Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mark Bittman's Creamy Spinach Soup (Made Vegan) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

There are weeks when you want to fuss over a pot of soup and there are weeks when you want something creamy and delicious, but you want it quickly. That's where Mark Bittman comes in. I have made a few of his "customizable soups" from this 2011 New York Times article and they are always easy and tasty. 

I had a big container of organic baby spinach that I have not been using as quickly as I should so I decided to make this Creamy Spinach Soup, which gets its creaminess and a nice tangy flavor from Greek yogurt. Because I limit my dairy for my asthma and allergies, I replaced the yogurt with some simple cashew creme, adding lemon juice to give it some tang. My changes to his recipe sketch are in red below.  

Creamy Spinach Soup
Adapted from Mark Bittman's via The New York Times
(Serves 4)

Put 1 chopped onion, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 3 cups water (I used light veggie broth) and salt and pepper in a pot over high heat. Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes. 

Add 10 ounces chopped spinach and 1/2 cup parsley leaves; cook until the spinach is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup Greek-style yogurt (I used cashew creme with 1 tbsp lemon juice) and purée. Garnish: A spoonful of Greek-style yogurt (I used cashew creme) and chopped parsley.

Notes/Results:  Great flavor for just a few ingredients and a short amount of time. The brightness from the yogurt or in this case, cashew creme and lemon juice keep it from being too 'green' and spinachy and make it delicious. If you aren't interested in making this soup dairy/free or vegan and have yogurt, go ahead and use it, or if you didn't want to use cashew cream, add a plain non-dairy yogurt or sour cream. It's a flexible recipe. This is a great 'dipping soup'--I brushed a couple of thick pieces of French bread with olive oil and toasted them so they were crispy on the outside, soft inside. Perfect! It would also be great with a grilled cheese. I would happily make it again. 

I am linking this soup up at I Heart Cooking Clubs for Potluck week--our chance to make any recipe from our current or previous IHCC chefs. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

We have some good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some delicious dishes last week--let's have a look! 

Simona of briciole made this Slow-Roasted Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho for the Soup Swap Party Event and says, "The book arrived in time for me to make several batches of the gazpacho to adjust the recipe to my liking. In particular, I used shallot (scalogno) from my garden, roasted the pepper (peperone) and used my favorite varieties of cucumber (cetriolo). I also halved the amount of tomatoes, since I never made the recipe for a party."

Vicki of I'd Rather Be At The Beach made this Ham, Turkey, & Sharp Cheddar Panini and said, "I enjoy a good Panini once in a while, and this is a good one for when you don’t have a tomato or avocado on hand. I definitely would have added them if I’d had some, but this was still a yummy Panini. Sometimes it’s good to go simple."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made a hearty veggie rice skillet dinner and used the leftovers in these Pita Pockets with Rice and Veggies. She said, "There was enough for two main meals and one lunch. For our lunch we used whole wheat pitas stuffing them with fresh spinach, chopped tomato and the remainder of the rice skillet. Paired up with a yogurt and that was a satisfying lunch."

A big thank you to everyone who joined in this week!

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Kept Woman" by Karin Slaughter, Served with Quick & Easy Peanut Butter and Granola Protein Bars

Congratulations to Karin Slaughter as her thriller, The Kept Woman, hits bookstores today! I am happy to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for this latest installment of her popular Will Trent series. I am pairing my review with some Quick & Easy Peanut Butter and Granola Protein Bars--to provide some quick energy to the hard-working Georgia Bureau of Investigation team as they solve the crimes.

