Monday, December 2, 2013

Blogging Here and There

Okay, so clearly I haven't been blogging here in quite awhile. I'm still not ready, though, to call this blog defunct.  Maybe on a temporary hiatus.

But I wanted to let you know that I have been blogging and writing elsewhere. 

First, and hot off the press, I wrote another piece for Bloom about another little known Barbara.  (I've decided that's my Bloom niche--writers named Barbara who are well known in their own countries and nearly unknown here.)  First, it was Barbara Trapido.  Today, it was Barbara Anderson, a writer from New Zealand who started writing in her 60s and published 11 books in the next 20 years. 

Barbara Anderson, Unavoidably Detained

Even though this blog has been silent, for the past few months, I've been blogging weekly for the Hampshire College Food, Farm and Sustainability program.  My job was to collect a CSA share from the Hampshire Farm every week and then cook with the produce.  Lucky me! I had a great time, and there's a whole range of recipes over there, from Nigel Slater's Chocolate-Beet Cake to yummy Sri Lankan Butternut Curry and many more.  There will be a few more holiday posts up in the next few weeks, so keep your eye out for them.  (This week, I am taking a wee break. Even though I was not primarily responsible for the food at either of the two Thanksgiving dinners I attended (thankfully not on the same day), I did make 3 desserts (dark chocolate tart, chocolate cream pie and Dorie Greenspan's All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake), and I need a little breather.) 

A few other things.  I've had some assignments from Amherst magazine as well over the past few months.

There's the essay on crashing my 25th college reunion: The Reunion Crasher

And a book review of Jennifer Cody Epstein's lovely new novel: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

I have a few more newsy pieces in the current issue, including one about the guy who went from Russian major to Green Beret to med student.

So, here's my blogging goal here.  I leave for India on December 29.  It is my fervent hope that I will finish the post about the trip to Scotland Alex and I took . . . in May.  Yes, that's very lame, I realize, but so be it. 

And in the meantime, Happy December!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Barbara Trapido Appreciation Week

I should start this by saying that I am lame. Barbara Trapido Appreciation Week (not its official title) was actually last week, and I'm only getting around to reporting it now. 

I've written before about my great admiration for Trapido, a South African-born British novelist.  I wrote about her a few years ago in my post about re-reading, and I mentioned her as well in my post last fall about Laurie Colwin.  It turns out that I also write about her in a bigger way every 10 years (to the month!).  In 2003, I wrote about her for the very nice but short-lived Readerville Journal, for a column called "Ode to a Lesser Known Genius."  Trapido's agent was very helpful, and once the piece was out, I got a thank you message from Barbara Trapido herself, which thrilled me. 

In the decade since, Trapido has published 2 novels, the autobiographical Frankie and Stankie about Trapido's childhood in South Africa (which actually was coming out right when my article was published) and the 2010 Sex and Stravinsky, full of mismatched lovers, teenage daughters, a truly horrifying mother and the mysterious Jack.  (You'll have to read it to know what I mean.)   I have continued to remain an enormous fan and to wonder why she is so little known in the U.S.

So when Bloom--a cool new site focusing on writers who first published after the age of 40--asked if I was interested in writing a piece, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about.  (Trapido's first novel, Brother of the More Famous Jack, was published in 1982, when she was 41.)  

It was a lovely project.  I spent part of January re-reading four of Trapido's seven novels, the four that share a common set of characters.  It is a testament to her that I'd originally only intended to re-read two of them, but then I just couldn't help myself and kept (re-)reading.  (I'd read each of the four books at least twice previously, though not in the last ten years.)  It was a joy and a pleasure to be back in Trapido's world for that time.  

And last week, I also spent a delightful several hours on the phone with Barbara Trapido herself, just back from a literary festival in Mauritius (and truly a champ to agree to talk to me within hours of her return home to Oxford).  Our conversation was long and rambly and thoroughly enjoyable, and I hope we'll have the opportunity to talk again.  It's not often you get to gab so nicely with one of your favorite writers.  

