John Searles' Lentil Soup: A Toast to "Help For The Haunted"

Few things make me happier than tasting my friends’ cooking — especially if it’s a situation in which I had absolutely no idea that they knew how to cook.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making one such discovery about a dear friend of mine, a person I adore and whom I know mostly as a writer (certainly not a cook) — the novelist John Searles.

I made this discovery one chilly evening this spring when John’s partner, Thomas (the chef in that family), wasn’t around. Instead of ordering in, John decided to cook up some soup instead. I remain grateful for this decision as this meant that I got to taste his lentil soup, which turned out to be so hearty and tasty that I distinctly remember the delicious sensation of its earthy goodness warming me up from within.

So when fall and all its coolness arrived last week, this soup immediately came to mind.

Besides, I had a very special reason to toast John this month — his third novel, a gripping literary thriller titled “Help For The Haunted” just hit book stores! It’s only been out for a week and it’s already gotten rave reviews everywhere — both Amazon and USA Today just named it one of the month’s best books.

So cheers to the book and to my dear friend John. And of course, let’s not forget his lovely lentil soup …

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Hemingway's Hamburger: Papa's Favorite

Earlier this year, I was perusing a Boston Globe story about some Ernest Hemingway papers from the writer’s years in Cuba that had just been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

A book editor who’s on the board of the Finca Vigía Foundation in Boston, which has been working on preserving Hemingway’s Cuba documents and bringing them to the United States, had told me of the story and I could not wait to read it. I’ve long been a Hemingway fan — an admirer of not just his work but also his appetite for life, food and drink.

So it was unsurprising that one line in the story about what the new papers contained struck me: “And the more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.”

Hemingway’s ideal burger? I had to find out more.

Many weeks and a few burgers later, I wrote about my quest to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger in The Paris Review.

I won’t go into details — you can read more there. But for the recipe and another glimpse of the burger, click right here …

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Spam Fries with Key Lime Dip: A Perfect Munchies Hit

A little bit of excitement occurred recently — I just had my first piece of fiction published in an anthology!

It’s a short story titled “Ganja Ghosts” — about, well, smoking the you know what in Singapore. And it’s appeared in a lovely book called “The Marijuana Chronicles,” edited by the brilliant artist and bestselling mystery writer Jonathan Santlofer.

In addition to Jonathan, there are stories in there by Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child and more. To say I’ve been thrilled would barely even begin to describe it. And yes, all of you should absolutely run right out now and buy a copy!

So, it seemed like a celebration was in order — and thankfully, my Let’s Lunch mates were on board. For this month’s lunch date, we decided to share our ideas for perfect “munchies” …

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The Next Big Thing: A Preview

A lovely thing came out of writing my first book — I discovered a community of authors.

Through weeks-long residencies at artist colonies Yaddo and Djerassi, I lived with and learned from writers (and other artists) who listened to my stories and shared many of their own. All of this inevitably led to lasting friendships in which we’ve cheered one another on from coast to coast.

So when the talented and enormously entertaining Peter Mountford (my Yaddo mate as I holed up to write A Tiger in the Kitchen in 2010) invited me to join in on “The Next Big Thing Blog Hop,” I was most happy to oblige.

As Peter — author of A Young Man’s Guide To Late Capitalism — explained, this blog hop is a chance for authors to tell you what they’re working on. Authors answer 10 questions about their next book, tag the person who tagged them and at least five other authors. (You can read Peter’s piece about his second novel, The Dismal Science, here.)

Many thanks for the invite to the party, Peter. And here you all go — a sneak preview of what I’ve been cooking up in my little writing room …

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Gambling Rice: A Grandmother's Tale

The food of my Singaporean grandmothers has always inspired great yearning in me.

As you’ve probably heard, this yearning was so intense that a few years ago it inspired a journey to rediscover the dishes of my girlhood in Asia, a tale that ended up forming “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

Of all the dishes that I learned to make in my one year of cooking in Singapore, one stands out: Gambling rice. It’s a simple dish of rice cooked with Chinese mushrooms, pork belly, shallots, cabbage and more — one that my late grandmother used to whip together in her kitchen out of sheer necessity.

At a time when my family was mired in poverty, she turned her living room into an illegal gambling den. In order to keep her gamblers at the table, she started cooking for them when they got hungry — and what she made was a convenient one-bowl dish that they could easily eat as they continued to play cards.

I love the story of this dish because it says so much about my grandmother and the smarts, creativity — and business acumen — of this lady. So much that I’ve shared it with just about everyone I’ve talked to about “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

I’d never talked about this recipe on my own blog, however. So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on sharing a grandmother’s dish this month to fete the paperback publication of our own Patricia’s “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” — congrats, Pat! — I knew the time had come …

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