Heidi Swanson takes readers on a vegetarian-focused tour of the world's best dishes in our September Top Pick in Cookbooks, Near & Far. This Almond Cake has just the right hint of amaro, a popular spirit regularly found in Italian cafes and sipped as an aperitivo.
Herbal, sweet, and bitter; some versions weak, others strong—not everyone loves amaro, the widely varied Italian digestif originally sold as a health tonic in the early 19th century. You still see bottles lining enoteca shelves. I love it, and often sip it straight or over a cube or two of ice. It’s invigorating like an alcoholic wheatgrass shot. On the culinary front, I use it for flavor, primarily in sweet preparations—sometimes with creams or granitas, and other times in baking: this cake, for example, where amaro’s green herbaceousness melds beautifully with a thick almond paste batter and glaze accent.
Makes one 8-inch / 20 cm cake or multiple smaller ones
Preheat the oven to 350°F | 180°C. Butter an 8-inch | 20cm pan, generously and evenly sprinkle with flour, and tap out any excess. (Alternatively, you can use multiple smaller pans for a cluster of tiny cakes; see Notes, page 230.)
Break the almond paste into a food processor and give a few quick pulses; you’re looking for medium-size, pebbly pieces. Add the eggs and process until very smooth. Sprinkle in the cornstarch and salt and pulse a few times, then add the butter and amaro. Blend once more before transferring to the prepared pan(s). Bake until deeply golden and set in the center; you’re going to want to test this cake—a toothpick should come out clean before pulling it from the oven—for tiny cakes, this is usually 40 to 45 minutes, longer for larger cakes. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 20 to 30 minutes (very small cakes can be turned out after about 5 minutes), then transfer directly to the cooling rack. Let cool completely before glazing.
To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and amaro. Keep whisking until the glaze is free of lumps. Flood the top(s) of the cake(s), allowing the glaze to run over the sides. Alternatively, you can top each slice of cake with berries that have been tossed with a splash of amaro and sprinkled with brown sugar.
Be sure to buy almond paste, not marzipan. There is a difference.
This recipe makes about 3 cups | 710 ml of cake batter. You can bake one 8-inch | 20cm cake or multiple smaller ones. Adjust your baking time accordingly and use a cake tester to decide when to pull the cake(s) from the oven—smaller cakes take less time to bake.
I haven't done much research into this, but I'm going to declare that this is a first: Harlequin, the book publishing house known for its romance novels, is launching a line of wines called Vintages by Harlequin today.
Developed with the Northern California-based Vintage Wine Estates, the line will feature three varietals: a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon and a red wine blend. Available exclusively on Amazon.com now, the wines are available to U.S. customers only.
Considering the fact that I do most of my reading with a glass of wine in hand, this may be a match made in heaven. Because what goes better with romance than wine?
What do you think of Harlequin's new business venture?
Okparanta's debut novel is a touching coming-of-age story set during and after the Nigerian Civil War.
After her father dies in a bombing, Ijeoma is sent away to safety by her widowed mother. The only bright side of her exile is that Ijeoma falls in love—but the fellow displaced teenager who wins her heart is not only from a different ethic community, but also another girl. When she returns to her mother after the war, in disgrace after her romance is discovered, this defiance of custom results in extensive study of the Bible, with emphasis on the book of Leviticus.
By the end of all those lessons, all that praying, if anyone had asked how I felt, I would have told them that I was exhausted. Not angry, not confused, not even penitent. Just exhausted.
A week before I was to leave to board at the secondary school, two or three days after that last Bible study session, Mama turned to me again and asked, "Do you still think of her in that way?"
I looked into her eyes, knowing better than to tell the truth, but I could not get myself to speak the lie. I shook my head. I forced myself to shake it with authority, making sure not to blink. It was the first time that I had lied to Mama. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I had not spoken the lie.
Mama smiled, patted me on the shoulder. "Very good, my child. Very, very good." She signed, then she said, "The power of God! The wonderful power of our glorious and almighty God!"
What are you reading this week?
After a health scare, Alex Sheshunoff decided that it was time for a radical change. So he left his old life behind and set out in search of true paradise, a search he recounts in A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise. Our reviewer writes, "A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise is extraordinarily entertaining, one part guidebook to two parts love story. This heartfelt account reveals what can happen when you leave everything behind—and find more than you ever hoped for." (Read the review.)
We asked Sheshunoff to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel
I loved this book. Funny and spare and character driven, this lovely debut novel made me appreciate everything from the culture of food (of the Midwest, even) to the unreliable assessments we make of those closest to us (our parents, even). Most of all, though, I was struck by Stradel’s writing. His similes—or is it metaphors?—stayed with me long after I’d finished the book. Among my favorites: “Cousin Randy was an untouchable demigod—an angel’s wing broken from an ancient statue, sent here to help her hover above all things insipid and heartbreaking.” Most aren’t nearly as heavy. For example: “He […] went on dates about as often as a vegetarian restaurant opened near an interstate highway.”
