BOOK: Lorca, a lonely 14-year-old teenager prone to cutting herself, likes to cook for her mother, a distracted executive chef in New York. When her mother's moods darken, Lorca might win her attention by whipping up an omelet du fromage or pasta arrabiata. To avoid being shipped off to boarding school, Lorca attempts to master her mother's favorite — masgouf, the national dish of her native Iraq, consisting of a whole carp or other white fish baked with olive oil, lemons and rock salt. But her mother is tough to please and not often pleased with her daughter. "Meat keeps cooking when you take it off the flame," Lorca observes, but "my mother could turn herself off in an instant." In an attempt to impress her mother, Lorca signs up for a cooking class taught by Victoria, a grieving widow from Iraq who knows how to make masgouf. While cooking together, the widow and the girl bond.
WHY READ? Food has a way of filling more than stomachs. Cooking together and eating together somehow bring people closer and banish the pangs of loneliness, at least for a while. In Tomorrow There Will be Apricots, author Jessica Soffer seizes on this fact and allows food to function as a plot device, carrying the story forward with the sensual pleasures of cardamom pistachio cookies, baklava, croissants, chocolat chaud and a savory stew known as kubba humudh. The masgouf becomes a metaphor for Lorca's attempt to connect with her mother and gain her approval.
MAKE IT: Apricot oatmeal bars capture the tone of the novel — simple and sweet. Besides, this dessert alludes to the optimistic Arabic aphorism quoted in the book, "Tomorrow, apricots may bloom."
TAKE IT: A quick scan of the novel will yield plenty of snack suggestions — croissants, chocolate, baklava, shakrlama (cookies made with almonds, cardamom and rosewater) and, if you can find it, a nice baked carp.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an email to [email protected] Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.