Cookbook Review: Fire in My Belly

We’re delighted to introduce Sarah Ramsey, a longtime bookseller in Toronto, to our blog.  Sarah will be sifting and blogging her way through some of our cookbooks – and we can hardly wait.   When she’s not cooking or reading, you can find her volunteering with Farmers Feed Cities (farmersfeedcities.com) or crafting in her favourite materials – butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.  You can follow her at @juliaschild.

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Kevin Gillespie was raised in Locust Grove, Georgia and is executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, although he is probably best known for having appeared on the sixth season of Top Chef, where he cooked with quiet confidence and heart that demonstrated his simple approach to food. He, rather shamefully, I think, didn’t win the title of Top Chef, but won the coveted ‘Fan Favourite’ distinction.

His approach to food is simple, seasonal and sustainable and his enthusiasm is evident in Fire In My Belly. In it, Kevin crafts the story of his culinary awakening as a child and his play with the traditional Southern dishes he lovingly remembers. He states  “…I read a review of my cooking that described it as ‘modern Southern food’. It’s true that I was cooking sophisticated food with a distinctly Southern feel. But in my mind, I was just exploring the food that I really cared about. I wasn’t ‘modernizing’. My dishes were springing from food memories, often from my childhood.” That idea really resonated with me. My best memories in childhood are those spent watching my grandmothers (and great-grandmother) cook and bake; food, to me, is a gift and an expression of love.

I read the book from cover to cover, and loved that I felt I was having a passionate conversation about food with the author (and shared this sentiment to my Twitter followers. @topchefkevin replied with his thanks and “That is exactly what I hoped for.”) Kevin starts the book with his belief that “good cooking starts with good ingredients” and argues that “cooking is, at its root, figuring out the great qualities of any food and then making those qualities shine”. He primes us for cooking with an introduction to some ingredients, techniques and equipment he frequently uses. My favourite is his use of the word plucky, meant to describe bright acidity, something sharp or piercing but not unpleasant.

The well-constructed (and beautifully photographed) recipes start with Foods You Thought You Hated, including asparagus, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, and salmon (things I have always enjoyed) and oysters and sweetbreads (which I think I may never enjoy). Next, Kevin shares his Southern dishes (such as boiled peanuts and cornbread pancakes with sliced brandywine tomatoes and bacon mayonnaise) and revisited world classics (including salad Lyonnaise and eggs Benedict), as well as recipes for grilled foods, spicy foods and junk foods (hooray!).

I was drawn to the One-Pot Hog Supper on page 83 for a few reasons. First, it has a wonderful story: as Kevin’s Granny first prepared it from a jumble of ingredients on hand, her brothers teased her, saying, “What’s this? Some slop you feed the hogs?” I think some of the best cooking has sprung from using one’s imagination with a handful of ingredients at the ready. And in my experience, a grandmother’s recipe will never fail. Never. Secondly, the meal is slow cooked, and I really enjoy slow cooking. It’s deeply satisfying and I get a lot of pleasure from it. And lastly, how can one go wrong with fatback?

I was late coming home from the shop, frazzled by my frustratingly long commute and hungry. Ravenous, actually. But, I had committed to trying this recipe. I was excited and had been thinking about it all day. I walked in the door, greeted my husband with a kiss and pulled out my mandoline. I washed up the potatoes and peeled the onion and garlic, then sliced them thinly. I sliced my fatback and laid it in my Dutch oven, then tore up some cabbage and sliced some fat, fragrant heirloom tomatoes. When crispy and golden, I removed the crackling from the pot and drained some of the fat, then carefully layered the potatoes, onions and garlic, cabbage and tomatoes in the pot, seasoning each vegetable generously with salt and pepper. Then I covered the pot and waited for the magic. Our little kitchen was aromatic and warm. My tummy was rumbling.

