, flour, yogurt, baking powder and olive oil. Beat till smooth, and finally add in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Pour into the cake pan and bake for about half an hour, until the top is golden and a tester comes out dry, with a few crumbs.
  4. Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes, then slowly spoon the syrup over the cake allowing it to absorb before adding the next drizzle. Some people like to slice the cake in squares or diamonds before pouring on the syrup, as this helps the syrup soak in all through the cake. Keep going until the cake won’t absorb any more syrup. You will probably have gone through most of it. Now you can eat the rest.
  5. Top with finely chopped pistachios and toasted coconut for a traditional Turkish treat, and enjoy with tea or strong coffee.

The cake is amazing fresh and warm, but it keeps very nicely in fridge for a few days.

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A Book and a Recipe: Kurt Seyt & Shura

KURT SEYT & SHURA

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Anyone who has spent time over the last couple of years haunting the historical drama selections on Netflix might have come across the beautiful Turkish offering, Kurt Seyt & Shura. What viewers might not realize is that the television series was based on a series of books by Turkish author Nermin Bezmen. Further, the casual viewer might not know that the books are a fictionalized account of the life of the real Kurt Seyt and the real Shura—and that the author is Kurt Seyt’s granddaughter!

Not having seen the series, I was unsure of what to expect when I began the book. What I found was an intricately researched and beautifully written tale of love and war, passion and betrayal, set in a world that is disintegrating, where commitment to land and lovers is sorely tried by the realities of obligation and the need to survive.

Kurt SeytWithout giving away too much, Kurt Seyt is a cavalry officer in Imperial Russia on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He is from an old and wealthy Turkic family from the Crimea, loyal to the tsar and to tradition. Shura, short for Alexandra, is the beautiful and very young daughter of a Russian nobleman. The two meet at a ball and fall in love. But life is not always that easy. Kurt Seyt has obligations to his country, and his country is at war; furthermore, he has always been admonished by his father to take a wife from among his own people, of his own religion. When the Bolsheviks rise in revolt and their own armies seek to purge the country of the old guard, both find their lives are in danger and must make wrenching and terrible decisions.

This is a love story, and yet it is not, because life is not always that easy. Characters are torn between loyalties and friends turn on friends, while enemies recall past connections. The descriptions are gripping and haunting, and the sense of impending peril, as everything the characters have known is destroyed around them, is visceral. One does not finish this book and just put it down. The tale lingers in the mind.

I have to commend translator Feyza Howell for a superb piece of writing. In reading translated material, it is not always easy to know where full credit belongs. A brilliant work can be destroyed by a poor translation (ask me about Camus’ The Outsider that we had to read in high school!), and I suppose mediocre writing can be elevated by a fabulous translation. In this case, I suspect the original was excellent, and the clear and precise work of the translator merely brought the original Turkish words to life in English.

Kurt Seyt & Shura was originally published in 1982, and was translated into English in 2017.

DSC05081Now… Now for the food, because there has to be food! Our protagonists survived the war and revolution by escaping across the Black Sea to Turkey, where Seyt’s descendants still live. Consequently, I went on a quest for Turkish treats. I thought about baklava, I thought about boreks (layered pastries with thin dough and savoury fillings like cheese or spinach), but then I found this recipe for Revani, a light semolina cake soaked in a citrusy syrup. It’s even more delicious than it sounds. Check out the recipe here.

The Important Stuff

For more information, where to purchase the book, and social media, check these links:

Website: www.kurtseytandshura.com

Newsletter sign-up for updates, announcements and exclusive fan events: https://www.kurtseytandshura.com/sign-up

Order Kurt Seyt & Shura paperback or Kindle e-book:  https://www.kurtseytandshura.com/buy-kurt-seyt-shura-english-book

 

Our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KurtSeytandShuraEnglish/

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Book Review: The Darcy’s Hope Saga by Ginger Monette

The Darcy’s Hope Saga ~ Ginger Monette

2. Saga cover pngIf you’ve been flitting in and out of the pages of this blog, you will likely remember the reviews I wrote of the two World War I adaptions of Pride and Prejudice: Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, and Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey. Now, author Ginger Monette has re-released these two fantastic novels in a single volume, The Darcy’s Hope Saga. While both of the books in this series are complete in and of themselves, the story they tell spans the set to create an epic of love and loss, despair and hope.

