Flagg is an accomplished writer who sets her book in the small Southern town of Lost River, population: 80. Think RK Narayan's Malgudi, except set in a small southern town along a meandering river with fabulous sunsets. Instead of the dusty roads of Malgudi, imagine pretty little bungalows with neatly tended lawns and streets lined with trees so old they form a canopy overhead. The weather is pleasant even in the peak of winter and the flora and fauna are bountiful.
The residents are friendly and welcome the arrival of an elderly bachelor, as an opportunity to get one of the seven unhitched (three single, four widows) women hitched. Oswald T Campbell, named after a can of soup he was found with on the steps of the orphanage, is a retired army man with emphysema, a limited pension and an even limited time left to live. He comes to the little town to recuperate and falls in love with the slow pace of the town, its residents and by the end of it not only gets a new lease on life but a new bride.
Flagg weaves a beautiful tapestry of friendship between Campbell, an abandoned six year old girl Patsy, a flightless redbird named Jack who lives in the town’s only store, owned by Roy. She embroiders the details of the town’s secret society that goes by the name the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and weaves in the history of Roy’s broken love affair with his childhood sweetheart with the skill and artistry of one of Oswald’s nature paintings.
Flagg’s Red Bird Christmas is a heart-warming read that makes you want to go online and look for a vacation home in a small town. Or at the very least be a part of a secret club with a mysterious sounding name like the Mystic Order of Peanut Butter Foodies.
Of course, being a part of Simran’s book club is equally cool with a name that makes you wanna cook. All puns aside, it is called This book makes me cook. For Flagg’s Red Bird Christmas, I made Peter Reinhart’s Cornbread, because what is more Southern than cornbread and fried chicken? I omitted the bacon on top but if you are a bacon lover go ahead and add it to the top.
Peter Reinhart’s Cornbread (courtesy: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)
1 cup coarse cornmeal
2 cups buttermilk
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ Tbsp baking powder
1/4 Tsp baking soda
1 Tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbs honey
2 tbs butter, melted
2 ½ cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Cornbread with a side of crispy baked kale
Mix the cornmeal and buttermilk in a big bowl and leave at room temperature overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar.
Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Mix the honey and melted butter and stir it into the eggs. Add the egg mix to the soaked cornmeal mix.
Add all the dry mix to the wet mix and stir with a spoon until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. The batter should be well blended. Stir in the corn kernels.
Spread the oil evenly in a 10 inch cake pan or a 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Pour in the batter and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until the bread is firm and tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the bread cool in the pan for at least 15 min before slicing and serving.
Want to be a member of our book club? Drop a line to Simran and also check out her review and the cookies she made to go with it.
The cornbread is off to Veggie Platter's Bake from the Book event, which originated at Versatile Kitchen.