Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty

In Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, author Morag Prunty (who also writes as Kate Kerrigan) blends the stories of modern day Tressa Nolan living in NY and Tressa's grandmother Bernadine who lived in Achadh Mor, Ireland with treasured Irish recipes. The result is a novel that parallels the lives of the two women generations apart at they adjust to married life and celebrates the tradition of passing recipes down in families.

Tressa Nolan is a successful food writer living in New York City.  She spent summers with her grandparents in Achadh Mor, Ireland and learned how to cook and bake at her grandmother Bernadine's side.  She idolizes her grandparent's marriage and expects to find the same partnership when she finally settles down.  At 39, she impulsively gets together with Dan who is the super in her building.  They have little in common but Tressa is inexplicably drawn to Dan and accepts his marriage proposal.  And then the real work begins . . .  Tressa realizes she may not love Dan is not sure there is enough between them to make it worth persevering through the hard times.  The differences between them become magnified and Tressa questions her decision to marry Dan.

Bernadine and James's marriage seems perfect to their granddaughter Tressa but when she is given her grandmother's journal Tressa realizes all is not as it seemed while she visited them. Bernadine had her sights on another man as a young girl and was devastated when that did not work out.  She married James but never felt the passion she had felt with her first love.  James loved her but she struggled to reciprocate even though she dutifully played the role of his wife.  Similar to her granddaughter, Bernadine often resented her husband even though, like Dan, James offered Bernadine a comfortable life.

The book alternates between Bernadine and Tressa's stories as each of their marriages go through various stages. It is a good lesson in persevering  - either woman could have quit their marriage a number of times but they stuck with it (perhaps in Bernadine's case because there was no other option) and rode the ups and downs of their marriages.  There were times I was annoyed by both women - they each had these good, hardworking men who adored them and yet they were still dissatisfied and frustrated by the efforts of these men to please them. Their ungratefulness made it difficult for me to feel empathy for them. At the same time, I did enjoy the parallels in their stories and, of course, all the references to places and traditions in Ireland.

Credit: Brown Eyed Baker
One of those traditions is cooking and the author includes many Irish recipes in this book.  One of my favorite, albeit most basic, is Irish brown bread.  My grandmother in Ireland would make it and we would enjoy a slice with jam at breakfast and again at tea.  It is simple but it's appeal lies in the simplicity.  Here is the recipe:

  1. 3 cups whole wheat flour
  2. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  3. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  6. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. 
  2. In a large bowl, whisk both flours with the baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the egg; stir into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon until a rough dough forms.
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. Form the dough, put a cross in it and put it in the baking pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the bread has risen about 1/2 inch above the rim of the pan. Let cool to warm or room temperature, then slice and serve.     
Check out this Pinterest Board created for the book by the author.

Weekend Cooking is hosted each Saturday by Beth Fish Reads.  Participants are invited to share their food-related posts.  Check out what others have linked up this weekend!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The World We Found by Thrity Urmigar

The World We Found by Thrity Urmigar centers on four women - Laleh, Nishita, Armaiti and Kavita - who attended university together and were very close at that point in their lives.  Circumstances, as they often do, have intervened in the years since university to put distance between the four friends.  When Armaiti is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she wants the friends together again so they plan a trip to her current home in the United States to be with their friend in her time of need.  The road to this reunion reveals much about each of the women and puts one of them in a position to challenge the life she has chosen.

Laleh, Nishita, Armaiti and Kavita were passionate in college and participated in protests for socialist and humanitarian causes.  They were very close and completely aligned, or so they thought, in their beliefs.  Following college, the four women went in different directions.  Laleh married her college boyfriend who is now a successful businessman; he and Laleh lead an affluent life in Bombay even though Laleh at times bristles against the materialism in their lifestyle.  Armaiti ran off to America and married a man there from whom she is now divorced despite their amicable relationship and shared adoration of their teenage daughter, Diane.  Even though she has connected little with her past in India - to the point that her daughter Diane knows very little about that part of her Mom’s life- she is compelled to reach out to her friends for one final reunion when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Kavita is a successful architect but hiding the fact that she is lesbian.  Despite her and her friends’ very modern sensibilities, Kavita worries about being accepted in a society which is still so traditional in many ways.  

