Olive Tapenade and Crostini

Welcome to this stopover of the TLC Book Tour for Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners.  I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC and the publisher for this review.  All opinions, exclamations, gushings and rants are my own.


Publisher’s Blurb:

A formidable matriarch learns the hard way that no family is perfect in this witty, sparkling debut novel

Dearest loved ones, far and near—evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!

Violet Baumgartner has opened her annual holiday letter the same way for the past three decades. And this year she’s going to throw her husband, Ed, a truly perfect retirement party, one worthy of memorializing in her upcoming letter. But the event becomes a disaster when, in front of two hundred guests, Violet learns her daughter Cerise has been keeping a shocking secret from her, shattering Violet’s carefully constructed world.

In an epic battle of wills, Violet goes to increasing lengths to wrest back control of her family, infuriating Cerise and snaring their family and friends in a very un-Midwestern, un-Baumgartner gyre of dramatics. And there will be no explaining away the consequences in this year’s Baumgartner holiday letter…

Full of humor, emotion and surprises at every turn, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners brings to life a remarkable cast of quirky, deeply human characters who must learn to adapt to the unconventional, or else risk losing one another. This is the story of a family falling to pieces—and the unexpected way they put it all back together.

About the author:

Gretchen Anthony is a Minnesota-based writer and humorist. Her debut novel, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, will be released October 16, 2018 by Park Row Books.

After a career in management consulting and corporate communications, she left the cubical world for the writing life. As a ghostwriter, she has been the voice for some of the best brands in the United States, from CEOs to doctors and start-up superstars to BBQ pros.



What I thought…

If Evergreen Tidings had been set in the 50s, 60s, 70s or even 80s, I might have been able to connect with it a bit more.   But since it is set in present day suburban Minnesota, I had some issues.   Let me describe the characters first.

  • Violet Baumgartner, the “Overseer of the Kingdom of Her Own Creation”:   She is all about appearances and may have married her “dear Ed” only because of his last name, making her (with her interpretation) Violet “Gardener,” even though the translation of Baumgartner is really “tree farmer.”  (OK—she probably didn’t marry Ed because of his last name but she is quite pretentious and is all about appearances.)
  • Cerise Baumgartner:   Violet and “dear Ed’s” daughter who is pregnant with their first grandchild.    Cerise’s full name is Cerise Applewhite Baumgartner.   Cherry Apple Tree Farmer?   I digress.  As Cerise and her partner, Barb, prepare for the upcoming birth of their child, they have to deal with quite a few ludicrous scenarios put in motion by Violet.  (Oops!  Sorry….spoiler alert…the pregnancy is Cerise’s “shocking secret” from the above blurb.)
  • Richard:  Richard is the odd-man-out here.  He is the husband of Violet’s best friend, Eldris.  (Eldris brings another whole set of neuroses to the book.  No wonder she is Violet’s best friend.)   He has just been laid off from a lucrative senior VP position and is struggling to find his place.   Ironically, Richard brings a sense of reason to the narrative.

The novel is told from these three characters’ perspectives.  To round out the cast of characters,  there’s the aforementioned “dear Ed,” Eldris and Barb.  Kyle (Cerise’s best friend) and his fiance, Rhonda, a whack-job all her own, are thrown into the mix as well.

My biggest issue with the book was the time warp I felt.  I understand that the stereotypical Midwesterner involves “images of devout hardworking folks dressed in muted colors and driving American cars” (38).  But, surely Minnesotans are active participants in the 21st century.  As I read Violet’s yearly holiday letters (which was a clever way to structure the novel), I was struck that I was reading something written by a 1950’s housewife.  Violet’s whole goal of domestic goddess-dom and the image of the perfect family also hearkened back to a  much earlier era.

Violet’s quest to find out how Cerise became pregnant is a bit annoying and antiquated as well.  Violet, Cerise is giving you a grandchild who will have loving parents.   Does the biology behind the pregnancy matter?

My favorite character out of this whole lot of misfits had to be Richard.  He called things like he saw them and he worked through his own depressing state to find a new dream.  (In fact, I found the whole mystery around what Richard was really doing a lot more intriguing than Violet’s quest to find out who the father of her grandchild is.)

Obviously, I am hung up on Violet and her hang-ups.   Anthony does write some truly inspired and humorous episodes, not least among them follow:

  • The famous Minnesotans “save-the-date” card
  • Violet’s “thank-you-for-coming” cards with “Thank you for embracing the freedom of choice for all mothers.”
  • Violet’s perfect dinner party (circa 1985) complete with lots of wine, tranquilizers and flying lamb chops.
  • The more-than-raucous christening where noses are broken and words are uttered that have never been heard by Pastor Norblad.

I really wanted to compare this book with We’re All Damaged by Michael Norman (which I found pee-in-my-pants funny), but I could not.   I think the publisher’s blurb got it wrong.  Although I think Anthony’s writing and plot is clever, I could not get past the obvious time warp.

But, it is a fun ride.

