I am so excited to be celebrating the paperback release of You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen with a blog party hosted by The Book Club Cookbook! A copy of this book was gifted to me in order to create an inspired dish or drink.
You Are Not Aloneis a psychological thriller by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, following the lives of Shay Miller and the Moore sisters as they’re brought together by the violent death of Amanda. Amanda was merely a stranger to Shay, who served as a witness to her suicide and becomes fixated on the young woman; but to Cassandra Moore and Jane Moore, Amanda was an integral part of a shady scheme…one Shay is about to become a part of, whether she knows it or not.
This page-turner is a twisty tale of mind games, cat and mouse, and manipulation. Not only is the plot head spinning, but I found myself with whiplash as I faltered between emotions like pity and outrage. You Are Not Alone masters the art of dramatic irony, allowing the reader in on (most of) the secrets. Watching events unfold left me with an unsettling feeling of helplessness. I knew what was going to happen, and yet I couldn’t reach through the pages to tell anyone. But there was nothing I could do except keep reading.
Throughout the book, Shay makes her famous banana nut butter smoothie (which later becomes a key plot point, no spoilers!). The ingredients are simple, and the special touch, Shay reveals, is cinnamon.
To make this delicious smoothie, simply throw into a blender two bananas, three helping spoonfuls of nut butter (I chose peanut butter, though Shay’s nut butter of choice is almond), about ½ cup to 1 cup of milk (this could be dairy, almond, oat, etc. and the amount varies based on how thick/thin you like your smoothies), and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Blend until smooth and enjoy!
As the title of Patrick Resetar’s memoir They Have Jesus, We Have Lasagna suggests, we all have a devotion to something, be it a deity or noodles. In his debut memoir, Resetar explores his family’s connections to religion as non-practicing Catholics, and their religious connections to traditions such as horse-racing, football, and family meals.
Taking place in a small town in the coal country of Pennsylvania, Resetar’s memoir deals with vices, poverty, and family trauma. While each essay is deeply personal and visceral in its depiction of abuse and addiction, the essays themselves become redundant. Many of these essays could hold their own in a literary magazine, offering insightful commentary on the modern working class family, though they fail to work together and build upon one another as a memoir.
What carries this memoir through is its dynamic scenes, vibrant characters, and the dry humour sprinkled throughout. While Resetar lacks some refinement and maturity as a longform writer, his natural talent is undeniable. With some learning and a heavy-handed editor, a comeback sophomore work is not out of the question.
How could I not pair a lasagna recipe with this book? But this is lasagna with a twist! Instead of all the pesky layering traditional lasagna calls for, I’m bringing together all the best qualities of a good lasagna (chewy noodles, flavorful sauce, cheesy goodness, and bits of juicy meat) in a one-pot soup! The most you have to do for this lasagna is chop up some onions, mince garlic, and stir.
Don’t be deceived! Even though this dish is minimal effort, it’s maximum flavor!
A dinner so delicious, you’ll think it’s from heaven!
1 lbs Italian sausage
1 medium white onion, diced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
2 14 oz jars diced tomatoes
1 6 oz jar tomato paste
½ box of lasagna noodles, broken up into about 1 inch pieces
Ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan for topping
Brown sausage in a large pot with the onions. When I say large pot, I mean HUGE! We’re making a lot of soup in this bad boy.
When sausage is about halfway cooked, add garlic.
After sausage if fully browned, drain fat from the pot.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot over medium heat and stir. Cover the pot, uncovering every few minutes to stir. Make sure nothing sticks to the bottom!
Allow contents to cook until noodles are al dente.
Scoop into bowls and top with ricotta, mozzarella, and/or parmesan! Serve warm.
Happy Halloweekend, ghouls and girls! October has come and gone, which means it’s time to put the tricks and treats behind us.
Well, okay, how about one more treat?