So, even though Trapido was last week's feature author, and Bloom has moved on, I encourage you to go over to check the site out and participate in Barbara Trapido Appreciation Week--because it's never too late for appreciation!

The Joyful Mystery of Barbara Trapido

Interview with Barbara Trapido

(For a cool photo of Trapido a few years ago, scroll down a bit in this flickr set--she looks to me here the way her character Katherine Brown would look.  (Katherine was the narrator of Brother of the More Famous Jack and reappeared 20 years (and 4 books) later in The Travelling Hornplayer.  If we are lucky, we'll see her once more.  (But you'll have to read the interview to find out more!))

Monday, March 4, 2013

Meatless Mondays: March Forth for Mujaddara


March Forth!  Today is the only day of the year whose date is also a command, an exhortation, a rally cry.

There are many things I could march forth and do today--I did, in fact, march down to my compost pile, in snow boots but not in snow shoes, which is an improvement over a few weeks ago.  But I decided that I also needed to march forth and blog, and what I needed to blog about was mujaddara.

 It is hard, admittedly, to get very excited about cooking in early March.  The vegetables available are the same ones that have been available for months--i.e. vegetables in season in the southern hemisphere or those that can survive for months in a root cellar.  It's hard to cheer for chard or kale or even sweet potatoes in March.  March is that kind of month.

And it's still winter, of a sort.  I was skyping with my friend Sonia this morning, and she was exalting about the sun in Geneva and how she'd walked back to her house with no gloves on except when she was in a particularly shady bit.  I said that it was not not sunny here, and we agreed that was an improvement.  There are flashes of sun on this early March afternoon, and the sky is brighter than it's been in days.  But still, to get to the compost requires snow boots, and when I went for my Sunday run yesterday afternoon, I had to choose a route that avoided the bike path, which is still mostly snow-covered and slippery.  Then again, I didn't leave the house until almost 5 p.m., and that would have been unheard of even a month ago. So, spring is on its way, but it's most definitely not here yet.

And so, mujaddara--a 3 ingredient dish that is absolutely more than the sum of its parts.  It doesn't require any sad winter vegetables, although, of course, you could (and probably should) serve it with a vegetable on the side.  (I enjoyed mine last night with a bit of roasted sweet potato.)

I'm sure that there are as many versions of mujaddara as there are Middle Eastern grandmothers, but I have been making the Food 52 version for several years now and have found no reason yet to expand my horizons.  (The version in the new Ottalenghi Jerusalem cookbook might be that reason, but not quite yet.)  The ingredients are these: lentils, rice, onions.  There is also olive oil and butter, and there is salt, but that really is the sum total of the ingredients.  You boil the lentils, you cook the rice, you caramelize the onions and then you mix it all together and let it sit--for 15 minutes, for several hours, for a day.  What you will find is savory and a bit sweet from the onions and slightly salty and altogether delicious.  Rivka's Food 52 recipe adds a spiced yogurt, and many (though not all) of the commenters over there found that it made the dish for them.  Alas, it didn't for me.  I made the spiced yogurt the first time I made the dish but not since.  I may experiment with coming up with a spiced yogurt I like better, but in the meantime, I've been eating the mujaddara with plain yogurt from Side Hill Farm and enjoying every mouthful.

Last night, Alex and I were talking on the phone, and as soon as I said, "I made the mujaddara with caramelized onions," he said, "I'll be right over."  His reactions are not always that immediate.

What I love about this recipe is that it's simple--you can basically caramelize the onions while the lentils and rice are cooking, limiting your time at the stove--and delicious and easily adaptable.  If you or your guests are gluten-free, no problem.  Vegan--just swap out the butter with olive oil.  Vegetarian, easy.  Carnivorous--well, maybe then you'd serve it as a side, but still, it's a delicious one.

Soon enough, we'll be able to expand our winter repertoire to include  the earliest spring greens, asparagus, green garlic,  chives and more.  But in the meantime, as we wait March out (and entertain ourselves while doing so--it's Tournament of Books time again!), there is mujaddara, and that is at least some consolation. 


