This month - and next - the Cook the Books group will be reading Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber.* Deb of Kahakai Kitchen is hosting. In the announcement of the next four books, she wrote, "I believe a touch of magical realism now and then is good for the soul, there's a flock of blackbirds that only sing at night, and of course, there's pie!"
On the Page
There seem to be a lot of books with this formula: person inherits a restaurant from a relative, comes to town to wrap up the estate (and sell!), but ends up falling in love with the restaurant and, usually, a person tied to the restaurant or town. Oh, and the person might unearth some family secrets along the way.
The fact that the plot is predictable doesn't diminish the enjoyment though! I remember feeling the same way about The Restaurant by Pamela Kelley. And Midnight at the Blackbird Café fit the bill of an enjoyable summertime read.
Set in Alabama, we meet Anna Kate Callow who has arrived in Wicklow after the death of her grandmother, Zee. Anna Kate has inherited the titular Blackbird Café whose regular customers come for the blackbird pie and its magical effects.
Let's start with this: the blackbird pie doesn't contain any blackbirds. It's a berry pie with a smidge of a secret ingredient which turns out to be mulberries. And its in the mulberry trees that four-and-twenty blackbirds (are you reciting that nursery rhyme in your head, too?!?) gather and sing from midnight to one o'clock.
We don't get mulberries here often. But when I see them in the market, I swoop in and buy them all. I'm partially joking...but anyone who knows me knows that if there's a funky fruit or vegetable anywhere near me, I have to have it!
After eating the pie - here's the magical realism - customers receive messages or have visions of loved ones they have lost. Some of the locals find this comforting and make the pies part of their lives.
We also meet Natalie Linden Walker who has returned to Wicklow with her young daughter, Ollie, in tow after the death of her husband. Seelie Linden, Natalie's mom, adds the element of Southern belle meets fierce matriarch and, for reasons that are revealed in the novel, the Lindens and the Callows are not on speaking terms. In fact, no member of the Linden clan has set foot in the Blackbird Café since Natalie's brother died in a car that was being driven by Anna Kate's mother.
On the Plate
So, I don't have a recipe for any mystical, vision-inducing pies, but I did recently share my summer berry pie - with a JAWS-theme for a movie food group to which I belong. Read it at Toothy Berry Pie à la Mode. And I have previously shared a recipe for mulberry chutney.
There is lots of food in the book as you can imagine. "I enjoyed coming up with the recipes. So much so that I wished I could spend all my time in the kitchen, but three cooks in here was a bit much. 'Sausage and ramps mini-frittatas'" (pg. 207). But I had just used all of my ramps for Pickled Ramps. And I considered experimenting with a blackberry sweet tea like the one Mr. Pavegeau taught to Anna Kate.
But, in the end, I was swayed by my boys' desire to perfect their karaage, Japanese fried chicken, recipe and process. Gideon brings fried chicken to a picnic with Anna Kate. According to the townsfolk, he's famous for it. Josh admitted dreaming about Gideon's chicken.
"I smiled at that as I spread a blanket in the empty spot between Natalie and Seelie. 'What's this about chicken?' Mr. Lazenby asked, eyebrows raised with interest. 'It's your favorite kind,' Faylene said. 'Free!'"
So, they picked a day. I bought the ingredients. And I am sharing their recipe and process. The chicken is marinated, then coated, then fried twice. It was an interesting process that resulted in a delicious dish. We've already made it twice since these photos.
Other version of fried chicken we've enjoyed include: Shichimi Togarashi-Spiced Fried Chicken and Spicy Fried Chicken.
Ingredients serves 6
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 4 Tablespoons cornstarch (other recipes called for potato starch, but we couldn't find any)
- 4 Tablespoons flour
- 6 to 8 cups oil (we used canola oil)
- Also needed: thermometer (I don't usually use one when I fry, but they did and found it helpful)
- 1 to 2" knob fresh ginger
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon sake (you can substitute white wine if you don't have sake)
- 1 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
- steamed rice
- Japanese sauces
- shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice)
Chicken and Seasoning
Cut each chicken thigh into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grate the ginger (we used a microplane) and peel and press the garlic. Whisk in the soy sauce, sake, and sesame oil. Add the chicken to the bowl and massage so that the chicken is completely coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, though we did the second half after it marinated overnight...and it was even better!
Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot (I used a Dutch oven) and heat the oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit over medium heat.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the corn starch and flour. Dredge each chicken piece in the flour mixture. Once the oil is at temperature, gently lower chicken into the oil. Do not overcrowd or the oil temperature will drop too much; we did four or five pieces at a time.
Fry for 90 seconds. Transfer to a wire rack to drain excess oil. Once you've finished with that batch, raise the heat of the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In batches, fry the chicken for a second time. This time, fry the chicken until it is golden-hued and crispy. This took another minute or 90 seconds.
Serve the chicken hot with steamed rice on the side. Sprinkle the entire batch with shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) and offer a variety of Japanese sauces. We used Kewpie mayonnaise, Japanese barbeque sauce, and many more. おいしい
*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.
In addition to submitting this to #CooktheBooks, I am adding it to #FoodieReads.
Click to see what everyone else read in August 2021: here.
Click to see what everyone else read in August 2021: here.