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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Book Group Brunches

My book group met today for the first time in nearly a year. I started it five years ago last fall, but last year we got into a slump, or maybe just out of the habit, and I'd really desperately like to get back into the swing of things. Partly because having deadlines gets me to read more books (as opposed to reading magazines or watching TV, in both of which I am terribly behind at the moment), and partly because I LOVE having an excuse to put together a fancy-ish three-course brunch, using local and seasonal ingredients, of course, for an audience more appreciative than my children.

Today's book was Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. We picked it because it was recently named "Best Oregon Book Ever" by Portland Monthly magazine, and also because it's one of the longest-residing denizens of my "to be read" shelf. Oh my goodness--why haven't I read this book sooner?!?!? I guess because it's on the hard side for a high school audience, and I didn't go to college in Oregon (I used my sister's copy, which she got for a class at a local community college). It is on the more demanding side in structure--he changes point of view very frequently, and jumps around in place and time, as various characters have flashbacks. But once you get the hang of it, get to know the characters, it becomes much easier to tell who "I" is at any given moment. This is definitely a book that lends itself to reading in large chunks, and not in bits and pieces. For sure the last 130 pages or so (it's 600+ pages in most printings, of which there have been many) should be read at once.

We were intrigued to discover that the book was made into a movie in 1971, starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. I'm not thrilled with this casting (of course I had my own mental pictures of the main characters), but I've reserved the movie at the library, and we'll screen it at a future date if I can figure out a good way to hook my VCR back up to my TV.

Today's menu was not my most, well, mostes', because each thing I served was a repeat from a previous meeting (ideally I don't like to repeat). And some items on the original menu were dropped when I opted to finish the book last night instead of doing more shopping/running around. For instance, I had wanted to start with bran muffins and frozen peaches (a tradition in my family), but my sil ended up not coming, and I didn't make time to go pick some peaches up from her (I've decided now that I'll freeze some myself this year). So we didn't have a real starter course, and I served the bran muffins alongside the main dish, quiche with fresh wild salmon, asparagus, and gruyère. For dessert I wanted something chocolate, but with this week's schedule (we returned from out of town Wednesday afternoon) I decided to scale back and serve a purchased Guinness Stout Cake (a very chocolatey affair, despite the name) from Marsee Baking.

The quiche I made from the Bittman, only using one-inch cubes of salmon, two-inch pieces of blanched asparagus, and about a cup of finely grated 15-month raw-milk gruyère instead of the onions in his basic recipe. The 6 eggs and 2 cups half and half called for in his recipe overflowed my deep-dish partially-blind-baked (12 minutes at 425) shell, so I think next time I'll try 1 1/2 C half and half. I think because I didn't cook the salmon first, the quiche took nearly twice as long to bake as it said in the recipe (30-40 minutes at 325), and the asparagus was slightly overcooked. If I do it this way again, I'll shorten the blanching time (today was 1 minute) considerably (like to 15 seconds). I love quiche, and it's another one of those things that are so much better when they're homemade. This morning I managed to make two pie shells and freeze one, so my next quiche will hopefully be not long in coming.

The bran muffins were an enormous hit--five of us downed 12 mini and 7 full-size muffins, slathered with butter (they actually can make a pretty good argument for being healthy before you do that). Here is the recipe:

2 C boiling water
5 t soda

Mix these together and let cool.

1 C butter, softened
2 C sugar
4 eggs
1 qt buttermilk
5 C flour
4 C All-Bran
2 C Bran Flakes
2 C dates, chopped

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add other ingredients, in order (don't forget to add the soda water with the other wet ingredients). If you are mixing it in a Kitchenaid, you will need to transfer it to a larger bowl after adding the flour, and then fold in the cereal and dates. Once you have it all mixed together, you can keep it in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. Just don't stir it before baking. Fill greased muffin cups (or cupcake papers) 1/2-2/3 full (I use appropriately-sized ice cream scoops), and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

Our next book will be Atonement by Ian McEwan (another long-time resident of the to-be-read shelf), and we've picked a tentative meeting date of April 14. Here's to hoping we re-establish the habit!

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Blogger Swizzies said...

These sound like the bran muffins my mom made - and I LOVE them. We never had dates in ours, but they rest sounds the same, and the date addition sounds supper yummy.

Question: You say soda in the recipe, then soda water in the instructions - is it baking soda or seltzer (or both) (or something else altogether)?

What would become of you, JA, if the world were suddenly devoid of salmon?? :-)

March 11, 2007 at 7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soda water = baking soda + water that you mixed together in the first step.

My mom frequently made the muffins with walnuts as well as dates, but since walnuts are an abomination I leave them out. :) I typically would substitute another kind of nut (maybe pecans here), but I think they're just super without any.

March 11, 2007 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger MWR said...

I guess it depends on how broadly you define "Oregon book".

March 12, 2007 at 1:26 AM  
Blogger Swizzies said...

My comment is a proofreading nightmare! I fully expect to be skewered in a future Fugue Salad post about how dumb-di-dumb commenters can't even spell or punctuate these days.

And since you didn't answer my incisive and oh-so-relevant question about your salmon fetish, I expect to see a full post on that one too.

Chop chop! :-)

March 12, 2007 at 6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I thought the salmon question was a rhetorical one. In any case, I hope never to have to face that possibility. :)

March 13, 2007 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Adriana Velez said...

Geez, maybe I'd attend my book group meetings if we ate this well. Not "the mostest" ??? Sounds pretty damn muchness, at any rate! Must try your bran muffin recipe.

I loved Atonement. But I am a dopey recovering Anglophile.

March 13, 2007 at 8:52 PM  

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