Another multi-book update

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I’m still not good about keeping up on the blog.

Here is a quick reel of highlights, as I remember them, for about the past year! We each have picked about two books since then. Keep in mind I’m going from oldest (where I remember little about our meals and conversation) to most recent (where, thank goodness, I still have some recollections). Family, please feel free to chime in in the comments!

  • English Passengers – Evan’s pick. Everyone liked this book. That is all I can remember. Actually, I do surprisingly remember a lot from this book but not much from the meal or conversation.
  • A Tale for the Time Being – Julia’s pick. Lordy, this was a long time ago. I remember liking the book a lot. It does a great job of weaving together different stories across time and place.
  • Catch-22 – Matt’s pick. I remember great conversation. Thoroughly enjoying the book. And the movie is worth the watch.
  • The White Spider – a climbing adventure from Judith. To be honest I was weirdly stubborn on this one and didn’t read it. I have a strange relationship with outdoor adventure books.
  • Inherent Vice – Will’s pick. It was an entertaining read that I didn’t altogether get. And after hearing more from a friend who studied the book in college, I realized I “got” it even less. Then I watched the movie and still didn’t get it. C’est la vie. I can’t for the life of me remember what we ate.
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan – my mom’s pick. It was a story I’m glad I read but we all agreed the execution, the writing itself, wasn’t that great. But an amazing and interesting story nonetheless. We had an amazing Cambodian meal, complete with as authentic of a Cambodian curry as Matt could find, generously given to him by the local Cambodian restaurant Cheng Heng (check them out, yum!).
  • Rez Life – Evan’s pick. Everyone enjoyed this book in some way. By an author with Minnesota connections and a story with Minnesota connections. It was super interesting to learn more about the history of reservations in Minnesota and the United States.
  • Love Medicine – my pick. Honestly I picked this because I thought everyone (especially Matt) would find it more interesting after having read Rez Life. Another Minnesota author and a Minnesota connected story. I have personally read Love Medicine about 8 times now, including aloud every night on a canoe trip (I highly recommend it). Plus, I wrote my favorite paper in college about the imagery of Mishipeshu and Nanabozho throughout the story.
  • Dersu – Matt’s pick. This was beloved by all. A true account of one of the last native people in Siberian Russia, Dersu the Trapper. It was very interesting to see life a little bit through his eyes. Like how he knew the rain was done because the birds started to sing. Or would talk to the tigers in the woods and show them respect. We had our meal for this book at Will’s family’s cabin in Wisconsin. We all spent the night and spent an afternoon with a batch of us going mushroom hunting and collecting wild plums. Which was very fitting with the book. There is also a movie for Dersu, but unfortunately our copy from the library was so scratched we could hardly watch it. But from what I did see… it was good.
  • Archangel – Judith’s pick. This was a collection of short stories that all took place at times when the scientific paradigm was shifting. Everyone loved the stories and had a favorite or two. I particularly liked the one that took place in Darwin’s time with a woman who was a huge follower of someone that was opposed to Darwin, but then came to understand Darwin’s theories and had to leave behind someone she had admired and respected since she was a child.
  • Our Man in Havana – this was Will’s pick. This was a smart pick for this group because it is a satire on the spy novel and we have read spy novels as a book club, plus many of us read them otherwise. I liked the book but it was more fascinating to me to think of it as a book other people, maybe more so in another era, found hilarious because for the most part I really didn’t. And don’t bother watching the movie, which we all did after dinner. We had a great meal of spiced pork, fried plantains, a rum cocktail and a black bean salad to round out the Cuban meal. Then there was the failed ginger cake because our oven is apparently broken. Unfortunately Evan was sick and had to miss the whole affair.
  • City of Djinns – Jean’s pick. This is what we are currently on. We plan to have an Indian feast on in a few days and the next day Matt and Cherie leave for India for 3 months!

Seven years of book club

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Book club has been going for 7 years! We could hardly believe it when we starting figuring it out.