You’ve gone trick or treating (or, perhaps more accurately, you bought the discounted Halloween candy bags at CVS) and now you have an absurd amount of candy! How are you going to eat it all? How about throwing it in a brownie?!
This week’s recipe is inspired in part by Roald Dahl’s The Witches, and in part by figuring out new ways to eat Halloween candy.
While no brownies were consumed in The Witches (and no children harmed in the making of these brownies), there’s something delightfully haunting about these treats, with their gooey, bubbling center and their eyes peeking up at you.
I read The Witches as a buddy read with a friend to help get me in the Halloween spirit. A quick read about a boy’s encounter with the Grand High Witch, whose mission it is to wipe out all the children of Earth, this is an equally spooky and sweet book that touts the message: everyone is not who they seem.
This was my first time reading Dahl’s work and it’s safe to say it won’t be my last. His simple writing balances between ironic and charming, wrapping timeless moral lessons in fantastical stories.
WITCHES’ BREW BROWNIES
A perfect post-Halloween treat, the trick to these brownies is throwing in all your favorite candy.
1 stick of salted butter – melted
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup flour
8-10 Halloween sized candy bars (Kit Kats and Reese’s work great!)
Candy eyeballs for topping
Any other toppings/fillings you’d like (I used dark chocolate chips and sprinkles)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine melted butter with unsweetened cocoa powder and sugar.
Mix in eggs one at a time until fully incorporated, careful not to overmix.
Stir in flour and vanilla, again mixing until just fully incorporated.
Add in about 6 candy bars and other mix-ins, such as chocolate chips or M&Ms. You may decide to leave the candy bars whole or break them up, depending on your preference.
Pour mixture into a greased or parchment lined 8×8 pan. Beware: the mixture will be EXTREMELY thick.
Bake for ~15 minutes and remove from oven while the brownies are still underbaked.
Arrange candy bars, candy eyeballs, and any other toppings on surface of brownies.
Continue to bake brownies for another 5-8 minutes, until brownies are fully set.
No, not since quarantine started—since the last Bachelor finale.
I am an avid, guilty pleasure watcher of all things Bachelor Nation. I was so starved for Bachelor content, I even watched Listen to Your Heart. Season 16 of The Bachelorette was delayed due to COVID-19, while season 7 of Bachelor in Paradise was pushed to 2021. I’ve been in a major lurch without hot tub drama and rose ceremonies.
Stayman-London’s debut novel follows the story of Bea Schumacher, a plus size fashion blogger who breaks the internet with her viral rant against the hit reality show, The Main Squeeze. Criticizing The Main Squeeze for its lack of diversity, including its lack of body diversity, Bea is asked to be the next lead on the show. She agrees and sets out to propel her career, not fall in love. But when cameras start rolling, things get more complicated than she planned.
Okay, so you’ve probably figured out by now that The Main Squeeze is a thinly veiled parallel to The Bachelor/The Bachelorette. This book was a masterful representation of all things Bachelor, from how it’s produced, to podcast recaps, to group chats. The “kiss off ceremonies” (The Main Squeeze’s version of the rose ceremonies) were just as dramatic if I were watching them unfold on live television—I found myself screaming at the pages of my book, torn who to route for, adamant in who I despised, desperately invested in the romance of Bea’s life.
To top things off, this isn’t your typical romance book or season of The Bachelor. There’s real talk about body image and self confidence as Bea struggles to accept the fact that these men are competing for her.
Whether you love or hate The Bachelor, this book is for you. It works to criticize the things that make the franchise so deeply problematic and parody the absurdities of the show, while also giving you the drama you love and characters that are easy to invest in.
During one date in Marrakesh, Morocco, Bea goes on a fabulous date with [NAME REDACTED]. “After dinner,” Stayman-London writes, “they fed each other slices of orange drizzled with honey, and Bea thought she’d never tasted anything so perfectly sweet in her life.”
