"Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver & Spiced Sweet Potato Spread

Flight Behavior is, unexpectedly, about transformation. Hook it up it with this next-level spiced sweet potato spread.

Flight Behavior at first tricked me into thinking it would be about something so simple as a wife sneaking off for a tryst in the mountains. In the opening pages, we join our protagonist, Dellarobia Turnbow, as she hikes into the woods behind her home and happens upon an orange blaze so arresting she believes it must be a sign from above.

The blaze, of course, is not an otherworldly flame but a massive, displaced group of Monarch butterflies. Kingsolver devotes many pages to explaining how the so-called "King Billies" ended up in Dellarobia's Appalachian backyard, and why that is more likely a harbinger of doom than a sign of hope. She uses tourists, eco-activists, schoolchildren, journalists and scientists to demonstrate how few realize what the butterflies' arrival means.

The message comes through loud and clear: Not only does climate change definitely exist, it is something to be feared, and mourned. The characters who deny this are, perhaps unsurprisingly, cast as closed-minded, silly, even dumb.

Dellarobia, who had a promising future before she got pregnant at 17 and married the disappointing father, is treated more kindly. It is her transformation, her rediscovery of a desire for learning she all but abandoned 10 years prior, that sucked me into this book. As Dellarobia learns about the challenges facing the butterflies, then joins the fight to save them, she also starts taking control of her life. Her progress often stalls, and she takes many missteps. But flawed as she is, Dellarobia feels real and I couldn't help but cheer her on as she — forgive the metaphor — shed her cocoon and emerged anew.

If this book were only about the butterflies or about Dellarobia and her family troubles, I probably wouldn't have liked in. But with Kingsolver's thoughtful (granted, at times heavy-handed) prose connecting the woman's struggle to the insects', it became a tale worth devouring.

Spiced sweet potato spread inspired by "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver | www.paperplatesblog.com

The question of fate erupts often in Flight Behavior. Was it the butterflies' fate to lose their home in Mexico and end up in Appalachia? Was it Dellarobia's fate to be orphaned and become a teen mother? It is the town's fate to suffer devastating, near-Biblical rains that lead to the destruction of so many livelihoods?

In Dellarobia's case, at least, fate exists only insomuch as she believes in it. As she starts to recognize her own potential and assert her independence, she goes from an unhappy housewife to relatively happier, more satisfied working woman. Similarly, the humble root vegetables in this spiced spread transform into something worthy of your attention.

Spiced sweet potato spread inspired by "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver | www.paperplatesblog.com


Makes about 2 cups


  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • dash cayenne powder, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons tahini


Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Grease a baking tray with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. In a medium bowl, combine sweet potato chunks with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne powder, if using. Using hands, mix until all pieces are well coated, then spread in a single layer on baking tray.

Roast potatoes on middle rack for about 15 minutes, or until fork-tender. Shake tray to prevent sticking or burning occasionally. 

Remove baking tray from oven and allow to cool until potato pieces can be handled. Add potato pieces, remaining 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and tahini to food processor and pulse until pureed, scraping down sides as needed.

Serving at room temperature with crackers or as a sandwich spread. Another option: put an egg on it.

Keep leftovers refrigerated in airtight container.

Spiced sweet potato spread inspired by "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver | www.paperplatesblog.com

The TBR List: Fall Cooking

The weather turned in a blink. Our building switched from air conditioning to heating, there are signs in the elevators asking residents to sign up as trick or treat stops and socks have worked their way back into my wardrobe.

This is the time that I looked forward to all summer — a time when bumping around my little kitchen with a blaring stove or humming oven would provide finally welcome heat. But between my vacation last week and a professionally challenging-yet-rewarding few days since my return, my microwave has been my most-loved appliance of late. The closest I've gotten to cooking is throwing together the pantry meal above, which combines cooked egg noodles, sliced onions, frozen peas and kale, Parmigiano Reggiano, and these genius frozen basil cubes. Also #butterlapse.

I hope to properly get back into the kitchen next week, but in the meantime I'm dreaming of apple desserts, risottos, pot pies, slow-simmered sauces, baked potatoes and more. What do you think I should make when I get back in the kitchen?


- Kids tasting fancy food.

- Literary Starbucks is literally perfect.

- I like to think of The TBR List as a mini articles club.

- Blanket season is here. I'm eyeing this cable knit beauty.

- Speaking of cozy (weren't we?) this chair is a reader's dream.

Paperbacks and hardcover still outsell ebooks. Which do you buy?

Ina Garten's Instagram has exactly the pictures I would expect it to have.

- While I was vacationing, the New York Times apparently decided brunch is for jerks. (I disagree.)

- Pasta and eggs is one of my favorite solo meals. Stephanie's version is more labor-intensive but I'm sure it's worth it.

At The Table With...Mira Jacob, Author of "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing"

An interview with author Mira Jacob | www.paperplatesblog.com

Today we're hanging out with Mira Jacob, the author of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. When Nazihah reviewed this book a few weeks ago, she paired it with Indian-style mac and cheese to reflect the book's cultural fusions. It's not just Mira's characters who blend cultures; she herself has taught in New York, New Mexico and Barcelona. At home in Brooklyn, she co-founded the Pete's Reading Series, a ten-year-old bimonthly series that's featured the likes of Nell Freudenberger and Colum McCann. Plus, Mira used to write for VH-1's Pop-Up Video. What?! So much fun. 

Read on to get to know Mira!

What is your all-time favorite book, and why?

