Wednesday, October 12, 2016

To birth and death and the mess in between; might as well call it life

"I knew that good poker strategy recommended
allowing yourself sometimes to be caught in a failed bluff. But a successful bluff is best not proclaimed, particularly one that you guess has been aided by the kibitzer behind your back. My father told me later that my face resembled a tomato."

~Edith Pearlman
 "Chance" from Love Among the Greats

"An oath, a prayer, a toast! 'To them,' Josie breathed. To birth and death and the mess in between; might as well call it life, everybody else does."

~Edith Pearlman
"Rehearsals" from Vaquita


This past summer, I discovered the stories of New England writer Edith Pearlman. Oh, she's wonderful! She draws an array of characters with wit and elegance: smart children whose early escapades return to visit them in later life; quiet, handsome rabbis at household poker tables; aging professors of history and their caretakers; resident doctors in the third world; a Polish expatriate minister of health in an unnamed South American country. 

One favorite story, "Blessed Harry," features a Boston professor of Latin who's invited to give a lecture on life's mysteries to a large group of London scholars. He tries to find the time to prepare, while navigating the demands of his teaching position, a second job in a shoe store, and a busy home life. 

The invitation turns out to be a scam, which Harry slowly comes to realize. All the while, scenes of his devoted Bonnie and their three growing sons reveal his chaotic but affectionate world. The final moment has her viewing them all, a busy family of five, reflected in a dining room mirror. She decides that her "honorable husband" was indeed the best choice to share the mysteries of life "with those overeducated Brits, all 850 of them," because:

"What counted was how you behaved while death let you live, 
and how you met death when life released you. 

That was the long and the short of it."

Tomatoes know how to live. They love the sun, they sprawl in friendly tangles overtop each other, they thrive if given a little love and water, and they taste wonderful. Tomatoes are still spilling over baskets at the farmer's market. Try this tian, before all the summer bounty is gone.

Vegetable Tian

don't cry, they're delicious!

          1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
          2 sweet white onions, sliced thin
          salt and pepper
          2 Tbsp Italian seasoning (or oregano)
          6 to 8 fat garlic cloves, minced
          3 good shakes of red pepper flakes
          2 small zucchini, sliced
          2 small eggplants, sliced
          4 to 6 medium tomatoes, sliced & seeded
          sliced black olives (optional)
          fresh basil leaves
          grated Parmesan (optional)

Saute the onions with seasoning and pepper flakes in 1/4 cup of olive oil about five minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring lightly.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees, and spread the cooked onions into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Arrange the sliced eggplant, zucchini, and tomato slices in alternating rows on top of the onions. Stand them up vertically to pack in a lot of color and taste. Drizzle on a little more olive oil and add olives if you prefer.

ready for the oven
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, when vegetables are tender but not charred. I added just a bit more olive oil about halfway through. Pass Parmesan and basil leaves at the table, to sprinkle on top.

This tastes best if you allow it to cool for at least a half hour before serving. Also really good cold, from the fridge, the next day.
an easy bridge into autumn

This tian is so tasty! It makes me happy; so I leave you laughing, with Edith's best line ever. Track down the story!

"They were relieved I was chosen by a human being," she'd said to Angelica, in her dry voice. 
"They were braced for an interspecies liaison."
from Binocular Vision 

Monday, June 6, 2016

If you're quiet, you can hear the rhubarb growing

Lahiri writes such gorgeous sentences!

Most people trusted in the future,
assuming that their preferred version of it
would unfold.
                                   ~Jhumpa Lahiri
                                     The Lowland

Like the rhubarb bubbling in the pans, coating them red, [Indian-ness] stains everything she touches .... Jhumpa Lahiri scrubbed her latest novel clean of stereotypes--except for the turmeric of autumnal leaves ....

                                   ~Charmi Harikrishnan
                                     India Today


Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland begins in the Tollygunge area of Calcutta, just outside the famed Tolly Club, where two brothers grow up united in friendship, family expectation, and love .... but become divided by temperament and ideology. When one brother's rash political activism gets him killed, the older brother, of a more cautious and individualistic turn of mind, rescues the former's pregnant wife and makes a new life for them in America. 

After I read The Lowland, I wanted to cook something colorful and filled with contrast. Rhubarb has a lot of pucker; strawberries are friendly and sweet. The two combine for a heady, delicious mix, topped with oats and almonds for crunch.

We had it instead of cake for Pat's birthday, with grilled chicken and a fresh salad of garden greens. First cookout of the season, with a bright and tangy dessert. Next time, I'll try it over coals in a Dutch oven. Welcome summer!