Enjoy this fruity, sticky, sweet snack inspired by One to Watch by simply mixing together 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and drizzling the mixture over thin slices of navel oranges.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of food memoirs. Personal journey and growth paired with a love for food and cooking?! I’m there.
That’s why I picked up From Scratch, a Reese Witherspoon book club pick written by actress Tembi Locke. After Locke loses her husband Saro, an Italian chef, she spends her summers as a new widow in the Sicilian countryside with their daughter Zoela and her late husband’s family. There, she discovers the healing power of family and food.
It was difficult to begin this book without high expectations. I mean, it’s a Reese Witherspoon book club pick about Italian food after all. I’ve been wanting to read Locke’s memoirs for years and was glad to finally pick it up. However, this book did not live up these expectations.
The first 50 pages or so, I was admittedly enamoured by Locke’s retelling of the beginnings of her love story with Saro. This is where Locke’s talent as a writer shines the most, her lyrical prose lending itself perfectly to romance.
After their initial meet cute (involving a bicycle), we dive straight into Saro’s death, which is where the problems in this memoir begin. There is no break from the melancholic tone throughout the rest of the book. Of course, a memoir about widowhood and grief is bound to be a tearjerker. Still, reading this without reprieve became exhausting. Chapters would have benefited from more scenes of the joyful moments with Saro, his family, and Locke’s daughter Zoela.
Despite the promises of food this book makes, it doesn’t quite deliver. Is food a presence in this book? Certainly. Nonetheless, the food is merely mentioned. “We ate this, we cooked this.” It is not used as a tool to explore the grieving and healing processes and it does not reveal anything new about Locke or her world.
That being said, reading about eating freshly made pasta in Italy is never not enjoyable, even if it could have been used more effectively.
Locke provides a handful of family recipes in the back of the book so you can recreate your own Sicilian summer meals. Below is the recipe for the honey vinaigrette dressing used in “Insalata di Rucola con Pomodori e Ricotta Salata,” or “Arugula Salad with Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata,” a recipe Saro intended as an antipasto in a menu he created entitled “Summer Dinner on a Sicilian Terrace.”
HONEY VINAIGRETTE DRESSING
From Tembi Locke’s From Scratch, pairs well with tomatoes, red onions, and ricotta salata on a bed of arugula.
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (or more, if you prefer things on the sweeter side like me…)
There are few books I’ve loved this year as much as I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid. I picked this one up shortly after reading Daisy Jones & the Six, another book I adored by Reid. It’s safe to say I’m officially a TJR fan, and am looking forward to reading all of her books!
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a rather self explanatory title of the novel’s plot—it follows the life story of Evelyn Hugo, an aging and reclusive movie star from Hollywood’s golden age as she breaks her silence on her scandalous seven marriages. Evelyn hand selects Monique, a young writer at the beginning of her career but the end of her marriage, to tell the coveted story. Decades of secrets come to life, including a thrilling forbidden love and a tragic connection between Evelyn’s and Monique’s pasts.
This book is rich with glamour, passion, triumph, defeat, and love. It’s a glittering tale, as fabulous as Evelyn Hugo herself. In the same way I found myself wanting to listen to the songs from Daisy Jones & the Six, I was constantly wanting to watch the movies Evelyn stars in throughout the book. Reid’s gift for world building is masterful, pulling you into the lives of her incredibly alive protagonists.
Not enough can be said about how much I love Evelyn. She’s a fantastically complex, flawed, lovable heroine. That’s why it should be no surprise that I knew she had to be the star of whatever dish I made inspired by this book.
Evelyn’s signature color for her red carpet looks is green. It’s what inspired the signature green dress that leaps off the novel’s iconic cover, and what inspired the bright green hue of my dish. The green motif paired with the absolute divinity of Evelyn herself inspired my Green Goddess Soup.
Green Goddess Soup
A simple, spicy, and vegan soup that pairs well with cucumbers, bread, and Greek yogurt.
