Thursday, September 23, 2010

I was tempted... buy this last night when I stopped in at Border's.

Nick's new book, Safe Haven, just came out last week. I hope I have the willpower to wait until it comes out in paperback, or at least until the price for the hardcover comes down a little. I wonder what we'll be cooking for this one? We still have quite a number of books to get through first.

At our house, fried chicken a' la The Notebook is on the menu this weekend; stay tuned! (I think we'll be watching the Dear John movie, too. I'll let you know what I think. Chances are I'll like it.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Notebook: A Crab Feast (But First, an Introduction...)

If you are a regular visitor to my other blog, Musings of a Catholic Mom, you'll know that I'm an avid reader and I love to cook. Since I love reading Nicholas Sparks--yes, I've read ALL of his books--I wanted to start a blog dedicated to both Sparks and food. (I was going to call it "Channeling Nick" but since we Catholics aren't into that sort of thing I didn't think that would be such a good idea.) If you've read any of Nicholas' novels, especially if you've read more than one, you may have noticed a certain pattern to his stories: In a small coastal haven on North Carolina's Outer Banks, a stranger moves into town from someplace up north, meets a boy/girl, and falls in love. Somewhere along the way the blissful couple must confront some sort of baggage that one or the other is carrying (more often than not, it's both parties who have issues), and try to overcome it so that their relationship can thrive. Often there's a deep dark secret involved. Anyhow, during the course of the courtship, the couple inevitably cooks a meal together. Sometimes the man invites the woman to his beach house and prepares dinner for the girl; often they end up cooking the meal together. (Occasionally the meal goes uneaten because the tension is just too much for them and they end up...well, we won't go there.) This scenario varies from story to story: in one or two of his books, the couple goes to a barbecue together where a feast is enjoyed by all; in his most recent novel, The Last Song, a father lovingly prepares meals for his rebellious vegetarian daughter. (I don't know if I'll be able to bring myself to cook the tofu breakfast burritos he makes, though; I hate tofu.) After dinner they go for a walk on the beach. Or something. The novel's climax usually involves some unfortunate twist of fate that threatens to end the couple's relationship. Sometimes they end up living happily ever after, sometimes not. In a few of the novels, a main character winds up dead, and the grieving guy/girl has to cope with life without his or her true love.

Years ago, before I had read any of Nicholas Sparks' books, I happened upon an interview with him on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. At the time I had seen some of his paperbacks in the checkout line, and his name was vaguely familiar. My first reaction upon seeing Nicholas for the first time was to think to myself, "Oh, my! He's cute!" Watching the interview, I learned that Nicholas is a devout Catholic, married for many years, and he and his wife have five children. He talked about how his Catholic faith shapes his life and his stories. ("But wait!" I hear you saying. "There's SEX in Nicholas Sparks' books! Outside of marriage!" True. Nobody's perfect. There are also many Christian themes in his books as well. People go to church and read the Bible. Clergy are respected members of the community. The men treat their women with respect; the ones who don't are the bad guys. Family bonds are essential, and children are welcomed, even if they are conceived out of wedlock. Curse words are few and far between, and even those are what most people would consider mild ones.) When Raymond asked Nicholas what his next project would be, Nick's reply was something like, "Um, well, It's a story about a guy and a girl who meet and fall in love in North Carolina." He shrugged and grinned sheepishly, and Raymond laughed and teased him, trying to get him to reveal more about the book. I wondered at the time what was so funny. Little did I know. When my family asked me why I wanted to write a blog about food that people eat in the books I read, I told them the truth: For fun. So here goes.

(He is kinda cute, you gotta admit...but that isn't why I read his books.)


Nicholas' first novel, The Notebook, tells the story of Noah and Allie, who meet and fall in love one summer in the 1930s, when they are teenagers. The summer ends, Allie goes back with her parents to Charleston where she is from, and Noah goes off to fight in World War II. Years later, after Allie gets engaged to a nice boy from a respectable family, Allie decides to pay Noah a visit. (The book also flashes ahead to the present day, in a nursing home where a woman suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and her husband reads to her the story of their love. The woman is Allie of course, and the man--well, I won't tell you but it's pretty easy to guess.) When Allie arrives, she finds Noah living alone in a fixer-upper of a house on the banks of some salty coastal river. After spending the day together catching up, you guessed it--they have crabs for dinner. Now, I will make a confession to you. In The Notebook, Noah catches the crabs right by his back door and cooks them up in a pot. He puts one part beer and one part water in a crab pot, adds some unidentified seasonings and some hot sauce, and throws in the live crabs. Now, I don't have a steamer big enough to cook more than three or four crabs at a time; and besides, when you buy crabs around here, they'll cook them up for you for free. I wasn't sure I was willing to plunk down $30-$50 for a crab steamer when it would be much cheaper and easier to get them already cooked. Plus, where I live it's fashionable to steam crabs in the Maryland style, with vinegar in your water, not beer. I'm pretty sure these guys were cooked that way.

Allie and Noah chop up some zucchini, onions, carrots and okra (we aren't okra eaters, but since I cheated on the crabs I wasn't going to cheat on that) and fry them up in a pan. When I prepared the vegetables, I put chopped onions and carrots into a skillet with some olive oil, and sauteed them for a couple of minutes; then I added the chopped zucchini and okra along with some salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. I also added some local shiitake mushrooms I had on hand, along with a little bit of Emeril's Essence for a little extra flavor. You can't have a crab feast without sharing it with someone, so we invited our next-door neighbors over and enjoyed a FABULOUS evening with them. They brought the beer and apple pie--and with a hunk of crusty bread and corn on the cob (no corn in The Notebook, but what's a crab feast without corn on the cob?), it made for a fantastic dinner. This was the first time their kids had tried crabs, and my husband had fun showing them how to crack them open and extract the meat inside. My friend said the vegetables were delicious, and I didn't think they were half bad. (Next time though, I'll skip the mushrooms and okra and put in more Emeril's Essence. Maybe I'll yell "BAM!" as I'm throwing it in, like Emeril used to do.)

My next project? Fried chicken. I'm a little skeered of that one, but I promise I won't cheat and invoke Popeye or Saint Colonel Sanders.