Historical Fiction

Balloons, Bonbons & Bacon

I love it when other people share their own #plotdrivenlife experiences, and one of my favorite fellow librarians, Shannon Grieshaber, recently shared one with me in her own recent blog post. In my opinion, the coolest part about planning a #plotdrivenlife experience is that even if two people read the same book, no two experiences are the same! This is the case with When Dimple Met Rishi, the book Shannon blogged about. My experience will be totally different than hers! Stay tuned for a future post!

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Today, I want to share the story of a #plotdrivenlife experience that didn’t go as planned.

After reading Stacey Lee’s historical fiction novel, Outrun the Moon, which features diverse characters and foods, I was pumped to visit the St. Louis Festival of Nations for a chance to sample food from all over the world. I had the experience all planned out with notes from the book to remind me which country’s foods I needed to taste. Unfortunately, the weekend of the festival, we weren’t nearly as far along in our moving process as we needed to be, so we had to pack boxes instead of stuff our bellies! I sat on the book for several weeks before I came up with another #plotdrivenlife idea, and wallah!

But first, you need to meet this book!

Mercy Wong plans to own her own business guided by Mrs. Lowry’s, The Book for Business-Minded Women. Mercy’s goal is a sizable one as her circumstances do not favor her success. As a fifteen year-old Chinese-American who lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood in 1906, Mercy deals with poverty and prejudice. Determined to make a better life for herself and her family, Mercy talks her way into the most prestigious girls’ school in San Francisco called St. Clare’s. Under the ruse that she is a wealthy Chinese heir, Mercy attempts to fit in with her wealthy socialite peers and absorb as much knowledge as possible. Mercy is regularly bullied by her roommate, Elodie, who knows her secret and threatens to expose her, and the school’s headmistress is suspicious of Mercy from the start.

Just as Mercy’s homesickness begins to subside, a devastating earthquake hits San Francisco, destroying St. Clare’s and causing fire to rip through her childhood neighborhood. Mercy must dig deep to channel her idol, Mrs. Lowry, in the face of terrible personal tragedy.

I love a strong, stubborn, determined female character like Mercy, and I especially loved her because of her selflessness. The author, Stacey Lee, obviously extensively researched 1906 San Francisco and used excellent detailed description to transport readers back in time. A fine book!

Balloons, Bonbons and Bacon

Outrun the Moon starts with a harrowing hot air balloon ride. In the opening chapter, readers meet Tom, Mercy’s love interest and a young man fascinated with flight and eager for the opportunity to pursue his passion and break free from family obligation. Mercy manages to accidentally fly off in Tom’s balloon, introducing readers to her unluckiness.

As I thought about alternate #plotdrivenlife experiences for this book, I decided to look for the opportunity to get up close and personal with a hot air balloon, something I have never done before. I was so lucky to find an upcoming “balloon glow” in small town New Haven, MO, about an hour’s drive from our house. On Friday night, Mike and I packed up Rudy and some lawn chairs, drove down plenty of stomach-churning country roads, and settled in to watch 11 grounded hot air balloons inflated next to each other light up the night. It was actually pretty magical. I loved the unexpectedness of not knowing when a balloon was going to light up, marked by a the loud and brilliant spray of fire being pumped into its belly. We sat close enough to feel the heat of the balloons being inflated, and it’s toasty!

While the balloon glow was a highlight, I was determined to explore some of the food Lee mentions in her book. I decided I would try three foods, each representative of a character’s culture. Mercy’s nemesis Elodie du Lac is the daughter of a French chocolatier, known for his expensive and decedent treats. Needing to do “important research,” I picked up a box of “Luxurious European Chocolate Truffles” from Aldi. I never purchase this kind of thing for myself because I have no willpower in the face of chocolate, so this was a true indulgence. I should read books about chocolate more often.

They tasted as good as they look!

Next, I cooked spaghetti alla gricia, Italian character Francesca’s signature dish. I had never heard of this recipe before, but it involved making pasta with bacon. How could I resist? In fact, the original recipe called for “pig jowl,” but I happily substituted it, and the result was delightful. Full disclosure: I am not a cook and completely burned the bacon during my first attempt to fry it. I could blame it on my new stove, but I know better.

Get in my belly!

Finally, I ordered from Amazon a Chinese treat Mercy and Tom share called “mui”– salted plums. I absolutely love plums, and I was so excited to try this treat, but it was so weird! I gave some samples to some students today, and their faces as they ate them were hilarious! Mui still have pits, so I think you’re supposed to suck on them like candy, but their flavor gets stranger and saltier over time, and there isn’t much meat to them. Maybe they’re an acquired taste?

Salted plums = food fail.

Because Mercy’s grand plan to attend St. Clare’s is upended by the earthquake, I guess it fits that my original #plotdrivenlife plan for this book didn’t work out either. My revised plan let me eat bacon AND chocolate, and the balloon glow was an added bonus.

Thanks for reading,

~Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

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