A quick note: To kick off 2023, I’m reintroducing the Drink in Life book blog series with some new books, recipes and beverages to get you excited about hosting your next book club gathering.
What draws you into a story, or a novel? Is it the description of the characters, the illustration of the location where the story takes place, or is it the chronicling of the action that takes place within the story? These typical factors can work well together, combining effect and drawing a reader into a book. However, what if a story contains each of these elements, equally as interesting and descriptive? Well, then you have something extra special and that is exactly how I feel about this month’s Drink In Life Books, The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian.
It is rare to find a novel where the descriptions and details delivered by the author are such an integral part of a story, especially if the reader has never before seen or experienced these things for themselves. It is equally as rare for an author to transport the reader inside each character’s head totally immersing them in the character’s struggles, making you feel like you are living the story. When you can smell what the characters smell, hear what they hear, or otherwise understand their senses, an author enables the reader to completely relate to the character. I experienced all of these things while reading this book and I was absolutely captivated by the story.
Mustian’s debut novel, ‘The Girls in the Stilt House’, is a captivating and harrowing tale that sweeps you away into the lives of two young women during the1920s in the Trace’s nearly impenetrable Mississippi swamplands. Aspirations, longings and an unlikely partnership through murder weaves together this beautifully told story of two diverse girls, Ada and Matilda, who each carry with them the dreams of the young and unfolds the shattering of those dreams.
In 1923, with no resources available for a woman in trouble, Ada Morgan, a young white girl, pregnant and alone, has nowhere to turn. She reluctantly returns home to the Trace and to a father, who has a penchant for cruelty. Enter Matilda Patterson, a black woman and daughter of a sharecropper. Matilda isn’t looking for trouble, she’s working hard as a writer chronicling the ongoing prejudice and poverty of the South.
This profoundly memorable tale of two girls from completely different backgrounds who after a moment of shared violence are bound together forever is a story of hope, despair and redemption. What I found so intriguing in this book was how the relationship between Ada and Matilda was so jointly and separately affected by what they had done and the lingering presence of Virgil, Ada’s father, in both of their lives, even after he was gone.
With vivid description, Mustain’s story of the separate and joint survival efforts of these two young women grabs you and holds you hostage. Each word carries you to the swamp with its humidity and murky smells, you feel the wind blowing on the beach and the urgency of being pushed to the limits both physically and emotionally.
Kelly Mustain grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, the southern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace, this fact most certainly played a part in helping her paint a picture of this region for the reader. Her knowledge of the territory, and her descriptive images of rural life and the natural world of this part of the country are vividly portrayed in the novel.
Kelly currently lives with her family near the foothills of North Carolina and she is a past recipient of a Regional Artist Grant from the North Carolina Arts and Science Council. Kelly’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals and commercial magazines, and her short fiction has won a Blumenthal Writers and Readers Series Award.
Although I did not interview Mustain for this article I did find this informative interview from Hoopla Book Club – Interview Questions with the author.
Photograph Credit Kelly Mustian Website, Photo by Rachelle Thompson.
Location is what both sets and anchors a story. The description of a certain place, at a certain time with glimpses of landscape, history and nature, is what walks the reader into the heart of the story. To better understand The Girls in the Stilt House I wanted to highlight where this story takes place, in Mississippi, near Jacksonville and Biloxi in the swamp area Known as The Trace and share some resources to help you learn more about this area and its history.
You can find out more about the Natchez Trace in Mississippi by visiting the Natchez Trace Travel Website.
‘Traveling the Trace: A Complete Tour Guide to the Historic Natchez Trace from Nashville to Natchez‘ by Cathy Summerlin is available on Amazon.
Traveling the Trace explores the Natchez Trace Parkway, a national park of great natural beauty and historical significance that follows a 450-mile course from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi. The Trace was first used as a vital transportation link by Native Americans and later by “kaintucks” and frontiersmen. Now, each year the Trace is experienced by more than 13 million visitors and in traveling the Trace you can explores the parkway and sights within 30 miles of either side of the Natchez Trace. In addition to the well-known stops, the authors shares many undiscovered side roads you can experience along the way.