Yield: 4 servings| Total time: 15 min
5 handfuls of spinach
7 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons sliced ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (of course, use veggie broth for the vegan version of this soup)
1/4 – 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (depending on preference)
generous squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
Place all ingredients together in a high power blender.
Alex George’s latest historical novel, The Paris Hours, follows the lives of four characters as they each race against the clock one day in the city of lights in 1927. As the clock nears midnight, the lives of the strangers draw together and connect in unimaginable ways.
Set against the glittering and guttural background of Paris, France between the World Wars, the setting lends itself well to George’s bohemian cast of characters, including a starving artist, a refugee, a maid to Marcel Proust, a journalist, an acrobat, and more.
Still, the settings and characters work most effectively as a means for which George’s prose to soar. The mundane becomes fascinating and the ordinary is extraordinary throughout the novel thanks to the author’s inimitable flair.
The Paris Hours take place across one day, and I felt like I was living that day with the characters–not only because of George’s transportative writing, but because I devoured the novel in a single day, unable to put it down.
Please proceed with caution–these are not your French grandmother’s croissants. In fact, I think calling these “croissants” probably have Julia Child turning in her grave. These are not airy, light, flakey, classic French croissants. These are everything French pastry chefs caution against: chewy, dense, doughy, moist croissants.
When I first read Alex George’s latest historical novel, The Paris Hours, I was anxious about what I was going to cook. Certainly, there is no shortage of magnificent food mentioned between the pages. French food. These croissants were calling to me, beloved by the fictionalized version of Marcel Proust throughout the book.
However, as anyone who knows anything about French pastries will tell you, the croissant is a complicated, involved little viennoiserie that requires skill and patience. It can be tackled, but is not for the novice baker.
My recipe does require patience, but no fuss. If you like a doughy Americanized croissant (think Pillsbury, but better), this is the recipe for you. It pairs well with jam, butter, sandwich makings, or–my personal favorite–Nutella.
NOT YOUR FRENCH GRANDMOTHER’S CROISSANTS
Please don’t tell Julia Child.
Yield: One dozen croissants | Prep time: 1 hour | Rest time: 5 hours | Cook time: 40 min | Total time: 6 hours 40 min
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
⅓ cup granulated sugar
¾ tablespoon salt
2 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter
1 ½ cup milk
Splash of water
Whisk together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a very large mixing bowl.
Cut cold butter into small cubes–about ⅛ inch thickness–and toss to coat and combine in dry mixture.
Stir in milk until dough forms. Croissant dough is a little tough and drier than regular dough, so don’t be alarmed if it’s not as supple as other doughs you’ve worked with.
Transfer dough to plastic wrap and enclose tightly. Allow to chill for 1.5 hours.
After chill, remove dough from plastic wrap and roll out onto a lightly floured surface until you have a large rectangle shape.
Single fold the dough (folding like a letter), rotate it 90 degrees, and roll it back out. Repeat this step four more times, working quickly.
Wrap the dough once again in plastic wrap and allow to chill for another 1.5 hours.
After the dough has chilled a second time, cut the dough in half and allow one half to continue to chill in the refrigerator while you work with the other half.
Roll out the dough into a long, thin rectangle onto a lightly floured surface. It should be about 10”x18”, less than ⅛” thin.
Trim the dough into a perfect rectangle, discarding the excess. Mark with a knife or pastry cutter every 6 inches length wise. Cut into three rectangles. Then, cut diagonally and evenly across each rectangle to ultimately form six triangles.
Gently stretch out the triangle in your hand, then tightly roll forward starting from the widest side. Repeat with each croissant.
Place croissants on a baking tray, covering with plastic wrap, a towel, or a wet paper towel, and place in the refridger to proof for two hours.
Repeat steps 9-12 with second half of dough.
Once croissants have proofed, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Make an egg wash by whisking together one egg and a splash of water. Brush croissants with egg wash.
