Book Club never disappoints. The size of our party varies, but it doesn’t matter who shows up, or whether everyone read the book – it’s always a good time. This month our crowd was a bit light – only 5 of us, but nonetheless the food was as plentiful (and enjoyable) as the conversation. It was also just 5 days after my birthday, so the ladies showed up bearing thoughtful gifts.
I always bring a dessert of some sort, and usually an appetizer as well. One of the gals in our group has Celiac Disease so I try to do gluten-free if at all possible. This time I prepared Greek Nachos on gluten-free pita chips for my appetizer, and a fruit dessert pizza on a gluten-free oatmeal cookie crust. They were both hits. I have to admit, the GF oatmeal cookie was much tastier than I expected.
I used Ardenne Farm Gluten Free Oatmeal Cookie Mix, 16 Ounce which you can get on Amazon. It was super easy to prepare, as I only had to add butter and a little bit of water. I used more water than it called for, because it seems a little dry and crumbly, but the dough ended up a really nice consistency which I rolled out into a large circle and baked for about 25 minutes. I used a variety of fruits including strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and star fruit. You can use whatever fruit you want, but try to go for a variety of colors. For the base, I kept it simple and sweet: cream cheese, marshmallow topping, and powdered sugar. I didn’t make the icing as firm as I normally would for a cake, but firm enough so the fruit pieces didn’t slide off. Another key to the fruit pizza is making sure the fruit is as dry as possible. Let it sit on paper towel before putting it on the pizza, or you’ll have a watery mess.
For the Greek Nachos, I cooked up some very thinly sliced 1-2 inch pieces of chicken breast and some sliced sweet yellow onion in a pot of prepared chicken broth. I seasoned the chicken with salt and oregano, and threw a slice of lemon in the pot while it simmered for about 30-45 minutes. The rest of the ingredients are what you would typically find on a Greek salad: Kalamata olives, cucumber, tomato, Greek peppers, and crumbled feta cheese. I also whipped up a sauce with some fat free Greek yogurt, fresh mint, cucumber, and a squeeze of lemon. I assembled them just as I would assemble “regular” nachos: put a layer of Toulfayan GF pita chips on a large platter, topped with the cooked chicken, drizzled on some of the yogurt sauce, sprinkled with the olives, peppers, and veggies, and topped with crumbled feta. It was delicious! But of course, I never took a picture of the final product! You’ll just have to imagine it.
Dana whipped up a delicious chicken and broccoli casserole for our entrée, Michelle brought a lovely salad, Jacqueline brought buffalo chicken egg rolls (OMG they were delish!), and Cindie brought a carrot cake. And, of course, there was plenty of wine to go around while Dana’s husband entertained us with his hilarious sarcasm.
We chose The Handmaid’s Tale for our book, finally. We’ve been talking about reading it for some time now, and since I absolutely love the Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, I stated my case. Oddly enough, I never read this in high school or college, and I majored in Literature! I especially enjoyed reading it because I had already watched the first season of the show and enjoyed how closely the show followed the book, with a few exceptions which were mostly to make it “relevant” to today’s audience (the book was written over 30 years ago).
The book is a sort of dystopian story about an uprising and government takeover by a religious group called The Sons of Jacob. What sparks the takeover is a declining birthrate due to use of birth control as well as environmental factors like toxic waste polluting the food supply. Men and women alike are infertile, and the fear of the dwindling population ignites a spark by this group to take over the country and rename it “Gilead.” It all starts with freezing bank accounts belonging to women, so they had no access to money, then a new law that prohibits them from working goes into effect. Finally, fertile women are taken away to a school where they are taught how to be handmaids – women that are forced to have sex with rich and powerful men so they can have babies for the wives who are unable to. The society is divided into specific roles for the women: Wives, who are married to rich and influential men, Handmaids, Marthas (servants like cooks and housekeepers), and Unwomen who are sent to the “Colonies” to do slave labor or clean up toxic waste. The totalitarian government is ruthless and brutal – breaking the rules can lead to beatings, loss of a hand or eye, and hangings.
