Soup & Salad, September

It’s officially Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, my favorite season of the year because it means summer is 9 months away, and I detest hot weather. I’d take a wintry wind over summer’s humidity, were I ever given the option. But, since that option is never offered, I savor the chilly nights of early autumn, knowing that ultra hot days are so far off, I don’t need to think about them.

And oh, the soups!

SOUP

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette (currently recovering from a stroke in a nursing home in upstate New York — all good wishes for a speedy recovery, Brother Victor-Antoine!) provides a lovely list of soups in September, from Cream of Celery to Escarole. Since I’m trying to cut back on the ultra-rich soups (anything with “cream” in the title!), I passed on the Celery, the Russian Cream of String Bean, and Cream of Corn (so tempting, with fresh corn available at local farmers’ markets), and chose instead two hearty and simple ones: Red Bean and Rice Soup, and Tomato Soup Florentine Style.

Red Bean and Rice Soup is exactly as you’d imagine from its name: sautée onions, carrots and celery; add water, beans and rice; simmer until beans and rice are done. I spiced it up with chili powder, chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce), and some left-over hot salsa, and added a garnish of chopped cilantro.

Perfect on the day, and even better over the following week, as the heat of the chilies and salsa intensified. It goes well with a bit of cheese melted on corn tortillas, making a Mexican-style meal without a trip to the local restaurant (which, I’m happy to report, is quite good).

The Tomato Soup Florentine Style combines tomatoes, vegetables, and spinach wonderfully (especially now that farmers’ market tomatoes are in — there is no flavor like that of field-grown tomatoes, harvested the previous day and looking so gorgeously red and ripe in the market stall).

I added some chili flakes and a can of cannelloni beans, and garnished with chopped parsley and a grating of parmesan. That’s a piece of my own cornbread next to the bowl, but almost any crusty bread will complement this soup.

Make this soup in large batches and freeze for the cold days ahead. Which reminds me: add “lots of tomatoes” to my shopping list for the next farmers’ market.

I bet at least one of those spires casts shade on a market stall overflowing with produce.

SALAD

As with the soup recipes, Brother Victor-Antoine’s collection of salads for September ranges wide, many featuring vegetables that would be peaking just now, or near the end of their growing seasons, especially tomatoes. Of the 21 recipes, 7 include tomatoes among their ingredients. Seven opportunities to eat my favorite vegetable. Yet I decided to pass them up, looking for something that didn’t include beets, jicama, or black-eyed peas. The Salad Savoyarde and Berried Smoked Salmon Salad met that qualification and did not disappoint.

Salad Savoyarde is basically coleslaw: cabbage, carrots and shallots in a yogurt + mayo sauce. This particular recipe includes tart apple for a bit of sweetness to counter the uncooked cabbage.

“Savoyarde” recipes generally have lots of cheese in them, yet there’s no cheese in this one. Perhaps it’s the apple that gives it a flavor of Savoie. Coleslaw itself is Dutch (from koolsla, or “cabbage salad” — so don’t let anyone try to tell you it should be called cold slaw!), so it may just be that d’Avila is getting very fanciful in his names. (For more information about the etymology of “coleslaw”, check out this article from the Merriam-Webster website; and don’t miss this article from Etymonline. Bet you weren’t expecting a linguistics lesson in this post.)

The vegetables maintain their crunchiness for at least a week, while the apple, although still sweet, becomes a bit waterlogged from the sauce after day 3. Still tasty, but this is a salad that won’t keep long.

As for the Berried Smoked Salmon Salad, I consider this the star of September’s recipes. I’m a sucker for smoked salmon, and must limit myself to two packets of it per month. Otherwise, I’d be eating it every day, and although that would be highly enjoyable, it strains the bank account. But as soon as I spotted this recipe, I knew this would use my September ration of my favorite seafood.

Because it required fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make this recipe at all. Would any berries be available? And then, at my local farmer’s market, I found some. Pound-for-pound, more expensive than the salmon, but that seemed appropriate. This will go on my list of recipes for special occasions.

Cut the smoked salmon into bite-sized pieces, add berries, chopped fresh orange, and scallions, serve on a bed of lettuce and drizzle with a citrus and honey-mustard vinaigrette. It’s a meal in itself. The berries cut through the salmon’s smoky flavor, and the orange pieces and lemony sauce counterbalance the fish’s oiliness. Needless to say, there were no leftovers to store: I made one huge serving and ate it all, happy that I had no one to share it with.

That’s it for September. Three quarters of the year have passed, Autumn will move along at a brisk pace, and before you know it, the Yuletide season will be upon us.

But, for now, let me just say, WITCH WEEK IS COMING.

What’s that lamb doing in the kitchen? Soigneusement, chef!
Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 2 Comments

ULYSSES+, 9-month report

You may recall that, this year being the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’ve started a project of re-reading that book, along with 12 other literary works published the same year. Despite a good head start (see my April Quarterly report here), I’ve fallen behind. Other books that I simply had to read kept cropping up, and now that Witch Week is coming, I’ve dived into another half dozen novels that are not part of my Ulysses+ project.

