Looking for some summer reading recommendations? I’ve got a few for you.
First off, Stir. It’s the debut book – a memoir with recipes – of Jessica Fechtor whom some of you might know from her blog Sweet Amandine. It’s about life and illness, food and cooking, hosting and guesting, love and identity. I say debut because I think we’ll be reading a lot more from Jess: when we discussed the book for an article I was writing for the Forward, she told me that her PhD dissertation is about representations of food in Jewish literature and she is hoping to span academic and popular readership.
Next up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. David Leite is organizing a virtual book club and this is our first assignment. I’m about a third of the way through this book that takes place in France and Germany during WWII and I’m really loving it so far. Bonus: if you want to know what the author is reading, check out this New York Times interview with him.
For those of you who keep a pile of cookbooks on the nightstand, one of my writing teachers in Italy, Rachel Roddy, recently published her first cookbook. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and ordered the British version, Five Quarters; it comes out in the US early next year under a different title. Rachel moved from England to Italy a while back and created a life for herself in Rome. She is a vivid story teller and I hear Rachel’s animated accent when I read her essays and musing on living in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome and her instructions for the food that she turns out of her kitchen. Just the other day, I found myself chucking chickpeas and white beans into a grocery cart, making plans for paste e ceci soup (it might be a very soupy summer) and bruchetta con cannellini. No surprise that I have Italy on my mind, having just spent nearly two weeks in Sicily, but Five Quarters is filling my dreams with images of linguini con zucchine (which is where my bookmark currently resides and rhymes in a lovely way when you say it aloud) and riding around on a motorino.
During our workshop, we read various passages, articles, and book chapters to help us explore different ways of beginning a piece of writing. A couple on the food of Sicily have made their way to my library queue (You do have a library card, right?): Mary Taylor Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance and Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow.
And one more book that has come highly recommended by many friends: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.
In case you want more immediate gratification, here are a few articles that are just a click away:
Tamar Adler’s A Philosophy of Herbs. Perhaps this is the article I had in mind when, after reading the whole pea-camole brouhaha, I ignored the published recipe and made my own pea mash with avocado, mint, lemon juice and salt.
The story of The Day Jacques Pépin Saved My Life.
Now that I’ve adjusted back to a quotidian life without wine at lunch, The Guardian on drinking in the middle of the day.
And finally, to fuel all that reading, I give you cake.
Marcella’s butter almond cake
Reprinted with permission from Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor.
This cake was created by Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen. Sprinkling salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar is genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.
Serves 8 to 10
Butter and flour for the pan
3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F, and butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.
Whisk together the melted butter and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.