The current book selection for the bimonthly online foodie book club, Cook the Books, is Sarah-Kate Lynch's novel The Wedding Bees.
Let me just start this review by stating that I was flat out not prepared to like this book. I read the first couple of chapters while on a three-hour bus ride to New York City on one of the hottest, muggiest days we've had this season and the main heroine just seemed too saccharine sweet for me. I mean, REALLY, who goes around saying "Goodness gracious me" in this day and age?
My grumpiness continued for a few more chapters, but then, this book snuck up on me. Maybe it was the fact that the bus needed to cool its engine three times so that my trip time doubled; maybe it was the life line I needed after the young woman in the seat in front of me appeared to undergo a panic attack and my maternal energies had me spring forward to soothe her with hand massages, slow breathing coaching and my hopefully reassuring babble; or maybe it was the humorous dialogue and quiet charm of all of the quirky characters that populated "The Wedding Bees" pages.
I just know that my initial impression melted away once I was about a third of the way through the book. Sure, there was heroine Cherie-Lynn "Sugar" Wallace's over-the-top Southern belle mannerisms and some improbable plot lines, but I accepted them and suspended my cynical assessment of these bits because I found the author's character studies of the tenants in Sugar's new Lower East Side apartment building so very engrossing. There's a tattooed single mom with absolutely no business sense who runs a balloon shop, an anorexic, an agoraphobe chef, a Southern gentleman doorman with a bittersweet back story, and my favorite of all, Hungarian-born Mrs. Keschl, whose mildly foul mouth and mordant sense of humor contrasts so hilariously with Sugar's proper manners and speech.
In honor of my favorite Wedding Bees character I had to make a Hungarian-inspired meal. One of the things I've always wanted to make was stuffed cabbage. Despite threads of Eastern European heritage that I carry in my DNA and have married into, no one in my family ever made "galumpkes", though the word was thrown around now and then in relation to someone making a dumb decision; as in, "Don't be such a galumpke!".
I turned to the renowned Hungarian chef Ming Tsai (ha!) for my stuffed cabbage recipe. It turned out to be quite tasty, especially in the reheating, though I was a galumpke in that I misread how to prepare the cabbage. When Ming told me to core the cabbage at the bottom, I first quartered it like I always do to chop out the tough core, but I should have just turned the whole cabbage upside down and removed the core with a circular motion. The resulting steamed cabbage leaf wrappers were a quarter of the size they should have been, which made them tougher to stuff, but I am used to making stuffed grape leaves, so I soldiered forth. What a galumpke!
I paired the delicious little stuffed cabbages with a salad of Romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers bathed in a vinaigrette containing snipped fresh dill and marjoram from our kitchen garden and toasted Mrs. Keschl with a glass of the full-bodied and wonderfully named Hungarian red wine, Bull's Blood.
There's still time to join others at Cook the Books by reading this fun book that Co-host Simona of Briciole has chosen for us. The deadline for blog submissions is August 3, 2015. Anyone can join in the fun, so if you are curious about this sweet little novel, you can read all about it here.