After forty-five minutes, as per the recipe, I uncovered the pot and allowed the dish to simmer. I tore up some fresh celery leaves, tarragon, chives and parsley and tossed them with some fresh lemon juice and a sweet, fruity olive oil and dressed this herb salad with the crunchy crackling. I also toasted a few slices of a fresh boule.

Although it was past nine o’clock when the supper was finished simmering, I took a photo or two of the dish after I spooned it on to my plate and nested the herb salad atop it. I had hoped my patience was about to be rewarded. I dove into the dish; the vegetables were soft and rich and seasoned simply and perfectly. The accompanying herb salad added balance and texture and I used the toasted bread to clean my plate. I took a moment to post to Twitter to say, “It is late. It is rainy. But I am eating @topchefkevin’s delicious One-Pot Hog Supper & I am SO happy.”  I attached one of the photos. (Kevin responded to my Tweet: “I love it! What a wonderful picture. So glad you are enjoying one of my cherished family recipes.” I was thrilled.) . The dish was wonderful and I have been recalling the experience of cooking it fondly to friends and family; they tell me I have a twinkle in my eye when I describe the construction of the dish and the taste and the simple joy I derived from eating it.

I plan to try many more recipes from Fire In My Belly. I’m terribly impressed by Kevin Gillespie’s food philosophy, his flavours and rich and personal culinary history. It’s a beautiful book and one of my new favourites.

 

Lisa Genova does it again

Lisa Genova’s third book Love Anthony came out last week and it is already a hit!

Check out the praise Lisa and the book have been receiving:

“I adored this book. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Lisa has in store for us next.”—Daisy’s Book Journal

“Genova caught me from the opening chapters and held me rapt until I turned the last page. This is one that will be on my staff picks for a quite a while. (until I replace it with the fourth book Genova is working on.)”—A Bookworm’s World

“Finished in one evening, absolutely stupendous! !”—Serendipitous Readings

“Love Anthony boasts the same poignancy and depth as Genova’s previous works, and is an essential read, whether you live with autism in your daily life or not.”—Divine.ca

“I highly recommend this novel to everyone, regardless of whether or not you have an interest in disabilities, but in the process you will gain an interesting glimpse into the lives of people touched by Autism.”—Goodreads winner Josie

“Genova never ceases to amaze me with the complexities she explores in her novels – both with the human brain and human emotion. She writes with authority, but in an easy to read way, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the scientific jargon.”—Goodreads winner Krissy

“All people should read this story and open their eyes to the realities of children with Autism.”—Goodreads winner Patricia

“Lisa Genova brought up so many valid points, and did it in a way that wasn’t confrontational or negative.  Once again this is a book that will stay with the reader long after they turn the last page.  It is a wonderful book.  I recommend it to anyone who has been touched by autism in any way.” –Raising Positive Kids blog

“A tale of a mother’s loss and the journey to find herself, the latest offering from bestselling American novelist Lisa Genova is a gentle, meandering story punctuated by moments of stunning emotional brilliance.”– The Winnipeg Free Press

“I give a major tribute to the author who has brilliant writing and used her thorough research skills and drew upon her personal connection to autism to develop a superb novel. Lisa’s story gives an excellent portrayal of an autism parent’s experience and shows just how autism tends to shape and influence a person’s life experience.”—Wanda, YMC Bookalicious

And also take a look at the fabulous Q&A Lisa did for the Indigo.ca blog.
Lisa guest blogs on Autismspeaks.org. Read about the inspiration behind Love Anthony.

 And don’t forget, Lisa is coming to Canada for three events this month:

Toronto, Oct 5, 6:30pm Indigo Manulife Centre

Ottawa, Oct 6, 11am-12pm Costco Kanata

Vancouver, Oct 13, 2pm, Chapters Robson

Simon Recommends (10)

This week, Digital Marketing Assistant Vanessa recommends one romantic, creepy and mystical novel — The Taker by Alma Katsu.  Alma is extremely active on social media, so follow her on Twitter @almakatsu.  To hear more, check out Vanessa’s video and read her review after!