 Mujaddara (minus the spiced yogurt)
 (adapted from Rivka at Food 52)

Serves 4

  • 3/4 cups Puy lentils (aka French lentils, the tiny dark brown ones)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), halved and thinly sliced

  1. Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside. 
  2.  At the same time, add rice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups water to another pot, set over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and cover.  (My jasmine rice takes between 15-20 minutes to cook on very low heat.)  Remove lid and fluff with a fork. Set aside.
  3. While rice and lentils are cooking, set a wide, deep saute pan over medium-low heat and add butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has mostly melted, add onions and toss to incorporate with butter and oil.
  4. After 5 minutes, onions will have softened slightly and started to release their liquid. Raise heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes more, until onions are very soft and browned. Add water by the tablespoon if pan gets too dry or if onions start to stick. When onions are well browned, add last tablespoon of olive oil and raise heat to high. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until bottom layer of onions has charred and crisped; try not to stir too much, or onions won't crisp up. (Note: I never added the final tablespoon of oil, and it was still fine.)
  5. Combine rice, lentils, and most of the onions in large serving bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes, to marry the flavors together. (This dish definitely improves with age.) Taste, and add more onions if desired.
  6. If mujaddara has cooled significantly, reheat in a low oven or even in the microwave for a couple minutes. To serve, plate a big scoop of mujaddara and top with a dollop of yogurt.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Eat More Kale Soup!

I think I'm going to skim right over how long it's been since I first started this post.  Let's just say that I believe it was in 2011.  That's right--not even last year, but the year before.  And then I'm also going to skim right over what a bad blogger I was in 2012.  It's a new year, 2013, and we're looking ahead.  So I'm going to first say Happy New Year to the five people who are still reading this, after my prolonged absence, and then I am going to tell you about one of the best ways to eat kale that I know of. (In the interests of honesty, I will also tell you that I made this linguine with kale and breadcrumbs from Food52 last night, and it was also delicious, but make the soup first!)

Remember Bo, the Eat More Kale guy?  He's the guy in Vermont selling "Eat More Kale" t-shirts who was told to cease and desist by Chik-fil-A because, according to them, "Eat more kale" trespassed on their copyright of "Eat Mor Chikin"?  This was in the news last winter--here's the New York Times story on it.  I googled to see what's been happening since, and one thing that's happened is that a documentary called "A Defiant Dude" is being made about Bo and his fight.

While I don't own my own Eat More Kale t-shirt, I have, in fact, been eating more kale, and that's because of this kale and potato soup.

Last fall, or perhaps the fall before that, a kale-growing colleague brought me a big bunch of kale.  I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.  It's not that I don't like kale--it's more that I'd never cooked it regularly.  I poked around looking for recipes.  I was tempted by Molly's recipe at Orangette for Boiled Kale with a Fried Egg and Toast--I like almost anything if it includes an egg and toast--but it wasn't quite what I was in the mood for.  I decided, instead, to make kale soup.  I remembered that there is a Portuguese soup called caldo verde (green broth) with kale and potatoes in it, so I thought I'd make that.

Alas, I soon learned that traditional caldo verde also includes large quantities of pork sausage.  But since I had recently discovered that smoked paprika could add a nice smoky flavor to a vegetarian soup, I decided to experiment.  (Exhibit A in this category is the smoky minestrone with tortellini and parsley pesto, which remains a favorite.) I also had been making a lot of potato-leek soup, and I used that as another inspiration. 

I've made this soup over and over since then, and it's almost certainly true that I've never made it exactly the same way twice.  That's actually one of the great things about it--you can be flexible with the ingredients, and the soup will still be delicious.   As long as there is some kind of allium (onion, leek, shallot), some kind of potato, garlic, kale and smoked paprika, you will end up with delicious--and deliciously healthy--soup. 

