Soup and salad, January

I believe that’s a rabbit hanging on the wall. Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Let me begin with this warning: I am not a food blogger, and this is not a cooking blog. Also, I’m lucky to have no food allergies or restrictions.

That said, I give you the results of my reading of d’Avila’s January recipes in Twelve Months of Monastery Salads and Twelve Months of Monastery Soups: two soups and two salads. I’ve cooked from his books before, so I already know a few adjustments — for instance, his soups are sometimes watery, and nearly all of his recipes could use more spice.

So, shall we?


Saint Basil Soup, with a hefty amount of mushrooms

I started with Saint Basil Soup, the first recipe in d’Avila’s book. Its combination of mushrooms, carrots, celery and onions builds a mild but satisfying broth full of perfectly cooked vegetables. I cut back on the water, added a dash of lemon juice and chili flakes, and was quite satisfied with the result. A bowl of this soup, with toast, made a perfect breakfast for a chilly morning. Chopped parsley for garnish gave a dash of bright color.

This recipe made enough to last for several days — it could easily serve six, with perhaps a bit remaining for leftovers. And don’t forget the rustic bread.

Spicy English Parsnip Soup, in my Spode Chinese Rose Cream Soup Bowl

Next, I bypassed several recipes, including Artichoke and Potato Soup and a Cauliflower Velouté, and found Spicy English Parsnip Soup. It was lovely, and I have several servings stashed away in my freezer. I’ve marked this as a recipe to make often.

Onions, parsnips, potatoes and garlic, seasoned with curry, fresh ginger and chili flakes. d’Avila’s recipe calls only for 1 tsp of curry and 1/2 tsp ginger powder — I tripled the curry amount and used fresh ginger instead, and tossed in a small amount of chili flakes.

Purée in a blender, add some cream and there you are. Piping hot, it’s another excellent dish for a cold day. I made mine with chicken broth, but vegetable broth or plain water will work, and you can easily omit the cream.

Again, perfect the next morning for breakfast — easy to reheat (don’t let it boil!), and easily supplemented with buttered toast.


I forgot the walnuts!

This being the traditional season for citrus, I decided to go with Baby Spinach and Orange Salad. Combine spinach and fresh orange segments with a few thin slices of cucumber, chopped red onion, toasted walnuts and a honey-mustard dressing (easy to make). A good accompaniment to any main dish.

A former neighbor who now lives on the West Coast makes a similar salad — fresh orange slices, sliced red onion, greens — so I knew the orange and onion complimented each other. Because I’ve never been a fan of raw onions, I chopped them very fine and used much less than the recipe calls for. Clearly, salad recipes are infinitely adjustable, depending on one’s preferences. (I had toasted the walnuts but then forgot about them — found them the next day, still in their bowl, waiting for their cue. So I just ate them plain.)

Cucumber sandwiches on the right

My final recipe this month is for Pear, Endive, and Brie Salad. I’ve often had pears with stilton and walnuts, so I was curious how the salad would work with the milder brie and with pecans instead of walnuts. The endives, pear and brie are all rather quiet, but the toasted pecans added crunch and spark. Topped with a fresh vinaigrette, it was delightful — and it paired well with the cucumber sandwiches I made.

I suspect it’s the pear that makes this a winter salad. In a normal world, pears would be available only in the fall, ripening into sweetness just in time for the holidays. These days, you can get them year-round in grocery stores here in the US. Query for my international readers: do you also have year-round accessibility to all fruits and vegetables?

I don’t like to think about where all these always-in-season items are coming from — South America? Africa? Central America? Florida or California? What’s the carbon footprint for on-demand fresh veg? I buy local as much as I can, but sometimes I really need a couple of lemons. (Please don’t make me buy lemon juice!)

I’m reminded of a shopping expedition I made to a farmers’ market in Oxford, way back in the 1980s. I looked and looked but couldn’t find any turnips. So I asked one of the sellers where they were kept. “Isn’t their season, is it, dearie?” she said. “Come back in the fall.”

