Voyager by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander Series)

So I won’t bore you with my gushing adoration for the books of Diana Gabaldon. If you’re a book lover, a lover of history, a lover of epic love stories, a lover of time travel, or if you watch STARZ, you’ve probably heard of the Outlander series by this marvelous writer, and hopefully, you also think it’s the shizzle. I know I do.

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For those few people who might not have heard of either the books or the TV series, the premise is simple: a woman travels through time, meets the love of her life 200 years in the past, and forever alters her past, present, and future. It’s a much more detailed, ornate and intricate story, however, involving British, French and American history, the battle for Scottish independence and the devastation of the Battle of Culloden Moor, a whiff of the supernatural, a hint of sci-fi, and probably one of the most beautiful, complex and mature love stories ever written about in literature. Gabaldon clearly understands the convoluted pathways of the human heart, and expresses them in all their lovely, ugly glory in the 8-book series. The TV series, though great, falls short in details, and was extremely dark and at times, unbearable to watch. But I still watched the Season 2 premier!


Mentions of food and drink are quite plentiful throughout the entire book series, with such wonders as a rabbit-and-pigeon pie, soused pig’s face, wild turkey with chestnuts and truffles, sangria drunk with a pot-smoking priest, a chocolate cake with walnuts (shell bits and all) for your biting pleasure, something dreadful-sounding called parritch, which is some sort of nasty porridge eaten in Scotland, and one of my favorite food scenes in any book, when Louis XV invites Jamie and Claire to an ornate luncheon at Versailles Palace and a baroque display of stuffed baby quails, roasted in their original shape, bones and all, are presented to the king, a sort of kingly four-and-twenty-blackbirds-baked-into-a-pie. Claire watches in bemused fascination as the king pops one of the little blackened birds into his mouth, chews, and swallows. She then excuses herself to vomit profusely in the gardens. Go, quail!

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I’ve started re-reading the whole series from the beginning, as much to prepare myself for the second season of TV series, as to lose myself again in this marvelous world. Reading this series is a sheer, sensual pleasure of the mind and the heart. I’m on the third book, Voyager, and in honor of the second series premier tonight, I decided to recreate the peppery, creamy oyster stew Jamie and Claire share after their first night together in a very long time, where we find Claire remembering some very seductive and erotic moments from the night before.

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My breath coming a little short, I bent my head to my oyster stew. Jamie appeared not to have noticed; he added a large pat of butter to his bowl, shaking his head as he did so. “Sawney’s what they say in the Highlands,” he informed me. ‘And in the Isles, too. Sandy’s more what ye’d hear in the Lowlands – or from an ignorant Sassenach.” He lifted one eyebrow at me, smiling, and raised a spoonful of the rich, fragrant stew to his mouth.

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This is the method that worked for me, tweaked from Buddy Sizemore’s 5-star recipe on, with of course, some added touches of my own.


3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
15-20 oysters, shucked, and the liquid they come in. You can also use canned if that’s all you can find, but save the oyster liquid either way.
2 ribs celery, finely diced

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2 shallots, finely diced or minced
4 bay leaves, fresh if possible but dried is also fine
1 cup half-and-half cream or whole milk
1/2 cup of Pernod liqueur (my touch as I had a bottle from a previous blog post)
2 little red potatoes, peeled and cubed into smallish pieces

1 cup of chicken stock or fish stock if you have it
Chicken stock cube


Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and saute the celery, shallot and garlic along with the cayenne, salt and pepper. When they have softened and are somewhat translucent, add the Pernod, the chicken stock, the chicken stock cube, and the fresh bay leaves.

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Then add the diced potato and cook until the potato chunks are very soft and easy to mash with a wooden spoon. Between 20-30 minutes cooking time should do it. When the potatoes are soft, mash them against the side of the pot so that they thicken the broth. Add the oyster liquid and the half-and-half, and taste. I warn you, the scent of the broth is heady, with the oyster liquor mingling with the butter and the anise perfume of the Pernod. It’s amazing how good it smells. Even if you’re not a fan of licorice, please try adding the Pernod if you have it. It completely transforms the stew.

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Stir together again and allow to gently simmer for 10 minutes, so the flavors mingle and combine. Lower the heat and add the oysters.

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You’re looking for the edges of the oysters to curl up, which is when they’re cooked, so approximately 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it and continue stirring, so the cream doesn’t curdle and the oysters don’t overcook.

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I have to say that this is one of the best things I’ve made yet. It’s rich, unctuous, and tastes so fresh and luscious. You may want to taste for any last-minute seasoning, though I found it didn’t need anything. It was delish! Serve in bowls with oyster crackers or some good, crusty bread and a glass of wine, or if you’re truly into Scots mode, a large dram of whisky. Slainte!