No such thing, my favorite depends on my mood. Lately, I've been really feeling Jeffrey Eugenidies' The Virgin Suicides.

What meal do you love to cook, and why?

Dinner. Because I will get to see everyone's faces as they eat it. 

What is your favorite food scene from a book, and why?

Like many Indian children, I had stacks of Enid Blyton books pressed upon me at a young age. "The picnics!" My mother would say, if my attention flagged. "You must read about the picnics!" And weirdly, she was right. The picnics were filled with an array of things no Indian, much less Indian-by-way-of-New-Mexico would eat, and they sounded so exotic. Honeycomb! Tongue sandwiches! Other things I am forgetting because I've never once eaten them in my life!  

Coffee or tea?

I started drinking coffee about a year ago and I'm like a weird teenage boy who has just started drinking alcohol. I don't know my limits, I do it just because I can, I regularly suffer the consequences.  

What is the last book you abandoned, and why?

I've read the starts of at least 30 books in the last year and could not finish because I was too self-involved. (My own book, which I had worked on for 10 years, came out and I was too nervous to read other good books, as sad as that is to admit.) Have luckily managed to pull my head out of my ass and am currently enjoying Ted Thompson's The Land of Steady Habits.  

Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?

Sherman Alexie, green chile cheeseburgers 

Where do you go to find new recipes? 

My mother.

Where do you go to find new reads?

Book Court in Brooklyn. Or the subway. I love seeing what other people are reading on the subway. 

Tell us about your writing — the inspiration for it, why you write, and your favorite aspects.

I write fiction because I love the feeling of being inside an invented world, of being both part of what I see and outside it. It's the best parts of a waking dream.

What are your favorite blogs, and why?

I love Now This News showing up in my Instagram because I will often miss good stories and they don't.  
Maris Kriezman's Slaughterhouse 90210 combines highbrow and lowbrow in the best way humanly possible. I remember the first post I saw and I thought, "Okay, that's it, we're done now. Pinnacle reached." 
Though now defunct, ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS used to function as my daily horoscope. 
When I feel funny about my profession, I like reading posts from Dani ShapiroAlexander CheeRoxane Gay and Ted Thompson because they are all very good at being honest and thoughtful and professional, which is a damn tricky balance. 

Connect with Mira: Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Website

    Get more Amina by following PAPER/PLATES on Twitter and Instagram.

    "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt & Il Palio Cocktails

    The Secret History is a murder novel that brings its characters to life. Escape as they do with Il Palio cocktails.

    I’m a sucker for the author who, in a few masterful strokes, can bring to life every character in a novel. No minor players are left to languish in stereotypes and the protagonists are lush with personality, so much so that it’s almost Dostoyevsky-esque the way Donna Tartt convinces you to sympathize with murdering Bunny Corcoran.

    A gift from a friend, The Secret History did what any great thriller does: kept me glued until the last page. It’s unconventional in its telling, as we know from the very beginning who did it and how. What drives the reader’s curiosity is the search for answers to more complicated questions like "Why?" and "What Now?"

    More than a mere mystery, though, Tartt’s novel is a gorgeous exploration of the emotional ride of being a college freshman: that longing to escape where you came from and that desperation to belong to some more divine social group.

    Richard Papen is our narrator and escort through the story. His desire to belong and his navigation of the costs that come with it is a poignant commentary on the ecstasies and agonies of friendship. As a girl who went to four elementary schools in three countries, I was especially struck by Richard’s journey through all the risks of investing yourself in others. Luckily, I never fell in with a group so obsessed with intellectual mysticism that it led to a disastrous trip to Italy and finally murder.

    Recently escaped from his bland, lower-class life in Plano, California, Richard sinks gratefully into an elite liberal arts college in Vermont and is quickly enthralled by the small group of Greek students. Studying under an eccentric professor who insists all their classes be with him, the group is elevated and isolated from the rest of the college. Richard joins their ranks, capturing for me the ecstasy of being included, the unfamiliar obligations that come with that, and the squirming suspicion that you may not be completely included after all. Richard is never quite in the thick of things, even when he is. It’s never his tragedy nor his love story nor his revenge. Eventually, after the book’s violent climax, Richard balefully describes himself as “the bystander which I so essentially am.”

    The only off-key note for me was the novel’s ending. Rather than a neat finish, the story just seems to wander off. Nevertheless, the gripping narrative and the painful reflection of my own aching to fit in made this one juicy read.

    "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt & Il Palio Cocktails | www.paperplatesblog.com

    I knew I wanted a cocktail recipe to do this novel justice since the protagonists are preoccupied with escaping their own minds, whether through a bacchanalia, drugs or alcohol. And as a trip to Italy is a catalyst for Bunny’s death and the ultimate undoing of his murderer, Henry, I was immediately drawn to the Il Palio. I love how the melting of the blood red Campari ice cubes mimic the suspenseful build of Tartt’s story and its chilling (see what I did there?) revelations.



    For the Campari ice cubes:

    • ¾ oz. Campari
    • 2 oz. water

    For the cocktail:

    • 2 oz. bourbon
    • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
    • Orange bitters
    • Orange twist, for garnish (optional)


    Several hours ahead of time, mix Campari and water and freeze in a square ice mold.

    Once Campari cubes are frozen, place two in a rocks glass. Pour all ingredients over ice cubes and (if you’re fancier than I am) garnish with a wide orange twist.

    Stir the drink to start the ice melting. Sip while plotting something unspeakable.

    Adapted from this recipe by Jeff Faile of the Casa Luca bar in Washington, D.C.

    Get more Laura by following her on Twitter.