These tales bring the reader not only into the horror of the battlefields of the Great War, but also into the world of Downton Abbey. Ms. Monette explains, “It was remarkable to me how little British culture had changed from the Regency Era to the Edwardian Era. Darcy could have dined with Lord Grantham at Downton Abbey with little change in decorum. I was also fascinated at how the war affected everyone’s lives and how wealthy English families offered their lavish homes as hospital facilities during WW1.

The research that went into these novels is evident in the textured world Ms. Monette presents to us. She says, “I devoured nurse-assistant diaries, a soldier’s diary, memoires or two orderlies, books on surgery… and a lot more. Then I watched hours of documentaries about everything from battles, to the food and uniforms of British soldiers.

So much of this history comes through in the novels. High-bred ladies like Elizabeth Bennet did often become nurse-assistants during the war, and the chateau-cum-field hospital is based on a real one. Likewise, Darcy was present at two real events during the war- the Battle of the Somme and the explosion at Messines Ridge. These are but a few examples of the very real incidences that underscore this saga.

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As a very short recap, Beauty from Ashes is a skillful retelling of Austen’s classic novel: Nurse-assistant Elizabeth Bennet has little time for the cold and wealthy Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy, but when he is assigned to her hospital in Northern France, the two find their hearts are not quite as secure as they thought. However, the course of true love never did run smooth: What of the handsome doctor with whom Elizabeth spends so much of her time? And worse, Darcy is investigating an espionage plot, and Elizabeth is a suspect!

The story continues in Donwell Abbey. Darcy has finally won Elizabeth’s heart, but then she disappears! While still reeling from this news, he leads his men into battle and attempts a desperate and heroic feat to save them, with dire consequences to himself. Gravely injured, he is sent back to England to recover at Donwell Abbey. Here he meets a young nurse who reminds him so much of Elizabeth… but how can he think about loving her when Elizabeth might still be out there, somewhere….?

If you have read the two novels, you know what a treat they are. If you haven’t yet, now is your chance to immerse yourself in this beautiful story.

Food… there always has to be food!

When I began thinking of this lovely set of stories, my mind went immediately to the delights of a traditional English tea. It is hard to think of Edwardian England without visions of bone china tea sets and scrumptious tarts and treats coming to mind. Fortuitously, I recently rediscovered Bakewell tarts. These are delicious tarts with a shortcrust base and a layer of jam beneath an almond filling, topped either with almonds or decorated icing.

I shan’t attempt to recreate a recipe which is done so well by others, so here is a traditional Bakewell Tart recipe to try.

Here’s another recipe that I’ve tried that was yummy enough to be placed on the “make again” list. The pretty top on this is easy to do, but looks spectacular.

More about the Book:

With its stellar reviews, intricate research, cameo appearances by other beloved literary characters, and of course, a happy ending, this is a set not to be missed. The romance is clean and is suitable for ages 13 and up.

You can watch a video trailer here: https://www.gingermonette.com/darcy-s-hope-beauty-from-ashes

The Darcy’s Hope Saga can be purchased at Amazon.

About Ginger Monette:

7. Headshot--Ginger MonetteThe teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I.

Writing riveting romances inspired by Donwton Abbey and Jane Austen, Ginger’s use of compelling plot, vivid historical detail, and deep point of view has been rewarded by stellar reviews for her recent Darcy’s Hope saga and a grand prize for a WW1 flash fiction piece.

Ginger makes her home in Charlotte, NC, where she enjoys dancing on the treadmill, period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

You can connect with her at her website at www.GingerMonette.com or on Facebook, where she talks about Period Drama, Downton Abbey,  Jane Austen, and the like.

Butterbeer Cookies

Once again, our December has been a flurry of cookie-baking for the gift boxes we put together for friends and colleagues. We made our usual assortment of biscotti, Italian Christmas cookies, ginger snaps and cappuccino cookies, as well as something new: Butterbeer cookies.

Cookie!

They don’t last long

This originated not from a recipe, but rather from an idea. My daughter and I put our heads together and pondered and dreamed and waved our wands, and we created this. Early reactions vary from Amazing to Yum, and included much of the alphabet. They are pretty good!

The only unusual ingredient is the cup of salted caramel chips. These seem to be trendy these days, and I had no problem finding a package by Hershey at pretty much every supermarket I look in.

Happy baking! Bakiamo cookio!

Butterbeer Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp caramel flavour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour (I use pastry flour but all-purpose will do fine)
  • 1 cup salted caramel chips
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

Cream the butter, sugars and eggs in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and caramel extracts, then the baking soda and salt. Carefully mix in the flour (this part can get messy if you start the mixer too quickly), and when it’s all well combined, add the caramel and white chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly.

