Have you ever met a fictional character whom you wished to slap? ~~ hey, girl, get yourself out of that bed and from under your married-with-children/old enough to be your father boss because you should know by now that this is not going to end well ~~
That’s what I was feeling on page one of the latest Novel Baker’s choice: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. But before very long I truly found myself caring about this troubled Boston pastry chef, Livvy, and wondering what could be done to help her and her loving dog, Salty.
I must admit to a certain initial resentment of the portrayal of small town New England as a place where secrets and old grudges guide choices and behavior and moods, and where everyone’s business is everyone’s business. Upon reflection I realized I was just reluctant to acknowledge the tiny bit of truth in this characterization . . . I mean it’s a truth I don’t mind discussing with my sister about the little childhood town from which we both escaped, but it’s a secret which is not to be revealed to the world! 🙂 Livvy has escaped in the other direction, from the big city of Boston where she has caused a slight, um, catastrophe in her restaurant, three hours and light years away to the mythical Northeast Kingdom town of Guthrie, VT. Of course the name of the town instantly caused me to start singing Alice’s Restaurant (where you can get anything you want) and conjured up visions of This Land which should be Your Land and My Land, but there are big problems here, and I wasn’t sure I wanted this town of Guthrie to be My Land.
However, luckily for Livvy, her financial situation makes it necessary for her to stay in Guthrie and to accept the job of dessert chef at the Sugar Maple Inn, where she is needed to create a perfect, blue ribbon worthy apple pie. The Inn’s kitchen, filled with real world baking tools, does not impress Livvy, and I started thinking she needed an attitude adjustment. (In case you don’t know what a ball-bearing rolling pin from a cartoon looks like, here’s mine, given to me as a shower gift way back in 1980.)
With a bit of lip along the way and some city dweller’s arrogance towards the locals and small town lifestyle, she manages to find out what she needs to straighten out her life, and both she and the town are the better for her presence. And we are treated to much good advice as to the proper way to bake a pie and make a crust, and the characteristics looked for by State Fair judges!
I would not recommend reading this book on an empty stomach or if you are planning to still meet your New Year’s weight loss resolution. The delights produced in the tiny Vermont kitchen actually made me drool. Pumpkin crème brulée, chocolate torte, poached pears, and much more! But Vermont is maple syrup land, and the Sugar Maple Inn and the sugarhouse where Livvy stays inspired me to bake something with maple syrup for you.
And while this pie of mine would not win the blue ribbon for its looks, if a judge was willing to ignore the puff pastry which pulled away from the filling and the uneven browning on the top, I would definitely be in the running for its sheer deliciousness!
I started with a recipe for green apple and blueberry tart, then, using Livvy’s advice in the book, I substituted three types of apples: green, gala and macs. Then, (my own inspiration ~~ blogging has made me a braver baker) 🙂 I exchanged the white sugar for maple syrup. Much more appropriate for a Vermont based book, yes? To do the substitute, use half as much maple syrup as other sugars and decrease the liquids. (I halved the lemon juice from 2T to 1T.)
Try not to judge by appearance and just imagine Maple Apple Blueberry Tart:
Oooooh so good! Muffins are another one of Livvy’s special treats which she uses to capture the hearts and trust of the locals. Mine are made using this delicious Summer Berry Muffin recipe from another wonderful baker, Kitty. Visit her for the scrumptious recipe.
Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries make them juicy and, I’m pretending, healthy!
Louise Miller, the author, is actually a Boston pastry chef but says she identifies not with Livvy but with another character in the book. I spent some time thinking about who it might be, and I’m hoping it might be Salty, the life-loving, friendly, comforting dog Livvy found abandoned near the Gloucester, MA fisherman statue. He may suffer from separation anxiety but he seems to have the insight needed to heal and comfort and help others who need saving, and his joy is contagious. He also gets to gobble up treats from the kitchen.