Publisher's Blurb:

Husbands and wives. Mothers and daughters. The past and the future.
Secrets bind them. And secrets can destroy them.
The author of Pretty Girls returns with an electrifying, emotionally complex thriller that plunges its fascinating protagonist into the darkest depths of a mystery that just might destroy him.
With the discovery of a murder at an abandoned construction site, Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is brought in on a case that becomes much more dangerous when the dead man is identified as an ex-cop.
Studying the body, Sara Linton—the GBI’s newest medical examiner and Will’s lover—realizes that the extensive blood loss didn’t belong to the corpse. Sure enough, bloody footprints leading away from the scene indicate there is another victim—a woman—who has vanished . . . and who will die soon if she isn’t found.
Will is already compromised, because the site belongs to the city’s most popular citizen: a wealthy, powerful, and politically connected athlete protected by the world’s most expensive lawyers—a man who’s already gotten away with rape, despite Will’s exhaustive efforts to put him away.
But the worst is yet to come. Evidence soon links Will’s troubled past to the case . . . and the consequences will tear through his life with the force of a tornado, wreaking havoc for Will and everyone around him, including his colleagues, family, friends—and even the suspects he pursues.
Relentlessly suspenseful and furiously paced, peopled with conflicted, fallible characters who leap from the page, The Kept Woman is a seamless blend of twisty police procedural and ingenious psychological thriller — a searing, unforgettable novel of love, loss, and redemption.

Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (September 20, 2016)

My Review:

A confession; I signed up to review The Kept Woman based on loving the creepiness that was Slaughter's last book, Pretty Girls (my review is here) and having no idea that it was the eighth book in a popular series. My bad completely, because I didn't pay attention. One of my quirks is that I absolutely hate not reading a series in order and in this case I was seven books behind. At first, it made a difference because I found myself annoyed by Will Trent and his actions and somewhat frustrated with the book. Slaughter does do a great job of bringing in the back story as the book progresses which helped, and then I hit a turning point where the action ratcheted up big time, Slaughter's mastery of creepy, pulse-pounding tension took over and soon the fact that I didn't know these characters ceased to matter. So I guess if you twist my arm, I will admit that The Kept Woman could be read as a standalone, but personally it is not the way I like to do it.

Once I found myself understanding Will, I began to like him more and began to bond with him and his team. Slaughter writes her characters well--no one is perfect, there are layers to uncover, and there are varying shades in and between good and evil. Faith (Will's partner), Amanda (his boss), and Sara (his love interest) are all strong and interesting women. Angie, his ex-wife is definitely complicated and evil beyond words, but Slaughter writes her so that there is a (very small) kernel of empathy generated for her. The timeline goes back and forth between the main crime, a week before and a few days after in a seamless way that lets the story unfold and kept me guessing about how it would all play out. Like Pretty Girls, The Kept Woman is a dark and twisty book and there are some pretty graphic descriptions of the crime scenes and forensic details, as well as domestic violence and sexual abuse--so it's not for the faint of heart. There is a quote on the book cover about Karin Slaughter from Gillian Flynn that says, "I would follow her anywhere." Even after only two books, I agree with Flynn, when it comes to thrillers and crime procedurals, Slaughter is a master. So as gigantic as my TBR pile is, I have a feeling the Will Trent books one through seven will be added very soon.  


Author Notes: Karin Slaughter is the #1 internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including the Will Trent and Grant County series and the instant New York Times bestselling standalones, Cop Town and Pretty Girls. There are more than 35 million copies of her books in print around the world.
Find out more about Karin at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


Food Inspiration:
The Kept Woman is not a foodie book. Most of the food mentioned consists of an energy drink, candy bars and Skittles, Cheetos and Pringles, burgers, a wilted-looking chicken salad from a hospital cafeteria, peanuts, root beer, some fresh peaches, coffee and McDonald's breakfast platters and ice cream. Add to that the often graphic forensic descriptions and the book doesn't exactly call for food.

I decided to go with a simple protein bar, perfect for cops, state investigators, and criminals on the go (except Faith who is diabetic). I tucked in some vanilla protein powder and natural crunchy peanut butter for protein, granola for fiber, and honey and dark chocolate to add sweetness and make them a little candy-bar like. They go together quickly and are easy to grab for a quick snack or breakfast on the go.

