Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Macadamia Brittle #CooktheBooks

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen is our Cook the Books hostess for this round (December 2018-January 2019); she chose Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.* You can read Deb's invitation: here

I definitely needed an easy read this month. Between life, work, school, and the holidays, this was a great book to look forward to at the end of the day. And, despite the craziness of the season, I carved out time to read as I crawled into bed each night.

While I am not lucky enough - like host Deb and author Sara - to live in Hawaii, I do have ties there. My dad grew up on Oahu - after his family immigrated from the Philippines - and I spent many, many summers there as a kid. Jake and I honeymooned on Kauai and went back with both sides of our family a few years later. My parents have taken the boys to Oahu - to see where Nonno lived, where he went to school, and to experience some of our favorite haunts. Can you say 'Malasadas from Leonard's'?!? Yep.

In fact, my mom and dad were just there for a sibling reunion in October. Of my dad's seven brothers and sisters, the last three were born at Tripler Army Medical Center on Oahu - the same hospital at the end of the book. So, we definitely have family ties to the islands.

And I was wildly proud of my dad for finally conquering Diamond Head...on his seventieth birthday, no less!! When they came back from Oahu this last trip, they brought me 12 C of macadamia nuts. 

So, that inspired this recipe, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Book first!

On the Page
Set in Hawaii in 1944, this historical fiction novel moves between two protagonists: Ella and her mother, Violet. These two have lived for a year without knowing what happened to Ella's dad and Violet's husband, Herman. He was the principal of the local school and vanished without a trace. While there were buzzings that he was loyal to the Japanese and a traitor, Ella and Violet refused to accept that.

In addition to these two, there's a cast of characters that includes soldiers who are preparing to ship out for war, friends - both haole and Japanese -, a rescued lion cub named Roscoe and a chicken named Brownie!

Amid the upheaval, Violet and her friends Jean and Setsuko decide to open a pie stand to make a few extra dollars by selling slices and whole pies to the soldiers. Their stand is named Honey Cow Pies because American soldiers couldn't pronounce Honoka'a Pies. "Their plan was to make two varieties of pies each week, depending on available ingredients. Again, they traded alcohol ration tickets for some items. Coffee beans, cream, flour, cocoa, to name a few. Violet found she was happiest in the kitchen. The outside world fell away and the war turned off. Nothing else mattered" (pg. 130).

This was a well-written novel - well-researched and well-told - and you truly cared for the characters because Ackerman pulls you in to her story quickly and easily. She poignantly shows how quickly fear transforms people into being prejudiced and paranoid. And fear plays a huge role in Ella keeping a secret from her mom...because she knows what happened to her father. But, I will not spoil this story. Just read it. It's delicious!

On the Plate
I was tempted to try my hand at okolehao, Hawaiian moonshine. Okolehao means "'Iron bottom.' It came from how the pots look like a plump woman's backside. He launched into a description of how you had to wait for the ti plant to mature so that the stalk was at least the size of a man's wrist" (pg. 264).

But I figured that might be more involved than I had time for this month - and I really have no idea where I could source ti plant - so I decided to use the macadamia nuts from my parents. I considered a macadamia nut pie. But I really wanted to make brittle...as a reminder that if you are too rigid - in life - you will break! I think Violet and Ella both learned to be softer throughout this novel. Nut brittles always have  a place on my holiday cookie platters. It's easy and it only requires a few ingredients that I always have on hand. Butter, sugar, and nuts. Yep. That's it. I don't use a candy thermometer, so I can't give you details on that. Sorry. I cook this by look, smell, and feel. Once you do it, you'll never need a recipe.

  • 2 C butter
  • 2 C organic granulated sugar
  • 2 C roasted, unsalted macadamia nut halves
  • Also needed: parchment paper, baking sheet

Place sugar and butter in a large saucepan. Cook over medium to high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it boils. Cover and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Uncover, reduce heat and cook until it turns an amber color and is completely smooth. Stir in nuts. You need to work quickly before the mixture cools too much.

Pour mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a wooden spoon, spread thin. Let cool completely.

When the brittle is set, cut or break into pieces.

If you'd like to join the Cook the Books fun, we are reading this book till the end of January. You definitely have time. I might just read it again, a second time, because I liked it that much.

*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.

I am also linking this up to Foodie Reads.
Here's what everyone else read in December 2018: here.


  1. Thank you for including your family history -- makes the book really connect to living people! I don't know if I'll read it but really enjoyed your description, and I'm sure I would love your hand-made candy.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  2. I just started this yesterday. I ordered it up for my nook but then also got the audible version from the library so I can listen while running errands. I was going to wait for our trip but your excitement over this book is contagious.

  3. Great post! I am really happy you enjoyed the book and I love your family ties to Hawaii are great to read about. ;-) Your mac nut brittle looks amazing. I have not had brittle in ages.
    Mahalo for joining in!

  4. Great commentary and although this isn't a pie, I love it! :) I'm surprised there weren't more pies this round.

  5. A friend from the 80's had a condo in Hawaii and she brought me my first jar of macadamia nuts when they couldn't be had on the East Coast. Love them and will definitely give the recipe a go

  6. Nothing beats macadamia nuts fresh from their home. I suspect your brittle didn't last long :)