Barbara O'Neal's writing is, to make a groan-inducing pun, delicious. I've loved her books as Ruth Wind and Barbara Samuel (both Historical and Contemporary). And I love her still. She has never written anything I haven't added to my keeper shelf (Okay, maybe not the categories).
In her current incarnation as Barbara O'Neal, she has made food a central theme in the three books she has published thus far. Her first, The Lost Recipe for Happiness, might be my favorite. Elena, the heroine, is a talented chef suffering from the devastating effects of a car accident that killed her boyfriend and several members of her family when she was a teenager. She moves to Aspen to open a restaurant for a famous movie director/restaurateur and the story begins.
Recipes, scattered throughout the novel, give the flavor of the restaurant and illuminate the characters. We fall in love with Ivan, the sous-chef, over his pomegranate baklava. We feel Juan's solid goodness in his Carne en Su Jugo. And, ultimately, we see past Elena's pain into the love she has to give with her simple recipe for banana and chocolate chip pancakes, a gift to her employer's daughter.
In The Secret of Everything, Natalie, a pre-teen budding foodie, determines to try every one of the breakfasts at the 100 Breakfasts Café in the town where Tessa, the heroine, washes up in search of her past. Breakfast recipes appear throughout the book, charting a journey of discovery that is not only gustatory and not only Natalie's, but Tessa's journey and the journeys of the people in her orbit.
Barbara O'Neal's latest book, How to Bake a Perfect Life, is apt to make me fat. Ramona is a baker and the keeper of the sourdough starter that has been handed down through generations. This is a book about mothers and daughters, about love, about nurturing, and the bread and baked goods recipes in this book are full of the yeasty aroma of home. Despite my best intentions, I could not resist the Hearty Berry Streusel Muffins and, because I hate to be the only person to succumb to this recipe, I intend to share it with all of you:
This is a muffin for those crazy mornings when you need calories in a hurry. The yogurt and nuts add protein, the whole grains add fiber, and the fruits add nutrients as well as general seduction for picky children. The streusel can be left off to save calories, but trust me, you're better off with one good one. Serve with boiled eggs for a super-fast breakfast.
1 cup white flour
½ cup spelt flour (or add another ½ cup white)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
1 cup honey (or raw sugar)
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1 6 oz. container raspberry or blueberry yogurt
½ cup milk
3 T canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup each fresh blueberries and raspberries
¼ cup flour
3T brown sugar
¼ cup chopped, lightly toasted walnuts, pecans or almonds
1 ½ T butter, melted
Prepare muffin tins with paper or oil. Prepare streusel first and set aside.
For muffins: Mix dry ingredients well. In a separate bowl, mix all wet ingredients except berries, and beat together well. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mix and beat firmly and quickly just until thoroughly moistened. Add berries and fold in gently. Divide batter into greased or paper-lined muffin tins and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan to set the berries, remove from pan and cool on wire rack.
So now that I have your mouths watering and in the certain knowledge that you will each gain at least a couple of ounces in the next week or two, let's go back to the books.
In each of these books, food is a metaphor for some aspect of the story: the characters, the journey, the emotion. Although you will want to try the recipes, they are not just a cute, cookbook, adjunct to the novels. In many ways, they are the very heart: a tangible, edible testament to love.
Have you read other books with integrated recipes? Did they enhance the story? And did you make any of them? Share!
The Republic of Pemberley