Preheat your oven to 350F. (I tried a new mini convection oven, and after some experimentation, found that 325F worked best for it; 350F was right for my regular oven).

Form the cookies into balls about 3/4-inch (2 cm) in diameter – about 1 TBSP per cookie.

Arrange them on a baking sheet, lined with parchment or not, according to your preferences.

Bake at 350F (or 325F – see above) for 10 or 11 minutes, till just starting to turn golden.

Save at least some for company.

Recipe (and a book review): Traditional Scones

This last week has been a bit of a book-lover’s paradise. On the one hand, I have been finishing up my review of Alexa Adams’ latest novel, Darcy in Wonderland. This is a delightful mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and is suitable for readers (and tea-drinkers) of all ages. Then, on the other hand, I have been enjoying the wonderful company of another author, Sophia Meredith, who was visiting the area for a few days on the way to a family wedding. (I’ve reviewed Ms. Meredith’s books elsewhere in this blog, and I’m most proud to call her a  friend.)

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Illustration by Katy Wiedemann

So what is a foodie to do when confronted with Alice in Wonderland and a writer of historical romance in my house? The answer is simple: Bake something. The question of what to bake was easily answered. Alice must go to a tea party, and a tea party must include scones.

Most people here in Canada, at least, associate scones with those large crumbly biscuit-like things that you get at Starbucks to go with your extra-dry venti cappu-something. If that’s what you’re hoping for, sorry. Maybe another time. Those are good, but they’re not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about the elegant treats my mother used to make for tea parties back in South Africa. They are smaller and round, topped with butter and jam and blobs of clotted or whipped cream.  While quite suitable to accompany coffee, they are really best served alongside a pot of steaming tea.

Of course, tea is lovely shared with friends, but it’s equally good if sipped quietly while reading a terrific book, or at least reading a great book review. Check out my review of Darcy in Wonderland and see for yourself if you think the book would go well with tea and scones.

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I’ve tried so many recipes for scones over the years, but I keep coming back to this one that my mother gave me. I’ve tweaked it slightly (because that’s what I do), but it is almost exactly the one I enjoyed so much as a child. I hope you enjoy these as much I do.

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Traditional Tea Scones

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, quickly mix the dry ingredients till combined, then add in the butter. With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture. It will begin to resemble course damp sand. It need not be perfect, but don’t leave large and obvious chunks of butter. This takes very little time, so don’t get intimidated.

Add the egg and mix in, and then add the milk. Start with a bit less than what you’ve measured and mix well. You can use a paddle beater for this. Add as much milk as necessary to get a very sticky, but still workable dough. Depending on your climate, you might need to add as much as 3/4 cup of milk in total.

Form the dough into small balls, and space them out on a cookie sheet. A silicon baking sheet or a layer of wax or parchment paper will help them not stick, but it’s not vital. You can make the balls whatever size you like, but I find that 1-1/2 inches in diameter is a good place to start.

Bake at 425F for 10 to 15 minutes. They should be nice and golden on the outside.

Let cool slightly, then cut them in half. Top with a thin layer of butter, a thicker layer of your favourite jam, and a dollop of clotted cream or whipped cream, and enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book.

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Illustration by Katy Wiedemann

Book Review (and a recipe): Darcy in Wonderland by Alexa Adams

DSC04386I’m delighted to host a stop on Alexa Adams’ blog tour for her latest novel, Darcy in Wonderland.  Although not a Pride and Prejudice variation, this sweet story introduces us to Jane Austen’s couple some two decades after their marriage, and to their busy family, including the spirited and head-strong Alice.

Now, Alice cannot possibly have her adventures in Wonderland without a tea party of some sort, and a tea party just is not a tea party without scones, so please check out the accompanying post for a recipe for traditional English tea scones, complete with jam and cream. Lady Catherine would insist upon it, as long as you don’t spill your tea on her dress!

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Darcy in Wonderland ~ by Alexa Adams

Once again, author Alexa Adams has forged a new path and given us a story that defies the convention of Jane Austen variations and continuations.  From the darkness of The Madness of Mr. Darcy to the twisted chain of events that lead to Becoming Mrs. Norris, she has proven herself as an original author with an eye for the unusual. Now, in a much lighter vein, she has meshed the Darcy family from Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to send us topsy-turvy into a delightfully messed up world in which the best-laid plans of (talking) mice and men go quickly awry.

