I have to say I’m a bit peeved by this book. The Dinner List has a totally fascinating premise that takes that old idea of picking five people you’d want to have dinner with, whether living or dead, and runs with it………..and then, sadly, totally drops the ball. The main character, Sabrina, is having her 30th birthday dinner with her best friend, when unexpectedly, five people show up, including the late, great Audrey Hepburn.
Yes, Audrey is a guest at this dinner party. Turns out that Sabrina was named after the iconic, eponymous character from Audrey’s film also starring Humphrey Bogart. The other guests are people who Sabrina hasn’t seen for years and all of whom have had a significant impact on her life. Her long-lost father shows up, an influential professor from her college days, and Tobias, who is presented as her ex with whom she lived for many years. So yes, the premise is fascinating and had so much potential to be a wonderful book about our life influences, who we would like to see and talk to, the meaning of life, etc. But irritatingly, it ends up being a treatise on getting over one’s first love. In other words, it’s chick-lit and we all know how I feel about chick-lit. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
It turns out Tobias and Sabrina have split up and she is still trying to come to terms with their breakup. They’ve had a typical long-term relationship – meeting in college, becoming involved, breaking up and reuniting, blah blah blah. Literally nothing in their relationship was unique. They were like any other couple. I think what gradually began to wear on me was the fact that this book has one of the most fascinating literary devices I’ve read about in ages – the dinner party with five people of your choice from history or from real life who can be either living or dead – and uses it as the backdrop for what ends up being a rather pedestrian and boring love story. (sigh) And of course, the great shocker, the major “wow” moment of the book is something that I had figured out from Chapter 2. SPOILER ALERT: Tobias is already dead and that’s why she has to get over him and that’s why he showed up to this dinner party.
Well hell, no one could have seen that one coming. (As I roll my eyes in exasperation.) I mean, come on. If you could pick any five people from anytime in history to break bread with, wouldn’t you, firstly, choose people with whom you could have conversations about the meaning of life, etc? Don’t you think you’d want to talk about their lives, their impact on the world? My five dinner party guests would include Jesus of Nazareth, Cleopatra, Johannes Gutenberg, Barack Obama and Miguel de Cervantes, and I promise you that we wouldn’t spend a moment talking about our love lives. So therein lies the root of my annoyance. I hate to waste valuable time reading a book that ends up being so completely different from what I supposed it to be. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nicely written and again, the premise had so much potential. But the final execution was just……simplistic, pedestrian. Meh. However, the redeeming feature of the book are the food passages, like this one.
The waiter comes over for the second time and I just jump in. “I’ll have the friseé salad and the risotto,” I say. I send Conrad a look. He nods. “The scallops,” he says. And some of those aphrodisiacs.” The waiter looks confused. He opens his mouth and closes it again. “Oysters,” Audrey clarifies wearily. “I’ll have the same, with the friseé salad.”
Doesn’t risotto with seafood sound DIVINE? I chose to use shrimp with mine, based on this recipe from The Proud Italian Cook blog.
1 large butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 carrot, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 celery rib, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup good quality white wine
4 cups homemade stock. I used my precious last jar of turkey stock from Thanksgiving.
6-7 sage leaves
1 lb raw shrimp, thawed, deveined and shelled
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel, seed and cube the butternut squash, and roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Heat the stock in a large saucepot until simmering, then lower the heat so it stays hot but isn’t boiling.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet, and sauté the carrot, shallot, celery and garlic for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Sprinkle over some salt at the beginning of cooking.
Add the Arborio rice to the cooked vegetables, stir together so that the oil and vegetables coat the rice and the rice toasts a bit (called la tostatura) but don’t let the rice burn. Stir for about 5 minutes.
Splash in the half-cup of white wine and stir again.
Add in one ladleful of hot stock to the rice and stir until the liquid absorbs. Plan on this part of the process taking about 20-30 minutes so be patient and have your own glass of wine nearby. Keep adding one ladleful of stock at a time and stirring until the liquid absorbs, before adding more. It’s really rather Zen to do, calming and soothing.