As you gather with friends to discuss great literature, sometimes it is difficult to choose the best dishes for the event. No worries, my hope is that this post will give you some great Mississippi Cuisine inspiration for your The Girls in the Stilt House meeting. Be careful though, these dishes may be so delicious that everyone will forget to talk about the book!
Learn more about the Chateau NoElle Estate Pinot Noir that I paired with these sandwiches below.
I love the challenge of selecting recipe ideas that enhance the theme or location of the book. So, knowing that I wanted to create a delicious, but casual option I sought out sandwich recipes that stemmed from the South and specifically Mississippi. The Mississippi Sin Ham Sliders and Mississippi Roast Party Sandwiches, come together quickly and can be made ahead and kept warm in the oven until it is time to eat.
This easy Mississippi Sin Ham Sliders recipe comes from A Family Fest blog, although I have made a couple variations to the recipe to include the use of smoked white cheddar cheese and the addition of smoked paprika.
This savory slider is a nod to Mississippi inspired cuisine and an easy stress-free make-ahead sandwich for a book club gathering. It is also a great small bit to sit along side the next recipe, my spin on the Mississippi Roast Party Sandwiches.
What is not to love about piles of seasoned shredded beef and oozing melted cheese? These mouthwatering Mississippi Roast Party Sandwiches are ideal for any gathering and the small size makes them perfect to serve with chips, fries, or another bit size sandwich like the Mississippi ‘Sin’ Ham Sliders.
Giving the roast beef a quick sear and then letting the crockpot do the rest of the work will free up your time to get other recipes going for your book club get together.
Side by side both sandwiches are a fantastic way to share the flavors of Mississippi with your book club friends.
These two delicious sandwiches can be served with your favorite frozen or homemade French fries.
For this book club dinner I paired the sandwiches with some oven Baked Sweet Potato Coins to go along with a popular southern favorite, Comeback Sauce.
In Mississippi people say that “Remoulade and Thousand Island got nothin’ on Comeback Sauce.” This versatile mayonnaise-based, spicy dipping sauce for fried food can also be used as a condiment on sandwiches and a dressing on salads.
I loved the extra zing of this Comeback Sauce with the Baked Sweet Potato Coins. I followed the recipe found on the Southern Living website.
These quick and easy recipes should kept any book club conversation lively!
Did You Know? Barq’s Root Beer was originally made in Biloxi Mississippi? When I learned this I knew that I wanted to incorporate Barq’s Root Beer into my dessert recipe for The Girls in the Stilt House.
Fun Fact: The flavor of Barq’s differs from other root beers on the market, because it used sarsaparilla instead of sassafras and incorporated more caffeine and less sugar than other brands, giving it a bit of a “bite.” Over the years, the drink grew in popularity and was ultimately acquired by Coca-Cola in 1995. The famous slogan printed on Barq’s bottles since the early days is still part of its packaging today and rings true for fans who love the all-American taste: “It’s good.”
Information found on the Mississippi Farm Country Website.
Melding together a delicious chocolaty brownie with the flavor of Root Beer Floats is a fun twist that will surprise your book club friends! You can even print up a card that gives the history of Barq’s Root Beer and place it by this eye catching dessert to share why you chose to make Root Beer the star of your dessert.
Start this delicious brownie and root beer caramel dessert by preparing the caramel the day before or at least six hours before you want to assemble the dessert. I followed the recipe on Clever Pink Pirate’s Blog for Soft Root Beer Caramel Candy and the caramel was amazing! I used a 2 inch round candy mold for my round caramel pieces. My recommendation is to make half the recipe for this dessert or have a couple more candy molds handy for the extra caramel.
This dessert starts with your favorite brownie recipe or favorite boxed brownie mix. Add 2-3 tablespoons of Barq’s Root Beer to your brownie mix in place of some of the water needed.
My recommendation is to make the brownie more cake like to give the small stack more stability. Simple make the brownies on parchment paper than can be lifted out of the 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Let the brownies cool and then use a round cookie cutter to create the desired size of desserts. I used a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter.
When you are ready to put the desserts together prepare some Root Beer flavored Cream Cheese Frosting to pipe on the top of your brownie dessert, then assemble like the photo above.