After twenty-some years of marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy have a fine family and a very busy household, for they are in the midst of preparations for the coming-out ball for their eldest daughter, Ellie. But the youngest daughter, Alice, has little time for these boring logistics of preparing food and planning for visitors, because she is too busy wondering about the white rabbit with a pocket watch she has seen running through the garden! Her doting parents put her tales down to her vivid imagination and bid her to pay more attention to her lessons.

SPILT_TEAThen once day, Alice’s enthusiasm gets the better of her and she spills a cup of tea all over Lady Catherine, who is most certainly unimpressed with the turn of events. Consequently, Alice finds herself excluded from a planned visit to the Bingleys. With only her father for company, she once again abandons her lessons to take a walk in the gardens, and spots the White Rabbit once more! With her father in pursuit, she chases this strange creature into the shrubbery, and then into a large rabbit hole. Suddenly the two Darcys find themselves falling into a world that is strange beyond their imaginations.

BOTTLENow we find ourselves in Lewis Carroll’s familiar world of Wonderland, complete with bottles that say “drink me,” cakes that say “eat me,” the mysterious Maryanne – or is it Mary and Anne? – and a house with gloves and a fan somewhere within. We meet the Cheshire Cat, the hookah-smoking caterpillar on the magic mushroom, the Mad Hatter and March Hare at their never-ending tea party, the Duchess with her strange baby, and of course, the King and Queen of Hearts with their peculiar army of playing-card soldiers.  While Darcy is most concerned with finding someone who can direct him back to Pemberley (should he ever grow to the proper size again), Alice is more interested in conversing with the fantastical creatures they meet and finding her way to the garden she has spied through a tiny door. In a crazy mixed-up world where no one has heard of Derbyshire at all, how will the Darcys ever find their way back home?

There are some wonderful characters in this story. Elizabeth is her charming self, although with decades of experience as mistress of Pemberley, she is a much more mature and assured version of Jane Austen’s heroine. Lady Catherine makes a short but important appearance, not having mellowed at all in the intervening years, and other familiar characters are present as well. As well, we meet the various Darcy offspring, including Bennet, a smart and sensitive young man ill at ease with himself in society (sound like anyone else we know?), and a bevy of daughters: Ellie, the debutante, shy Helen and witty Rose, who are both away at school, and Cassandra, who far prefers Sir Walter Scott’s novels to her lessons. And, of course, Alice, who is the star of the show. The interactions between the siblings is beautifully crafted, and for those of us with children, a little too familiar!

You like [school]! You actually like it! Bennet never did, and even if he is odious, he has got some sense. Ellie liked it, but she has hardly any at all, so I made sure you should hate it,” Alice explained.

Thank you so much for the compliment,” Ellie said bitingly.

I thought her assessment rather accurate,” Bennet murmured to her in an undertone…

As well, we spend some time getting reacquainted with Mr. Darcy himself. He appears exactly as one might imagine him, some twenty years older and wiser, with all those years of Elizabeth’s teasing to loosen his stiff demeanour, while never quite losing it. He can still be proper and serious, but now knows how to laugh, both at himself and at others.

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But the character who steals the show is little Alice. She is a delight – headstrong and imaginative, with her mother’s impertinence and a sense of wonder that is infectious.  She has no trouble offering her opinions, even when they are not wanted, and is happy to allow her curiosity free reign. While her poor father frets over the bizarre events around him in Wonderland, Alice happily accepts a world in which animals talk and people can grow and shrink with a nibble of food or a sip of some potion. From her first impulsive dash after the White Rabbit to her bewildered participation in the Queen of Hearts’ croquet game, she is never without something to say.

 

 

It is just that I always have so very much to say. I really can’t speak quickly enough to get it all out. By the time I finish explaining one thought, five new ones have popped into my head. It can be quite difficult to choose which to share.”

There were a couple of minor areas in which I felt I wanted a bit more from the book. The interactions between the Darcy siblings were lovely, but I’d have loved more between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. We see them as parents, but not so much as husband and wife. While it’s not a love story, I still would have loved to have seen just a bit more of the Darcys’ private conversations, to see how they have grown into a mature and devoted couple. I also found the section in Wonderland to follow Carroll’s tale a bit too exactly, although the wink-wink references to Jane Austen’s other novels were lovely little touches, like Easter Eggs for the devoted Jane Austen reader.

Darcy_in_the_TreesAlong with this sweet and light story, Ms. Adams has engaged the talents of her gifted sister Katy Wiedemann for a delightful series of illustrations, as well as for the cover.  These ink drawings add the perfect touch of whimsy and sparkle to the book, and are a treat for the eyes. Check out Ms. Weidemann’s scientific illustrations at http://www.wiedemannillustrations.com/

In conclusion, this is a delightful and fun story, suitable for readers of all ages. And don’t forget to enjoy it with a cup of tea and a plate of scones, because Alice must have a tea party. (Just please, whatever you do, don’t spill tea on Lady Catherine!)

