A Harvest Salad for The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

The Cook the Book’s October/November selection was The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller.  Claudia (Honey from Rock) is hosting and you can read the announcement post here.

About the book:

“Mix in one part Diane Mott ­Davidson’s delightful culinary adventures with several tablespoons of Jan Karon’s country living and quirky characters, bake at 350 degrees for one rich and warm romance.” –Library Journal

A full-hearted novel about a big-city baker who discovers the true meaning of home—and that sometimes the best things are found when you didn’t even know you were looking

When Olivia Rawlings—pastry chef extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she escapes to the most comforting place she can think of—the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend Hannah. But the getaway turns into something more lasting when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job. Broke and knowing that her days at the club are numbered, Livvy accepts.

Livvy moves with her larger-than-life, über enthusiastic dog, Salty, into a sugarhouse on the inn’s property and begins creating her mouthwatering desserts for the residents of Guthrie. She soon uncovers the real reason she has been hired—to help Margaret reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest.

With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small town life. And when she meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from Seattle to tend his ailing father, Livvy  comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought.

But then another new arrival takes the community by surprise, and Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee—or stay and finally discover what it means to belong. Olivia Rawlings may finally find out that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better.

About the author:

Louise Miller is a writer and pastry chef living in Boston, MA. Her debut novel, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living was selected as an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association, a Library Reads pick by Librarians across the U.S., and was shortlisted by the America Library Association’s Reading List Council for best women’s fiction in 2017. Her second novel, The Late Bloomers’ Club, was a New England Society 2019 Book Awards Finalist. Louise is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs.

What I thought…

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is a very readable three rating. While it might be a bit formulaic, it’s not (thank goodness) one of these foodie novels of recent tradition where the heroine inherits a quaint country inn.  Instead Livvy has to work her butt off to gain the respect of the owner, a hard woman who is not easily impressed.

Livvy is a non-conformist punk baker with a revolving rainbow of hair colors.  She is one that shouldn’t necessarily find a niche in a traditional New England small town.  But, aside from her outward fringe appearance, she also plays the banjo in a Contra band.  She’s quite the conundrum.

I love how Miller sets the scene of this stereotypical small town especially from the bar scene early in the book:

The bar was tended by an older guy with a thick red beard and a sweatshirt with a picture of wolves howling stretched over his belly.  Above him hung the mounted heads of moose, deer, and elk.  They looked down at the drinkers like Saint Francis and the Virgin Mother giving their blessings. (35)

I think Livvy was on the right track making roots in this town.  It is quaint and traditional but overally welcoming (in the end).    The City Baker’s Guide is a tale about simple living in a small town in Vermont with a happy ending.

Yes, it could be a Hallmark movie…but you know something? I think I would watch it.

The Food:

Since Livvy is a pastry chef and one of her potential love interests (early on) is a chef (at least he’s interested in her),  there’s lots of food in the novel.  First and foremost, there are the apple pies (in a multitude of versions and variations).  Apple pie is probably what got Livvy  hired at the Inn in the first place.  Miller included an apple pie recipe in the back of the book as well.

But, there was a lot of other options to be inspired by:

  • Muffins, coffee cakes and scones (for guests)
  • Flourless chocolate tort, grape-nut custard with vanilla bean & fresh nutmeg, lemon mousse, candied ginger lace cookies
  • Huckleberry clafouti
  • Harvest dinner:  corn consommé; baby red oak greens with toasted black walnuts and maple vinaigrette w/dried-apple spice bread and goat cheese smear; prime rib with Cipollini au jus; wild mushroom risotto; roasted Brussels sprouts; chive popovers; cheese course:  Vermont cheddar with quince paste, fresh chèvre  with homemade blackberry preserves, sheep’s milk blue cheese with pears poached in port; pumpkin crème brulée baked in miniature pumpkins; apple galettes with frangipane in puff pastry; pears stuffed with cognac-soaked figs wrapped in phyllo; chocolate shells filled with caramel, toasted pecans, and dark chocolate ganache.
  • Vermont made aged Gouda
  • Macaroons, brandy snaps, butter cookies with dried cranberries and mini-marshmallows, peanut butter cookies, and rugelach
  • Baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, sour pickles and brown bread
  • Pear and ginger scones
  • Orange creme chiboust with strawberry rhubarb compote, sour cherry napoleons, lavender honey Bavarian torte with blueberry coulis
  • Arugula salad with fresh burrata and cherry tomatoes with a basil vinaigrette
  • Fresh berries in a champagne sabayon, crepes stuffed with white chocolate and mascarpone mousse with strawberry and rhubarb compote
  • Double-crust apple, sweet potato, bourbon pecan, cranberry crumb, custard, key lime and lemon meringue pies
  • Vanilla bean ice cream
  • Parker House rolls
  • Gingerbread (houses and cookies)
  • Tea rings, muffins, scones, shortbreads, hermits