And yet, I have made some progress. Here’s where I am now:

In addition to the 5 companion books mentioned in the April update, I’ve completed 2 more and started 3 others:

Completed: Willa Cather’s One of Ours, set in the years before WWI, is about a midwestern farm boy who yearns for something more than the life of a farmer. Torn between his love for his mother and his need for culture (art, music, and conversation beyond weather and crops), he makes compromises that cost him dearly. It’s a sad book, leaving me with the sense that one’s family can be the anchor that drowns a person rather than providing safe mooring.

Completed: P. G. Wodehouse’s The Girl on the Boat, a frothy romp, much of which happens on a cross-Atlantic voyage. Three men vie for the affections of the “girl” (Billie Bennett), a domineering mother makes life difficult for one of the men, and a Jeeves-like butler works a few miracles. (Jeeves had made his first appearance, in a short story, several years earlier.) Typical Woodhouse high-jinks.

Started: Katherine Mansfield’s collection of short stories, The Garden-Party, a few of which were first published in 1922. Lovely tales in this collection, all set in New Zealand. I’m more than half-way through, and, as this is a re-read, I can probably wrap this one up soon.

Started: E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, a book of high fantasy published in the same decade as Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter and Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist. It took me a while to become accustomed to the old-fashioned language (which Ursula K. Le Guin admired), and I’m still waiting for the Worm Ouroboros (an ancient Norse symbol of eternity) to appear, but the plot of witches vs. demons, with both sides equally good/bad, is unusual. There is no traditional villain for the good guys to fight, just ancient rivalries that allow first one side and then the other to find themselves on top. I’ve known about this book since my teens, and here I am, several decades later, finally reading it.

Started: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Yes, it’s short, only 70 pages, but length isn’t the issue. I haven’t counted the number of propositions and sub-propositions this book contains (anywhere from 5 to 15 per page), but each proposition requires analysis. Every line is a struggle to unpack, every proposition a concentrated nugget of meaning. Take proposition 3.3421 (on p. 18), for instance:

A particular mode of signifying may be unimportant but it is always important that it is a possible mode of signifying. And that is generally so in philosophy: again and again the individual case turns out to be unimportant, but the possibility of each individual case discloses something about the essence of the world.

It took me a while, but I see that Prop 3.3421 can apply to fiction. “Art is a lie that tells truth about the world,” as Greil Marcus and others have said.

To summarize: of the 12 companion books, I’ve completed 7 and started 3. That leaves 2 not even cracked open, but they’re easy ones, both re-reads: Sabatini’s Captain Blood, and Cummings The Enormous Room.

And then, of course, there’s Ulysses itself. A monster of a book, slightly easier than the Tractatus, but still a challenge. I’m going to have to save it for the end of this year. Too much else is going on.

And did I mention that Witch Week is coming?

Posted in Am reading, Reading the Year, ULYSSES+ | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Another quick recommendation

Kelly Barnhill, When Women Were Dragons (2022, Doubleday/Random House)

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest library and get your name on the waiting list for When Women Were Dragons. Waiting list, because the book most likely has been checked out. You might have to wait a while (I reserved a copy from the NYPL way back in April, and only just now got it — worth the wait). And I’m sending you to a library because librarians play an important role in Barnhill’s feminist fantasy for adults.

In her acknowledgments, Barnhill admits that the short story that grew into this novel was inspired by events during the 2017-2021 US presidential administration, particularly one of the Supreme Court nominee hearings in the Senate. In other words, the novel was born of rage and frustration, but then grew in unexpected ways — a bit like planting deadly nightshade seeds, only to see them sprout vines that produce wisteria and clematis and morning glory blossoms, even a few grapes. (By the way, if that plant actually exists, I want some seeds. Now.) Yes, there’s plenty of anger in this novel, but, as Barnhill writes, “In its heart, this is a story about memory, and trauma. It’s about the damage we do to ourselves and our community when we refuse to talk about the past.”

I won’t waste your time with character bios, or a synopsis — readily available almost anywhere. Instead, let me just tempt you with some quotes:

A woman’s letter to her mother: “You will tell people that you did not raise me to be an angry woman, and that statement will be correct. I was never allowed to be angry, was I? My ability to discover and understand the power of my own raging was a thing denied to me.”

Alex, the narrator, on the birth of her cousin: “The universe became more of itself once Beatrice was in it.”

Alex again: “People are awfully good at forgetting unpleasant things.”

A sign on some abandoned women’s clothing: SMART DRESSES FOR SMART GALS. WEAR UNTIL THIS LIFE NO LONGER FITS YOU.

Alex’s Aunt Marla to Alex: “Just because people won’t talk about something, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less true or important.”

Alex on a nation’s refusal to discuss its past: “Embarrassment, as it turns out, is more powerful than information. And shame is the enemy of truth.”

A scientist in one of his pamphlets: “The silencing or obscuring of any aspect of nature — due to cultural taboo or fear or general squeamishness — harms science.”

A congressman after a hearing: “All I know is that we just spent a lot of damn time learning nothing of consequence, except what it feels like to get your ass handed to you by a goddamned librarian.” [Me: Shout-out to LIBRARIANS WORLDWIDE!]