More to come in February. And if you’d like any of the recipes, email me.

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Quick recommendations

The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey, 2012), inspired by “Snegurochka” (“The Snow Maiden”), a Russian folktale translated by Arthur Ransome and included in his 2016 collection, Old Peter’s Russian Tales.

Ivey sets her version in Alaska, early 1900s, where middle-aged Mabel and Jack have retreated after their only child was still-born. Several years after settling in a lonely clearing, they build a snow-girl from the first fall of snow. When a wild girl appears at their door a few days later, it’s as if the middle-aged couple had summoned her — perhaps even created her.

Ivey, who grew up in Alaska and knows the isolation that comes each winter to those who settle in the woods, maintains the mystery behind the girl’s sudden appearance. The tale, moving between the extremes of winter and summer in the far north, also moves between emotional extremes for Jack and Mabel, as they grow to love their snow child.

The Library Book, (Susan Orlean, 2018). In 1986, the main library building in Los Angeles caught fire. The fire blazed for hours, destroying or damaging more than a million books. It was the largest library fire in the history of the US, and the only reason it didn’t hit the headlines was that Chernobyl had blown up three days earlier.

In this enthralling book, Orlean digs deep into the causes and aftermath of the fire, including a long section on the person who might have been responsible for setting it. But this is also a paean to public libraries, one of the few truly democratic institutions left in the world — free and open to everyone. (Yes, of course, there are still subscription libraries, university libraries, etc, but these are separate entities and do not, in and of themselves, disprove Orlean’s point.)

Reading this book will convince you that public libraries are a national (even international) resource worth protecting.

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess (Tom Gauld, 2021). If you don’t already know Tom Gauld from his cartoons for The Guardian, or his covers for The New Yorker, then you’re missing out on a wonderful artist.

The eponymous Little Wooden Robot and Log Princess are unlikely siblings, adopted children of a childless royal couple. When the Princess goes missing, the Robot sets out to find her. Complications, of course, arise.

Gauld’s humor and illustrative skill create a glorious, fascinating world for anyone reading this book, or following along as someone else reads it to them.

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Testing the water

From Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Avila-Latourrette, 1996

Yes, it’s been a while. But I think I’ve licked my case of the “don’t-wants” (as in “I don’t want to …”), and I’m ready to take this thing on again.

2020 and 2021 were years for reading widely and wildly, and I hope to do the same for 2022: I’ll reread some favorites, but try to dig into more books I’ve never read before, classics as well books published in this century.

Of course there’ll be the crazy rush from the start of Banned Books Week in late September through Witch Week in early November, with daily posts, but those are far enough in the future that I needn’t worry about them. For now, I’m going to introduce a couple of themes that will guide my reading through the year. With these themes, perhaps I can even post once or twice a month!

For my first theme, I’ll feature an author a month — one whose books have grabbed me and taken me for exciting or fascinating rides. I’m in the middle of reading a stack of Mary Stewart adventures, so I could start with her, but we’ll see how that turns out. There are plenty other options.

My second theme provides a curious challenge: Not counting novels, my bookshelves hold at least seven books that are organized by the calendar, with introductory material followed by chapters for each month or season. Two are cookbooks, the others either history or memoir — all, however, draw on the authors’ geographical surroundings and provide glimpses into worlds that are disappearing if not already gone. These books I’ll read slowly, a chapter of each per month (or season), savoring the words and images, and providing you with the highlights.

So, here are the books for my Reading the Year theme:

The Stillmeadow Road, by Gladys Taber (1962), set in rural Connecticut, 1950s. Two divorced women move to the country with their three young children, who start out HATING it (typical NYC kids!).

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle (1991), wherein Mayle describes his life in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in France. Some of you may know this book from the series starring John Thaw (yes, Inspector Morse moved to France!)

This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm, by Scott Chaskey (2005). A poet and farmer living at the eastern end of Long Island, New York State, takes time to appreciate the wild lands around his community-supported farm (one of the first in the US).

