Powered By Blogger

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking: An excerpt from The Sandcastle Girls

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

I've read and enjoyed several of Chris Bohjalian's novels, including Midwives, The Double Bind, and Secrets of Eden.  His books are thought provoking, with characters who are three-dimensional and complicated, and I get lost in the worlds he creates.

While reading his latest novel, The Sandcastle Girls, which I think may be his best one yet, I came across an excerpt that fits beautifully within the Weekend Cooking meme. Laura Petrosian is a novelist, whose grandfather is Armenian, and here she describes making a cheese boreg, a puff pastry filled with cheeses.

"Among the strangest, most unexpected elements deep within my DNA is the reality that I am able to work seamlessly with phyllo dough. In all other ways I am an unbelievably bad cook and my kitchen is a very scary place. I am just like my mother in that regard. I cannot bake a cake unless it comes from a mix, I have never roasted a turkey that did not wind up dry as a bloated vacuum bag, and my rice is either soggy or burned. The inside bottoms of a lot of my pots and pans have been scorched black.
And yet I am capable of producing savory cheese triangles that are flaky on the outside, moist on the inside, and aesthetically perfect- each an obtuse isosceles with crisp edges and sharp points. The Armenian name for the cheese triangle is boreg, and it was my aunt- my father's much younger sister- who taught me to make them. What makes their preparation such a culinary tightrope has nothing to do with the filling; that's easy. In the recipe my aunt shared with me, it was simply feta cheese, parsley, diced scallions, eggs and black pepper. What makes the boreg such a feat is the necessity of working with phyllo dough, each sheet as thin as a tissue. Phyllo is the Greek word for "leaf", and the sheets dry out and become brittle- and, thus, completely useless- moments after being exposed to the air. Phyllo can be demanding for even a seasoned baker. And so, in theory, working with the stuff should be a nightmare for a hook-handed chef like me, and the kitchen should become a Hades-like inferno of frustration. But it's not. I seem to be able to thaw phyllo, fill it, and fold it. I seem to know precisely how much browned butter to paint on each sheet."
Here is a link to a recipe from the website Armenian Food

The Sandcastle Girls tells two stories, one set in Syria in 1915, during the genocide of Armenians. Young Elizabeth Endicott has traveled with her father and the Friends of Armenia from Boston to bring food and medicine to the refugees. She is horrified by what she sees and what the world does not know about, the extermination of an entire people. She falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who has lost his wife and young daughter to the slaughter. Along with the American consul, Elizabeth tries to save whom she can and help tell the true story of what is happening.

In 2012, Elizabeth's granddaughter, Laura, is trying to find out about her Armenian heritage when a friend tells her that she has seen a photograph of Laura's grandmother in a museum exhibit. Laura goes there and discovers a secret that colors her family's life.

It's an incredibly emotional and moving novel, and one that I could not put down. My review will be posted soon.


  1. I loved that book, and I agree it's one his best. Those phyllo triangles sounds delicious. I'm going to bookmark the recipe.

  2. I doubt I have the phyllo gene...being Irish, I may have the potato gene instead.

  3. Sounds like a great read. I love the description of the cheese triangles. Have to add this one to the to read list.

  4. I am not familiar with Chris Bohjalian, will have to await your review! I so wish I had a drop of Armenian blood in me, just so I could work with that dreaded phyllo dough! The idea of a boreg makes my stomach rumble right now...

  5. I look forward to your review. I read Rise the Euphrates a number of years ago (also on the Armenian Genocide), but it fell rather flat in my opinion once it got away from the first-person accounts of the events and into the family drama. This sounds like it might do the subject a bit more justice. A really good book on the subject is long overdue, IMO.

  6. Interesting book. I haven't read any of his.
    I have linked in Coronation Chicken - a dish with a dash of history.

    Have a super week.

  7. I love sharing quotes from books as part of Weekend Cooking! These sound and look amazing, although I am sure that I wouldn't have the phyllo gene!

  8. Phyllo dough IS incredibly difficult to work with - how nice for the character to be able to handle it. *grin* It might have something to do with having cold hands?

    The book sounds really interesting - I'll have to find out more about it.

  9. What a fun passage. I consider myself relatively competent in the kitchen and I wouldn't touch phyllo dough!

  10. I really want to read more Bohjalian. I have been hearing good things about this one and must hit up the library.