In Jenn Bouchard’s novel FIRST COURSE, 24-year-old Janie Whitman is more or less content working as a reporter at a doctor’s-office-waiting-room-type lifestyle magazine called Young Chicago. That is, until the company abruptly shuts its doors and her boss/boyfriend dumps her and flees to Malibu to live with his mother, a former one-hit wonder. But that’s not the worst of it: the same day Janie loses her job and her lover, unfathomable tragedy strikes her family, irrevocably altering the shape of Janie’s life and that of her sister Alyssa, who’s also going through a messy stage in her marriage. Along with Alyssa’s two kids, the sisters seek comfort at their family home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where Janie applies her talent as an amateur chef to nourish her remaining family.
In Cape Elizabeth, old friends and busybodies resurface, new bonds blossom, and tangential figures from the past suddenly take center stage. Meanwhile, Janie bears the burden of caring for her sister and nieces, while searching for a way to preserve her parents’ legacy through their beloved alma mater. Yet a kind, handsome guidance counselor named Rocky seems like he just might offer Janie a second act, and a second chance.
This booktail is made with Malibu rum for “Mr. Hollywood” and his mommy, a nod to Janie’s old life. Coconut and pineapple are a classic pairing, combined here to honor piña coladas and Jimmy Buffet, and the dusty old cans of pineapple juice Rocky kindly digs out of the pantry to help Janie make her “infamous” mushroom and spinach wontons. Their conversation in that moment proves pivotal, as Rocky advises Janie to stop taking care of everyone else and, for once, take care of herself. Likewise, lemon is for the mint lemon iced tea Rocky makes–at Janie’s instruction–to serve during a fateful meeting with representatives from her parents’ former college. Apricot jam references the Billy Joel song “Vienna,” which makes a few appearances throughout. The Sachertorte is a proud symbol of the Austrian city and is made with dense chocolate sponge and thin layers of apricot jam, topped with a semi-firm chocolate icing. Lastly, the booktail is garnished with an actual appetizer–as befits such a sweet, funny, and absolutely mouthwatering novel–made with melon, mini mozzarella, basil, and mint, a nod to the narrator’s love of antipasti and Corinne Whitman’s garden full of herbs.
2 oz pineapple juice
1.5 oz Malibu rum
1 oz lemon juice
2 teaspoons apricot jam
Garnish: melon, mini mozzarella, (or burrata) basil, and mint skewer
Instructions: Add the rum, juices, and jam to a shaker, along with a large cube or chunk of ice. Agitate vigorously until the ice breaks into pieces, then strain into a stemmed glass and garnish with some light antipasti, if desired.
Here are some ideas for a cool, casual bite this summer.
LEFT - grilled lemon chicken, grilled red peppers, shaved gruyère
CENTER - fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, tomatoes and basil in olive oil and balsamic vinegar
RIGHT - ricotta, caramelized onions and fennel, honey