Dispensing Happiness

A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.-Elsa Schiapirelli

That's me, the magical good cook.

Borrowing from my friend Dexygus, I've created my own food blog.

Read of my exploits in the kitchen! Salivate over the descriptions of fabulous desserts and savory meals I've concocted!

No, seriously...go ahead. It'll make my day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Edible Word: Comfort Food

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Spend longer than 30 minutes with me, and you'll easily learn that I am a book addict. Yes, I said 'addict'. You look at me like that's a bad thing...

Books, and my small town public library, helped me survive my childhood and adolescence. I married a man with a passion for books that may even rival mine. Our home overflows with books. There is no room, not a single room, without books. Ours is a home where books come to live. We built floor-to-ceiling shelves in our bedroom to accommodate our ever-increasing need for more books.

We sum it up by saying 'all we need is words in a row...'. We love to read, we love books.

I'll read just about anything. I spent my early years exploring the stacks of the library; I read bios, history, mysteries, plays...whatever I could find.

The reason for this prelude is this: my love for books, for the written word, is so deep that I find it difficult to not like something.

If you check out my GoodReads list, you'll see very few titles rated lower than three stars. It's just that I get so much pleasure out of reading, from jumping into that other world, it's hard for me to find fault with it.

Rarely have I disliked a book, and only on two or three occasions have I HATED one so severely that I threw it across the room in disgust and/or anger. One book so traumatized me that I've blocked the title from my memory!

For me, it's a book. It's a good thing. I almost automatically like it.

So when my dear friend Cath, my soul-sister I didn't know I had until just a few years ago, sent me an email about starting a little food-ish book club, I may have let out a 'whoopee'. It's possible. I guess you'll never really know.

The Edible Word is a 'club'; a small group of gals read a chosen book...it may or may not have a direct link to food and cooking...then, drawing on the story for inspiration, make a dish and write up a review.

For our first book, we selected Comfort Food, by Kate Jacobs.



It's a 'cute' book. While my interests are varied, I will admit I am not a fan of chick lit. Chicklit. Chicklets. The gum I like; the genre, not so much.

Set in a world with a rival for the Food Network, it's about a rather (to borrow Cath's description) precious almost-fifty year old self-made TV cooking host.

She's slim, with 'butterscotch' hair (we get that drilled into our brains), a widow, has two adult daughters & their lives to steer, a career crisis, a hot ethnic 'rival', and more. Gus, our protagonist, is a busy gal.

She cooks, she bakes. She meddles. She's adorable.

I finally got around to reading my copy one night while soaking in the tub. I read it straight through, which is both good & bad. It's good, because I enjoyed it enough to not put it down.
Bad, because the water slowly drained out, turned cold, wrinkled my feet and left me with a sore behind.

Immediately after reading, I thought it a wonderful book. It's an incredibly easy read, the characters show some growth (which is always nice), the food talk drew me in.

A few days later I sort of re-thought my original rating; yes, it was 'good', but the 'chick lit-ness' of it started to get to me.

The other group members completely saw Gus as a Martha Stewart clone, and I get that. But funny, while I was reading, she was totally a thinner cross between Ina Garten & Paula Deen!

The dishes 'made' in the book (it doesn't contain recipes, but it would be an excellent marketing device) were all over the place. Elegant foods, simple foods. But I fixated somewhat on the character Priya Patel, Gus's biggest fan & winner of a 'meet Gus' contest.
And when, later in the book, she invites another character to her home for dinner (a thank you for diagnosing a health problem, one I understand all too well), she prepares a thali.

A thali is a very good way to ease into Indian cuisine; it's a platter laden with small portions of often safe dishes, as well rice and some sort of bread and condiments.

It's how I became a convert; these days Indian is on my top three desert island foods list. So it seemed the perfect choice for my book-inspired dish.

I even went ahead and ordered thali plate sets, but I must have found a bum of a company because three weeks later...no plates. No answering emails or phone calls, either.

I stuck with some basic combinations: a daal, using red lentils, a spicy paneer & pea in a light tomato sauce, and dum aloo, tiny potatoes in a slightly sweet & spicy sauce.

All fairly simple to make, all requiring lots of spices (probably my favorite part!), served with rice and store-bought naan.