I was torn.  Apple pie is always a favorite but we’re watching calorie intake here after Thanksgiving.   Besides, I had just posted a Sour Cream Apple Pie with Walnut Streusel for my November Movies & Munchies post.

We’ve been eating a lot of salads and I was drawn to the Harvest Dinner salad:  baby red oak greens with toasted black walnuts and maple vinaigrette w/dried-apple spice bread and goat cheese smear.  (Actually I was more drawn to that apple bread and the goat cheese.)

Plan A:  My original plan was to go with Livvy’s first idea and make apple spice bread croutons for the salad.

I found a recipe online for a dried apple bread.  I’m not even going to link to it b/c it was a disaster.  I followed the recipe closely but the batter came out runnier than cake batter.  I added more flour but here’s what happened during baking.  

While I’m not opposed to weird looking kitchen creations, the texture of this bread was less than conducive to crouton making.  (And, this looked like it had a tumor growing out of it.)

Plan B:  So, I decided to leave out the croutons and add dried apples to the salad.

First, make the vinaigrette.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette


  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 c. pure maple syrup
  • 1 T. minced shallots
  • 3/4 c. grape seed oil
  • 1/2 t. seasoned salt
  • 1/4 t. fresh ground pepper


Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until thoroughly blended. Any leftover vinaigrette can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Next, compose the salad.

Plan C:  I had to pivot again.  The dried apples were $6 for a 2 oz. bag (or something equally ridiculous).   I used fresh applies instead.

Mixed Greens Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Goat Cheese, Apples and Maple Vinaigrette


  • 5 oz. mixed greens
  • 1/3 c. walnuts, toasted
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • maple vinaigrette (Recipe above.)


  1. Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Toss with about 3-4 T. of the vinaigrette.
  2. Top with the walnuts, goat cheese, and apples.
  3. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper if desired.


This is one of my favorite vinaigrettes recipes.  I’ve used it before in a spinach salad recipe.  It’s a great recipe for all holiday or harvest salads.

Overall, my Plan C worked out fine.   But, I would still like to find a good dried apple quick bread recipe and make croutons (or at least have a slice with a goat cheese smear).


Thanks for hosting this round, Claudia!

What’s up next for our merry band of readers?   I’m hosting for December/January with  Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That’s a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot (March 2023).   I started reading it back in July but had to return it to the library.  I am totally looking forward to picking it back up!  Consider joining us!   Anyone can participated.  Check out our guidelines for more information.


I’m linking up with Foodies Read for November.

3 comments to A Harvest Salad for The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

  • mae

    Your recipe mishaps make quite a story! I have the same reaction to those tiny packs of dried fruit. So now we buy dried fruit at a bulk food store, to avoid that particular obstacle. I can see why you decided to pass on the pricy ones.

    And the bread! Some recipe writer really doesn’t know what they are doing. I’ve lost confidence in random amateur online recipes — I only go with the ones where there’s a test kitchen involved.

    best, mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • I think the fresh apples are a wonderful addition instead of croutons or dried apples. I have my recipe picked out for Ahdoot’s book but I haven’t made it yet.

  • Sorry about the bread mishap 🙁 I would also have skipped the dried apples: fresh ones are nice paired with toasted walnuts and goat cheese. Lovely salad!