Tomato Two-Times Easy Pasta w/Mushrooms for Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies

For the December/January round of Cook the Books, Deb is hosting and featuring Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman.

Miss Cecily's Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman

About the book:

When her life falls apart on the eve of her 40th birthday, Kate Parker finds herself volunteering at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies. There she meets 97-year-old Cecily Finn. Cecily’s tongue is as sharp as her mind, but she’s fed up with pretty much everything.

Having no patience for Kate’s choices in life or love, Cecily prescribes her a self-help book…of sorts—Thought for Foodan unintentionally funny 1950s cookbook high on enthusiasm, featuring menus for anything life can throw at the “easily dismayed,” such as:

  • Breakfast with a Hangover
  • Tea for a Crotchety Aunt
  • Dinner for a Charming Stranger

As she and Cecily break out of their ruts, Kate will learn far more than recipes.

A feel-good summer read with a wicked sense of humor, Vicky Zimmerman’s book will teach you that food is for feasting, friends are for savoring, and the way to a man’s heart is…irrelevant.

Fans of Jennifer Weiner, Elin Hildenbrand, and Sophie Kinsella will delight in this recipe for confidence, romance, and fun.

About the author:

Vicky Zimmerman studied English at Sussex University, went on to work in advertising at the BBC and  as a professional food taster. She is now a full-time writer, based in London, and has written five novels, four of which were under the name Stella Newman.

What I thought:

I was a bit skeptical from the title (and I do think an alternate title would have been better) but I loved this novel. It’s a foodie book, sort of a realistic romance (meaning it’s not sappy) and a tale of female friendship that spans generations.

Kate is a food writer of sorts, churning out taglines for a supermarket.     Her days are spent finding new and inventive ways to say “carrots are crunchy.”   Her romantic life is chaotic and she spends her time trying to make a slug of a boyfriend commit.  The first time (for the reader, at least) that it becomes obvious that the relationship is doomed, she decides to volunteer to keep her mind off of her troubles.  After she finds out there’s a waiting list for cuddling kittens, she ends up at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies (again with that title).

‘What brings you to Lauderdale today?’ The kittens rejected me.

‘What is your greatest strength?’ My ability to tolerate bad behavior.

‘When have you overcome a major challenge?’ I managed to get out of bed this morning.

This is her state of mind as she fills out the volunteer questionnaire.

She is paired up with Cecily, a type of female Ove, if you will.  Cecily is a loner and crotchety but somehow connects with Kate (probably due to Kate’s persistence).  Cecily gifts Kate  a 1950s vintage copy of Thoughts for Food:  A Cookbook for Entertaining Occasions.

The book is in six sections including Family Occasions, Social Occasions, and Occasions of Emergency.  Each section has a dozen short chapters—‘Luncheon for a Bad-Tempered Client,’ ‘Supper to Make Peace with Your Sister after a Squabble’ … Each chapter starts with a relevant quote, then lists the meal’s aim, followed by advice on the setting, menu, and recipes. (125)

As the tale unfolds and as Kate makes her way through Thoughts for Food, Cecily is revealed to be a lot more than just an aging curmudgeon with an extensive cookbook collection.  She begins to share more and more with Kate:  “I once gave a speech at the UN, and now putting on my cardigan is a triumph” (279).  Cecily also tries to steer Kate away from the slug Nick with sage (and sometimes humorous) advice:

‘Never play chess with a pigeon, and certainly don’t play it twice,’ says Cecily, drawing her head back in horror.

‘Is that another metaphor, Mrs. Flynn?’

‘That’s surely a rhetorical question,’ says Cecily frowning.  ‘Well, I suppose either way it’s sage.’  She shrugs, reaching for another all-butter shortbread. ‘Embark on a game of skill with a flying vermin, and it cannot end well.’ (154)

Watching Kate and Cecily’s relationship flourish and watching Kate realize her worth and what she really wants is refreshing.   Fate is a funny thing and surely Kate being paired with Cecily was meant to happen…for both of them.  Both of these females are fascinating. Although Kate makes some poor romantic choices, I didn’t feel the need to shake her as I do with a lot of female romantic leads. Cecily was just endearing, even with her crankiness.

There was one romantic interlude that I thought was unnecessary (Martin, if you’re keeping track) and I really never got Rita (Kate’s mom).

I would recommend this if you are a foodie or you need a book club recommendation.  I’m glad that Deb steered us to it for this round!

Life is not scary; life’s a great, big abundant universe full of possibilities (183).

The Food:

As for the food in this novel, there is too much to mention.  Seriously.  Here are a few standouts that made the short list of possible “inspired by” recipes:

  • Project Burger with a Magic sauce of Tabasco, mayo, and ketchup but this was one of Nick’s recipes and I was not doing that…but it sounded delicious.
  • Breakfast burritos with chorizo, scrambled eggs, cheese, homemade salsa, jalapenos and sour cream (alas, another Nick dish)
  • Spicy tomato and bacon rigatoni
  • Slow-roasted chicken with lemon and harissa (after she realizes for the umpteenth time that Nick is an idiot) from the section “Lunch for When You’re Thoroughly Bored with Yourself”
  • “Pasta followed by Pasta”

I do wish that Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies had included one or two recipes at the end of the novel, but perhaps that is a passing fad.

Wanting nothing to do with Nick (the slug mentioned above), I steered away from any meal that was intended for his enjoyment.   The lemon-harissa roasted chicken sounded amazing and I did find a few recipes online that I almost tried.  (If you’re interested, here’s one from Martha Stewart and one from The Telegraph.)


I loved how Cecily titled her menu selections and one night I was just inspired (or actually not so much).   In a total homage to Cecily and partially inspired by Kate’s “Pasta on Pasta” meal, I present the following.

“When there’s no protein in the house and you’re not going to the store yet you don’t want to make plain spaghetti with red sauce (and you have mushrooms to use)”


Tomato Two-Times Easy Pasta w/Mushrooms

Debra (based on a Hello Fresh meal)

I always say I am going to recreate a Hello Fresh meal from a saved recipe. I finally did it and I think I improved upon it greatly with what I had on hand.


  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 1/8 c. sliced almonds
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I used portobellas.)
  • 1/3 c.  dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 clove garlic, sliced thin with a razor blade or carefully on a mandolin
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 6 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh basil


  1. Start a large pot of salted water to heating. Bring to a boil. Cook pasta for 9-11 minutes.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and toast the almonds, stirring often until fragrant (about 2-4 minutes.) Transfer toasted almonds to a small bowl and wipe out pan.
  3. In the same pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook 4-5 minutes.  Add the dried tomatoes and garlic, cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir in wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and whisk in goat cheese.
  5. Stir in grape tomatoes. When spaghetti is done, drain but reserve about 2/3 cup pasta water. Add spaghetti and toss to combine. If you want the dish saucier, add the pasta water until the desired creaminess is achieved. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide pasta between four bowls. Top with the toasted almonds and fresh basil. Serve.

Yield: 4

Prep Time: 10 mins.

Cook time: 20 mins.

Total time: 30 mins.

Basil from the green house.

Delicious and easy.  The toasted almonds just adds the right amount of crunchiness.  The basil adds the right freshness.

Thanks to Deb again for hosting.  Look for the round up to be posted at the beginning of February at Cook the Books.   Join us for the next round for The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock).

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