A few days before Book Club, I came across an article on Time’s website that addressed the differences, and also watched a short video clip of Elizabeth Moss interviewing Margaret Atwood. Apparently, the changes that the show’s writers made were discussed with and approved by Atwood, who understood the importance of making the story line appeal to today’s audience. Without giving too much away, the show has African American characters and LGBTQ characters, whereas the book was mainly straight white people, because that’s how Gilead (the country that replaced the U.S. after a government takeover) was designed. Other details that changed were mostly around current technology and lifestyle, but a big change is we learn the real name of the main character, Offred. In the book, and in the show, the Handmaids are given new names based on where they are assigned, using the Commander’s name. Our narrator and main character is assigned to a leader named Fred, thus she is Offred. Another is assigned to a man named Glen, thus she is Ofglen. The book doesn’t give us Offred’s real name, however the show couldn’t easily do this and make the flashbacks to her former life work, so we find out that her name is June.
I enjoyed the book, while also finding it a little disturbing. It is a sort of “wakeup call” to everyone of what could happen if we fall asleep at the wheel and don’t pay attention to what’s unfolding around us politically. Do I think this situation could actually happen and play out in America? Not really; not to the extent of how Gilead was formed. I do, however, think our rights are slipping away from us and it’s essential that we participate in government by exercising our right to vote so things don’t get worse.
One thing I really did not like about the book (and one of the ladies agreed with me) was the ending. There is an epilogue that takes place many years in the future in which a group of historians and social anthropologists at a convention are discussing the former Gilead and how the collection of audio tapes that comprised the story of the Handmaid’s Tale was discovered and how they transcribed it and went on to make educated assumptions about it. I found this section of the book to be completely unnecessary and a bit gimmicky. I think most readers could make general assumptions about the book’s story without having this fictional explanatory section at the end.
All in all, another good read, and another good Club. Next up: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn for March’s meeting.
Theresa’s Greek Nachos
1-2 bags of salted pita chips (regular or gluten-free)
1-1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, very thinly sliced against the grain in 1 to 2 inch pieces
1 32-ounce container chicken broth
½ sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 containers of nonfat plain Greek yogurt (approximately 5 or 6 ounces each)
1-2 tablespoons milk or water
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup English cucumber, finely diced
1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
1 lemon wedge
1 cup tomato, diced
3/4 cup English cucumber, diced
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
¼ cup sliced marinated Greek peppers
¼ – ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Prepare the chicken:
After slicing the chicken breast, sprinkle with salt and oregano. Bring the chicken broth to a low boil in a large pot, and add the chicken and onions. Allow it to return to a boil, then turn to low or medium low and allow it to simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Prepare the sauce:
While the chicken cooks, whisk the yogurt and the milk in a small bowl. Stir in the mint and cucumber, then squeeze a wedge of lemon and stir again. Add additional milk or water if the consistency is too thick. Throw the used lemon wedge into the pot of chicken cooking on the stove to add a slight lemony flavor to the chicken.
Assemble the nachos:
While the chicken cooks, dice the veggies and toppings for the nachos. Place the pita chips on a large serving platter. When the chicken is fully cooked and tender, drain it from the remaining liquid and spoon the chicken over the pita chips. Drizzle the yogurt sauce on the chicken, then top with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, peppers and lettuce. Sprinkle with feta cheese and add additional layers of chips, chicken, veggies, sauce and cheese as desired. Serve immediately.
Gluten-Free Fruit Dessert Pizza
Gluten-Free Cookie Dough Mix, prepared according to directions (do not bake)
Assorted sliced fruits of different colors (strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc.)
½ 8 ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon clear vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar
Prepare the cookie dough according to directions. I used Ardenne Farm All Natural Gluten Free Baking Mix Oatmeal Cookie, preparing it with 1 stick of butter and 3 tablespoons of water. Form dough into one large ball and roll out into a circle on parchment paper. I drew a circle on the parchment paper as a guide. Slide the parchment paper with the dough on it onto a large cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the edges start to crisp and the center is done.
While the cookie dough bakes, slice the fruit into thin slices, and set the fruit to dry on paper towel. Prepare the icing by beating the cream cheese with the marshmallow fluff in a large bowl. Add the vanilla, then gradually add the powdered sugar, about a 1/2 cup at a time, beating until you reach a spreadable consistency – firm enough to hold its shape once it is spread onto the cookie, but not as thick as cake frosting. If it’s too soft or runny, add additional powdered sugar (you don’t want the icing running off the cookie). Once the cookie has cooled completely, spread the icing over the entire surface, then top with the sliced fruits. I arranged mine in a pattern, but you can place the fruit on the cookie however you please! Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.