Darcy in Wonderland is available here:

Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.co.uk

You can learn more about the author here:

alexaadams.blogspot.com
austenauthors.net
www.facebook.com/AuthorAlexaAdams
www.facebook.com/ElegantExtracts
twitter.com/ElegantExtracts

You can follow the complete blog tour here:

August 5th – Laughing with Lizzie
August 7th – Austenesque Reviews
 VVB32 Reads
August 8th – Just Jane 1813
August 9th – From Pemberley to Milton (Guest Post & Giveaway)
August 10th – From Pemberley to Milton (Review)
August 11th – Austen Authors
August 12th – Sophia Rose’s Blog (Goodreads)
August 13th – Musings from the Yellow Kitchen
August 14th – Diary of an Eccentric
August 15th – More Agreeably Engaged
August 16th – My Jane Austen Book Club
VVB32 Reads
August 17th – Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
August 18th – Babblings of a Bookworm
August 19th – Savvy Verse & Wit
For Love of Austen

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Pasta with Mushrooms and Sun-dried Tomatoes

I came across a recipe a few weeks back for a pasta dish with mushrooms and a bunch of other goodies. Some of the extras did not appeal, and some were not part of our diet (bacon – some people love it, but not in this house). Still, the general idea of the recipe was really appealing, and so I started to play.

This version is far simpler than the original, and while I can’t vouch for what the bacon part tasted like, no one who has tried my version has complained at all.

It can be thrown together in a fairly short time, and doesn’t need a whole lot of babysitting, which makes it good for preparing while other things are on the boil.

It can be a main dish or served as a substantial salad, and if you use rice or quinoa pasta and omit the Parmesan, it can be vegan and gluten-free. Enjoy!

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getting ready

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All ready to serve

Pasta with Mushrooms and Sun-dried Tomatoes

  • ½ lb dried pasta (fusilli or something bite-sized)
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 12 oz mushrooms (your favourite, but Portobello are nice), in medium slices or chunks
  • 1 can (210 – 250 ml) sun-dried tomatoes in oil, thinly slices (keep the oil)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • Handful rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese for the top

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté till the onion is beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and lower the heat. Continue cooking until the liquid has been released from the mushrooms and has boiled off. Add the sundried tomatoes, rosemary and garlic and cook for another minute. Add salt and/or pepper, to taste.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. When it is al dente, drain (keep a half cup of the water) and toss with the oil from the sundried tomatoes. Mix the pasta with the mushrooms in the pan, and add ¼ cup of the reserved water, letting it boil down a bit to combine the flavours. (This might be a good place to add a splash of wine, if that sort of thing appeals to you. Let it boil off.) Add more water if needed. It should not be liquidy, but neither should it be too dry. Adjust seasonings.

Serve warm or at room temperature with Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top, if desired.

Another Book: Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks

Another book and another recipe! Don’t forget to scroll down after the review itself for a few extras, including a link to a delicious Poppy Seed Babka (yeasted coffee cake) and a raffle for some fun prizes, thanks to the author.

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Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks

Once again, I’m delighted to host a stop on a blog tour celebrating the release of a new novel. This time, author Sara Marks has chosen not Pride and Prejudice, but Persuasion as her inspiration. I have to admit that I love Persuasion; it’s probably my favourite of Jane Austen’s novels. I love the very notion of second chances, of being able to right a past wrong. I love the character of a self-made man, who has risen to his fortune not because of a lucky accident of birth, but due to his own actions; a hero who is able to overcome his resentment to examine his heart and strive for what he truly desires. I love the heroine, whose unhappy past teaches her the necessity of self-reliance, and whose sensible and caring nature allows her to see through artifice to finally achieve her happy ending.

With this in mind, I happily dove into Modern Persuasion, excited to see how Ms. Marks re-imagined the story in a modern setting. She has set the novel – most appropriately – in the world of publishing, the action swirling around the frenzied activity of an author’s book tour. The author is Frederick Wentworth, a successful screenwriter and author; the editor-cum-publicist accompanying on the cross-country tour is Emma Shaw, who broke his heart eight years before. Many of our favourite characters are present, including a lovely portrayal of Emma’s father and sisters, and we see how well the self-absorbed Sir Walter Elliot is translated into the twenty-first century.