Besides the luscious food there are also descriptions of scenery and aromas and table settings. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to sit in the barn for the Harvest Dinner, with centerpieces of mason jars filled with sunflowers, goldenrod, black-eyed susans, tiny pumpkins and crab apples, with white lights hanging from the rafters? (These lights actually stay on my dining room sideboard all year so I didn’t need to make a foray into my steamy attics … more on that later!)
This book is an excellent, pleasant beach type read as the plot moves along quickly and there are many characters to love or despise, but it would be a mistake to reduce it to just that. It is a very well written book, filled with themes of abandonment, friendship, trust and comfort, and those images of food and scenery that will make you want to leap into your car and head for Vermont. And Guthrie? Well, after getting to know these characters, I am planning to buy that little sugarhouse when it hits the market next time.
And in the “Not As Irrelevant As You Might Think” category: While I was preparing this post the man who lives in my wall started shouting at me “Fire! Fire! Leave the premises now!” Luckily, before the alarm company could dispatch the fire trucks it was determined that the extreme and unpleasant weather we are experiencing caused our attic temps to heat up under the cedar shingled roof to such a degree that the heat sensors in the attics were triggered. Never a dull moment and once again I am reminded that while the man in the wall spikes my blood pressure every time he shouts, he is also my friend. Livvy needs him. (read the book 🙂 )
So, tell me, have you escaped from or to somewhere? Or do you plan to? Would you like to vacation at the Sugar Maple Inn? I would!
visit the Novel Bakers for some deliciousness
joining the fun at Rattlebridge Farm!
20 thoughts on “Novel Bakers: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living”
Linda, I would happily devour a slice of your Maple Apple Blueberry Tart! What a great idea to substitute the maple syrup for the sugar and to have a wonderful Vermont Maple Syrup jug for the sunflowers too! The book has definitely made me long for a trip to New England and I’ve been ready for fall since the heat index hit the triple digits here in JUNE.
I’m happy to hear the fire department didn’t have any flames to put out and it was the sensors and extreme heat only! We talk about a trip to New England every fall and have never gotten around to planning it. The town gossip mill with everyone knowing everyone’s business seems to characteristic of Small Town, USA so it didn’t feel like a poke at New England to me. I know plenty of small Southern towns where that’s the case, especially the one I grew up in. 🙂
I love your pretty, cherry zinnias! I hope you get a reprieve from the heat and the man in the wall doesn’t talk to you anytime soon 🙂 Our lake water temperature is 92 degrees if you can believe that…no cooling off in it, I’m ready to head back to the hills until October arrives.
Your galette and muffins look so scrumptious! I love your early fall decor!
Linda, I’m impressed at your baking in this heat wave we are having! I baked too, but only because the gkids were out and put in their requests! I don’t bake unless people will be here to eat it. I found baking and cooking for blogging was bad for my health! Since my retreat from the blogging world my numbers have improved greatly.
The book sounds lovely but I fear it would make me hungry! I do look forward to picking apples in September and putting my handy dandy Apple peeler to work. They will get frozen for the holidays.
You did a wonderful job on your post, very well written book review! I saw Mary’s and will check ML’s too. You 3 always do a great job!
Enjoy the rest of the summer. I don’t know why bloggers are posting Fall. Where you and I live, Fall is a precursor to w….r, and I don’t look forward to that! There’s plenty of summer left!
This novel sounds adorable! I am adding it to my summer reading list that at this point will stretch into summer 2017!
PS The apple /blueberry combination looks absolutely amazing!
Linda, I thoroughly enjoyed your review. You’re right–Livvy escaped in the opposite direction. I went from small to larger, back to small. 🙂 It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a book this much, and I found myself wishing I could take a holiday in Vermont, but it would have to be at the Sugar Maple Inn! Your blueberry tart is worthy of Livvy’s menu–so pretty and enticing. Your photos are gorgeous. And your zinnias! What is your secret, my dear? Mine look like Granny Grunt’s garden. So happy to be playing with you!
Oh, what fun to have the Novel Bakers back! All these treats are tempting. I may have to go bake something! The apple pie, the berry muffins, or the apple berry tart – what will it be? I’ll have to find the book. Sounds fun.
