Stirring up memories
Cooking to the Book
May 11, 2005
have some bangers and mash.”
I helped myself to sausage and garlic-y and good mashed potatoes.
you have some cucumber sandwiches?”
I passed around the two plates I’d brought—one set of
sandwiches had fresh basil; the other did not.
was quite a feast. “English
high tea,” one participant offered. The shortbread with orange
marmalade—outstanding, and those strong English cheeses, Somerdale Red
Dragon with whole mustard and ale (everyone’s favorite), Clawson Blue
Stropshire and Somerdale Double Gloucester. Yes, quite a feast.
no. I wasn’t in a
thatch-roofed teashop in the Cotswolds.
I was sitting in the Parish Hall of Bainbridge’s St. John’s Episcopal Church. While, yes, we’d come to eat,
we’d also come to share more than a meal. We shared ideas and experience, in sights
and a few laughs.
dropped in on a twice-monthly session of the St. John’s Book Club, a book club
a slightly different twist. They
don’t cook from a cookbook.
They cook to the book—the book they are reading. This evening the group was discussing The Spiral Staircase, Karen
Armstrong’s fascinating memoir of her transition from Roman Catholic
to respected theological writer.
(She’s written fourteen other books including Islam: a Short History—which I read right after
9-11—and A History of God.)
English delicacies were a salute to her origins and the setting of the book.
Here’s a real treat, thanks to Phyllis Lucas.
Brown Sugar Shortbread
1 cup butter (no
1/2 cup packed
2 1/4 cups all
butter and sugar. Gradually stir in the flour. Turn onto a lightly floured
surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Pat into a 1/3 in. thick rectangle
measuring 11 in. x 8 in. Cut into 2 in. x 1 in. strips. Place 1 inch apart
Prick with a fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes or until bottom begins to
brown. Cool for 5 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
asked my hosts to tell me more about the club, the books they’ve read
are going to read—and especially about the food they’ve brought. Cathy Stevens, who first told me about
this interesting group, explained that folks from the community gather on the
first and third Sunday evenings each month to share a meal and a book. You certainly don’t need to
member of St. John’s
to be a participant.
books are announced well in advance, but the menu isn’t. Most members bring a dish inspired
the book, but there’s no coordination—which adds to the fun.
I asked about
good recipes from past books.
surprise. The month they discussed
Dan Brown’s (he of The DaVinci
Code) Angels and Demons, dessert
was angel-food cake and chocolate cake.
“Maybe not Devil’s Food Cake,” Cathy says, “
close enough.” I wonder
they had devilled eggs.
they took up The Secret Life of Bees,
biscuits and sweet honey topped the menu. And, this past April when they studied
The Bookeseller of Kabul, hummus with
pita chips started the discussion off, but the highlight was the “yummy
figs with almond and chocolate” that Sharon Faulk contributed. Now that she’s shared the recipe
with me, I’ve got to read that book.
told me she chose the recipe because it reminded her of some of the sweets
might have been served for a very special occasion described in the book.
Figs stuffed with Chocolate and Almonds
from Taverna - the Best of Casual Mediterranean Cooking
1/2 cup slivered
almonds, plus 12 whole almonds
1/4 cup sugar (Sharon used unrefined
2 oz. semisweet
oven to 350 degrees. Spread
slivered and whole almonds on a baking
them separate. Bake until fragrant,
8-10 min. Let
cool. Set aside the 12 whole almonds. Leave the oven set at 350 degrees.
In a food
processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the sugar,
and the chocolate. Use rapid
pulses to form a
coarse paste. Cut off the stems from the figs. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a
slit 1 inch deep in the top of each fig.
Using a small spoon, stuff each slit with about 1 teaspoon of the
almond-chocolate mixture. Pinch the
opening closed. As the figs are
stuffed, place them on a baking sheet, stem sides up. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn the figs over and continue to
until softened, about 5 minutes longer.
Remove from the oven and press a whole almond into the slit. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Sharon offered me
other tips on making the delicacy.
“I bought the biggest figs I could find (at the New Leaf Market in
and I still had lots of filling left over.
If I had bought more figs, I could have made almost 8 to 10 more with
the extra filling. I also found I
had to soak the figs in very hot water for a short time to get them pliable
enough to work with. I patted
dry before I tried to stuff them.
After I cut the slit, I took a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon and slipped
it in the slit and pressed against the inside of the figs to try to make more
of a receptacle for the filling.”
of Cathy’s favorite books is
for Snow in Havana.
Eggplant plays an
important—and humorous role—in the book, Cathy told me. But she wouldn’t tell me the
story. Guess I’ll have
read that one, too.
from Cocina Cubana Club)
1/2 lb ground
chuck or round (or ground turkey)
1-1/2 cups minced
6 Tbsp butter
3 cups herbed
(or substitute tomato sauce)
ground pepper, to taste
onion in the butter in a 9" skillet for a few minutes, until onions are
slightly translucent. Add the ground beef or turkey, and cook, stirring
constantly, for about 10 minutes.
Cut the eggplants
in half lengthwise. Scoop the center out and reserve for the filling, leaving
1/4" around the skin. Boil (yes, boil) the skins for about 5 minutes.
Place skins on a cookie sheet and drain them on several layers of paper towels.
Add the reserved eggplant centers to the
skillet and cook until tender. Remove the skillet from heat and while piping
hot, add 1-1/2 cup bread stuffing, seasonings and milk. Let it cool for 10
skins with this mixture, being very careful not to break them. Sprinkle with
the rest of the herbed bread stuffing and parmesan cheese.
Preheat oven to
400 degrees and bake the stuffed eggplants for about 20 minutes.
you find this all as intriguing as I do, you may want to drop by some Sunday
evening—read the book first, so you can figure out just the right dish to
If you want to
know more you can call St.
John’s Episcopal Church at 246-3554 or e-mail
the club at email@example.com.
selection for June is Gilead, the
Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in Iowa. The first meeting will be Sunday,
at 6 p.m. Hmmm, I’m thinking maybe corn
the cob. For July, it’ll be
more of a challenge when the book is God:
Stories. It’s a short story anthology
many famous and outstanding writers. Maybe I’ll prepare some ambrosia!
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network