You basically start as if you're making leek and potato soup, by sauteing leeks (and/or onions and/or shallots) in a bit of butter.  I usually put my first hit of smoked paprika in with the leeks or onions.  Then, you add diced, peeled potatoes and mix everything up.  Once the potatoes have had a few minutes to mix and meld with the leeks/onions, you add water.  Meanwhile, you're dealing with the kale. 

Kale can be kind of annoying to process--you need to cut out the tough stems and chop it thinly.  (In traditional caldo verde, the kale is sliced into ribbons, and the soup isn't pureed.  In my version, since I do puree it, it doesn't matter how thin the kale is sliced since it's all going to get ground up anyway in the blender. Still, thinner slices cook faster, so that's what I usually go with.) 

Then, you add the kale, which eventually cooks down. 

Once the potatoes and kale are both soft, you're basically done.  I like my kale and potato soup pureed, so at that point, I use my handy immersion blender and whirl it all up until it's a nice shade of green.  You could also put it through a food mill instead, if you were so inclined.

 At this point, you still have options.  I often add more smoked paprika, and I always season it with Maldon salt, which is another kitchen favorite.  (Really, I was never a believer in the power of good sea salt until I tried Maldon salt, and now I am never without it. It is especially good for finishing a dish and bringing the flavors out.)  Sometimes, I add a bit (maybe a few tablespoons) of half and half, which gives the soup a luxurious touch.  (It also mellows out the flavor of the kale in a nice way, which is especially helpful if you have kale-doubters at your table.) 

Last summer, for the first time, with this soup in mind, I decided to grow my own lacinato kale. (That's the dark kale, also called dino kale and Tuscan kale.)  Except, being the haphazard gardener that I am, I bought a six-pack of it in the spring, thinking I'd plant that so I'd have some while waiting for my seeds to grow.  But then, I didn't plant the six-pack or the seeds, and by late August, there was no kale at all in my garden.  But suddenly I discovered that the six-pack of kale was still alive.  Blessed, hearty kale.  So, I planted it in the garden, and it grew.  Not as huge as it would have been if I'd planted it earlier, but it still grew.  And at exactly the moment it was getting big enough to eat, tragedy struck.  I looked out my kitchen window one day in the fall to see how it was doing and learned that what it was doing was nourishing a deer.  The deer was gone by then, but so was the kale, every single last edible piece.

The thing with gardening, though, as it is with blogging, is that there is always another chance.  Summer will return, and hopefully before then, the urge to blog will return as well. (Maybe it even has already!)  And January, after all, is a good month for blogging and soup eating and dreaming of, if not exactly kale, then of gardens in which to plant it and deer who will find someone else's greens to munch on next summer.

Smoky Kale and Potato Soup

  • 3 large leeks (or 2 onions or several shallots or some combination thereof)
  • 2 large (or 3 small) cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large bunch kale--I always use Lacinato, but other kinds should work
  • 1-2 tbsps. butter
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or more to taste)
  • 2-3 tbsp. half and half (optional)
  • Sea salt
  1. In a large soup pot, saute the white part of the leeks (and/or the onions or shallots) in the butter until soft but not brown.
  2.  Once the leeks are soft, add the garlic and continue to stir.
  3. Add 1 tsp. smoked paprika to the leeks and garlic and stir until coated.
  4.  Meanwhile, while leeks are cooking, peel and dice the potatoes.  Add to the leeks and garlic and cook for several minutes.  If anything starts to stick, you can add a bit of water now.
  5. Add approx. 2 quarts of water.
  6. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.
  7. Take out the tough ribs of the kale and chop the kale leaves finely.  (I usually do it in ribbons, even if I'm pureeing the soup.)
  8. Add the kale to the soup.
  9. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or as long as it takes for the potatoes to be soft (they should break up when you mash them against the edge of the pot).
  10. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or grind it up in a food mill (and return to the pot.)
  11. Salt to taste, ideally with Maldon salt, and season with additional smoked paprika to taste
  12. (Optional) Add several tablespoons of half and half (I never usually measure but use just a splash from the carton).
  13. Eat more kale and enjoy!