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KITCHEN SHRINK: Food-linked books inspired local cooks

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

On May 13, Green Acre Campus Pointe opened its doors to a group of gourmets with sophisticated taste buds, inspired chefs and devoted bibliophiles to celebrate the San Diego Council on Literacy’s sixth annual blockbuster event – EAT.DRINK.READ. This culinary and literary extravaganza was focused on ramping up awareness on the shocking illiteracy figures in both this community and around the country.

According to Jose L. Cruz, CEO of SDCOL, 20 percent of the adult population in the nation (that’s 444,000 in San Diego County alone) are functionally illiterate, reading prose below fourth-grade level. In fact, 70 percent of these people are English speaking. Cruz explains that the Internet, social media and texting encourage the lazy use of acronyms and code words that jettison grammar, spelling, vocabulary and syntax rules.

“EAT. DRINK. READ” is the foodie community saying that reading is important to us, and we can play a vital role to increase literacy rates,” said Cruz. Thanks to last year’s fundraising event 171,000 adults and children in San Diego received tutoring and books to hone their literary skills that their employability, livelihoods, academic careers, family dynamics and quality of life depend on.

The rock stars of the evening included sponsors, such as The Dr. Seuss Foundation, Sycuan Casino & Resort, Ashford University, and the San Diego Chargers; media and marketing partners KPBS, U-T San Diego, and the San Diego Public Library to mention a few, as well as live auction and raffle donors. The local culinary circle came out in force, represented by celebrated chefs, bakers, chocolatiers, vendors, vintners and brewmasters as they plotted a gustatory adventure using a food-related book as their inspiration. Each developed an original theme paired with delectable offerings featured in their chosen literary work. Here are some of the cast of characters:

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Executive chef Brian Malarkey of Green Acre Campus Pointe and culinary host of the event concocted an herbivorous delight of sautéed snap peas with yoghurt, Meyer lemon, dill and Vadouvan (French interpretation of Indian Masala), accompanied by a carrot puree and crispy kale leaves to complement “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter.

Chef Donald Lockhart from Cusp Dining & Drinks created a whimsical Mad Hatter tea party with a menu in rhyming verse “a curry sauce drizzled on toasted quail with yellow tale.” A perfect treat for the Cheshire cat using Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” as his muse.

Croce’s Park West executive chef Russell Rummer served a sweet and savory crostini topped with duck rillettes, red wine onion marmalade, and micro arugula paying homage to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath. “

Chef Matt Gordon of Solace Restaurants served a smoky exotic Asian rice porridge or congee with jidori chicken and charred scallions to conjure images of pre-World War I Chinese peasant farmers in Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Good Earth.”

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Casa Guadalajara’s chef Jose Duran whipped up a rich, hearty turkey mole over spicy rice using Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” for his culinary spark.

The Patio Restaurant Group’s executive chef John Medall took a page from “Salem’s Lot,” Stephen King’s horror fiction novel filled with vampire slayings. Guests devoured oyster shooters and dug their fangs into blood sausage antipasto.

My mouth-watering contribution to literacy is a south Indian celebratory sweet called laddu with gram (chickpea) flour and ghee butter to pay tribute to my favorite novel, Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi.” So luscious laddu is like a poem melting in your mouth. If interested in becoming a volunteer tutor for San Diego Council on Literacy, call (888) 850-7323.

Indian Laddu

Ingredients

1 cup gram (chickpea) flour

1/3 cup powdered (Confectioner’s) sugar

5 to 6 tablespoons ghee butter (melted)

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1/3 cup roasted cashews or pistachios (crushed)

1/4 teaspoon ginger powder or cinnamon

Method: In a large pan, dry roast flour over low heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, until it is golden, and exudes a nutty fragrance. Add ghee butter and continue stirring for about 3 minutes until well blended. Remove from heat, let cool, blend in sugar, spices and nuts of choice. Roll into walnut-size balls, coat with shredded coconut, chopped nuts or cinnamon. Store in airtight containers.