Lost Country Life, by Dorothy Hartley (1979), a history (without footnotes or sources, make of that what you will) of life outside London and other towns in medieval England.

Yorkshire Cottage, by Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley (1942/1984), where, similar to Mayle’s book, the two women recount their purchase and renovation of a cottage in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. Pontefract and Hartley are authors of several books about the Dales (Hartley illustrates Pontefract’s text with woodblock prints or pencil/charcoal drawings), taking us through the area’s history from initial human settlement to the early 20th century. The two authors are dedicated to preserving traditions — of land use, construction practices (stone for field boundary walls as well as for cottages and other buildings) — and their portraits of the workmen, shopkeepers, farm wives, shepherds, and travelers honor this beautiful part of England.

Twelve Months of Monastery Salads, by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette (2004), who lives in the Harlem River Valley a few hours north of New York City.

Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, also by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette (1996).

I’ll probably even cook a few of the recipes.

Best wishes to all my readers for a year full of excellent books, cheerful times, and opportunities to gather with people you love. And, of course, please let me know if you’re reading anything tied to the calendar.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with my thoughts on JANUARY.

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#WitchWeek2021 Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who dropped by, to the guest bloggers who wrote such intriguing reviews (and who added several more books to my TBR list), to those who supported this event on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, and to Chris who lets me tag along.

To my co-star, Mr. Guy Fawkes, who made daily appearances in increasingly desperate circumstances, I offer much gratitude. For those of you who guessed the phrase, here’s your reward. In your comments below, please brag about the speed with which you solved this riddle

Well played, everyone!

You can be sure that, one way or another, Mr. F will return to take part in Witch Week 2022. Next year’s theme? Mr. F has revealed it above. For an explanation, read Chris’s wrap-up post at Calmgrove.

Happy Trails to everyone! Be safe, and keep reading.

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 6

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find the final Witch Week post. Jean (from Howling Frog Books) reviews a sci-fi novel by John Verney that was published more than 60 years ago. Looks like I’ll be spending time in used book stores until I find a copy of this one.

At last it is Guy Fawkes’ Day, appropriate for the end of our game of Hangman, with Mr. F meeting his destiny. Because only one guess was submitted yesterday, and it was incorrect (on purpose perhaps?), this game has ended as you see. But, in honor of Bonfire Night in the UK, I decided to have a bit of fun. Slide the arrow to the right and then to the left to see both images.

Obviously I can’t draw

No more guesses will be accepted, but come back tomorrow for a surprise finish.

For your musical entertainment, I believe you’ll recognize this tune, Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette.” A perfect finale for another Witch Week.

Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Ibrahim Yazici

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 5

We’ve passed the half-way point of Witch Week, with reviews that I hope have given you a few chills.

Today, you’ll find my own Witch Week post, about two fantasy novels — Diana Wynne Jones’ The Merlin Conspiracy and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina — over at Calmgrove. Royalty certainly has a way of attracting trouble, don’t you think? Oooh, and there are dragons.

As for our game, Mr. F is but one bad guess away from a bitter end. The hangman seems to enjoy his job.

Obviously, I can’t draw.

Have you figured out the phrase? If so, DON’T REVEAL IT. Just write it down and allow yourself to feel superior in private. Or, as others have done, you can reply that you’ve solved it — but feel free to make another guess anyway. Who knows? Your guess might help someone else figure it out. Unless, of course, you propose a wrong letter, just for fun — Competitive Hangman! (© Lizzie Ross 2021)

For today’s musical interlude, I give you Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, with animation by the geniuses at Disney (from Fantasia). (BTW, the date in the title is wrong — Fantasia was released in 1940.)

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 4

It’s Science Fiction Wednesday, with Ola and Piotrek, from Re-enchantment Of The World, assessing Roger Zelazny’s classic sci-fi series, The Chronicles of Amber. In any of the 10 novels written between 1970 and 1991, you’ll find royalty threatened by conspiracy across parallel universes. Their review is at Calmgrove.