I think one of the reasons a thali worked for me is because I can easily fit Indian dishes in the 'comfort food' niche. It's hearty and filling. It makes you feel good. And it's very much the kind of food you can pull out of the fridge and heat up in the microwave when you're having a craving.
I used to think mashed potatoes were the ultimate comfort food, but give me a bowl with daal bukhara over rice? Happiness.



I think the book club also highlights what makes books so wonderful, too. Each reader takes something different from a book. Everyone interprets it their own way.

Which is why I wasn't at all surprised to see that our members managed to (almost) choose different dishes to make!

See for yourself:


PheMom took her inspiration from one of the more touching scenes in the book, and created a Chocolate Oatmeal Birthday Cake!




Karen was drawn to the same bit I was but still managed to create her own version of a daal; Broccoli Dal Curry with Coconut Milk.





Tartelette summed up the spirit of this group while making her Strawberry Lemon Thyme Shortcakes.








A bit like Gus, Judith went outside her comfort zone and made a Spanish Tortilla.






Melody put her own twist on a breakfast favorite with Orange-Apricot Scones with Orange Glaze




SilverMoonDragon drew some unexpected parallels between herself and Gus...and managed to finish her book before her baby was born, Congrats!, showing some love for her DP with Scrambled Eggs, Grilled Cheese & Mushrooms.


Cath will join us as soon as her technical problems are solved...but I hear cake is involved.

A big thanks to all The Edible Word members; your dishes rock, and you are rock stars. In a bookish way.

I really did enjoy Comfort Food. But I've enjoyed sharing it with my TEW pals even more!



I wonder which book we'll tackle next??






You're invited to another Blog Party...and for June, we don't care if it does melt in our hands, because we're having a Chocolate party!

To RSVP, get those chocolate appetizers and beverages (note the 'and': a drink of some kind, alcoholic or not, is required) to me no later than THIS Thursday, 19 June...hope to see you there!





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12 Thoughts for food:

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Tartelette said...

I had the same feelings as you and I actually pushed it by making Gus a three crossed-lady: Martha, Paula, Ina...that's the one part that brushed me the wrong way about the book. Chick-lit was good on the treadmill! Thanks for inviting me to participate, I had a blast!

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger PheMom said...

I hate to admit it but I've never really had Indian food. I guess I'm just intimidated and don't know where to begin. Those dishes you made sound fantastic though - I'm going to have to give it a try.

Thanks again for including me in TEW - it was so much fun! Can't wait til next time!

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger Judith said...

It's funny, I kept telling myself "Gus is thin and attractive, Gus is thin and attractive," but I could NOT stop picturing her as heavyset and grey-haired, very similar to Paula Deen. I agree with you on the bubble-gumminess of it - I was sort of like "oh God, I kind of liked this. Did I really kind of like this?" But the pacing's good - I also finished it quickly, in two or three days. I suppose if you're going to read a guilty pleasure bubble gum book, it's good that it moves along! Thanks to you and Cath for hosting :-)

 
At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Helen said...

Ooh your book group sounds fab! I loved reading about it - Just like I was a member from the comfort of my own blog! Hx

 
At 2:42 PM, Blogger pavotrouge said...

awesome idea <3 where can I join the foodie book club?

 
At 4:36 AM, Blogger Ravi said...

Hi Stephanie,

Finally, after an year, you kept your promise of providing us an Indian platter. The dishes look yum (as ever). But looking forward to more of such treats! Thanks Stephanie!

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Tartelette...it's funny, isn't it? We were told again & again how trim Gus was, and yet we kept imagining her as a somewhat plumper gal!

I'm just happy you could join us!

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Phemom...you really should. It's loaded with flavor, generally good for you (if you don't add extra cream!), and so versatile. Suvir Saran is a good start, and of course Madhur Jaffrey is a culinary goddess.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Judith...me, too!!! I so wanted her to be Paula, but with all the emphasis on etiquette, I'd switch over to Ina!

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Thanks, Helen!

Well, that's the power of books. Glad you liked it!

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Thanks, Pavotroughe!

I don't know that we're actively inviting new members; the goal was to keep this small...like an actual book club. Anything larger, and it would easily get out of control.

And as of now, we haven't even picked out a new book!!

But we appreciate your interest...

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Ravi...I couldn't help but think of you as I made this!

I've made an effort to add more Indian dishes to the monthly menu, so hopefully I'll be posting more as time goes on.

 

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