“I want him.” I had not said that to Jamie at our marriage; I had not wanted him, then. But I had said it since, three times; in two moments of choice at Craigh na Dun, and once again at Lallybroch. “I want him.” I wanted him still, and nothing whatever could stand between us.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I don’t normally go for “best sellers,” mainly because I’ve found that what sometimes constitutes a best seller, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, is actually terrible literature. In this case, I was quite happy to be wrong. The Girl on the Train is wildly popular and being made into a movie, and is so well-written and intense that I devoured it in one afternoon of sofa slumping and wine sipping.

The premise: a woman who takes the train back and forth to London each day, sees the same couple in a house along the railroad tracks, and begins to make up stories about their lives. She ends up becoming involved in their lives for real when disaster strikes, and reality and fantasy collide. I liked the idea about watching other people’s lives and inventing tales about them, because we have all done that. I have endlessly imagined this man, that woman, what lives they lead behind their public facades, because let’s face it. We all have the side we show to the public, there is our private self, and oftentimes, there is what Billy Joel called “The Stranger,” that unknowable side of our inner self that often surprises us with how wonderful or horrible we truly are.  This book touches on all of those aspects of self and personality, told from three different viewpoints. What amazed me about this book is that it was so well-written, so fast-paced, and so gripping and addicting, and there was not a single character I liked. Couldn’t stand any of them, in fact. Well done, Paula Hawkins, well done. It’s rare to read a book in which every character is someone you’d never want to meet in real life, yet all of their actions are understandable and even draw sympathy, while you’re also cringing in humiliation or anger at them. Much like real life.


Often, this book was like the proverbial train wreck…….ahem, pardon the pun. The behavior of the characters is often dreadful to observe, yet you can’t look away. It’s really an addictive story, so don’t start it late at night or when you’re going to have to put it down and do something else. I guarantee you won’t.

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The main character, Rachel, whose voice is the primary narrator, is a major alcoholic so right from the off, she is the typical unreliable narrator.(Not that any of them are reliable, but I digress.) Anyway, near the beginning of the story, she decides to make herself a healthy, substantial meal – something she hasn’t had in awhile – while her roommate is out.

“Cathy was out when I got home, so I went to the off-license and bought two bottles of wine. I drank the first one and then I thought I’d take advantage of the fact that she was out and cook myself a steak, make a red-onion relish, have it with a green salad. A good, healthy meal.”

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A clever bit of foreshadowing there with the bloody steak, setting the stage for bloodletting to come. But I don’t want to give away too much of the book, so back to the food. Steak is easy, and it was the red-onion relish I wanted to make. I’d tried caramelizing onions once before, which was great fun and the basis of this nifty little recipe. If you’ve never caramelized onions, give it a try some lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s like making risotto – constant stirring and stress relief all rolled into one. I find repetitive motion very soothing, and since I already think of cooking as therapy, this is my tried-and-true way of calming myself.

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Both the meat and the onion relish are more methods than recipes. The steak marinade was simple: soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, garlic powder, red wine, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, ground pepper, and a flank steak, no bones but nice marbling. Marinate the steak up to an hour, overnight if you’re not starving from a long-ass day of being a bureaucrat, like me, and cook it stovetop in a super hot, cast-iron pan for up to 6 minutes total, turning every 1 minute to ensure even cooking and a good searing. Prod the surface occasionally with your tongs to ensure it still has bounce and is not rock hard and thus, overcooked.And know that if your steak doesn’t have the bone in, it will cook much faster.

As for the onion relish, again, it’s a method so not a lot of specific measurements. And well, it’s all about the stirring once the onions get brown, so stay near the stove with a glass of wine in your hand and imagine how good these little glossy brown strands of flavor will taste piled onto a good, juicy, bloody steak.

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5 small red onions or 3 large red onions, sliced into thin half-moons
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Knob of butter
Sea salt and ground pepper
3 cloves of garlic, grated
Pinch of sugar
Splash of red wine


Heat the olive oil and butter in a cast-iron skillet. Put in the sliced onions, stir around and season them with the salt, pepper, grated garlic, red wine vinegar, and the sugar, which helps with the caramelizing down the road.

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Stir them fairly frequently the first 5-10 minutes, until the moisture begins to evaporate and that deep reddish-brown color starts to develop. At that point, leave them to cook and only stir occasionally. I go by eye, because until you’ve actually caramelized onions, it’s hard to describe.

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You’ll know by color and by the delicious smell of them, but it’s hard to describe in words. You probably don’t want to go over 30 minutes total cooking, but just go by eye and nose. We all know when something is overcooked, so trust your instincts and sense of smell and sight.

This is ultimately what you want.

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Sooooooo good! Sometimes only a slab of red meat will do. My meal of steak and caramelized onions went down well with a glass of red wine, and I didn’t have a single bloody thought at all while eating.

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“And I have to get up early tomorrow morning……to catch the train.”