Our last meeting was held at my mom’s house to discuss Anna Karenina. We had deviled eggs with caviar, moscow mules, and … Matt will have to help me out. Something involving cooking a pig for a very long time. Not head cheese but?

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And that was just the pre-dinner! My mom made some delicious beef stroganoff for the main dish with beer bread from Will and pickled vegetables from Evan. Overall the reviews of the book were favorable. I’ll let anyone chime in in the comments if they so choose. For me, it was not at all what I was expecting, which I guess was a love story. And I found it hard to empathize with Anna Karenina. But I’m glad I read it, and learned a lot about Russian history. I also enjoyed watching the somewhat abstract movie version with a few other book club members and spending the whole movie talking about what they were leaving out and how the main characters didn’t look as we had imagined them.

Before Anna Karenina was Will’s pick The Bass Saxophone by Josef Skovercky a Ukrainian author. That was not one of my favorites but it’s always interesting to read a new author. The book is two novella’s and I think everyone enjoyed the second one better than the first. The best part for me was convincing Will to play a mini saxophone concert for the family. We ended up talking lots of music and finding various things on YouTube to play for each other. Will and I made Beef Goulash (I think…) and I can’t remember what else we had! And can find no pictures to document the meal…

Next up is English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, a pick from Evan. There was a little pressure on the timing since Matt is leaving for a road trip so I’m not sure everyone will have finished by our gathering on Thursday (at least speaking for my own household). The book follows an English expedition, with a crew from the Isle of Man as they travel to Tasmania, and the Aboriginal Tasmanians. So your guess is as good as mine what the menu will be.

I’m up next and I have no idea what my pick will be…

Julia’s best pick, Foodie reads, and Historical fiction

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Once again I’ve been admonished by my fellow book club members for not keeping up on the blog. Here we go:

My pick was Three Day Road. I think everyone in the group really liked it. Matt said it was my best pick. “By far.” Okay Matt, I get it. You haven’t liked any of my other books.

I can’t find pictures just now but Will and I made rabbit cooked in a turnip sauce from a Mario Batali recipe, it was pretty good but not great.

Given the foodie nature of the book club I think everyone was excited when Matt picked Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen. I was personally excited that it wasn’t 1000 pages of dense writing. There was also the suggestion that everyone read Cooked, also by Michael Pollen.

Omnivore’s Dilemma was a popular pick with good discussion. Will and I almost bought a farm after reading that book while traveling in central France. Matt slow roasted a brisket and made homemade mac and cheese and collard greens, we ate copious amounts of home grown heirloom tomatoes, and my mom bought some gummy candy made out of corn just to make sure we covered that part of the book as well. Somehow, these are the only two pictures I took of the meal.

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Next up is Judith’s pick – Gloriana’s Torch, by Patricia Finney. I’ve got it from the library and am nearly halfway done. So far, it reads to me like Game of Thrones. Which I like. Judith and Evan had already read it but are reading it again. It’s looking like we’ll meet in October.

A murderer and a forger… oh and another murderer

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We seem to be reading about some pretty shady characters lately.

My mom reminded me at book club last night that I never did a proper post about her book choice. Sorry mom!

Mom’s choice was Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Everyone (I think) agreed that the book was pretty reminiscent of River of Doubt, a great historical book that really reads like a novel. We had Chicago style steak sandwiches to go with the book that tells about the making of the World’s Fair in Chicago.

images-1 Here’s H. H. Holmes (or Hermann Mudgett’s) mug shot;  one of the prime characters in Devil in the White City. Apparently there’s going to be a movie based on his story starring Leo D.

I’m now realizing I also forgot to follow up on Will’s pick! Another book of murder and mayhem, though really different from Devil in the White City. For Will’s pick we read My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. It takes place in Turkey during the Ottoman empire in the world of miniaturists.

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For this meal, Will and I made homemade lamb meatballs using our new meat grinder (thanks Matt!). They were yummy.