Finally, Nishita has perhaps the most interesting story of the four women.  Like Laleh, she has married her college boyfriend Iqbal.  He has, however, changed dramatically since university and has embraced his Muslim faith and customs in a way her never did during their more progressive college years.  He has imposed these strict customs on his wife and she has sacrificed much for her life with him.  She has been completely cut off from her family and even given up her name - she is now known as Zohar. Laleh and Kavita are determined to find her so she can join the reunion but finding her, although challenging, turns out to be easiest part of this journey. Zohar does not enjoy the freedoms taken for granted by her friends and will not be allowed by Iqbal to travel to the US even if they can provide the funds to pay for travel.  They are appalled by the changes they see in their friend and are committed to making sure she comes with them on this trip to Armaiti.  Zohar is ambivalent about making the trip  - on the one hand, she is thrilled at the prospect of reuniting with her friends and with the woman she once was but on the other hand she is terrified to challenge Iqbal and to leave a life she has become accustomed to even though she is very dissatisfied.

My Thoughts
I LOVED this book. The writing is spectacular but very accessible and Urmigar brings modern India to life through her characters in a way few other authors can do. By introducing you to these four women, Urmigar also introduces you to segments of Indian society and in covering their history she covers the history of India.  All the while, you are immersed in the lives of these characters and the history and sociology just become backdrops to the story.  They give the story relevance and ground it in reality.

I read this book quickly - I kept turning pages to see what what happen next on the journey to the reunion.  There is suspense as the women conspire to get Zohar out from under her husband and his family which adds to the pace of the story.  I am now a confirmed Thrity Urmigar fan - I knew I liked the author after reading The Space Between Us (my review) and I was not disappointed with her  newest.  My advice - READ IT!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life's a Beach by Claire Cook

Life’s a Beach by Claire Cook is a breezy light-hearted story about Ginger Walsh, a forty-one year old lacking direction and living over her parent’s garage, and her crazy family including tightly wound sister Geri and bickering parents. Ginger is still a kid at heart and finds living an adult life with commitments including a marriage and steady job intimidating and boring.  She is, however, at a crossroads as she questions whether her completely unfettered lifestyle is what she really wants for the long haul.

Ginger Walsh is the epitome of the “cool aunt” to her sister’s three children - she challenges her uptight sister’s rules and really tries to be more like the kids than the adults.  When her nephew Riley lands a spot in a movie being filmed locally, Ginger is the perfect choice as his chaperone on set - she is unemployed and therefore available and in need of the cash. Although she makes jewelry from sea glass, she hardly earns an income and relies on these stints provided by her busy sister.  When Ginger meets a gaffer on set her romantic interests are stirred.  She has boyfriend Noah at home but there is no commitment on the horizon there and, despite her protestations, she is beginning to crave some commitment and permanence.

This is a fun book with snappy dialogue - at times, I thought I could be reading a movie script.  The banter between witty Ginger and her nutty family is entertaining and I chuckled as I read some of it.  Despite the constant bickering with her family, it is clear that Ginger loves them and that they really want the best for her - that family love is heartwarming.  Ginger’s nephew Riley really stole the show for me - he is insightful beyond his years and I could just picture his impish grin.

The book, however, does lack substance.  There was a lot of promise in these characters and the dialogue is great but the plot didn’t go as far as I would have liked.  It would have been nice to go more deeply into Ginger’s relationship with boyfriend Noah or to really see the transformation that is hinted at as she starts to focus her creative energies and head in a single direction.  I was definitely left wanting more.  With that said, it was a breezy read which I read in a single poolside sitting while on vacation.  I will try more by this author to see if her other books pack more punch in the plot department.