The Food:

There’s lots of food in the novel and I almost went with the Chicken-Tortilla Soup (76) but I had already a planned post about that for Food ‘n Flix .   The “artisinal” dip that Violet serves at her pretentious dinner party was an option as well.  I finally landed on two descriptions from the novel—“Baby wanted a green olive sandwich and yogurt” (25) regarding one of Cerise’s cravings coupled with a later passage showing Eldris’ clueless-ness about her and Richard’s monetary state:

And when he finally did take me out to celebrate, he was pulling wads of cash out of his pockets like some mobster on TV.  He ordered two vodka martinis before the appetizers even arrived.  Appetizers, Violet.  He won’t give me the money for new carpet, but he’ll order crostini and tapenade. (169)

Because I am sure that Violet followed Martha Stewart’s career closely (that is until she became a convicted felon), I delved into Martha’s site for this recipe.   

It is mostly “strictly Martha” except I added the black olives, zest and red pepper flake.

Olive Tapenade and Crostini

Based on Martha Stewart


  • 1 (6 oz. DR Wt) can black olives, drained
  • 1 (6 oz. DR Wt) can green olives, drained
  • 3 T. capers
  • 2 t. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t.. lemon zest
  • 2 t.  anchovy paste
  • 1 clove garlic
  • fresh ground pepper
  • dash of red pepper flakes


  1. Place ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Pulse until a coarse paste forms.
  3. Serve on sourdough crostinis.

May be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to 1 week.

It won’t last one week at all!  This recipe is a quick and easy and delicious appetizer.  I will keep this one in my bag of tricks.

For a full list of food in Evergreen Tidings, keep reading.

  • “Steaming cup of Christmas tea” (17)
  • Shrimp cakes, Brie-en-croute, champagne (18)
  • dried spaghetti sauce flakes (25)
  • green olive sandwich and yogurt (25)
  • cinnamon-apple tea (28)
  • retirement party appetizers of aforementioned shrimp cakes and brie along with sun-dried tomato chutney, smoked trout, baguettes, and dill sauce (58)
  • Brie and Buffalo mozzarella and “handmade, hand-fired salsa” (58)
  • white cake (62)
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup and egg salad (76)
  • “god awful fig and crap-something salad” (77)
  • Treacle Tart (81)
  • Mango sorbet (82)
  • Kidney beans and peanut butter crackers (110)
  • Cornmeal, tomato sauce, kidney beans (112)
  • Vegetarian chili (112)
  • Week old mashed potatoes (114)
  • Turkey meatloaf (116)
  • $14 Ketchup (136)
  • Rotisserie chicken (142)
  • “Frisky” turkey and ham sandwiches (147)
  • Turkey and Swiss (152)
  • Leftover macaroni casserole (160)
  • Caprese salad (164)
  • Crostini and tapenade (168)
  • Chicken salad (185)
  • Tuna salad on toast (206)
  • Wild rice casserole (218)
  • Pulled pork (220) maybe from Bob’s Real Tasty BBQ (237)
  • Cheddar Dog (277)
  • Old Fashions (295)
  • Artisinal artichoke-Gruyere dip (295)
  • Caviar (301)
  • Salad, lamb, wine (303)
  • Flying lamb chops (309)
  • Wild rice soup with ham (351)
  • 5 dozen ham buns, 6 lbs. of pasta salad and 2 relish trays (351)
  • Salads and take-out lasagna (368)

For all my TLC Book Tour reviews, click here.

An olive sandwich.

Because of the whole “olive sandwich” angle, I am linking up with Deb’s Souper Sunday (with sandwiches and salads)!

I am also linking up with Foodies Read.

From September 12-October 12, Simona at briciole (a CTB Co-Host) is presenting Novel Food.   Link up to this event with all your culinary reads as well.

Please check out the others on the tour.

Instagram tour:

Monday, October 15th: @kate.olson.reads

Tuesday, October 16th: @bookishconnoisseur

Tuesday, October 16th: @novelgossip

Wednesday, October 17th: @somekindofalibrary

Thursday, October 18th: @jessicamap

Friday, October 19th: @thebooksellersdaughter

Saturday, October 20th: @hollyslittlebookreviews

Sunday, October 21st: @bookishmadeleine

Sunday, October 21st: @jennblogsbooks


Review tour:

Monday, October 1st: Wining Wife

Tuesday, October 2nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, October 3rd: Eliot’s Eats

Thursday, October 4th: Caryn, the Book Whisperer

Monday, October 8th: Midwest Ladies Who Lit

Tuesday, October 9th: Running Through the Storms

Wednesday, October 10th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, October 12th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, October 15th: Girl Who Reads

Wednesday, October 17th: Literary Quicksand

Thursday, October 18th: Jessicamap Reviews

Thursday, October 18th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Monday, October 22nd: Novel Gossip

Monday, October 22nd: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, October 23rd: Books & Bindings

Wednesday, October 24th: What is That Book About

Thursday, October 25th: @prose_and_palate

Friday, October 26th: Kritter’s Ramblings




21 comments to Olive Tapenade and Crostini