Red Pepper Pasta and Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise
There was a time in my life when I refused to read anything but historical fiction. I cannot confirm or deny how long this phase lasted, but let's just say it could be used to explain my lack of friends from fifth to ninth grade. Particularly, I was taken with Ann Rinaldi, who wrote stories about fictional girls my age in the context of factual, historical events. I am confident that I read every single book she published, and I loved every single one of them.
As I grew up and out of this phase, historical fiction became a thing of the past, until a few weeks ago when I made my first ever trip to Hyde Park. No visit to a new part of town is complete without checking out the bookstores, and we found ourselves in 57th Street Books. Colin wandered away in the fantasy section, and a book called Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise caught my eye. The picturesque cover, as well as the 'Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author' sticker made me pick it up, and here I am a few weeks later, getting into the first historical fiction book I've read in a while.
Work's been going late, so I also dug one of my mom's classic and easy recipes out of the archives, completing my transformation into a decades-old version of myself. My nostalgia always peaks in the fall, so it's fitting that I'm reading a long-forgotten genre and cooking long-forgotten meals. Long-forgotten or not, it's all just as good as I remember.
Red Pepper Pasta
Easiest dinner ever.
Red Pepper PastaBy Page & Plate, September 19, 2017
Anyone who works should have this recipe at the ready. Very few ingredients, a short run time, and a decadent final product all make for a dinner for the ages.
Makes: 6 servings
- 16 oz box of the pasta of your choice
- 1 TBSP of olive oil
- 1/2 medium white onion, chopped roughly
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly sliced
- 1 12-oz can of roasted red peppers
- 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 cup of cream (I've used half-and-half, heavy whipping cream, and full-fat milk, all to equal success.)
- 1 tsp of salt, plus more to taste
- basil, for garnish (optional)
- Heavily salt a large pot of water and put it over a high heat to bring it to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and set aside to cool, reserving one cup of pasta water. Don't forget this step, please.
- Add the olive oil to a small saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, saute the onion and garlic for about five minutes, until onion is starting to wilt and garlic is browned.
- When the onions and garlic are cooked, add them, the roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cream, and salt to a high-powered blender, and blend until smooth.
- Add the reserved pasta water to the sauce, and blend again briefly.
- Add pasta to a bowl, dump the sauce on, mix it up, add the basil if you're fancy, and loudly annouce that dinner is served.
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise
Plot: The book follows the burgeoning friendship between Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and Sir Henry Stanley, aka speaker of one of my dad's classic lines ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). Starting as they're both about to die (because dynamic plot structure), the book relies heavily on the fiction half of its genre to explore two men readers thought they knew everything about.
Thoughts: I am a lover of historical fiction in the truest sense. I have an overactive imagination that obsesses over the what-ifs of history, and I love to push the 'what actually happened' envelope as far as it can go. In that sense, this book was right up my alley. It took a relationship that I had no clue existed, and fleshed it out so that I felt like I was there witnessing their friendship unfold in the midst of one of my favorite historical eras to study.
In terms of ease, this book wasn't good old Ann Rinaldi easy. Mr. Hijuelos writes the way that people in 1863 would have actually been writing, which is both admirable and challenging, and switches narrators and perspectives at a fast pace. Once I got into it, I thought it added a lot, but for the first ten pages, I was having buyer's regret. (I feel lazy for saying this, but who can judge me on my own blog that nobody reads?)
The book also deals very directly with slavery and colonization, given that its focus is on two characters who at best grapple with and at worst participate in those systems. It was uncomfortable to read in places because it addressed attitudes of the time that now are barbaric and horrifying.
My favorite part of the book was the way Hijuelos set the scene in the Cuba segments. It's been a while since I've read a book so thoroughly descriptive it made me feel that I could dive in and live there, but this one did the trick for me. I actually forgot I was on the Purple Line El instead of Cuba this weekend, and for anyone who does that commute with me, you know what a feat that is.
Verdict: If you like luscious settings filled with characters facing issues that still haunt the world today, this one's for you (get a copy here). If you need something brainless and easy to fly through, table this one for summer break or the dead of winter when you need a mental vacation.