Friday Book Whimsy:The Lager Queen of Minnesota

I’m not particularly a fan of beer. Oh, if I’m at a Mexican restaurant and the wine list looks suspect, I might make do with a Corona. For the most part, however, I stick to wine, gin, or whiskey.

But even non-beer-lovers would be unable to ignore a title like The Lager Queen of Minnesota. The author — J. Ryan Stradal — wrote what was one of my favorite books of 2017, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I liked it so much that I was delighted to learn that he wrote another, even if it was about beer.

The story revolves around two sisters. Helen loved beer from the moment she tasted it, and was determined to learn to brew beer, no matter who stood in her way. Her sister Edith, on the other hand, was a baker, renown for her delicious pies, and couldn’t hurt a fly. Helen convinces her father to leave her his entire inheritance, which she uses towards her goal of being a beer brewer. Helen’s actions drive the two sisters apart.

Helen meets and marries the son of a Minnesota brewing family whose beer business was tanking. Using the inheritance, Helen and her husband begin making Blotz Beer a household name once again.  However, Edith and her husband are barely able to make ends meet. But this led to that, and eventually Edith’s granddaughter Diane (who isn’t even aware of Helen’s existence) becomes a master brewer of craft beers.

There is a lot of descriptions about brewing (and tasting) craft beers. Despite my lack of interest in beer, I must admit that I found the art of beer brewing fascinating.

While beer is the star of the show, the story is really about family and forgiveness and entrepreneurship and strong women. I loved every single page of the novel, and was sad when it ended. I can’t wait for the author’s next story about life in the Midwest.

Here is a link to the book. 

Friday Book Whimsy: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

searchI really had no idea what to expect when I started author J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Would it be a story about cooking? Would there be recipes? Would it be restaurant reviews for Midwest eateries? What I didn’t actually expect, however, was that it would be such a charming and wonderful story that yes, involves cooking, but mostly involved family dynamics. I absolutely LOVED this book.

It is the story of Eva Thorvald, abandoned as an infant by a mother who preferred devoting her life to being a sommelier rather than a wife and parent. Eva’s doting father, who was himself a chef, began developing Eva’s palate shortly after her birth. Unfortunately, he died soon after Eva’s mother left, leaving her to be reared by kind and loving relatives.

Eva has a gifted palate, beginning at a young age when she began growing and then selling chocolate habanero peppers. Eventually, Eva grows to become a gifted chef with a very unusual way of offering her food.

The storyline seems mundane; however, the way the author chose to tell the story was, in my opinion, ever so creative and clever.

The book consists of 8 chapters, each which could nearly stand as a short story in itself. The main character of each chapter is not Eva, but someone who has a tie to Eva in some way. Via those vignettes, the reader learns about Eva and how she becomes who she is, a good and kind person and an amazing and creative chef.

The entire story takes place in – you guessed it – the Midwest. The story begins in Minnesota, but parts of it take place in South Dakota and Iowa. As such, the reader becomes familiar with a lot of the peculiarities of Midwest cooking. And Midwest people. I’m not from Minnesota, but I would imagine that Minnesotans would be greatly amused by this description of Eva’s grandparents: Theirs was a mixed-race marriage – between a Norwegian and a Dane – and thus all things culturally important to one but not the other were given a free pass and critiqued only in unmixed company. Like lutefisk, which, according to the novel, is whitefish that is bounded, dried, soaked in lye, resoaked in cold water, and ends up looking like jellied smog and smelling like boiled aquarium water.

The book does contain some recipes, but not regularly, such as at the end of each chapter. When it comes to food, the book shines in its descriptions of the art of simple cooking using fresh ingredients. But I will tell you right now that thoughI am someone who likes to cook, and therefore enjoyed the recipes and descriptions of food, mostly I loved the clever story-telling, and the main character, Eva.

The book, my friends, is currently selling for a mere $3.99 on Kindle, and I encourage you to buy it!

Here is a link to the book.