For the most part, the novel works very well. Ms. Marks’ characters are realistic and fleshed out, while remaining true to Austen’s originals, and the plot about forced reunions and second chances is seamless and unforced. She writes well and smoothly, bringing the details of the world of publishing to life.

Where the novel falters a bit is in small details that don’t quite match up – I liken this to the continuity girl on a movie set taking a nap. A detail here doesn’t quite mesh with a detail there, or a description is countered by another further along in the text. Wentworth’s fabulous letter also disappoints a bit, because it repeats so much of the material of the rest of the book; I understand the author’s vision in creating the letter she does, but for me, this is a case where brevity and intense emotion would have spoken more eloquently than long description.

These quibbles aside, this is a lovely interpretation of Persuasion, and if you’re a fan of the original (and perhaps even more so, if you’re not – YET) you won’t be disappointed by this first publication of an author of whom I hope to read more in the future.

Now… a few extras.

About the author:

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Sara Marks

Sara Marks is an author, knitter, Wikipedian, and librarian from Massachusetts. After over 10 years of participating in National Novel Writing Month, she is releasing her first novel, Modern Persuasion, with Illuminated Myth Publishing. When she isn’t writing, she is an academic librarian at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She has a masters degree in library science and another in Communications. She spent 6 years as a member of Toastmasters International where she twice earned the status of Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest status members can achieve. She is one of the local organizers for National Novel Writing Month.

Five Fun Facts about her:

  1. Sara worked as a clown in college.She would go to birthday parties and local events in Miami to paint faces and make balloon animals.
  2. Sara failed out of college before returning hometo find a new path in life.It took her 7.5 years to get her B.A.She is a firm believer in being able to fix your mistakes and getting second chances.
  3. Her dog, Cedric, was named for Cedric Diggory, her favorite character in Harry Potter.In reality, the dog is a Slytherin.
  4. Every year, since 2004, Sara has participated in National Novel Writing Month.She has won every year, except 2005 when she lost by 1,000 words.
  5. Sara has been a Wikipedia editor for over 10 years.

A Recipe!

Much of the novel takes place in New York City, where there are bakeries and edible treats galore! I thought long and hard about what would go well with this story, and nearly decided to find some yummy Chinese dish, relating to a scene in the novel. In the end, after chatting with Ms. Marks, we decided on something that goes well with a book, a cozy corner in which to read, and a cup of tea. In fact, this would go well with Frederick’s favourite – a venti earl grey tea with raw sugar! Emma remembers his order well from their time together so long ago; I bet she often had it with babka from one of the Manhattan bakeries – maybe Moishe’s down south of Delancey, or Orwasher’s in the Upper East Side. (Note – these are not recommendations, although I’m sure they’re great places. My info comes purely from a Google search!)

And so… without further ado, follow this link to the world’s yummiest Poppy Seed Babka.

And, of course, the Giveaways!

Ms. Marks is generously giving away two prizes on this blog tour.

Giveaway 1: An ebook of Modern Persuasion in the format of the winner’s choice! Comment on this post and tell me about one of your second chances, and how that worked out. A second chance at love, an old friendship that you revived, a second chance at a job, or even better luck with a plant the second time around! I won’t judge your tales, but I’ll pick a name randomly by midnight, EST, June 4, 2017.Blog Tour Knicknacks

Giveaway 2: Fredrick’s book tour knick knacks and autographed paperback copy. Since part of the story happens on Fredrick’s book tour, Ms. Marks has selected touristy knick-knacks from each of the cities they visit. The winner will get the entire collection of knick knacks and an autographed paperback copy of the book. This raffle is limited to US participants (sorry, all my non-American readers). To enter, people will need to sign up for Sara Marks’ mailing list, where they will be added to the raffle and will get a short story related to Modern Persuasion: “Mary and the Anti-Feminist”. The raffle opens on the 22nd and ends on June 5th.

You can enter here at the Rafflecopter site, or through Sara Marks’ website.

Modern Persuasion can be purchased at Amazon.

Poppy Seed Babka… and a link to a new book!

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On your plate

When author Sara Marks asked me to host a stop on the blog tour for her first publication, Modern Persuasion, the first question that came to my mind was what sort of recipe I’d link with it. Not having read the novel at that point, I wondered: What would they eat? Would there be a scene where the characters had a picnic by a pond? Or would they be grabbing street food from a cart in New Dehli, or maybe sipping martinis, James Bond-style, at a swanky bar in Monaco? And so I gobbled up the book with food in mind.blogtourbanner_mp

I nearly decided to find a delicious Chinese-inspired dish to reflect a scene where the characters eat Chinese take-out in Central Park, but thought I’d check with the author to see if she had anything in mind. Well, it turns out she did!