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp

the farmer's market has a lot of rhubarb just now

Fruit Filling
     4 cups rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
     2 cups organic strawberries, quartered
     1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar
     1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
     1 tsp. vanilla extract

     1 cup unbleached flour
     1/3 cup brown sugar
     2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
     1 stick very cold, salted butter, cubed
     1/4 tsp salt
     1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
     3/4  cup sliced almonds

Combine filling ingredients and stir to coat the fruit with sugar and cornstarch. Don't add extra strawberriesI was tempted! but they have too much water in them. The sugar will help to tame the tartness of the rhubarb. Transfer the filling into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish.

Combine flour, sugars, butter, and salt. Blend using a pulsing action in a food processor or mixer until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, like for pie crust. Stir in rolled oats and almonds.

ready for the oven
Spoon the topping over the fruit in the baking dish and spread evenly. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown. The kitchen will smell wonderful! 

Serve with vanilla ice cream. Delicious for breakfast, served with plain yogurt.

ready for the table

ready for you!

"With children, the clock is reset.
We forget what came before." ~Jhumpa Lahiri

I feel that way about summer!


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pasta with Maddy and Cat

Maddy and Catherine, Never-mean Girls
Regina: Cady, do you even know who sings this?                   
Cady: .... the Spice Girls?

Regina:  I love her. She's like a Martian!

Damian: ... and that little one, she's Gretchen Wieners, she knows everybody's business.

Janis:  That's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets.      

Karen: There's a 30 percent chance that it's already raining!                   

                                                          ~ Mean Girls

For a good time, have your nieces over for a night of cooking and movies. My house has always been boys, boys, boys ... so the DVD shelves are stacked with Jason Bourne, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek. There's this whole Tina Fey, Reese Witherspoon Spice World we somehow missed.

Lucky, Maddy and Catherine came by to show me some classics!  We made pasta and settled in for a great night at the girl flicks: Mean Girls and Legally Blonde.

Il Fungi Selvaggio (Shrimp and Shrooms with Sheet Pasta)

Dried pasta of your choice ..... or make your own!
Homemade Pasta:

        3 cups semolina flour
        1 tsp. salt
        5 eggs

Make a mound of flour on a smooth surface and scoop out the center to make a small well. Break the eggs into the well. Combine gently with a fork, breaking yolks and blending. Gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs, to make a medium soft dough. If it seems too sticky, add just a little flour. Knead gently until it feels smooth and soft. Roll it into a 6-8 inch log and wrap in plastic. Clean the surface and fix the pasta machine to the countertop.

Slice off a fifth of the log (you'll use many slices as the number of eggs in the dough) and keep the remaining dough wrapped. Follow the machine directions to roll the slice of dough gradually into a long noodle, kind of like a lasagna noodle. Set it aside to dry and continue with the remaining dough. You should have five long noodles when you're finished.

"maltagliati" is a pretty way to say ... badly cut
Use the spaghetti cutters if you like, to slice the noodles further. We tore ours into maltagliati, or "scrap pasta" pieces.  

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until not quite soft ... al dente, or "to the tooth." Start the sauce while the pasta cooks, but keep the timer on! When 4 minutes are up, drain the pasta, reserving a cup of water. 

Keep the noodles warm while the sauce is cooking. For me, this means placing a lid over the colander.

Fun facts about pasta:

   * "fresh" packaged at the market means it has been treated with a preservative to stay soft ... better to buy the dried

   * never refrigerate homemade pasta dough ... cold is its enemy; instead, try to roll it within a few hours

   * don't wash the pasta machine ... just brush away the dried dough with stiff bristles and wipe down the metal with a clean cloth

Shrimp and Mushroom Sauce
       1/2 to 1 onion, diced
       3 cloves of garlic, minced
       3 to 4 tsp. butter
       1 to 2 lbs of raw shrimp, tails removed
       1 lb assorted mushrooms, or to taste ... I used button, cremini, and fancy dried kinds, reconstituted
        1/4 to 1/2 cup pasta water ... you can reduce this and use more butter if you prefer
         parmesan cheese, shredded, to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add shrimp and stir until just starting to turn pink. Add mushrooms and cook very gently on low, as they begin to give off their liquid. Add pasta water and butter to make a simple sauce. Stir in the pasta... you might not need all of it. Save some for another great dish. Stir in some cheese, and pass a little to sprinkle on top.

optional, but great to include: chili flakes, cayenne pepper, chopped or dried basil, a little parsley

yummy with a salad and something chocolate later, you can always work out in the morning 

Especially really yummy while watching chick flicks with super cute nieces. 
Next time, we're cueing up some Star Wars .... they've never seen it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Winter's at the door . . . what's for dinner?