After about half an hour, the rice should have absorbed all the liquid and cooked to a fluffy yet al dente (to the tooth) consistency, meaning it should still have a bit of bite in texture. Add in the butternut squash and stir together to mix.
In a hot stovetop grill pan, cook the shrimp about 2 minutes per side, until pink and cooked through.
Add to the rice and squash mixture, and toss over some finely chopped fresh sage. Salt and pepper to taste, and apply to your face. DIVINE!
7 thoughts on “The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle”
Your dinner party guests! OMG! That would really be a night to remember!
It kind of puts me in the mind of The Winter Circus in which the midnight dinner guests were mindfully selected or curated for maximum engagement of curiosity! Would you serve this risotto to Jesus of Nazareth, Cleopatra, Johannes Gutenberg, Barack Obama and Miguel de Cervantes, or something different?(Future post!) On the note of books with great premises that fall down on the job – that’s the worst! I felt that way about The Little Paris Bookshop….😏
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How funny about The Little Paris Bookshop, because I read it and felt somewhat the same. All the buildup and the wonderful concept of a floating bookstore that acts as medicine for the soul…….and ends up being kind of the same. Yeah, I feel you on that one, Leslie. I’ve never heard of The Winter Circus, but am intrigued so looking it up at the library now. As far as what I’d serve to my five guests, I might have to add in something exotic to tempt Cleopatra, possibly some bread and fishes for Jesus (not to mention some wine and water), some saffron to the risotto for Cervantes to emulate a Spanish paella, some nice Hasselback potatoes for our boy Johannes, and perhaps a side of Chicago pizza for President Obama. 🙂 That’d be a fun evening, I can assure you.
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Um..okay I messed that title up! I meant Night Circus🙄
….hmmm. 5. Yeah, more than a good premise, even for the question of who? People you’ve met and wonder where they are? A gone old friend, animal or human, or even from today, or an ancestor, (like, maybe taken a bit from, ‘the diner guest’), how about yourself from just before a point in your own history? Or you in the future….the choice having to be made. I wonder if passages ponder the same and in what way. But choosing love…isn’t a bad idea, I think – it depends how, of course, it was done. To find where we belong, and remain, is sort of what we do after all. And then, of course, the food I’m assuming, the menu, would be adopted to the diners. I wonder to what I would I do, everyone probably does after reading your post. Jimmy, the homeless Japanese artist who hung out on the corner deli where I used to live (likely gone by now. He was old then.) Polo, the dog with whom I formed a pack for 15 years? The James brothers (William and Henry, the first perhaps the best mind, whats more on minds, the US produced, Henry of course for me, the most interesting story writer)? My father, to? The menominee squaw, a maternal great great mother or her partner, a fallen military officer from the austria-hungarian empire? Rafael, a friend unseen for… over a decade? Or someone hungry at the moment who might use the moment, maybe find someone missing someone so much that you’d ‘sacrifice’ 2 of the guests to satisfy her or him, or allieve their pain. Anyway. Risotto alla zucca with scampi or shrimp, a classic (not with sage though. Here, maybe a bit of chive, though I’d try fresh ginger maybe….actually, I think I have…it’s been awhile.)
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I love your choices, particularly your dog Polo. I like the idea of feeding someone who is hungry in the moment. The whole concept of choosing any five people from history and throughout the world just fascinates me. The risotto alla zucca – thank you for that translation! – was quite delicious and I do like the idea of adding chives. Ginger, not so much, but not being much of a ginger fan, I eschew it on most things.
I love your dinner picks! Jesus would be number one like you mentioned, my grandparents, and I’d like Chris Cornell in there, so that’s 4. I’d have to think about number 5.
The recipe looks delicious! Sorry the book fell through. It doesn’t sound like one I’d pick up really. Great review though.
❤💚❤ If we don’t chat, Merry Christmas, Vanessa. 😘
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Thanks Jen! I love your dinner picks too! Chris Cornelll…….awww. 😢 Have a merry Christmas too! Xoxo
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