literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

"Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver & 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

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