Those of you who’ve had the opportunity to read The Kitchen Daughter will recognize the opening chapter, from which Jael read. In this section, Ginny, the shy 26-year-old protagonist, escapes from the crowd of mourners in her home by retreating to the kitchen, a room in which she has always found comfort. Ginny is calmed by the routine of cooking, and reaches for a familiar recipe – her Nonna’s “best ribollita” or bread soup. The audience hung on Jael’s every word as she read the rhythm of Ginny’s work – crunching garlic, chopping onions, sizzling them in oil, opening and draining cans of beans, crushing canned tomatoes, and cubing bread.
As Ginny inhales the scent of ribollita, she takes in more than the familiar spicy and creamy flavors; out of the corner of her eye, Ginny notices Nonna, her grandmother who passed away two decades earlier!
After a brief conversation between Ginny and Nonna (or Nonna’s ghost?), the apparition vanishes. Ginny is left to puzzle out a solution to some major changes in her life, with the help of deceased family and friends she conjures from her cookbooks.
The novel is a sensitive look at a woman for whom “coming of age” comes later than it does to most. Ginny is painfully uncomfortable around others; her love of routines implies that she may have Asperger’s syndrome. During the Q&A, Jael addressed the question of Ginny’s diagnosis – she vetted the book with early readers who were familiar with Asperger’s (professionals and those who have a family member on the spectrum of autism). The result is a portrait of a plausible manifestation of Asperger’s syndrome … with the ghost story lending support to Ginny’s growing coping skills.
Each chapter of the novel opens with a recipe, created by the author, and integrated into the storyline of The Kitchen Daughter. Here, with the permission of Jael McHenry, is the recipe for “Midnight Cry Brownies,” which I baked and served at the event. The rich chocolate and the salty surprise are a terrific combination. Oh, and since they were baked in an 8-inch-square pan, I was able to invert the pan and cut them with single strokes of a 12-inch bread knife – these were the neatest (least raggedy) brownies I’ve ever served!
Midnight Cry Brownies
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1 Tbsp espresso powder
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup raw sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp coarse sale
- Preheat oven to 350′ F
- Melt butter & stir in cocoa & espresso powder thoroughly
- Let cool slightly
- In a larger bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow, then add sugar & continue to beat
- Add butter mixture to bowl
- Stir in vanilla & flour until just combined
- Pour into 8×8″ glass pan lined with lightly oiled foil
- Sprinkle salt on top
- Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick in center comes out clean
Head over to Beth Fish Reads, the host of these Weekend Cooking posts. She invites everyone to join – if your post is even vaguely foodie related (cookbook review, novel with a food excerpt, a recipe, food-themed movie thoughts), link up to her weekly feature.