And now an update on Mr. Fawkes, whose situation gets worse each day. Will he live out the week? I see that more observers have arrived. I believe that woman has set fire to the stack of wood.

I think Mr. F is getting worried; there might not be many days left in his future. He’s begging you to make careful guesses! Unfortunately, he’s unaware of the unseen hand that’s stirring the pot, so to speak.

Scale is physically impossible.

No video today, but if you’d like to dance along with some ghosts, skeletons, and jack-o-lanterns, try this link.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to work on my NaNoWriMo project.

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 3

As you read this, I’ll be at the polls, doing my bit as an Election Day worker. If you haven’t voted yet, get yourself out there and do it. Don’t let anyone convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

Today, Chris himself at Calmgrove hoists the pitchfork to lead us into Katherine Addison’s empire of elves and goblins. Royalty again is threatened, but not from the expected quarters. You may find your empathy lands on unexpected characters.

For those of you just joining us, you should know that we’ve been playing a game of Hangman during Witch Week, with Guy Fawkes as the potential hang-ee. Each day, readers guess a letter that might be in the phrase, and from the submissions I choose one correct and one incorrect letter, adjusting the drawing accordingly. (Ok, ok, I’ll admit to being biased — you can probably guess where I stand, just from the drawings.) Just remember: if you figure out the phrase DON’T REVEAL IT.

I started the game on 30 October, so it has entered the 4th day. Mr. Fawkes’ situation is dire, as you can see. An audience is starting to assemble. I worry they have something awful in mind.

Absurd sense of scale

Here’s a little treat that will, perhaps, entertain Mr. Fawkes as he awaits his doom: a surprisingly adorable animated version of “Hall of the Mountain King”, from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Animation is by Witold Giersz.

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 2

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find our discussion of The Tempest. Ola, Jean, Chris and I had a great time talking about stormy double-dealing, back-stabbing, machinations, and just plain old devilry happening in what’s considered Shakespeare’s final solo project. A suitable Read-Along for Treason and Plot, no?

While I have your attention, let’s see how things have progressed for Mr. Fawkes. Two mores spaces have been filled in, but also — uh oh! — another wrong guess. Is the hangman looking altogether too eager? And what’s that woman doing next to the pile of wood?

Still not drawn to scale

What do you think of our man’s chances? Don’t forget to respond with your guess for today. And remember, you can repeat an earlier guess, if it wasn’t selected as either right or wrong.

As I sign off, I give you your daily musical interlude, this one (keeping with the tempestuous theme) is Benjamin Britten’s “Sea Interludes/4/Storm”, from the opera Peter Grimes, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

PS: NaNoWriMo starts today: 30 days of literary abandon! I’m working on a little something but will say no more here, for fear of jinxing my chances of finishing on time. It’s going to be a busy month.

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 1

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find our first guest post for Witch Week, by Lory from Entering the Enchanted Castle. She reviews Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. The first book in the series, The Thief, is about an expert thief hired by a wizard to steal a … no, I’ll not reveal what he’s hired to take. Just believe me when I say the heist is better than any of Ocean’s various escapades, with all kinds of twists and betrayals.

Only one letter was submitted yesterday, and it was incorrect — so I’ve added the head to the drawing. A fair likeness, eh? Since there was only one guess, I took pity and gave poor Mr. Fawkes a free correct letter. He politely requested an E (I ignored his wrong guesses). You can see the changes on the updated drawing.

Figures not drawn to scale

Hmmm. There’s the hangman. And I don’t like the looks of that pile of wood. Witch Week ends on Bonfire Night, so it looks like things might be heating up for our saboteur. Is there time to save him? Do you want to? Don’t be shy! Submit a letter. You’re allowed one guess per day, and deadline is 10 pm NYC time.

And, because today is Halloween, I’m posting here a little something that the Socially Distant Orchestra recorded in October 2020, mid-pandemic: an excerpt from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. You can find the SDO on Facebook.

PS: That’s my daughter on the left, playing the “chimes”.

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