Bake croissants in two batches (remember when we split the dough in half?), about 20 minutes each.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is a laugh-out-loud collection of essays about author Samantha Irby’s self-proclaimed “dumpster fire” life. From an application to be a contestant on “The Bachelor,” to the unfurling hate/love relationship between Irby and her demon cat, named Hellen Keller, Irby recounts her life through hilarious antidotes.
While Irby is hailed for her humor, her stories are equally heartfelt and poignant as they are funny. Irby’s candor allows her to tackle the topics of race, disability, sexuality, and the death of parents without shying away from the hard stuff. For each reader there is a unique experience, in some instances learning about a life different from your own, while in other instances feeling less alone.
And while We Are Never Meeting in Real Life may not seem like it, it is also a love story. Readers are able to watch the relationship blossom between Irby and her now-wife “Mavis” (a pseudonym for the real life Kristen Jennings). As Irby realizes she’s worthy of love and navigates an adult relationship, your heart is cracked open.
“Real love,” writes Irby, “feels less like a throbbing, pulsing animal begging for its freedom and beating against the inside of my chest and more like, ‘Hey, that place you like had fish tacos today and I got you some while I was out,’ as it sets a bag spotted with grease on the dining room table.”
In We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Irby discusses eating all kinds of sugary snacks and frozen meals. She’s a no fuss, no frills type when it comes to meals at home. Meanwhile, in the essay “Civil Union,” Irby recounts a fancy wedding with customized cupcakes to go.
My cook for We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is inspired at the crossroads of the no fuss food Irby serves herself at home, as well as the decadent cupcakes she’s treated to at a friend’s wedding.
Most of us probably have a box of cake mix sitting at home. Even those among us who are less culinary-inclined can transform their boxed cake into a rich, moist treat. There’s no reason your at-home baking can’t be just as luxurious as a catered dessert.
Substitutes for a Better Boxed Cake Mix:
However many eggs the box calls for, add one more.
Replace the water with whole milk.
Instead of oil, use melted butter and double the amount.
Add vanilla extract (or any other extract you’re feeling!). I used 2 T because I wanted mine extra vanilla-y.
Enjoy an easy at-home dessert that kicks up the notch on flavor and decadence!
Sally Rooney’s Normal People has developed quite the buzz. Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, earning a spot among Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2019, and rated by many of my friends as five-stars—I was excited to finally read Rooney’s critically acclaimed work. I ordered my copy from CoMo-local booksellers Skylark Bookshop for my quarantine reading enjoyment.
Except, I didn’t love it.
Immediately, I knew Rooney and I were going to have issues when I discovered Normal People doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate dialogue—one of my biggest pet peeves. I have yet to decipher what literary meaning the lack of quotation marks imbues on a work, except to only signal literary greatness without having to do any of the work (that, and to drive me insane).
There isn’t exactly a plot in Normal People, which is fine. It follows the story of Connell and Marianne, two young Irish millennials, and how their lives circle each other from high school to college. It’s about love, friendship, and what it means to be normal (or, on the contrast, what it means to be human). Rooney’s exploration of normalcy—its facade, its lack thereof, and its perception—is the most fascinating and well executed aspect of this novel.
While characters criticize themselves for not being normal, the reader is able to relate with their eccentricities in various forms, raising the question, what is normal? Is “normal” what is universal, what is right and good by societal standards, or is the only “normal” thing about any of us our complete lack of normalcy? Is it normal to be unnormal? Rooney explores this at length through Connell and Marianne.
However, through the hyper-focus on Connell and Marianne, character development on literally any other person in the book is totally lost. Connell and Marianne themselves experience little growth throughout the novel. They are cynical, melancholic, and maladjusted. Perhaps those are manageable characteristics in protagonists, but the romanticized vision of cool encapsulated by shrugs, smoking, apathy, and alienation is trite and overdone. Their relationship is cyclical and unhealthy, and the most uncomfortable dynamics of their relationship are never truly resolved.