Much of the story takes place in New York City, where there are bakeries a-plenty. Further, the actions centres around a successful screenwriter and his book tour, during which copious amounts of tea and coffee are consumed. If the characters are drinking that much tea and coffee, I thought, they surely must want something to nibble along with it, and Ms. Marks suggested bringing in something from one of those above-mentioned bakeries, namely babka! (A babka, for those not in the know, is a delight that’s part-way between bread and cake, a concoction of layers of sweet dough and delicious filling, rolled out and twisted and totally delicious. Variations include chocolate, nut, and poppy seed.)

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Now, I am an incurable chocoholic, but I will willingly confess that a good poppy seed filling is enough to make me put chocolate aside with no backward glances.  And I have a wonderful recipe for the sweet brioche-like dough, thanks to the amazingly talented Michal R, whose recipes never fail to inspire me. Put these together, and you have a poppy seed babka to die for! Enough of this stuff and the book tour would never have left NYC! (Good thing it did, though, otherwise it would have been a rather short novel.)

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Babka isn’t a quick or easy dish to make. It involves several steps and a whole lot of time, mostly waiting for things to rise or cool. But it is worth every second. And so, without further ado….

Poppy Seed Babka

Note: Start this the day before you want to bake it. It needs to rest in the fridge overnight.

The Dough

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Assembling some ingredients

  • 1 TBSP dried yeast – the instant kind is easier, but regular is fine. See below for extra comments on using it
  • 70 grams lukewarm milk or water (if you want it to be dairy-free)
  • 500 grams (1.1 lbs / 4 cups) sifted flour
  • 140 mL (5 fl oz) milk – just slightly warm to the touch, but not hot!
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) sugar
  • 100 grams butter (3.5 oz), at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Lemon and orange zest, grated from one lemon and half an orange
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. If you’re using regular dried yeast, dissolve it in about half of the warm milk with a bit of sugar, and wait for it to begin to bubble. This should take 10 – 15 minutes. Then add to a mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients and proceed to step 3.
  2. If you’re using instant yeast (teeny-tiny granules of yeast), just toss everything into a mixing bowl.
  3. Mix everything well, and knead for 10 minutes (using your hands or a dough hook), until the dough is very smooth and supple. As with any yeasted dough, the consistency of the dough is more important than the exact proportion of flour and liquid, so add one or the other as needed to get it right. The ideal dough should be very soft and pliable, but still able to hold its shape. It should be shiny and very smooth, and when it is properly kneaded, you should be able to stretch a small piece to form a thin translucent membrane.
  4. Form into a boule (fancy French baking term for pulling it into a tight ball), spray lightly with oil, cover and let rise for an hour. Punch it down, cover with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge overnight.

The Poppy Seed Filling

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Poppy seeds

  • 300 ml (10 fl oz) milk or milk substitute
  • 200 grams (7 oz) sugar
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • grated lemon zest from one lemon
  • 350 grams (about 12.5 oz) poppy seeds
  • Up to 250 grams (about 9 oz) finely ground butter cookies or something similar (see note below)
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
  1. Using a coffee grinder, grind the poppy seeds till fairly well processed. You don’t want a paste, but you do want them obviously ground.
  2. Place milk, sugar, honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a saucepan and heat on medium heat till the sugar and honey dissolve and the milk starts to boil. Lower the heat and add the ground poppy seeds. Let cook on low for about 5 minutes more, then start adding the cookie crumbs.
    NOTE: the cookie crumbs are to help absorb the extra liquid, to make the filling the right consistency to spread. Start with a little and add more as needed, keeping in mind that the mixture will thicken as it cools. Also, it doesn’t have to be cookie crumbs. Extra pastry will work, as will ground-up ice cream cones or even finely-ground rice cake if you want to keep the filling gluten-free. For the batch I made for this blog post, I actually used some matzah cake meal I had left over from Passover, and it worked out just fine.
  3. Mix well and remove from heat. Stir in the butter cubes and let them melt into the mixture. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. For me, the hardest part of this recipe is leaving it in the fridge and not just eating it all right now. Be strong. You can do it.

Putting it together

This is my method for a large eye-catching babka. You can also just roll it out into thin layers with filling in between, cut it to fit two loaf pans, and bake it like that.