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter & Granola Protein Bars
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 8-12 bars depending on how you cut them)

2/3 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey

1 pinch sea salt
1 cup granola of choice (I like this Nature's Path kind)
2 Tbsp protein powder of choice (I like vanilla)

1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

coarse or flaky sea salt to garnish (optional)

Lightly grease a square or small rectangular pan (8x8" or 9x7"), line with parchment paper and set aside. 

In a large pot, heat the peanut butter and honey over medium-low heat, until it has thinned out. Remove pot from heat and stir in granola and protein powder and mix thoroughly. If the mixture is two thick, add just a bit of non-dairy milk to get it to a thick but still moldable consistency. 

Place the mixture into the pan and pat down to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. 

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, using 30 seconds intervals and mixing in between until melted and smooth. Cover the top of the peanut butter mixture with the chocolate and spread evenly. Top with a sprinkle of sea salt if desired. 

Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or until bars have hardened. Cut into squares or rectangles and enjoy. Keep bars stored, covered tightly in refrigerator.

Notes/Results:  Crunchy, chewy, sweet and salty, these bars are a treat that while not entirely healthy, are certainly better than your average candy bar from the vending machine and most store-bought granola bars. You could of course use oats or another cereal in place of the granola, but I like the crunch the granola adds. The honey helps, along with the peanut butter, to hold things together but if you want a vegan bar, you could use maple syrup. The sprinkle of sea salt gives that nice sweet and salty balance and the protein powder is hidden in the mix in terms of flavor and texture but gives them an added boost of nutrition. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, I would make them again.  

I'm linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "The Kept Woman" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Vietnamese-Style Asparagus Soup with Noodles and Spicy Peanut Paste for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays and for #SoupSwapParty

It's no secret that I love soup. I love it so much that I make at least one soup every week and eat the leftovers for lunch, dinner, and sometimes breakfast. I love it so much that I have had my own weekly soup blogging event, Souper Sundays since 2008--adding sandwiches and salads to the mix the following year. So of course I jumped at the opportunity to take part in the #SoupSwapParty, a blogging event hosted by The Book Club Cookbook to launch a fun new soup cookbook, Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share by Kathy Gunst.

Kathy Gunst is a the Resident Chef for NPR's Here and Now and became a soup lover when a long and fierce freezing New England winter had her thinking about, making, and eating soup for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon pick-me-ups. She and her friend and neighbor Hope started a wintertime Second Sunday Soup Swap Supper where soups were made and swapped and those taking part could go home with a variety of soups to chose from. Although I live in a tropical climate and eat soup year-round, I can get behind any soup-centered function and think that Gunst and I would get along well.

Soup Swap has the basic info for hosting your own soup swap party (including some Soup Swap stickers for labeling your soups), more than 60 recipes for soups, toppings, side dishes and accompaniments. Gunst covers the basics of making broths and stocks, and recipes are divided into Vegetable Soups, Chicken & Turkey Soups, Meat Soups, Fish & Seafood Soups & Chowders, Side Dishes, and Garnishes & Toppings. Although I don't know that I'll ever host an actual soup swap, I frequently make and give soup to friends and Gunst offers handy To-Go tips for making her recipes portable for swapping or giving. Although I don't eat meat or poultry, there are plenty of vegetable and fish and seafood recipes that I can enjoy in the book like Asparagus and Leek Soup with Chive Oil, Miso Soup with Tofu and Scallions, Mulligatawny, Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder with Saffron Cream, Provencal-Style Fish Soup with Rouille, and Baby Turnip Soup with Miso Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts, and Cioppino, to name just a few. 