Root Beer Floats have a way of bringing me back to my childhood. I always choose this simple but creamy ice cream float over a milk shake when given the choice. I couldn’t think of a better small drink to accompany the Brownie and Root Beer Caramel desserts.
Root beer floats are usually pretty straight forward, two ingredients; root beer and ice cream. No need for whipped cream but a small amount of chocolate sprinkles adds a bit a nostalgia to these mini root beer floats.
With each book title I not only want to share things that will expand on how you can share with friends the opinions and experiences that capture your attention while reading the book and unleash your appreciation for the story, I also want to introduce you to not only foods that pair well with the book but wines and other beverages as well.
Mustain in the interview link above commented that “Many of the descriptive details in the novel were informed by my familiarity with that area”. I wanted to emphasize this statement by sharing wines for The Girls in the Stilt House with a winery near my home in the Snoqualmie Valley, Chateau NoElle.
Chateau NoElle, named for Tom and Lorrie’s two children, is a small, family-owned and operated winery making handcrafted, Burgundian style wines in Snoqualmie, WA. You can also read more about Chateau NoElle Vineyards and Winery on my previous article, THE SNOQUALMIE VALLEY WINE EXPERIENCE.
“Grace” Chateau NoElle’s Viognier is just one of the award winning wines that are crafted at this Western Washington winery. Chateau NoElle wines are made from estate-grown and locally-sourced grapes from vineyards that match Tom and Lorrie’s precise specifications.
“Grace” 2020 Viognior is bursting with floral and stone fruit aromas that combine together to create an intriguing perfumed aromatic experience. Rich and slightly spicy this mouth-watering Viognior has a pleasing rounded mouth feel and a smooth finish that carries with it just a whisper of sweetness.
“Eve” First Pick Riesling 2018 is produced from grapes sourced from Bacchus Vineyard in Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA.
Bright, clean with delicate flavors this Riesling from Chateau NoElle is incredibly food friendly and would be a great wine to pour at your next book club meeting.
The aromas and flavors coincide beautifully in this wine with citrus and honey dipped peaches taking the lead. The slight residual sugar provides an elegant balance with the vibrant acidity and soft body of this Riesling. Harmonious is a word that comes to mind when I think about this lovely wine.
The 2018 “Revelation” Estate Pinot Noir Hollywood Hill is the wine that I choose to pair with the sandwich recipes shared for The Girls in the Stilt House, and for good reason.
The combination of fruitiness and spice along with it’s subtle tannins of this Pinot work so well with food. A dark and red fruit medley along with alluring floral and smokey notes work together giving you a wonderful experience on both the nose and palate. Strong yet delicate, balanced and delivering a long finish I couldn’t think of a better wine to pair with these recipes and this book.
Blending together themes like prejudice, retribution and love with some Southern grit, The Girls in the Stilt House is a novel where secrets unravel and lives are changed. If you loved The Girls in the Stilt House, here are similar books featuring small-town secrets, strong female characters, racial disparities, and more.
Set in North Carolina from 1952 until 1969, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is part mystery and part family drama. The novel tells the story of Kya, an abandoned girl who raised herself to adulthood in the dangerous marshlands of North Carolina. The story takes an unexpected turn when Kya becomes a suspect in the murder of a man with whom she was once involved.
Where the Crawdads Sing was released as a Motion Picture on July 14, 2022.
If you have read Where the Crawdads Sing and your favorite part is the mystery aspect, then this closely-related read-alike might need to be added to your reading list. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne tells the story of a woman named Helena who grew up in isolation in a cabin in the woods with her parents. Helena’s mother was kidnapped by her father as a young girl and held her captive for years. As a child her father taught Helena everything there was to know about living off the land and now as a grown women she is the only one who can find her father who has escaped from prison.
Although it was made into a motion picture, the film has currently no set release date.
Another book I really enjoyed reading and one that will be an upcoming Drink In Life Books title is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and the dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, this is a story of courage, strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere.
There is also a second book by Richardson titled The Book Woman’s Daughter: A Novel (The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, 2).
“A book club is a group of people who come together to discuss books. It’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends.”-Abigail Thomas
I hope that this collection of recipes and wines gives you some ideas to use at your next book club get together. You can find my previous Drink In Life Books selections here. Cheers Everyone!
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