I didn't want to argue with Irene.
I wanted to understand Irene.

I wanted to become her--to hold her place, guard the coordinates
of her personality until she could resume it.

The whine of an electric saw rose from the cornfield
and the sound of locusts seemed to sharpen in response--
a fierce, rhythmic chatter like a legion of monkeys.

                          ~Jennifer Egan
                                Look at Me


Jennifer Egan's sprawling novel takes place largely in an Illinois cornfield, but also in a Manhattan skyscraper. Readers shuttle back and forth between her two Charlottes, one in each locale; and there's the eerie sense that Ms. Egan has a crystal ball. She knows things.

I say she knows things because, though it was published in September 2001, Look at Me features a Middle Eastern extremist named X whose been training in New York for jihad. It also imagines a social media Web site called Ordinary People, one that pre-dates Facebook. Really!

It's a beautifully written novel, and I hope you'll take a look. This is the perfect moment: they've given us back the hour we lost in the spring, so dark comes early now. Winter's at the door.

harvest date: November 2, can you believe it??
And yet, Look at Me: I'm still harvesting garden tomatoes! And our local farmstand, Reggie's, still has fresh corn.

So it's also the perfect time for a bowl of soup. Here are two favorites to try on a chilly evening before that farmstand folds up its tent for the year. If you have to wait til next summer for fresh, these will taste almost as good with canned or frozen veggies.

           A good book and a bowl of chowder. 

                      Happy November!


Corn Chowder
                 6 to 8 ears of fresh yellow corn, husked and cut (or 3 10-oz bags of frozen corn)
                     2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
                    1 sweet white onion, peeled and chopped   
                    Water: start with 3 cups, will need 2 to 3 cups more
                    1/2 large red pepper, chopped
                    1/2 stick butter
                    1/4 cup unbleached flour
                    4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced (no need to peel)
                    Italian herb seasoning
                    salt and pepper
                    1 cup half and half or light whipping cream
                    2 tsp. honey (optional)
                    green onion to taste, chopped
                    a few slices of bacon, fried until crisp and broken into bits (optional)

Melt the butter in a large pot and add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is just translucent and garlic begins to brown. Add flour and whisk to combine. Pour in the water and stir gently. Bring to a low boil and stir in the corn and potatoes. Add water to cover. Bring again to the boil, then reduce heat. Add herbs and salt and pepper and keep an eye on things while the chowder simmers on low, about twenty minutes, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. 

Using a blender, puree about half the soup in small batches of 2 cups each until smooth. Stir the puree back into the pot. Add whipping cream slowly and taste. If you'd like it just a little sweeter, add the honey--a delicious and mellow surprise. Sprinkle with chives to serve, and bacon if it's windy and chilly outside. Might need more salt, but check. This chowder is even better on the second day!

corn chowder: summer in winter

watch this space: a tomato bisque recipe is on the way . . . mmmmmmmm

Friday, July 3, 2015

Breakfast at Wimbledon

July wildflowers
Payette National Forest, Idaho, USA

"There is here, what is not in the old country. In spite of hard unfamiliar things, there is here--hope. In the old country, a man is given to the past. Here he belongs to the future. Already it is starting, the getting better." She picked up the baby and held it high in her arms. 

"This child was born of parents who can read and write," she said simply. "To me this is a great wonder."

. . . "Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?"

"The secret lies in the reading and the writing."

                                                         ~Betty Smith
                                   A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Here are some quick, healthy waffles for the Fourth of July. They make up a nice Breakfast at Wimbledon, and as we watch, we give a shout out to Americans in the contest. It always seems a little audacious to me that the All-England Club fills ESPN with its grass courts over the U.S. Independence Day, but I suppose I'm the one choosing to watch.

And why not? This very morning, Queen Serena fielded a serious challenge from a British loyalist named Heather Watson in a wonderful match. And here's an amazing clip from the longest Wimbledon match in history--don't worry, it's just the final moments. Check out the winner!

After breakfast, we cycle on downtown for the Liberty Parade. Later on, a barbecue and a baseball game, complete with fireworks. What are you doing for the 4th? Happy Birthday America!