Soup Swap is a paperback with a thick and and touchable textured cover. It lays flat and will stay flat when opened--important when you are busy in the kitchen. The recipes all sound tasty, instructions are clear and step by step, and many of the soups have mouthwatering color photos to look at. The recipes have introductions and there are boxes with soup making tips scattered throughout the book. If you are a soup fan, Soup Swap would be an excellent addition to your cookbook collection or it would make a great gift for a soup-loving friend

Chronicle Books
September 13, 2016

After much indecision about which soup to make, I finally chose the Vietnamese-Style Asparagus Soup with Noodles and Spicy Peanut Paste. Gunst says, "The inspiration for this soup comes from Vietnamese phở, a hearty soup of hot chicken stock topped with asparagus and other vegetables, noodles, and a dab of chili paste. A spicy peanut butter-based base slowly releases its assertive flavor and slightly thickens the broth."

I love phở and Vietnamese flavors and a big bowl of noodly goodness and spicy peanut paste sounded perfect. That I can get good local asparagus most of the year here and that this soup is vegan just added to the appeal. 

I did make a couple of very small changes--namely swapping out the mung bean sprouts for peppery radish sprouts and adding some Thai basil. I am not a mung bean sprout fan and usually ask restaurants to leave them off my plate and I love the flavor of Thai basil and had some that needed to be used up. The result was a bowl of wonderfully satisfying and flavorful soup. 

Vietnamese-Style Asparagus Soup with Noodles and Spicy Peanut Paste
Reprinted with permission from Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst
(Makes 8-10 Tasting Portions or 6 Full Servings)

Spicy Peanut Paste:
3 Tbsp freshly grated or minced ginger
1/2 tsp Chinese chili paste or hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup (150g) chunky all-natural peanut butter
1/2 tsp hot chili oil or hot-pepper sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, finely chopped

4 oz (115g) angel-hair rice noodles
1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1 tsp toasted Asian sesame oil
1/2 cup (80g) julienned peeled fresh ginger
5 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) pieces
2 lbs (910g) asparagus, ends trimmed, peeled & cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) pieces
6 cups (1.4L) vegetable stock, homemade or good low-sodium broth
1/2 cup (30g) packed, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
(I added fresh Thai basil leaves)
1 cup mung bean sprouts (I used radish sprouts)
coarsely chopped salted peanuts for garnish (optional

To Make Peanut Paste: In a medium bowl, combine the grated ginger, chili paste, and peanut butter, stirring to create a smooth paste. Add the chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions; stir until smooth. The paste will be quite thick and should have a good, spicy kick. The paste can be made several hours ahead; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To Make the Soup: Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice noodles to the stockpot and cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Immediately transfer the noodles  to a colander to drain and cool them under very cold running water to stop the cooking. Transfer the noodles to the bowl of ice water and separate them to prevent them from clumping. (If you are good with chopsticks, use them to do this.) Set aside.

In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil and sesame oil. Add the julienned ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add the scallions and cook for about 20 seconds. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, The vegetables should be al dente, not completely cooked or soft. Set aside. (The recipe can be made ahead up to this point. Store the noodles and about 1/4 cup of the ice water in a separate container and store the sauteed asparagus in plastic wrap. Store all the elements in the refrigerator until ready to assemble. Bring the peanut paste and asparagus mixture to room temperature before finishing off the soup.) 

In a large stockpot over medium heat, bring the vegetable stock to a rolling boil. Turn the heat to low and keep hot. 

To Assemble: Ladle the simmering stock into serving bowls (about 1 cup per serving for 6 servings). Whisk in about 1 Tbsp of the peanut paste. Drain the noodles well and divide them equally among the bowls of broth. Top each serving with a scoop of the asparagus-ginger mixture and sprinkle with a handful of cilantro, (Thai basil), and the sprouts. Serve with the remaining cilantro, spicy peanut paste, and peanuts, if desired, on the side and let guests add what they like. 

To-Go Tips: Transport the vegetable stock in the soup pot. Pack the noodles, peanut paste, and each of the toppings in separate containers. At the party, reheat, the soup and continue as directed. Set out all the toppings so that guests can choose what they want to add.