OHMYLORDY….this is SUCH a great post…and your photos are out of this world…just stunning..your food pics are magazine worthy…and those flowers….swoon worthy.
Now, I am going to my blog and see if I can make it as pretty as yours….
What a great post! I enjoyed every word, Linda. That book sounds delish – the story line as well as the recipes. I’m off to make my reservations at Sugar Maple Inn. Have a great week, Linda.
YES Linda, I’ll join you at the Sugar Maple Inn!! This just sounds like my kind of book, and your apple blueberry tart looks so scrumptious to me. Using puff pastry had to have made it extra flaky and tasty. Your embellishment with the leaves makes it look so pretty. Thank you for the shout-out on my Summer Berry Muffins. Yours look so good, and I hope you enjoyed all that berriliciousness. How I wish I could sit and enjoy a slice of your tart with you chat with you about the book, and life…..xo
p.s. I am escaping to Kauai , as a treat from my youngest son and DIL, and I’m counting down the days!
Gosh I loved your presentation, just one giant grin after another and a big ooh at your sliced pie! This was a fun book and your asides were hysterical! I always love the details we slip in to make us each smile, I am so glad we all meet in the kitchen again, my cheeks ache from smiles when I visit the novel bakers, thanks so much for playing!
I am pinning this to my Books & Book Club board and can’t wait to read it. Your photos are so beautiful! The style and the quality of your pics draws me right in!
Just loved your pictures and descriptions of the book. I’ll be reading this book because it contains my favorites: reading,food and Vermont. If you’ve never been to Vermont GOOOOOOO ! It’s fabulous ! I once cooked Easter dinner for my daughter and her hippie friends from college in Vermont. So much fun including the sun setting on Lake Champlain.
Oh Linda what a utterly delightful post, and another wonderful treat from the Novel Bakers! This book does indeed sound intriguing, and I think I can almost smell the baked goods from your colorful descriptions. I loved your intro with the reference to wanting to slap the character at first, and the offense you took about the downside of living in a small New England town-Peyton Place comes to mind 🙂 And most importantly your pie! Oh what a wonderful puff pastry creation, and I think it’s beautiful and blue ribbon worthy! Love the clever sub of maple syrup, perfect for Vermont, and I bet it is indeed mouthwatering! Thank you for the story, the recipe and the romp!
Linda, I really enjoyed your review. Your muffins and tart look delicious! I love to read and I love food, so I will definitely be reading this book! Pam @ Everyday Living
I have a little routine for when a new Novel Bakers post comes out: I go to my room, close the door, and enjoy an uninterrupted half hour of smiles, chuckles and drool. I love your writing style, Linda. That stream of consciousness with all the funny asides is thoroughly entertaining. I’m actually not tempted to try my hand at baking this, though. I’ll just enjoy yours vicariously. Your photography is, as usual, marvelous, especially that very last photo. Wow! And pink to boot.
Linda, I can’t thank you enough for this gorgeous post! I am so honored that The Novel Bakers chose The City Baker’s Guide as inspiration. I am just blown away by all of your talent! I love everything about this post, especially your flowers! thanks so much. And let me know if I could reproduce one of your images in a post about The Novel Baker’s reviews of The City Baker for my blog! Warmly, Louise
Linda, I would love to join you at the Sugar Maple Inn and please bring one of Kitty’s berry muffins for me! I just requested the book from the library since we just returned from Vermont and I miss it already. Your apple blueberry tart looks delicious especially with the puff pastry. I adore that ceramic Vermont maple syrup jug!
You took the words right out of my mouth about Guthrie, VT. The name of the town reminded me of Alice’s Restaurant (where you can get anything you want) that our local radio station plays every Thanksgiving.
I throughly enjoyed your take on this book. Your writing is so good I don’t feel worthy of commenting.Your photos are gorgeous. Your tart and muffins look delicious and those zinnias divine. Very enjoyable.
Your muffins look so delish ♥
I always enjoy the Novel Baker’s posts. Great job here, everything looks lovely, and that pie is making me drool.