I am hoping to start a new feature here on bookcooker, partly as an attempt to get out of my blogging rut! Every month I will make a cover recipe from some food magazine - first up the cover of Martha Stewart Livings June issue - a very simple berry float. It feels a bit like cheating to make this, it is nothing much more than berries, vanilla ice cream and soda thrown together - but it has been impact, both visually and in taste. It is a great easy treat to throw together when you are in the mood for something special and the color scheme obviously works perfect for July 4th or for chearing on Team USA in the World Cup! Yum!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing book that is many different things in one package - a coming of age story, an immigrant story, a commentary on race and at its vibrant, beating heart - a love story. As you may be able to tell from my description, I absolutely loved it. It was both thought provoking and emotionally satisfying on multiple levels. The book tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the United States and then decides to return home to Nigeria. The story starts in Princeton, where Ifemelu is doing a fellowship. When we first meet her she has already decided that she is going to move back to Lagos, leaving her American boyfriend behind. Before she leaves she needs to get her hair braided, and the only place for her to do that is an African hair salon in Newark - as she sits in the salon chair (with an uneasy relationship with the woman braiding her hair) for the long braiding process, Ifemelu thinks back on everything that has led up to this moment. Adichie moves back and forth in time for most of the novel, moving back in time and returning every so often to this salon chair. The hair braiding process and Ifemelu's choice of what to do with her hair (chemically straighten in, chop it all off, braid it) serves throughout as a touch point for her identify both in Nigeria and as an African woman in America. Ifemelu (and Adichie) is a sharp, keen eyed observer of the world around her, particularly as an "outsider" in America. Her experiences and commentary are both funny and painfully on point. I could have read 300 more pages of her story.
Any book that gives you an excuse to make frozen custard, must be good, right? Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures is mostly set in glamorous (and not so glamorous) Hollywood, but at its heart and start it is a story about a girl from Door County, Wisconsin - where frozen custard is a summertime staple. The novel tells the story of the improbable rise to stardom of Elsa Emerson, a young girl from Wisconsin. Elsa has the theater in her blood - her parents run a summer theater in rural Wisconsin. But it is a family tragedy that propels her determination to escape Wisconsin and make it in Hollywood - her drive to succeed is not just for herself, but for her family. Elsa spends her first years in Hollywood as a young wife and mother, never really making it in the Hollywood studio system. She finally makes it when she meets a man who convinces her to shed "Elsa" and transform into Laura, the glamorous Hollywood starlet. The book spans 40+ years of Elsa/Laura's life and career, and the ups and down that come with it.
Until this one, I have never had a mint julep I enjoyed. That doesn't make sense, since I really love bourbon, but I have not had a tasty mint julep. As often happens with cocktails, a bad experience once can sometimes put you off a certain drink or type of liquor forever (or at least for a while). I recall a very bad mint julep my senior year in college, made by a friend from Kentucky (no offense, P!) - a medicine tasting drink that made me shiver a bit after I took a sip. To some extent, that was all it took for me to pretty much swear off juleps for a while. I have partaken a bit in recent years, since bourbon has been so in vogue, juleps turn up on a lot of menus. What I have found is that the crushed ice that is part of the drink is overdone a bit, and so I feel like I am drinking a bourbon snow cone. A purist will not like this blackberry mint julep, but it is far and away the best julep I have ever had. I really like the technique too - pureeing the fruit and mint together then straining to a syrup. This is something I will play with with other fruit and herb combinations - as summer approaches the possibilities are endless. While I am a late for an derby day party you may have thrown, this drink is a keeper for the spring no matter what the occasion.