Kevin West teaches us how to "capture the fabulous essence of each season by preserving it" with Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt also loves this book for West's storytelling talents, as the 200+ recipes are accompanied by entertaining, educational stories and essays.
2. Scrub the cucumbers well, rubbing off any spines. Cut away a thin round from the stem and blossom ends, and slice lengthwise into quarters. Put the spears in a large bowl, and cover with the brine. Weight the cucumbers with a plate, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and set aside for 24 hours. If the bowl won’t fit in your refrigerator, it’s fine to leave it out at room temperature.
3. The next day, pack the cucumber spears into two scalded quart jars, saving the brine. Measure out 2 cups of the brine and reserve. Strain the remaining brine through a fine sieve to capture the aromatics, and divide them between the jars. Tuck a dill head and two cloves of garlic into each jar.
4. Mix the vinegar and the 2 cups reserved brine, and bring to a boil. Pour it over the pickles to cover. Seal the jars, and store in the refrigerator for a week before using. For long-term shelf storage, leave ½ inch headspace when filling the jars, then seal. Process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes, or in a hot-water bath, between 180 and 185 degrees, for 30 minutes.
[Note] Instead of spears, you could slice your cucumbers into round coins, lengthwise “slabs,” or bias-cut ovals. Make the slices 3?8 inch thick and soak them in the brine for 12 hours instead of 24.
Was it the intimidating triple name? The comparisons to serious authors like Achebe? The preconception that books about Africa were likely to be on the grim side? Whatever the reason, despite the literary buzz surrounding Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I had somehow placed her in the category of authors I might admire, but probably wouldn't love. At least, until I cracked open her latest, Americanah, a completely enjoyable novel that's full of heart as well as ideas and features a realistic, relatable modern heroine: Nigerian-born Ifemelu. Given its trenchant observations on race and immigration, you might call Americanah the American White Teeth, although Adichie's novel (her third) demonstrates more maturity and less exuberance than Zadie Smith's notable debut.
As Americanah opens, Ifemelu has decided to return to Nigeria after being educated in the United Sates, and finds herself remembering the boy she left behind: her first love, Obinze. Ifemelu has spent much of her time in America writing a popular blog on race, Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (those formerly known as Negros) by a Non-American Black, so her observational powers are finely honed. Here, she contemplates her fellow train passengers:
So here she was, on a day filled with the opulence of summer, about to braid her hair for the journey home. Sticky heat sat on her skin. There were people thrice her size on the Trenton platform, and she looked admiringly at one of them, a woman in a very short skirt. She thought nothing of slender legs shown off in miniskirts—it was safe and easy, after all, to display legs of which the world approved—but the fat woman's act was about the quiet conviction that one shared only with oneself, a sense of rightness that others failed to see. Her decision to move back was similar; whenever she felt besieged by doubts, she would think of herself as standing valiantly alone, as almost heroic, so as to squash her uncertainty.
There's much more to love: Adichie's depictions of modern Lagos, her portrait of life as an undocumented immigrant, her exploration of why someone who lived in a country that wasn't facing starvation or genocide, but simply a lack of opportunity, might be willing to risk all for a chance in the West—I could go on, but I'll stop there and just tell you to pick this one up already. What are you reading this week?
RELATED IN BOOKPAGE: Our review of Americanah.
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
Knopf • $24.95 • ISBN 9780307959966
On sale February 12, 2013
You know that feeling when you pick up a book, read the first few pages—and realize you're in for the long haul? (And oh, by the way, whatever plans you had for that weekend are officially out the window.) That's how I felt when I started reading Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a debut thriller that was written while the author was a student at Reed College.
The story starts with a bang—or several bangs, really, as a couple of criminals botch a heist at an Atlantic City casino. So then our main character, a "fixer" named Jack, is summoned to clean up the mess.
It's a given that this story is suspenseful and zippy, but devoted thriller readers will be happy to hear that it's also stylishly written, thoroughly researched and tightly plotted. Reading Ghostman, you get the sense that you've just discovered an author who may become a favorite for many years to come, and that is an exciting feeling indeed. In fact: Here at BookPage, we liked the novel so much we decided to interview Hobbs for our February issue—so be on the lookout for that in about six weeks.
Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the novel:
It takes months of planning to take down a casino. Luckily for them, Ribbons had done this sort of thing before. Ribbons was a two-time felon out of Philadelphia. Not an attractive résumé item, even for the kind of guy who sets up jobs like this, but it meant he had motive not to get caught. He had skin the color of charcoal and blue tattoos he'd got in Rockview Pen that peeked out from his clothing at odd angles. He'd done five years for his part in strong-arming a Citibank in Northern Liberties back in the nineties, but had never seen time for the four or five bank jobs he'd helped pull since he got out. He was a big man. At least six foot four with more than enough weight to match. Folds of fat poured out over his belt, and his face was as round and smooth as a child's. He could press four hundred on a good day, and six hundred after a couple of lines of coke. he was good at this, whatever his rap sheet said.
Hector Moreno was more the soldier type. Five and a half feet, a quarter of Ribbons's weight, hair as short as desert grass, and bones that showed through his coffee-colored skin. He was a good marksman from his days in the service, and he didn't blink except when he twitched. His sheet showed a dishonorable discharge but no time served. He got back home and spent a year cutting chops in Boston and another browbeating protection money out of dope dealers in Vegas. This was his first big job, so he was nervous about it. He had a whole pharmacy in the Dodge with him, just to get his nut up. Pills and poppers and powders and smokes.
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Knopf • $24.95 • ISBN 9780307957276
Published April 3
Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler's 19th novel, The Beginner's Goodbye, is a subtle story of process—a husband's grieving process after the sudden death of his wife, his thoughts as he remains almost stationary in the process of saying goodbye.
Aaron and Dorothy's marriage was totally unexceptional and perfectly acceptable, but the entrance of death into their story makes it singular. Many months after a tree falls and kills Dorothy, she returns from beyond the grave. She and Aaron pick up some of the arguments and discussions that had been left unfinished. Her return does for Aaron what months of keeping busy failed to do—help him actually move on.
I would call it minimalist were it not for the thump of magical realism, like in this scene where Dorothy makes an appearance:
I was rinsing vegetables for my supper, and I turned from the sink to reach for a towel, and I saw Dorothy.
"You're here," I said.
She was standing next to me, so close that she'd had to step back a bit to give me room when I turned. She wore one of her plain white shirts and her usual black pants, and her expression was grave and considering—her head cocked to one side and her eyebrows raised.
"I thought you might never come again," I said.
She appeared unsurprised by this, merely nodding and continuing to study me, so that it seemed I'd been right to worry.
"Was it the cookies?" I asked. "Were you upset that I ate Peggy's cookies?"
"You should have told me you liked cookies," she said, and I don't know why I'd ever doubted that she actually spoke on these visits, because her voice was absolutely real—low and somewhat flat, very level in tone.
I said, "What? I don't like cookies!"
"I could have baked you cookies," she said.
Are you an Anne Tyler fan? Have you checked out her newest yet? What do you think?
The Beginner's Goodbye is one of our 30 most anticipated books of 2012. Check out the full list.
We're feeling rested and relaxed here after the long Memorial Day weekend. The overcast skies and occasional showers made it a perfect reading weekend here in Nashville, and I managed to spend a few hours with the galleys of the forthcoming A.S. Byatt novel I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, The Children's Book.
I'm about 300 pages into this behemoth, and so far it's pretty compelling. The cast of characters rivals that of War and Peace, but Byatt manages to make each one stand out. Among my favorites are Olive Wellwood, a complicated woman whose writing for children supports her large family (she's based on one of my favorite childhood authors, the writer E. Nesbit); her eldest daughter, Dorothy, whose desire to become a doctor is verbally but not always materially supported by her permissive, counter-cultural family; and Phillip, a boy with the drive and genius to become a great potter who is discovered living in the basement of the brand-new South Kensington (soon to be Victoria & Albert) Museum. Creepy fairy-tale comparisons abound, and as in Possession, some of the best passages are the stories that Byatt has created for Olive Wellwood.
Did you have time to read this weekend? And if so, what book did you choose?