Wimbledon Waffles

2 cups flour; I use a mix of whole wheat and unbleached white
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh summer berries . . . anything better in the world?
2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 to 1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks, beat with a fork 
1 1/4 cup almond or cashew milk, unsweetened
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. flaxseed
3 egg whites, beat until stiff

fresh strawberries (halved or quartered), raspberries, blueberries
plain nonfat yogurt
maple syrup
walnuts (optional)

flaxseed adds protein, fiber, a bit of crunch
Combine the first four ingredients. Combine egg yolks and milk and add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until smooth. Add oil and flaxseed and stir until combined. Fold in the egg whites. Cook by 1/3-cupfuls on a well-oiled waffle iron. 

Easy, quick, and good!

strawberries and (sort of) cream with the all-England club

Thank you service men and women, veterans, civil servants, entrepreneurs, fine citizens, families--

all who make beautiful America so grand and free.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

There is a blurred nostalgia women have that men don't. ~Barry Hannah

pretty, but are 'gators lurking? here's a tale!
When I am run down 
and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer 
to the end of the pier 
where the old liars 
are still snapping and wheezing 
at one another.
                  ~"Water Liars"


Southern American Barry Hannah wrote big, wonderful, humid, swampy stories about men and their troubles, all set about with pawpaws and alligators. You can detect the fragrance of Spanish moss and wisteria, imagine the wet feet of cypress trees and the brush of willow switches.

I grew up singing the spelling, but I have yet to see Mr. Hannah's native Mississippi. He makes me drunk with desire to get to a place truly called the Yazoo River. Track down Hannah's work if you can; read Airships, the collection that includes the scene above. One day, I'll land in Miss'ippi, and honor him along with Mr. Faulkner and Ms. Eudora Welty.

Men and their troubles. Am I wrong to suspect that some men in the South carry an extra propensity for sorrow? There's an aura of decorum laced into a basic and mighty, masculine appeal; yet it can be blurred, not with nostalgia but with turmoil and consequence--the haunted legacy of Confederacy. This very week, that legacy erupted in massacre at a Carolina prayer meeting.

Sometimes cooking heals, and always love prevails. I've lived the last three decades with only boys and men, love 'em past the end of the pier. So here's a recipe for Fathers Day-worthy pulled pork with a mess of slaw. I cooked it up when all my guys came home and I wanted to make them extra happy.


Easy Crock-Pot Pulled Pork

                    1 pork shoulder roast or pork butt (it is really the shoulder), about 5 pounds
                    Greek seasoning--I buy this in a single spice jar; it includes salt and pepper, garlic, oregano, basil, and parsley
                    Optional: chopped onion, your favorite barbecue sauce

no need to heat up your oven on a summer day

Did I mention easy? All you do is arrange the pork in the crock pot, sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of seasoning over top, and turn the crock on high. Cover and cook for six hours, and it's fork perfect! If you want to add onion and/or sauce, stir them in for the final hour.

Cole Slaw

                     1 perfectly fresh and crispy head of green cabbage, cored and trimmed
                     2 carrots, peeled
                     Fresh onion to taste--I use about half a medium-sized sweet red or white onion
                     1 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
                     1 to 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
                     Best Foods Real Mayonnaise. "Lite" might be okay for the occasional sandwich, but not for cole slaw! I start with a couple good spoonfuls and adjust the amount to taste.
                     Salt and pepper to taste

My Cuisinart food processor is a very handy tool for this cole slaw. Cut the cabbage into fourths or eighths, and feed it slowly through the hopper to the chopper. Empty the processor periodically, filling a large glass or ceramic bowl with chopped cabbage. Do the same with the carrots and onion. 

Toss together gently and add sugar, vinegar, and mayonnaise. Adjust to taste as you stir in salt and pepper. Serve chilled. If you have an hour or two, it's nice to make this ahead so the flavors have a chance to deepen. 

The slaw is great for two days (kept in the fridge! all that mayo) and then it gets weepy. Sort of like the big-story tellers down at the pier.

also good on a Kaiser bun . . . pass Sriracha and cold lemonade

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The dream which woke the woman

The Wall
Expulsion from the Garden by Thomas Cole

by Donald Justice

The wall surrounding them they never saw;
The angels, often. Angels were as common
As birds or butterflies, but looked more human.
As long as the wings were furled, they felt no awe.
Beasts, too, were friendly. They could find no flaw
In all of Eden: this was the first omen.
The second was the dream which woke the woman.
She dreamed she saw the lion sharpen his claw.
As for the fruit, it had no taste at all.
They had been warned of what was bound to happen.
They had been told of something called the world.
They had been told and told about the wall.
They saw it now; the gate was standing open.
As they advanced, the giant wings unfurled.