  1. Take everything out of the fridge a couple of hours before you start to work. You want the filling to soften a bit, and you want the dough to be cool and pliable, but not cold.
  2. Prepare a baking pan. I like to do this in a large spring-form pan. Cover the base with a piece of parchment paper that overlaps the base by a bit on all sides.
  3. Divide the dough into three even sections. Roll or stretch the first into a circle about the size of the base, and place it onto the parchment-covered base. (It might be easier to do this on a second piece of parchment; I like the insides a bit sticky, so I prefer not to flour my surface, but do what works for you.)
  4. Cover the dough with half of the filling and spread evenly, leaving a bit of a border at the edge of the circle.
  5. Repeat with the second section of dough, and the rest of the filling. Top with the final circle of dough. Pinch the edges closed around the rim.
  6. Mark out a small circle about 8cm / 3 inches in diameter, in the centre of the circle of dough. A drinking glass should give you what you need. With a sharp knife or a cleaver, cut the cake into quarters, leaving the centre circle UNCUT. Repeat by cutting each quarter in half, and then half again. You should end up with a large circle with a solid small circle in the middle, with the outer section sliced into 16 strips. Dampening the knife between each cut helps deal with the stickiness.
  7. Taking the outer edges of two adjacent strips, twist them toward each other so what had been the top is now upside down, on the surface of the base. (It’s easier than it sounds. Just grab and twist. Really.) Repeat all around, until all the strips have been twisted. It should give you a lovely design of dough and filling. Check out the photos below. They might help.
  8. Carefully slide the base of the spring-form pan into the edge, letting the parchment fold up inside. This will let the cake release easily from the pan once it’s done.
  9. Spray the top lightly with oil and let rise in a warm spot for an hour or so. I like to use the inside of the oven, with a bowl of steaming hot water to keep the air warm and moist.
  10. Remove from oven, and brush some beaten egg or a bit of milk over the top if desired. Preheat the oven to 350F, and when the oven is hot, bake the pastry for 40-60 minutes.
  11. Remove the side of the pan, allow to cool, and devour.

Shepherd(less) Pie

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I have vague memories from when I was very young of eating Shepherd’s Pie. I never enjoyed meat, but those layers of fresh green peas and creamy mashed potatoes stayed with me for years and years. Luckily, there are any number of delicious ways to recreate this traditional dish for a meatless diet, and this is my current favourite.

I initially adapted this version from a Passover recipe. I still make it at Pesach, and I get a lot of comments and requests for the recipe (so… ta-da!!!!! Here it is!). But a word of warning: my Pesach includes kitniyot, as does this pie. If you’ve also moved over to the dark side and are ready to enjoy Pesach food again, give this a try! If not, try it during the rest of the year. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, ignore this whole paragraph and start cooking.

You can easily make this vegan, by omitting the egg, and/or gluten-free, by omitting the matzah meal. It won’t change the taste, but the bottom layer won’t hold together quite as well. You could try sneaking in a bit of potato starch to see if that helps, but I really don’t think it’s a problem at all.

Also, I often cheat and use potato flakes for the potato layer, because it’s Pesach and I have enough stuff to cook. I won’t judge you.

Disclaimer: No shepherds were harmed in the creation of this recipe, although a whole bunch of chickpeas met their delicious end.

Pesach Shepherd’s Pie

  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp each dried basil and oregano, or 1 tsp each fresh
  • 3 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
  • ½ cup matzah meal
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups peas and corn, in any proportion you like. If you use frozen, that’s fine, but thaw them before using them.
  • 2 ½ cups potato flakes or 5 white potatoes, boiled till soft and mashed
  • Milk, butter and salt as desired for the potatoes. Replace these with water and oil or margarine to keep it pareve or vegan
  • Paprika to sprinkle on top.
  1. Prepare a 9×13-inch pan with a spray of oil or parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, salt and pepper in oil till soft. Add the carrots and zucchini, and then the chickpeas and herbs. Test seasonings, then add matzah meal and egg if you’re using them.
  3. Spread this into the prepared 9×13-inch casserole dish. Top with the peas and corn and spread these evenly.
  4. Make the mashed potatoes. If you’re using flakes, about 3 cups of boiling water will do. You want the potatoes fairly soft and easy to spread. Add butter, milk, salt, etc, until you’re happy with the taste.
  5. Very carefully, spread the potatoes onto the pea/corn layer. I usually do this in several thin layers, because the first one will mess up all those peas that you’ve so carefully arranged. The second layer will only mess it up a bit, and the third layer will be all potato. Dust paprika lightly on top of the potato layer.
  6. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.
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All gone!