I haven’t seen the movie, but I do find myself often rereading this hilarious book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Bryson was a British copy editor for years before writing his first book, and it shows in his control of the language. For example, describing a bunk bed in a hostel along the trail, he looks up and writes, “If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it.” Funny stuff. At least to me.
Ants by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler
My 8-year-old and I are slowly making our way through this seven-pound, 732-page book about, well, ants. It’s been really fun for him (and me) to go beyond volcanoes and dinosaurs and see just how deep and rich science can be. Who knew, for example, that monogamous ants have 75 percent female offspring whereas polygamous ants have almost 75 percent male offspring? I didn’t. Oh sure, you’re probably thinking, A 500 page book about ants, that’d be reasonable, but do you really need those extra 232 pages? The short answer? Yes! Otherwise, you’d miss the 63-page bibliography. And that colonies of Eciton burchelli, an army ant found on an island in Panama, migrate between bushes by constructing thick chains of ants—formed by the interlocking of mandibles—that subsequent ants use for transportation. OK, Ants could probably still honor its incredible subject with a few fewer pages, but not many!
Meera Sodha shares her family's most treasured staple recipes in her charming new cookbook, Made in India. Here, she lets you in on the secrets of her mother's comforting Chicken Curry.
MUM’S CHICKEN CURRY
I left Lincolnshire at the age of 18 to go to university in London. Secretly homesick, I would stop in Indian-owned newsstands on the way back from class, lingering over the magazines and quietly listening to the owners speaking in Gujarati, just for comfort.
When it came to food, I was at the mercy of the dorm chef, a Jamaican with an adventurous streak who would create delights such as corn and strawberry salad, indiscriminately seasoning everything with pepper. With every bite, I’d be thinking about home and my ultimate comfort food, my mum’s chicken curry.
Put the ghee and oil into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a medium heat and, when it’s hot, add the cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks. Let them infuse in the oil for a minute, and then add the onions. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.
Meanwhile, put the ginger, garlic and green chilis into a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and bash to a coarse paste.
Add the paste to the pan and cook gently for 2 minutes, then pour in the strained tomatoes and stir. Cook the strained tomatoes for a few minutes until the mixture resembles a thick paste, then add the tomato paste, ground cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste).
Whisk the yogurt and add it slowly to the curry. Cook it through until it starts to bubble, then add the chicken. Pop the lid on the pan and continue to cook on a gentle heat for around 30 minutes. Add the ground almonds and the garam masala and cook for another 5 minutes.
Serve with a tower of chapatis, hot fluffy naan, or rice, and offer yogurt at the table.
Reprinted from Made in India. Copyright © 2015 by Meera Sodha. Published by Flatiron, an imprint of Macmillan.
It's awards season, and the full longlist for the National Book Awards has been announced. The shortlist will be announced Oct 14, and the winners will be announced Nov 18. Winners will
be crowned with gold and honey receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. Here's the whole shebang!
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
Refund: Stories by Karen E. Bender
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
Mislaid by Nell Zink
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawai’i by Susanna Moore
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith
Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir by Michael White
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler
A Stranger's Mirror by Marilyn Hacker
How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes
The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
Elegy for a Broken Machine by Patrick Phillips
Heaven by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts by Lawrence Raab
YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
See anyone you hope brings home the prize?
Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
It's a brutally beautiful Man Booker shortlist for 2015! The shortlist—composed of novels deemed by a panel of judges to be among the best written in English this year—is filled with novels that touch on some pretty grim topics. Michael Wood, Chair of judges for the prestigious prize, admits that there is a “tremendous amount of violence in them. What’s quite interesting is trying to work out how one can have such pleasure in books with such terrible stuff.” Indeed.
Man Booker 2015 shortlist:
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (UK)
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (UK)
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (US)
Are you rooting for any of these authors to win the £50,000 prize?
After Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most hyped book of 2015 was the new Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web. Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy with this authorized sequel, and according to the publisher, 100,000 copies sold on day one, and it has already gone back for a second and third printing. As with Go Set a Watchman, Spider's Web comes with a bit of controversy, as many readers insist Larsson's trilogy shouldn't be continued in his absence. Lagercrantz has compared his depiction of Salander to Christopher Nolan's Batman, and thus readers should consider Lagercrantz's Salander a reimagining of Larsson's character. Her motivations should remain true to the original, but the vision belongs to someone new.
Having accepted this, I still found that Lagercrantz's Salander paled in comparison to the original. Perhaps she's too iconic. That being said, the novel itself is thrilling, textured and brilliantly constructed. It's tight and smart as it explores questions of artificial intelligence, with the slow build to Salander and Blomkvist's reunion easily one of the book's greatest highlights.
From the prologue, set one year before the novel's events:
This story begins with a dream, and not a particularly spectacular one at that. Just a hand beating rhythmically and relentlessly on a mattress in a room on Lundagatan.
Yet it still gets Lisbeth Salander out of her bed in the early light of dawn. Then she sits at her computer and starts the hunt.
Readers, what do you think? Will you read Lagercrantz's continuation of the Millennium series?