Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Language of Flowers... and Doughnuts #FoodieReads

No books logged for my Foodie Reads Challenge and it's already the third week of the month. What?!? it must be the end of the school year. It's not that I haven't been reading; I read every night. I just haven't finished any books this month. 

Well, last night while the boys were working on a project with Jake, I picked up a book that I've had on my nightstand for months and settled under a blanket on a bean bag. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.* And I read it from start to finish before heading to bed.

It turns out that it was written by someone I know...sort of. Well, I know her husband as he's the superintendent of our school district and we sit in meetings every month as the high school moves through its certification as an IB (International Baccalaureate) school. But I never put that together until I was staring at the cover and thought, "That's a fairly unusual last name. I wonder if they are related." They are!

On the Page
The story opens with Victoria who has just turned 18 and aging out of the foster care system. We learn that she had been abandoned as a baby and for the past eighteen years has been bounced from foster home to foster home and, finally, group home after group home. She was abused, by some caregivers, but mostly just unloved and that perpetual state of emotional uncertainty hardened her into person who wants only a locked door and no one to disappoint.

When she leaves the group home, she ends up living in a park in the middle of San Francisco until she lands a job working with a florist. I worked as florist my last two years of college in Berkeley, so I devoured the descriptions of the middle-of-the-night flower markets, the stress of dealing with wedding arrangements, and joy that flowers can bring. I could completely relate to Victoria as a florist...as an angry, lonely young woman not so much.

I am not going to ruin the story for you, suffice it to say: for someone who keeps everyone at arms' length, she ends up with a whole tribe of people who care for her, including a flower vendor at the market who is connected to her past.

Diffenbaugh jumps back and forth in time between 9-year-old Victoria and the one foster mom who actually understood her and planned to adopt her to adult Victoria who actively shoves people out of her life. It's a captivating story and I am definitely going to track down more of her books.

I loved the characters. I loved the story. And I, especially, loved the messages of the flowers. When I was a florist, I not only created bouquets whose flowers added interesting textures and colors, but I did know the meanings behind them. I didn't always tell the customers the meanings, but I enjoyed adding in secret messages to my arrangements.

 The Language of Flowers
I took these photos on a recent trip with two of my best friends to Filoli, a beautiful garden in Woodside, California.

Tulips are a declaration of love.

Pansies say 'think of me.'

Wisteria is a welcome.

Ranunculus declares, 'you are radiant with charms.'

On the Plate
For a book about flowers, there is a surprising amount of food. Victoria is punished by foster families who withhold food. And food is also the way that people include her in their family - by inviting her to their tables and feeding her.

I decided to whip up a batch of doughnuts because they played a part in her first encounter with the mysterious flower vendor outside of the market. He had left her a message at his stand. "On the underside of ribbon, in a scratchy hand I recognized from flower prices on the chalkboard, were the words Monday, 5 p.m., 16th and Mission. Donuts for Dinner. The black ink had spread onto the silk so that the words were almost unreadable, but the time and place were clear" (pg. 71).

Okay, so I didn't serve them for dinner, but they were breakfast! Oh, and about the spelling - I've always spelled them 'doughnuts' but Diffenbaugh spelled them 'donuts.' I'm not sure what is correct. How do you spell them??

Sugar & Spice Doughnuts

Ingredients makes approximately 15 doughnuts
  • 1/4 C butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 C olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • 3/4 C organic granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 C flour
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t ground cardamom
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • 1 C whole milk
  • canola oil for spraying the pan
  • Also needed: mini donut pan*
For Serving
  • 5 T butter, melted
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t ground cardamom
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • 1/3 C organic granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray mini doughnut pan with canola oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Pour in the milk. Whisk till incorporated. Gently fold in the spices, flour, and baking soda until fully incorporated. Spoon the batter into the hollows until the batter almost reaches the top of the pan.

Bake for 7 minutes - or until the doughnuts are golden brown and raised. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the pan over to invert the doughnuts onto a cooling rack. Repeat until all the batter is used.

While doughnuts are cooling, make the topping. Melt the butter in a small skillet and keep warm. On a plate, blend together the sugar and spices. Dunk each cooled doughnut in butter, then place - butter-side down - in the spice-sugar mixture to coat. Place on rack or tray for the butter to set. 

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Here's what everyone else read in May2018: here.


  1. The parallels between your life and that of the chracter in the book are interesting. Though I think donuts for dinner would be fine! As for the spelling -- it appears to be one of those situations where self-styled experts get all tied in knots with their opinion, but the real experts say it's up to the writer (or the appropriate style sheet) to choose. "Donut" evidently is more up-to-date, though it's been around for over 100 years.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  2. I think I will read this novel....It parallels with my life right now as it did with yours in the past. We haven't gone public with this yet but Frank and I are in the process of adopting two young ladies, ages 14 and 11 who have been in the system for 7 long years and suffered much the same as your antagonist did. We hope to alleviate that problem in the next couple of weeks. Just waiting for the fostering license to be approved so they can live with us while we await the adoption to finalize.


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