Notes/Results: And what a great bowl of soup this is! So much flavor in the Spicy Peanut Paste (I would probably lick this paste off of a stick) along with the ginger and fresh herbs. The paste stirs into the broth nicely and I liked mine with an extra scoop of the paste on top. It seems like a long recipe, but once you chop and prep your ingredients, this one goes together surprisingly quickly and easily. It's not authentic phở, but it is really delicious and if you love East Asian flavors and ingredients, you will love it. It's a vegan soup as written and if you use GF tamari instead of soy sauce, it can be gluten-free as well. I loved the asparagus, but you could work other veggies in--green beans, mushrooms, Asian greens, etc. in if you can't get good asparagus and it would be delicious. I will happily make this again.

Besides receiving a complimentary copy of Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share to review from Chronicle Books, we participants were lucky enough to get some excellent cooking tools to help with our soup prep from Chef’s Choice and Zeroll

We received the Chef’sChoice® ProntoPro™ Diamond Hone® Knife Sharpener, the fastest manual sharpener available for sharpening both 15 degree and 20 degree knife edges and
the Zeroll® 8720 4-ounce Stainless Steel Ladle which features a deep bowl, perfect for serving piping hot soup, as well as the Zeroll® #8711 Stainless Steel Slotted Serving Spoon to help stir and portion your soup. 

Thank you to the publisher, Kathy Gunst and these wonderful vendors--all of these tools will be well-used and loved at my house! Thanks to The Book Club Cookbook for putting together this fun event! (Note: No monetary compensation was received for this review or post and my thoughts and opinions are my own.

Stop by the #SoupSwapParty Page to check out all of the tasty soups that were made and hear what the other bloggers thought about the book!

Speaking of soup... we have some good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some marvelous dishes last week--let's have a look! 

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shared these Chilled Tomato Soup Shooters and said, "Bring on the party with these delicious tomato soup shooters! Served at room temperature or chilled, these shooters are the great way to get any party or meal started and they are one of the best tomato soups ever! With just 5 ingredients, preparation is a breeze! The recipe meets my criteria for health, ease, convenience and taste. It's made from real food, is naturally gluten free, and vegan."

I think these Tomato & Basil Bruschetta that I made this week at Kahakai Kitchen would be great with Judee's shooters above! These little open-face sandwiches are simple, delicious, and a great way to use up the last of the summer's bounty.

Also taking part in the #soupswapparty festivities is Debra of Eliot's Eats who made the Italian Sausage-Zucchini Soup from the book. She said, "Since I have loads of zucchini and still have fresh herbs growing, I decided to try “Hope’s Italian Sausage-Zucchini Soup.”  This is truly a heirloom recipe..." ... This soup is adaptable to what you have on hand.   Use your choice of turkey or pork (or even chicken) sausage and canned or homemade chicken stock. The choice of herbs is yours as well."

Joyce from Kitchen Flavours shared Jacques Pepin's Chicken Jardinieri. She said, "This chicken stew is delicious. We love it. The chicken is tender and tasty, the veggies are soft and the soup slurpingly good. Great with white rice, but I've got to plan my bread baking earlier the next time (and read the instructions properly!), so that we could enjoy the crusty bread in time, with this stew!"

It was a two-soup week for me as I made Jacques Pepin's simple but delicious Garlic Soup with Croutons here at Kahakai Kitchen. This soup has 12 cloves of garlic, but with the leeks and potatoes, they mellow into a comforting and silky bowl of well-flavored soup. The crispy croutons on top add the perfect texture! 


Tina of Squirrel Head Manor popped in with BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches and says, "Behold my sandwich made with Jackfruit.  Don't you think it looks like pork?  It has a very similar texture to meat, and well....pork in particular. If you are a vegetarian (or a vegan ) and abhor the texture of meat, even TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) then you won't like this.  But if you routinely add a TVP, or like that texture, you may like this."

