"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple — book club discussion and menu

A smart, delicious book club guide for "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" | www.paperplatesblog.com

I usually find myself drawn toward books that are stereotypically emotional, more dramatic or dark. Therefore, Where'd You Go, Bernadette was an unusual choice for me, but I'm so glad I let myself get pulled in by the whimsical cover. And somehow, it packs a punch with emotion, drama and a few shadows of its own. Mysterious and endlessly funnyBernadette is a perfect summer book club pick. 


"WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE" DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 
(SPOILER ALERT!)

- What did you think of the letters and emails interspersed throughout the book? Did they add or take away from the story?

- How would you characterize Bernadette's family? Which of the three is most normal?

- Maria Semple formerly wrote for Arrested Development. How did that experience show in her writing, if at all?

- What did you think of how Bernadette describes Seattle, her neighbors and the school's fellow parents? Is she funny, bitter or something else?

- How does Semple display genius through the various members of the Fox family? Are there less literal examples of genius from any characters?

- Is Bernadette crazy?

- What are the problems in Bernadette and Elgin's marriage? Do they love each other?

- What does Antarctica represent for Bee? For Bernadette?

- How does this book question what it means to go missing? How did Bernadette go missing, other than in the literal sense?

- What makes Bee such a special child? What makes her similar or different from her peers?

- Which was your favorite flashbulb scene? Mine was the landslide.


MENU IDEAS
(YUM.)

When I paired Bernadette with wild mushroom risotto back in 2013, I drew on the idea that you can hunt for something that's there all along. In my case, that meant waiting for the moment Bernadette disappeared — only to realize that parts of her had been missing since the start. Here's a menu that complements this rustic, delicious dish.

Wild mushroom risotto for a "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" book club menu | www.paperplatesblog.com
Peach caprese salad for a "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" book club menu | www.paperplatesblog.com
Blackberry lemon mocktail for a "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" book club menu | www.paperplatesblog.com
Disappearing marshmallow puffs for a "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" book club menu | www.paperplatesblog.com

Amina is the creator of PAPER/PLATES. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.

The TBR List: Freedom

Celebrate the Fourth with a "red white and blue" crostata | www.paperplatesblog.com

Happy Fourth of July weekend! I am so excited for the three-day weekend, even though I haven't quite figured out my plans yet. It was a crazy week at work — Chicago implemented a new 'cloud tax' and my reporting on it landed me a front page story, a couple of radio hits and more tweets than I've gotten on any topic, ever. Phew. An exciting week, to be sure, but now I'm looking forward to a fun and relaxing holiday weekend. Hope yours is the same!

- The big one: The New York Times suggested putting peas in your guac and people freaked out.

- A fun video chronicling literature in Wes Anderson films

- An Italian taste-tested American junk food and the results were embarrassing.

- Don't discriminate against ugly veggies! (It's hard, I know.)

- How to make the best ice cream mix-ins.

- Diary-style novels by female authors worth reading.

- Everything you need to know about English tea times.

- Last year for the Fourth, I made a crostata with raspberries and blueberries with a riff on this recipe.

- I love the bookshelves in this beautiful home.

- If I hadn't already decided to be lazy this weekend, I'd make Stephanie's red white and blue mini pavlovas


Amina is the creator of PAPER/PLATES. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.

"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver & pan dulce

"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver & Pan Dulce | www.paperplatesblog.com #bookpairing

I love serendipitous meetings between book and reader. I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s thick novel The Lacuna at a pop-up used book sale while waiting for my phone to be fixed. I’m one of the few people who hasn’t read The Poisonwood Bible so this was my first introduction to her writing and it was love from her description of the underwater world of a coral reef on page 3 onwards. (“A thousand fishes make the school, but they always move together: one great, bright, brittle altogetherness.”)

The novel unfolds as a series of Harrison Shepherd’s personal diaries, the notes of a fictional archivist and several newspaper articles, some from the real New York Times and some fictional. Beginning with a young Shepherd’s exploration of the sea around Isla Pixol in 1929, the story follows him as he moves from living with his mother in Mexico to a boarding school in Washington D.C. chosen by his American father and then back to Mexico, where he comes of age working as a chef in the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. When they take in a newly exiled Trotsky, the polyglot Shepherd with his passion for writing is a natural choice to become his amanuensis.

Related pairing: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver & spiced sweet potato spread

That alone would have been enough for a rich and detailed novel, but Kingsolver continues to reveal Shepherd to us after Frida sends him back to the U.S. following Trotsky’s death (Is it a spoiler if it’s historical fact?) for his own safety. Years later, the unexpected fame he obtains as a fiction author combined with his past associations entangle Shepherd in America’s brutal Red Scare. The Lacuna doesn’t read like historical fiction, but it is a lush exploration of how momentous events like World War II and the Cold War impacted the lives of everyday individuals. It’s one thing to learn from a textbook that the fear of Communism pushed the U.S. to unfairly persecute foreigners, but when it starts happening to Shepherd, who you as a reader know intimately after several hundred pages, you feel the tragedies of history with a fresh pang.

Like I said, I love serendipitously finding the perfect book. The Lacuna is a luxurious examination of two themes very close to my heart: the impact of words and a writer’s inability to not write, as well as the infinite questions of identity that come with belonging, soul and citizenship, to more than one country.

Pan dulce plays such a key role in changing the course of Shepherd’s life that it’s an obvious pairing for this book. But another reason I chose these Mexican sweet buns was because I’ve never made them before and I thought I’d rectify this lacuna in my recipe repertoire by venturing into foreign territory.


PAN DULCE

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks

Instructions

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Add the butter, stir until melted and pour into a large bowl to cool.

Dissolve yeast in the milk mixture. Mix in 1/3 cup sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and form into rounds. With a rolling pin, roll the rounds into oval buns. Place them onto two lightly greased baking sheets. Cover the rolls with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

While the bread rises, make the topping: In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup flour, butter until a crumb mixture forms. Stir in the egg yolks until well blended. Crumble the topping over the rolls so the entire surface is covered.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until sugar topping is lightly browned.

Recipe by Teresa Brignoni


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