However, if you were a once-fan of John Green and Looking for Alaska, Normal People is a good adult, literary fiction novel for your TBR.
Don’t get me wrong, Normal People has beautiful paragraphs where points are made (I mean, the self-aware criticism of modern literature that takes place when Connell attends a university reading? WOW!). However, overall, this book wasn’t for me.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the book, I am thrilled about this dish it inspired. When Connell and other friends visit Marianne in her Italy summer home, they eat pasta for dinner. It’s mentioned in passing (“The pasta is delicious, says Elaine.”), which gave me plenty of room to dream up what they’re eating.Thinking these are rich college students spending their summer in Italy, I imagined they were eating a simultaneously easy but decadent dish. This roasted tomato pasta is just that—easy to put together but made oh-so-delicious by the cherry tomatoes that are at their peak in summer.
Summer Roasted Tomato Fettuccine
Perfect for enjoying in your Italian holiday home; or at least perfect for helping you imagine you have an Italian holiday home.
Yield: 4 servings | Cook time: 30 min
16 oz grape or cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 oz fettuccine
4 oz bocconcini
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup parmesan
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh basil leaves to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
Half cherry tomatoes and toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic cloves, salt, and pepper. Roast on baking sheet for 15-20 minutes until tomatoes are wilted and tender.
Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to box instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before straining.
In a large skillet, combine remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, butter, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper over medium-high heat.
Once butter is fully melted, reduce to low heat and add pasta and parmesan until parmesan is melted and pasta is well coated. Add pasta water until you reach desired consistency.
Gently toss in roasted tomatoes and garlic (along with any juice leftover from roasting), bocconcini, and basil.
Serve and enjoy!
If you can’t find fresh basil leaves (we couldn’t—what you see in the picture is actually spinach!), add in dried basil as the olive oil/butter combination heats up.
This dish is easily adjusted—roast other vegetables you have in the house such as zucchini or asparagus with the tomatoes to add even more veggie-goodness!
When I packed up my suitcase to fly from New York to Missouri to my parents’ house, I didn’t bring much with me. I did decide, however, to bring home a copy of a book that had been sitting on my shelf for weeks: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I figured if there was ever going to be a time that I could sit down and read the nearly-800-page tome, it would be in quarantine during a pandemic.
As a reader (and a person), I’m the instant-gratification-type. I generally read books less than 400 pages, because it means I can read more of them in less time. Plus, I’m a commitment-phobe. I’m very stubborn about finishing most books I pick up (exceptions include The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, sorry!), so the thought of being stuck reading an 800 page book that I didn’t even like terrified me. Still, I knew I wanted to read The Goldfinch, I just had to get over my fears.
Once I started it, I didn’t stop.
I devoured The Goldfinch in less than two weeks. Donna Tartt’s page-turning epic follows the story of Theo Decker, a boy who survives his mother in a fatal tragedy and comes into possession of one of the world’s most famous paintings. As he moves through the next two decades of his life, he finds himself out of place no matter where he is, befriending vivid characters, falling in unrequited love, and slipping into the seedy underbelly of the art world.
Trailing Theo’s life from the time he’s only thirteen years old until his late twenties, Tartt takes no shortcuts. Every movement and moment of Theo’s life is faithfully tracked, and while that sounds tiresome as a reader, Tartt’s storytelling is masterful and engaging. Besides a slow spot smack in the middle of the book that had me texting a friend, “Does it pick back up? Is it worth it?” (she responded with a resounding “YES” that I have to now agree with), the pacing of the story is nearly perfect. It’s quick enough to keep one engaged, while drawn out enough to create tension. And I mean tension. At the different emotional heights of the book I found myself emotionally and physically tense, anxious, and eager to keep reading, holding my breath.