Alma Katsu’s The Taker, the first book in a new trilogy, has everything a fantasy novel should have: a bit of magic, romance and of course, the supernatural. The whole story shifts between the present and the 1800s where the main character Lanny tells Luke her journey in becoming immortal and the consequences that come with it. The story is dark and, at times, twisted.

This book kept me reading into the wee hours of the night. The story is beautifully written and there is a good balance of plot and character. I can almost see it becoming a movie!

All in all, The Taker is an unforgettable love story with twists and turns that will keep you reading. Kudos to Katsu for making such an amazing debut novel! Paranormal romance and historical fantasy fans cannot miss this book. As for myself, I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Reckoning, out next year!

Simon Recommends (9)


Welcome back!  We had our first snow in Toronto yesterday and so today, we have the perfect read for you to curl up on your couch with while the snow makes for a picturesque holiday season!  Marketing Assistant, Loretta recommends Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers.  There has been plenty of talk about this book, but you can just by hearing her speak, how touching this novel truly is.  After the video, read her review.  Enjoy!


It is rare to encounter a character with a wisdom that you believe, or a desire that draws your empathy to tears. Alice Hoffman has written the strength and tragedy of Masada through four women who have earned their wisdom through loss and who uphold their desires with hope.

Each of them cross the desert, fleeing from death only to encounter more hardships. The beauty of this book is borne of the love that lies beneath these hardships and of the magic and the strength that bind them when everything around them turns to ash.

Alice Hoffman has written a book that will move you. I hope you’ll let it.

In a galaxy far, far away…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away .. a book by Princess Leia floated into the atmosphere..

Okay, well it wasn’t that long ago and not that far away, but on Wednesday, my current book was feeling a bit too heavy and I needed a one night break.  Walking past a shelf by the office kitchen, I stopped to browse the back of Carrie Fisher’s autobiography Wishful Drinking – a mere 162-paged hilarious book full of pictures and (as per the flap copy suggested) “the crazy truth that is her life”.  Not only am I not a huge Star Wars person, but I hardly knew anything about Carrie Fisher and who she was.  Now, however, I am quite the expert.

This book was insane, sad and hilarious, all tied up in two little buns!  I was caught laughing out loud  multiple times on the subway and definitely got a few of those looks (yeah, you know exactly what I’m talking about).  Regardless, I’m pretty sure I can make you want to read this in a few small points:

1. Carrie is the product of Hollywood’s Sweethearts gone wrong.  Actress Debbie Reynolds (from Singing in the Rain) and crooner Eddie Fisher were married just long enough to have two kids before a tragic accident lead to Eddie leaving Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor (who also happened to be a close friend)!  Trust me, this story is a twisted one.

2. Carrie addresses what it was like (and the awkward situations arising from) being the most fantasized-about woman for nerds worldwide.

“Oh my God!  I thought about you every day from when I was twelve to when I was twenty-two.”
And instead of asking what happened at twenty-two, I said, “Every day?”
He shrugged and said, “Well, four times a day.”
Welcome to the land of too much information.

3. Her father accidentally eats his own (wildly expensive) hearing aids!  Now this story was the one that had me howling on the subway.  A detailed account of how this came to be is the perfect way to bring you back to life after the crowded, mind-numbing half hour subway ride to and from work.

4. Her mother bought her and her grandmother a very specific erotic toy for Christmas!  The rational of why it is the perfect stocking stuffer is definitely worth a read.  Christmas IS coming!  Just joking..

5. Even through all her crazy stories, Carrie is a warm person.  Her pride in her daughter, one of the only things she thinks she did truly well, is extremely touching.  She is honest about all the insane events that occurred in her life and open about the fact that, although she knows it is different from the lives of most people, it was all she ever knew.

If you loved this, you will love the book, and thankfully her second memoir, Shockaholic  (detailing her experiences with electro-shock therapy) is in stores now!  I will most definitely be grabbing one of those for myself!

Carrie’s book is also a one woman show that aired on HBO!