If you count the lines, you know this is a sonnet; and if you studied poetry it's clear this is an Italian one. I had to be told, myself, but ignorance about sonnets don't keep me from enjoying one!

It's gorgeous, isn't it? . . . and printed in a book of Donald Justice poems sent by my kind brother. I learned the fourteen lines while swimming laps at the Y, during a dark year when I felt the particular need for an angel. I typed the poem, tucked it in a plastic sheet, and laid it on the concrete rim of the pool. The music of each line carried me through the water, and I had the perfect excuse to stop often, slip off my goggles, and fill my mind with beautiful language and imagery (and the shouts of the nearby swim team) instead of Sharp and Threatening Thoughts. Voila! Angel.

If you ever have Sharp and Threatening Thoughts, here is one sure way to get rid of them: find an Italian sonnet. And if none are available (or even if one is), you should cook the most authentic Italian lasagna. 

Even better--go swimming first. Swimming on a chilly March day makes you very hungry and happy to be in the world.


Lasagna Bolognese

3 cups flour (I use 1 cup semolina flour and 2 cups all-purpose, unbleached)
5 eggs, room temperature

Sift flours together into a mound on a clean, cold surface. Make a well in the center, then break the eggs into the well. Stir the eggs with a fork to combine the whites and yolks, and gradually bring flour from the edge of the well into the eggs. Continue combining the mix. When dough becomes stiff, knead flour and eggs with your hands until the dough no longer feels sticky. Form it into a loaf shape and wrap it in plastic. Clean the surface and your hands.

Fix the pasta machine to the counter and unwrap the dough. Cut it into 5 or 6 equal pieces and re-wrap all but the piece you are ready to use. Knead the piece until the dough feels pliant, 1 to 2 minutes. Flatten it a bit so it will fit through the wide-set roller of the machine. Feed pasta through the roller 3 or 4 times, folding and turning it each time until it begins to get smooth, flat, and long.

Begin decreasing the settings and rolling the pasta through each one, until you get a satiny, flattened, long lasagna "noodle" that fits easily through the tightest roller setting; the noodle might be 2 feet long. Set it on a rack or between damp towels; it will get sticky as it rests. Continue rolling the rest of the dough in the same way.

You can run into trouble if you decrease the settings too quickly; but if that happens, re-wrap the dough and try again with another piece. This gets a lot easier with practice.

I don't boil the noodles before baking them--this is complicated enough!--but some people do.  

Bolognese meat sauce:
sauce underway; the vegetables make a "soffrito"
1 white onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground beef; sirloin is really good
1 lb. ground pork; I've learned the hard way, sausage is too oily
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
2 chicken livers, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup whole milk
1 15-oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth, or Better Than Broth dissolved in 3 cups hot water

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot and add meats and vegetables. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the ground meat with a wooden spoon until it is well browned, about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add wine and bring to a very soft boil, scraping the bottom of the pot often, about 2 minutes. Add milk and bring just to a scald, then reduce heat and simmer until it seems to need more liquid. Add tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer. Add water it if looks dry. You can leave it to cook for half the day if you want to, but a half hour is also good.

White sauce:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/8 to 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 cups whole milk, room temp
nutmeg to taste

White sauce is a delicate operation for me. Melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour little by little, with a small wire whisk, to make a roux. When it is smooth and before it begins to brown, add milk gently, one slow cup at a time. Keep stirring as it begins to thicken. If it seems to resist thickening, whisk in a very little more flour, very gently, stirring until smooth. Add the nutmeg and salt to taste. Don't let it stay on the heat . . . it burns easily!

To layer:
parmesan cheese, grated fine

Prepare a baking dish (9x13 works well, or I use a slightly smaller casserole) with a good spray of Pam or with a light coating of olive oil. Line the bottom of the dish with a layer of noodles, trimming pasta sheets with a knife. It's okay to patch. You want a single layer.

Spread this layer of pasta with a cup of Bolognese sauce, then sprinkle lightly with parmesan. Add another layer of pasta, and spread this with a cup of Bolognese and then a cup of white sauce. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan. Repeat layers, ending with Bolognese sauce and a final sprinkling of parmesan. I get five to seven layers when I made this. If you have Bolognese left over, save it for another wonderful meal.

Bake at 350 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet until lasagna begins to brown on top, about 1 hour. If you have time, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. And you know what? it's even better on the second day.
Magnifico! when are you coming over??

if you swim another lap . . . what the heck, you can have another piece