Finally Kim of Stirring the Pot shared Jacques Pepin's Onion Soup Lyonnaise (French Onion Soup) and said, "Now if you love French Onion Soup then hear me when I say this recipe is total and complete perfection. In fact, it's easily one of my favorite recipes I've made since blogging almost 8 years ago! Why? Well, the French Onion Soup we've all come to know and love is so delicious because it is topped with that crusty bread and melted cheese. That crusty bread and melted cheese is easily the pièce de résistance.  Now, how do we improve on that? By adding more cheese and bread, of course!"

A big thank you to everyone who joined in this week!

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Beulah's House of Prayer" by Cynthia A. Graham, Served with Jacques Pépin's Garlic Soup with Croutons

Happy Aloha Friday! I'm happy to be hosting a TLC Book Tour stop today for Beulah's House of Prayer by Cynthia A. Graham. Accompanying this Depression-era story with its touch of magic is a bowl of Jacques Pépin's simple but delicious Garlic Soup with Croutons, inspired by my reading. 


Publisher's Blurb:

Some storms bring destruction. Others bring salvation.
In 1934 the tiny town of Barmy, Oklahoma, is in desperate need of a miracle. The cows are hungry, the rain won’t fall, most of Main Street is boarded up. Young aspiring trapeze artist Sugar Watson is dumped unceremoniously into this bleak setting with little money and only one thing on her mind—escape. Beulah Clinton, a Holy Ghost preacher, has dedicated herself to helping the distressed in this ragged little wasteland, and Sugar soon finds herself thrown in with Marigold Lawford, the simple-minded widow of the richest man in town, and Homer Guppy, a boy trouble follows like dust after a wind.
Despite Sugar’s immediate distaste of Barmy, Beulah’s patience, Marigold’s kindness, and Homer’s unconditional love make her reconsider the meaning of home.
On Black Sunday, the worst dust storm in history brings with it a choice: Sugar must decide whether or not to return home, leaving the hospitality—and love—of Barmy’s inhabitants. A stunning Depression-era literary novel with a touch of magical realism, Beulah’s House of Prayer captivates until the very end.

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Brick Mantel Books (July 12, 2016)

My Review:

Having read and loved both of Cynthia Graham's historical mysteries with Sheriff Hick Blackburn, I was excited to jump on the tour for her newest book. Although retaining the historical fiction and economically struggling small town setting of her other books, Beulah's House of Prayer departs from the mystery genre and instead is a short literary novel with a bit of magical realism skillfully woven in. It amazes me the amount of story and character-building that Graham accomplishes in a relatively short (200-ish) number of pages. Although I leave her books wanting more, I never leave feeling short-changed by the story told and the characters I meet. 

Barmy is a dusty, down-trodden place but there is hope and yes, magic contained in the towns and its citizens that give it a beauty that transcends its dusty appearance. Our story is primarily told by the daughter of Sugar Watson, who ends up in Barmy at the age of fifteen and wants to get out. Offered food and shelter in a ramshackle house by Beulah Clinton, an evangelical preacher, Sugar meets Marigold Lawford, left on the streets by the greedy son of her dead husband. Marigold's lack of backbone and innate goodness frustrate Sugar, who looks at everyone she meets in terms of what they can do for her and how they can help get her out of Barmy. Sugar finds herself attracted to Homer Guppy, the town's trouble-making teen and who the town looks at with a mix of fear, caution, and sympathy because of the frequent beatings he receives at the hands of his alcoholic father. Marigold is drawn to the local Sheriff, Joe Brownfield, but feels it would betray her dead husband to care for Joe. This ragtag group with their various quirks and flaws quickly worked their way into my heart while Beulah remained mysterious--a sort-of all-knowing, all-seeing guide, not afraid to offer her strong opinions, prayers and bible verses. 

