Book Club Chapter Two: Ordinary Grace, Grocery Store Gripes, and Fresh Pineapple Salsa

Book Club 2.0 met again last night. We wanted to squeeze in one more meeting before fall officially arrives, even though we just met a few weeks ago. The book up for discussion this time was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s a lovely book about life, how we handle death, and the fact that bad things happen to good people. It’s with faith that we are able to deal and cope with all that comes our way.

Before getting into discussing the book, we had a lively conversation (as always) that managed to jump from topic to topic with the speed of thought, each of us telling stories in our own unique animated way. This week Dana’s husband joined us and he successfully held his own against the loud and opinionated ladies overtaking his kitchen. In fact, he was quite entertaining with his biting sarcasm and comedic impressions of everyone from restaurant patrons, to family members and grocery store clerks.

Mark told a story about how Dana made one particular grocery store checker cry. Well, almost cry. This humorous story led us down a path of venting (and laughing) about grocery store experiences. I talked about my least favorite clerk who mans the self-check out at my neighborhood grocery store. She has an annoying way of asking questions in a very loud voice. “WERE YOU ABLE TO FIND EVERYTHING TODAY MA’AM?! I SEE YOU HAVE SOME WINE. YOU KNOW THERE’S WINE BAGS DOWN BELOW THE SCANNER THERE!” “Yes, thanks. You’ve mentioned that the last 23 times I purchased wine here.” I also talked about how it makes me mad when they act like I’m ruining their day by bringing my own bags. It’s like bringing my own shopping bags is some how a personal attack on them.  (In fact, this gripe may deserve an entire blog post to itself).

Dana’s gripe with her checker was when asked to put items in all of her five reusable shopping bags instead of cramming everything into one, the clerk rolled her eyes. “Did you just really just roll your eyes at me?!” Dana asked. And the poor clerk’s eyes welled up with tears and her lip started to quiver. Of course Mark re-enacted this to our delighted laughter. Michelle determined this was, ironically the same checker she avoided at all costs.

publix
Publix, where shopping is a pleasure

There was conversation about produce sections at the various stores, who had a better selection of organic, who had bananas at the perfect level of ripeness, and I spoke of my disappointment at the poor quality of produce at the new “farmers market inspired” store that is like a smaller Whole Foods knock-off. I honestly don’t understand why everyone is so in love with this particular store.  I get perfectly good, quality produce at Publix and don’t see the need to go elsewhere, unless it’s to a real farmers market. In fact, Publix had beautiful on-the-vine tomatoes on sale this week so I grabbed those, a pineapple, a jalapeño, some cilantro, green onion and a lime and turned it all into a tasty Pineapple Salsa that I brought along to book club to share. The recipe is below.

ordinary grace
As far as the book goes, only a couple of us finished it, with most of the ladies halfway to three-quarters of the way through it, but all agreed that the writing was lovely. Cindy echoed my sentiment that it would make a wonderful movie, and had a Stand By Me vibe. It takes place in the early sixties in Minnesota and is narrated by Frank Drum, a thirteen year old son of a Methodist pastor. Tragedy strikes, mysteries are revealed, and through these experiences Frank is brought into an adult world, where he learns it is by faith that we survive tough times. My favorite passage is one in which Frank reflects on the practice and purpose of funerals and mourning:

“I had been to visitations before and have been to many since and I’ve come to understand that there’s a good deal of value in the ritual accompanying death. It’s hard to say good-bye and almost impossible to accomplish this alone and ritual is the railing we hold to, all of us together, that keeps us upright and connected until the worst is past.”

The book if full of symbolism (Frank’s last name, the railroad trestle where significant events takes place, the importance of music) and imagery and is the type of literary fiction I really enjoy reading. I’m eager to check out other books by Krueger, having enjoyed this so much. I give it a thumbs up.

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In addition to the Pineapple Salsa I brought along, I also treated my Book Club girls to these delightful Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes featured on yesterday’s blog. Check them out!img_0302

Pineapple Salsa

5-6 medium tomatoes finely diced
1 whole pineapple, cut in half and hollowed out (see note below), reserving 3/4 pineapple diced and 1/4 cup of the juice
1 jalapeño finely diced
1 green onion, sliced very thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Place the tomatoes, jalapeño, green onion, cilantro, and lime zest it a bowl. Make sure all is diced and sliced small enough to facilitate dipping a chip in it. Prepare your pineapple serving bowl (see below). Chop up about 3/4 cup of pineapple and add to the salsa along with 1/4 of the reserved pineapple juice, and the red wine vinegar and mix gently. Salt to taste. Scoop into the hollowed out pineapple and serve.

You can make this a day in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. To keep the hollowed out pineapple fresh, place some folded paper towels under it to absorb the juices and wrap the body of the pineapple tightly in plastic wrap.

To serve, place some folded paper towels on a serving tray and set the pineapple on it

Make The Pineapple Bowl:
Rinse the outside of the pineapple, being careful to not damage the leaves. Pat it dry and lay it on its side. Carefully slice off the side (which is now the top) below the leaves to expose the flesh. Don’t just cut the pineapple in half, because you want as much of the body as possible to make the bowl for your salsa. Using a small paring knife, slice down into the flesh carving a rectangle, and leaving about an 1/8 to 1/4 inch around the outside. Make horizontal and vertical cuts to form squares then using a fork remove the pineapple flesh. You’ll need to go over it a few times with a knife and fork, cutting and scooping to get all the pineapple out. Keep a small bowl close by and periodically pour off the juice (you’ll add it to the salsa later). Once you have a nice sized bowl formed, blot the inside and outside with paper towels to absorbed any excess juice. You’ll have a good bit of chopped pineapple left to use in another recipe or just eat!

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