Issue 9: Focaccia with red onions and rosemary + The Guide
An airy and herby bread with a slow, cold rise, and a chilling mystery set in an idyllic riverside fishing lodge
Welcome to Good Book/Good Bread! Every two weeks, I recommend a book I love, and bake a delicious bread that fits with an aspect of the story. Haven’t subscribed yet? Sign up here!
This week: The Guide by Peter Heller, and focaccia topped with sliced red onions and rosemary.
Part 1: Good Book
The Guide by Peter Heller
Setting the tone
Canyoneers by Jake Xerxes Fussell, here.
In a nutshell
The River follows Jack, a young fishing guide struggling with loss who accepts a job at Kingfisher Lodge. The exclusive Colorado lodge attracts wealthy and powerful clients who pay thousands for the privilege of fishing “Billionaire’s Mile,” a private stretch of river. Jack arrives halfway through the season, replacing a guide who he is told abruptly quit. From the moment he enters Kingfisher Lodge’s property, and the heavy gate locks behind him, Jack begins to notice troubling details about the seemingly idyllic retreat. Jack is assigned to guide a notable guest, and both of them immediately begin to sense something is amiss, unconvinced by management’s attempts to explain away multiple strange occurrences. When they hear a mysterious scream in the night that reverberate through the forest, the pair begin to unravel what is really happening on this remote riverside property.
Why I was drawn to this book
I love rivers. I love whitewater kayaking on them, spending time lying on their banks in the sun, fly-fishing in them with my dad, and watching how the water levels fluctuate with rain events and changing seasons. The Guide came up for me as a suggestion on Good Reads, and as soon as I read in the synopsis that the story is set “in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet,” I was adding it to my reading list.
Three things I liked about The Guide
1. The contrast of the perfect setting with sinister undertones
I really like how Peter Heller sets up the plot of The Guide by creating such a curated, luxury setting at Kingfisher Lodge. At the manicured retreat, guests pay to fish away from crowds, dine on gourmet food, and have their fishing sessions interspersed with visits to the spa cabin. Everything is well-thought out and attended to, yet Jack still notices small disturbing details that cast a shadow over the property. This contrast between perfect and frightening immediately drew me in to the book, wanting to learn more about what these small red flags were leading to. It reminds me a bit of the unease evoked at the beginning of the movie Get Out, when Chris arrives at the beautiful home of his girlfriend’s parents, and begins noticing strange behaviour from their groundskeeper and housekeeper.
2. Shows how power dynamics play out in a micro-environment
The characters in The Guide can be classified based on the power they hold, and how this power can be manipulated in a small setting. There are the ultra-wealthy guests who hold a lot of power and influence. Then there are the lodge owners and management, who permit frightening things to happen on the grounds in a monetary exchange with the guests. And lastly, there are the lodge staff and guides, who are complicit in knowing what is happening, but dependent on staying quiet for their livelihoods. The main character, Jack, is compelling because he lacks power, but is still driven to question authority and dig into the troubling events taking place around him.
3. It’s a mix of science fiction, outdoor adventure, and thriller
This is an interesting book in that it touches on a few genres. It’s a thriller in how the suspense and momentum builds as Jack and his fishing client search for the real reason for the lodge’s operation. It’s outdoor fiction with the focus on the natural world, water access issues, and fly fishing. It is evident Peter Heller has a passion and deep knowledge of fly-fishing, and he writes about it with a light touch; I don’t think it would confuse a reader who isn’t familiar with it. Once Jack and his guiding client begin to peel back the layers of the nefarious activities happening at Kingfisher Lodge, the book begins to veer solidly into science fiction territory. I think The Guide mixes all these genres in a way that makes the plot twists really unexpected.
“Jack loved mornings like this. The clouds sailed together and multiplied, so that by late morning the sky was a running scud of overcast. The air over the river seemed relieved of relentless sun and released a wealth of summer smells—the damp of exposed roots, the faint sweetness of Black-eyed Susans, a watery scent of crushed horsetails. And rain. The promise of it.”
If you like The Guide, read this:
The River by Peter Heller
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
The River Why by David James Duncan
Part 2: Good Bread
Focaccia with red onions and rosemary
Why this bread for this book?
From the first day Jack arrives at Kingfisher Lodge, something seems off. There are things left unsaid and holes in the excuses management provides when he tries to dig deeper. A cold, slow rise in the refrigerator allows focaccia dough to become really pillowy and airy, and you’ll see beautiful air holes produced by this technique in the bread once baked. I thought this hole-filled focaccia bread matched well with the gaps and missing information Jack encounters at his new place of work.
This recipe is from Alexandra Cooks. This is recipe is very hands-off, and one of the easier breads I’ve made in a while. It took me about ten minutes to make the dough in the evening. Then, I let it rise in the fridge until 3 pm the following afternoon, punched it down, let it rise again, dimpled it and added toppings, and baked. The dough is really soft, and dimpling it with your fingers is extremely satisfying!
I chose to add red onions, rosemary, and Maldon sea salt, but you can add all kinds of toppings both within the dough or on top. At the bottom of Alexandra’s recipe she has a lot of great tips for incorporating different ingredients. Next time I bake this bread, I think I’ll cut my red onions a bit thicker because some of them became slightly singed and shrunk a lot during baking.
I brought this focaccia to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for lunch last Sunday in Vancouver. We ate it with their antipasto, homemade pasta, and tiramisu, and then I passed out cold in the car all the way home to Squamish.
To soak up pasta sauce
As a sandwich for cold cuts and roasted veggies
As awesome croutons, if you have any leftovers
New book I’m looking forward to reading: In Waves by AJ Dungo
Bread I’m looking forward to baking: Bacon potato cheesey sesame bing bread
New album I’m looking forward to listening to while doing both of the above: Dance Fever by Florence and the Machine
And, last but not least, Diamond-Michael Scott, another Substack writer, was super kind to write this lovely article about Good Book/Good Bread and my appreciation for both!