There are times that magical realism can sway to the 'too much woo-woo' side, and take over a story. In Beulah's House of Prayer, it creeps its way in and it is just the right amount, adding a unique and special touch to this book. Although my anticipation built as the pages turned and the story began rushing to its climax, I wanted to stay with these characters and was sad to see it end. An overall charming and wonderful read--highly recommended!


Author Notes: Cynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY and a Midwest Book Award for Beneath Still Waters, and her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She attained a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writers’ Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of two works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters and Behind Every DoorBeulah’s House of Prayer is her first foray in the land of magical realism. Connect with Cynthia via her website or Twitter


Food Inspiration:

Since we are in an economically depressed Dust Bowl town, there are not a lot of tempting food descriptions in Beulah's House of Prayer. There are mentions of coke and donuts, ice cream, canned beans, cornbread and soda crackers, a cinnamon candy stick, holiday dishes of turkey, chicken, green beans, sweet potatoes and pecan pie, cornmeal mush, a box of candy, and cotton candy. Still, at Beulah's house; "There was always a pot of coffee on the stove and there was always soup or beans for the downtrodden." Beulah was always in the process of making soup or baking bread to feed those who came to her door, so I thought a simple soup would be a good pairing.

There is a mention of vegetables in Beulah's soup and although there may not have been garlic, leeks and potatoes, that's what I was craving this week so I decided to make Jacques Pépin's Garlic Soup. Its comforting, nourishing and served with fried bread croutons on top (always a bonus!) as a nod to the bread Beulah baked.  

I did a vegan version and my changes to Pépin's are noted in red below. 

Garlic Soup
Adapted from Jacques Pépin via The New York Times
(Serves 6)

4 Tbsp olive oil 
2 medium-size leeks, trimmed of damaged or fibrous leaves, sliced & washed
12 to 15 cloves garlic, peeled, stems and any damaged parts removed & discarded
7 cups chicken stock (I used veggie 'non-chicken' stock)
2 lbs potatoes, peeled & cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 tsp salt or to taste
4 slices firm-textured white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes for croutons
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (I used vegan butter)

(I added freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley to garnish)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy pot and, when hot, add the leeks and garlic. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften, then add the stock, potatoes and salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently for 30 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the croutons: Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. When hot, saute the bread cubes, stirring almost continuously, until they are browned evenly on all sides.

When the soup mixture is cooked, push the mixture through a food mill or puree in a food processor. To puree in a food processor, strain the soup first through a fine sieve, Place the solids in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, then combine with the reserved liquid. (If too much of the liquid is processed with the solids, the mixture becomes foamy, yielding a soup with a frothy texture like baby food.) (Note: I strained the soup and put the solids in my high-speed blender with a little of the broth, then stirred the purée back into the broth so the soup was not frothy and remained smooth and velvety.)

Stir the butter into the hot soup and serve with the croutons.

Notes/Results: This is a velvety and rich soup with a delicious garlic flavor. It might seem like a lot of garlic but the flavor is mellow, not sharp and biting and it balances nicely with the sweetness of the leeks. I am always a fan of crispy warm croutons on top of soup and here they add great texture to the smooth puréed soup. It is similar to Pépin's Potato Leek Soup that I have made before, but I think I like this one a little better due to the garlicky flavor. I wanted to make this soup vegan and dairy free so I used a vegan mock-chicken stock and a vegan butter substitute. You could leave out the butter but it does add to the richness. This hit the spot on a rainy night. I would happily make it again.

I'm linking this Jacques Pépin soup up at this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs Monthly Featured Chef Event post. Normally I include a roundup of my favorite recipes for the featured chef but Jacques Pépin has so many great recipes, I will just include a link to my recap post with my Top 10 favorites from when we cooked with him last year. You can see what Jacques Pépin recipes everyone made this week by clicking on the picture links on the post.

It's a rare two-soup week so I am linking this one up to this week's Souper Sundays post here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post or here--we would love to have you!

I'm also linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "Beulah's House of Prayer" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.