I think one of the best things about family book club has been reading about so many different things. We went from reading about spies in WWI and WWII, to reading about 16th century Turkish miniaturists, to reading about Chicago at the turn of the century, to reading about art forgery in WWII. Love it.

Our conversation about My Name is Red turned into an interesting conversation about “What is art?” Which brings us full circle to Evan’s pick that we just discussed last night, The Man Who Made Vermeers. My favorite question of the night was, “Are there forgers who forge van Meegeren forging Vermeers?” I believe that one was Will.

For this meal we went Dutch. I’ll let Evan describe the lovely stew he made with juniper berries and a potato and celery root mash, maybe he’ll share the recipe. We had a traditional cucumber salad, apps of fish and crackers, Belgian beer (because we couldn’t find Dutch, and figured it was close enough, a forgery you might say…), and “Dutch” chocolate cake, as my mom insisted.

Some of us were not very taken with van Meegeren or Vermeer’s art.

Here’s a Vermeers you might recognize from a book of the same name and then a movie, note the girl and her pearl earring:

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And a van Meegeren. This looks like one to hang in the bedroom:

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Next up, my pick, Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden.

The Man Who Made Vermeers

Just the ticket for spring: The Man Who Made Vermeers, by Jonathan Lopez.

I’ve been wanting to read this book pretty much since it came out. It’s about Han van Meegeren, the famous 20th century Dutch art forger. The book has it all: true crime, art, money, high (and not-so-high) society, Nazis…. what more could a person want?

It’s partly a biography of van Meegeren, but it’s also a tour of the Art Scene of the first half of the 20th century, and a social history that investigates the conditions that made it possible for van Meegeren and his partners in crime to perpetrate art fraud on a grand scale. The short version is that they were giving gullible people what they badly wanted (rich, relatively uninformed Americans, for example, were buying European Culture by the boatload in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), and they were showing experts what they wanted to see: the subjects of many of van Meegeren’s “Vermeers” were carefully calculated to fill perceived “gaps” in Vermeer’s work, such as religious themes.

It’s also a good book to get a person thinking about larger questions like “What counts as art?” Not only are van Meegeren’s “Vermeers” better than most of his original work (he was also a fairly successful society portrait painter, for one thing), but his fakes are now highly sought after in their own right… go figure.

Choucroute Garnie — The Recipe

This is a traditional version, based on Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

At the Brasserie Heininger, this might well have been served after a first course of oysters on the half shell, with champagne, which flowed freely there. A nice Moselle, a light, dry white wine such as a Muscadet, or a flinty Chablis would actually go better with them than champagne, but if you want to be authentic, go for the bubbly. The rich chocolate cake would have been perfect for afters, given that everyone had a car and driver waiting, or at least could call a taxi.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 pounds sauerkraut (homemade, or the kind in plastic bags; not kosher)
  • 1/2 pound chunk of good smoked bacon, pancetta, or smoked pork shank meat
  • 4-6 carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 4 tablespoons duck fat, pork fat or butter (Duck fat is much the best – plan ahead.)
  • 1 cup white wine or vermouth
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • ***
  • The following, tied in washed cheesecloth (bouquet garni):
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 6 whole allspice
  • 10 juniper berries
  • ***
  • 3-4 pounds assorted meat and sausages:
  • Pork chops
  • Ham
  • Smoked pork loin
  • Sausages: andouille, smoked Polish sausage, weisswurst, etc. Get good ones, not supermarket brats.

Drain the sauerkraut, rinse, and soak in cold water for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Taking it by small handfuls, squeeze out as much water as you can. Pick it apart to separate the strands.

Cut bacon or pancetta into 1/2 inch pieces about 2 inches long. Simmer it in 1 quart of water for 10 minutes and drain. Omit the simmering step if using smoked shank; just cut the latter into serving slices, approx. ½” by 2” by 2”.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt the fat in a large casserole with a tight-fitting lid; cook bacon, carrots, and onions slowly in the casserole, covered, for 10 minutes without browning. Stir in the sauerkraut and when it is well covered with the fat and vegetables, cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes more.

