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 

No comments :

Post a Comment