The characters of The Goldfinch as well are dynamic, vivid, and well-established. Instantly, characters like the soft-spoken Hobie who restores antiques in his shop’s basement, the Ukrainian 14-year-old drunk Boris, and most notably the sanctified ghostly presence of Theo’s deceased mother are able to come to . That being said, one of Tartt’s largest obstacles in The Goldfinch is the question of Theo’s redemption. Theo’s character is so deeply flawed and constantly making bad decisions based on poor judgement, and throughout 771 pages has almost no growth or development. Everything happens to Theo—he is a bystander in his own story with little moral standards or independence. While this makes it difficult to empathize with Theo, it makes the story itself even more engrossing.
While this wasn’t a five-star book for me—I reserve such a rating only for the books I feel have absolutely changed my life and worldview—it was definitely a well earned four-star. The only thing that really negatively affected the book and its rating for me was the final chapter: a seemingly never-ending philosophical pondering on the meaning of life from Theo—someone I don’t exactly want to take life advice from. Ending the book on that note left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but still the impact of the other 760 pages of the book was powerful enough to overcome that final chapter.
There was actually quite a bit of food mentioned in The Goldfinch. What stood out to me the most was a passing mention of a cherry tart early on in the book:
I knew that I wanted to riff off that cherry tart, and came up with these delicious cherry hand pies. While they are time-consuming, they’re relatively easy and give the whole house a sweet, sugary country smell.
Cherry Hand Pies
A handheld personal dessert that will have your neighbors knocking on your door asking, “What is that amazing smell?”
Yield: 4 hand pies | Prep time: 1 hour and 45 min | Cook time: 18 min | Total time: 2 hours and 3 minutes
1 lb frozen sweet cherries – thawed overnight in refrigerator
½ cup sugar
3-5 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Optional: 1/8 tsp almond extract
Puff pastry (I used a pre-made sheet from the grocery store, though you can make your own)
2 Tbsp water
Mix sugar and thawed cherries. Simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
Once the cherries are tender and have released most of their juices, strain the cherries and continue to cook the released juices until reduced to ½ to 1/3 cup.
In a small bowl, add cherry juice to cornstarch (start with 3 Tbsp), whisking together to create a slurry.
Add slurry, cherries, lemon juice, and almond extract (if you’re using it) back into pot over medium heat. Stir constantly! Careful that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom.
If after a couple minutes the filling isn’t thickening as much as you’d like it to, strain again and add juices to another 1 Tbsp or so of cornstarch. Add slurry back into the cherry mixture on stove. Continue until you reach desired consistency.
Remove filling from stove and allow to cool completely. Moving the filling into another bowl will help expedite the cooling process.
While the filling cools, lay out the puff pastry sheet and cut into 8 equal rectangles in order to create 4 medium sized hand pies. (You could also use a cookie cutter to create heart shaped or circle hand pies, cut them into smaller sizes to create more pies, etc.—just be aware that this will affect your cooking time.)
Cut three small slashes across half of the puff pastries—these will be the top of your hand pies.
Once filling has cooled, use a cookie scoop to plop filling onto the pastries without slashes. Place the tops onto the pies and use a fork to seal and crimp the edges.
Brush an egg wash over the pies.
Place the assembled pies in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
After refrigeration, bake pies in the oven at 450 degrees for 17-19 minutes.
Allow to cool completely before you dig in…if you can manage to wait.
You can skip refrigerating the assembled hand pies if you’d like, though the dough is less likely to rise evenly, and the filling may spill out.
I tested this recipe both with and without almond extract, it boils down to your personal taste. While I preferred the sweeter version without the almond extract, my dad (AKA Official Taste Tester) preferred the nuttier bite that the almond extract adds.
You can, of course, use fresh sweet cherries for this recipe. However, be ready to spend a good 30 min to an hour pitting the cherries beforehand.
For sour cherries, leave out lemon juice and add more sugar to taste.
You’ll likely end up with some extra cherry pie filling—perfect to add on top of pancakes, oatmeal, crepes, or a hundred other possibilities!