Bury the bouquet garni in the sauerkraut. Pour in the wine, and enough stock to almost cover the sauerkraut. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Lay a buttered round of wax paper on top of sauerkraut. Cover and set in the middle of preheated oven. Simmer slowly for 2 hours.

Brown assorted meats in skillet. Bury them in the casserole, and continue to braise very slowly for another hour, or longer.

To serve, arrange the sauerkraut on a large platter, arrange meat over and around it, and serve with beer and/or a nice Alsatian Riesling.

My Name is Red

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Will’s pick is My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is a Turkish author and the novel takes place in 16th century Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire.
It would seem Will has a distinct type. On the surface this book sounds like the Turkish version of Mario Puzo’s The Family. But, just reading a few descriptions of this book reveals how different it is likely to be. And being influenced by Joyce, Kafka, Mann, Nabokov and Rushdie can’t be bad.
I’m guessing we’ll be meeting for this one after the holidays. But go get the book people!

Brasserie Heininger

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The theme last night was occupied France. Paris specifically.

The feature: Choucroute garnie.

According to Judith and Evan that was THE meal served at Brasserie Heininger, the fictional Parisian Cafe featured in all of Alan Furst’s novels.

Matt made some sort of lovely flourless chocolate cake with orange and bourbon. Perhaps something served at the Brasserie before the occupation? Okay, not directly related to the book.

But check this out. Before we called it a night Judith and Evan pointed this out.

The bullet hole above table 14. If it were real, I’d be a goner because that was my seat!

The World at Night

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Next up, The World at Night, by Alan Furst, picked by Judith. Or any Alan Furst book you want to read. Judith has more than once read another related book, instead of the book club book. But there seemed to be agreement from the rest of us that we’ll read The World at Night and perhaps another one.

Judith and Evan have already read most, if not all, of Furst’s books. Will recently read Spies of the Balkans, at Judith’s recommendation. He raved about it so much that I read it next and ended up not being able to put it down. Twenty-four hours later and I was done.

Hopefully, this round will not take us four months. In fact, everyone free the first week in November?

Lord of the Flies

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This week we got together to discuss Democracy in America. Which we had been “reading” since June.

I believe Matt, who chose the book, is still the only one to have read it all the way through. Fortunately, that does not mean we lacked things to discuss. I will let any members post thoughts and quotes and ideas as they want. The feature of this blog will be the meal, which, frankly, stole the show. At one point Judith asked what book would go with our meal, since there was no direct connection to Democracy in America. Will came up with Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, both good choices, especially the latter…
The meal started, as all good meals do, with bone marrow spread on toast and topped with a garnish of capers, onions and Italian parsley. Followed by a course of fresh, hot chicken broth, which may sound plain, but let me tell you, it was good broth.

Then came a boiled chicken served with a homemade aioli and leeks boiled in milk and chicken broth. Delicious. At this point I ventured into the kitchen where Matt was working on the final course and came back out to the dining room grinning but slightly disturbed.

A little Lord of the Flies, right?

What else would better end a meal of family book club than a roasted pig’s head? Apparently the butcher shop had it couriered up from a farm just for my brother when his original order got messed up. And, to apologize for messing up his order and getting it to him late (he wasn’t able to brine it like he had planned) they gave him a free sheep head. Lucky boy!

It was served with delicious mashed parsnips that had been cooked in whole milk. I admit the pig head was a little much for me. At first I was bothered by the pig head facing me with its terrible mouth gaping open. But then my brother turned it around, and that was definitely worse. It turns my stomach a little bit to remember my brother prying open the jaw to cut out the tongue, which I also ate a piece of.

Just to keep things a little more down to earth we topped the night off with cupcakes, a special birthday cookie for Will (that was pretty gross, but I bought it for its ridiculous factor, not taste) and Rittenhouse.

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