What could be better than a good meal and a good book? Maybe nothing. Unless it’s another good meal and an hour (or three) discussing that book with a few of your favorite people.
It just so happens that one of my own favorite people is an author and an avid reader herself, so I’m joining forces with my daughter to bring you a new column right here on Pots and Pans Forever: Dinner and a Book Club. Each month, we’ll recommend a book (or three) and a meal, best served together.
For our October kickoff, we’re featuring three excellent reads about some very special bakers, ranging from sweet to seasonally spooky. So, let’s get to reading … and eating!
Little Beach Street Bakery
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan stars Polly, a young woman who loses her love, her business, and her dreams and has to start over with nothing. Fate lends a hand when the only place she can afford is a barely-inhabitable flat on an all-but-abandoned island, with a causeway to the mainland that ends up underwater at every high tide.
Isolated from the world in a very literal sense, Polly rediscovers the simple joys of life and reconnects with herself—the real Polly who isn’t giving up everything for her boyfriend’s business. The one who has her own interests, her own friends, and her own future. And, have you guessed it? The one who bakes.
When this joyful, independent, bread-baking Polly catches the eye of more than one local beau, life starts getting complicated all over again. Can she learn to navigate love in a new way, or will she have to choose between the life she’s creating and the man who might capture her heart?
We loved this book. Imbued with the heart of Polly’s fledgling bakery, it manages to be both sweet and jam-packed at the same time. It’s adult without being graphic, romantic without being sappy, and filled with perfection—local charm, delightful and poignant characters, and all the ups and downs of life’s greatest journeys.
Love a la Mode
Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm features Rosie Radeke and Henry Yi, two budding teen chefs who are invited to attend an exclusive cooking school in Paris. Graduate with honors, and they’ll have their pick of positions anywhere in the world on a skyrocket ride to the very pinnacle of chefdom. Fail, and they’ll lose everything they’ve dreamed of … including each other.
Henry loves to cook more than anything in the world. But his mother doesn’t believe in his dream, and the academics at this elite school might be the end of him. Rosie’s passion is baking. But every new cooking assignment leaves her struggling with the fundamentals, and getting kicked out would mean failing at the first thing to start bringing her out of the personal tragedy she left back home.
When they find each other, love lights a spark, but it might be something neither of them can afford. When Paris starts to work its magic, will young love conquer all? Or will they lose each other to the stress of a future they can’t afford to lose?
A young-adult contemporary romance, Love a la Mode swept us both away to Paris on the wings of young love and cooking dreams. We couldn’t put it down. The characters grabbed our hearts from page one; the plot moved at a steady, addictive pace; and the chef research was spot on, adding a layer of tension and realism to an already magnificent concoction.
Deadly Sweet by Lola Dodge is a YA fantasy full of baking magic. Anise is a high school graduate with dreams of going to college for the culinary arts. Unfortunately, she's also a witch in a world where witchcraft is known and feared. Her specialty? Enchanting baked goods. But emotions matter in witchcraft, and Anise can't scrape together enough inner peace to fill a cupcake.
It doesn't help that her mother frowns on magic, trying to hide their talents from everyone around them, leaving Anise feeling isolated and alone. When she's attacked at the county fair, all that pent up frustration explodes. Literally. Anise accidentally causes a fire and ends up fleeing from the law. Then, just when all hope seems lost, Anise's grandmother offers her a chance to move across the country to study at her exclusive witchy bakery.
Of course, Anise jumps at the chance. Soon she's surrounded by more witches than she knows what to do with, not to mention a brooding personal bodyguard and her aunt's finicky familiar. It might be more closeness than Anise can bear, but she'll need all the help she can get. Even in a witch's haven, there are those who wants to see all magic destroyed. And Anise seems to be on top of their list.
Magic and baking? What more could we ask for! We loved the character development in this one as Anise struggled to come into her own, contending with one challenge after another. It's a deliciously fun first installment in the series, followed by a second book, Sugar Spells, that we loved even more. Now, if only Lola Dodge would publish a companion volume of spell-recipes for joy-laced cupcakes. That's a recipe we'd whip up every day!
With several distinct layers of flaky pastry dough plus a luscious, savory filling, we think Rosie and Henry would both approve of spanakopita as our October dinner and a book club dish. Cut it into dinner squares or small squares to turn it into finger food. People can then take as much or as little as they like, comfortably accommodating appetites of all sizes.
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1/4 c. finely chopped scallions
4 c. fresh spinach chopped (6 oz)
3 T. fresh or 3 t. dry dill
1/3 c. milk
8 oz. Feta, crumbled
4 eggs, beaten
PASTRY 1/2 lb. or 16 sheets phyllo
1/4 pound melted butter (OR 1/2 stick and #1/4 cup olive oil)
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Sauté the onions and scallions until transparent; do not brown.
Add the spinach and sauté until dry -- 5 to 10 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.
Let the mixture cool.
Mix the eggs and milk with the cheese and dill.
Add the spinach, onions, and scallions to this mixture.
Keep phyllo sheets damp. (Cover with damp dish towel while working with the sheets.)
Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with melted butter. Ease one layer of phyllo into the pan, allowing any excess to drape over sides; brush with melted butter. Spread filling over pastry (very juicy); then cover filling with a sheet of phyllo, brush with melted butter, and repeat until 8 are used.
Trim any excess phyllo with a knife, or fold it if the excess is very small.
Bake one hour at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut into squares, rectangles, triangles, or any favorite shape. Serve hot or at room temperature.
For more great book recommendations, visit Dragon Authors.
Flourish Vectors by Vecteezy