A librarian to Alex: “I encourage you to consider the question: Who benefits, my dear, when you force yourself to not feel angry?”

“Who benefits?” That is, who besides ourselves gains from our choices? How long must we choose NOT to be ourselves so that we don’t make others uncomfortable? Conversely, how often do we choose to stop others from being themselves because their choice would inconvenience or discomfit us?

Dragons and librarians and scientists, and girls becoming dragons and librarians and scientists. It could be such a wonderful world!

Lizzie Ross Gravatar, 2013
Posted in dragons, Fantasy, Feminism+Fantasy | Tagged | 5 Comments

#WitchWeek2022

In just a few more weeks, Witch Week begins, and if you don’t know what that’s about, head over to Calmgrove’s blog to find out what he and I are rustling up for this year’s celebration of fantasy novels.

Get a head start on our read-along novel (Calmgrove has the info!), plan your own linked celebration, or just mark your calendars.

Whatever your choice, we hope you’ll join us for what is always an exciting event.

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September brings the fruit

Warm September brings the fruit, 
Sportsmen then begin to shoot. 
Faustine and his father, harvesting the grapes. Illustration by Judith Clancy.

For Peter Mayle, down in Provence, September brings hunters after the game hidden in the woods surrounding his house. He walks carefully along paths with his dog while the hunters are at it, always fearful that they’ll mistake him for a bird or wild pig. The construction on his house, for a new heating system, ends with a day of blasting the heat to check the pipes for leaks. The heat inside drives Mayle and his wife outside, where there is at least a breeze.

September also means the grape harvest, first for the table grapes, and then for the much more important wine grapes. These are carted to a local winepress, where their alcoholic content is measured: a decent 12.32 percent. Even better news is that the harvest should produce a bit more than 1200 liters. “You won’t go thirsty,” Faustine, the man who has been tending Mayle’s vineyard, assures him.

Standing Virgin and Child (boxwood), attributed to Niclaus Gerhaert von Leyden, ca 1470. Met Museum, NYC

The September chapter of Dorothy Hartley’s Lost Country Life provides detailed information about the more well-known trees used for timber: alder, ash, beech, birch, boxwood, elm, holly, hornbeam, oak, poplar, walnut, wild cherry, willow and yew. Uses were governed by the strength, shape, and resilience of the wood. Ash was used for tool handles, boxwood for fine work (like the statue to the left), yew for the longbow, etc. Willow was woven into more than baskets:

Manuscript miniatures of the fourteenth century and earlier show wide inclined planes of willow hurdles up which the masons and laborers carry the heavy stone work for their cathedral building. Planks were difficult to make, metal almost unobtainable, so most of the scaffolding for heavy masonry was wattle. The brick baskets, the sides of carts, the panniers for carriers and the enfolds were also of willow.

Oak went into houses, but only for the wealthy. Everyone else used wattle and daub on wooden frames. If well-constructed and maintained, these rustic buildings could withstand almost any weather, but entire walls made of wattle might collapse if not securely fastened to the frame.

Back in mid-20th century, in Connecticut, Gladys Taber, busily hangs bunches of herbs to dry or steeps them in vinegar, pleased with the abundance provided by her country garden. I envy her that more than anything else. City life is full of convenience, but my nearest fresh herbs are the weekly farmers’ market 2 miles away. I’ve said little about the various recipes with which Taber has larded her book. I’ve not been tempted to try any (too 1960s-ish, relying on canned creamed soups), but she does understand one thing that is at the heart of most good eating: “I do not care what the diet books say,” she writes, “the best eating always, always, has calories.”

Gladys and Jill explore an 18th-century cemetery. Illustration by Edward Shenton.

She muses a bit about the definition of “maturity,” deciding that it must include the ability to understand the need to “[accept] life as it is without rebellion.” As she explains,

When we are children, we expect everything to be perfect and we want to “live happily ever after.” Then we find out, sadly, that there is no ever after. There is only today and what we make of it. We may still be happy, in one sense of the word, but we do not look for perfection ever after. The other side of this coin, is that we value more what happiness we may have instead of dreaming ahead for the ultimate.

It’s these thoughtful passages that keep me reading.

Summer has nearly ended, the unbearable heat will soon be gone, and my favorite season is just around the corner. Keep well, everyone, and happy reading!

Posted in History, Memoir, Reading the Year | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Soup & Salad, August

We’re in the 8th month of this series, and I’ve only just now noticed the Zodiac signs incorporated into each month’s image.

True confessions time, again. I’ve never, ever liked raw onions. Well into my 30s, I picked around scallions, scraped aside slices and large chunks of red or white onion, even eschewed onion chutney delivered with my Indian food take-out. The raw-onion flavor was just too strong and pungent. Yet cooked onions, especially sautéed, are heavenly, and I use a variety of onions weekly: leeks, Vidalia and red onions, shallots, and the mundane white or yellow varieties.

In the past 20 years or so, I’ve expanded a bit, to include raw shallots in salad dressings, minced raw red onions in tuna or chicken salad, and even a tiny bit of white onion (the kind that make you cry when you peel them, but they must be finely minced) in a vegetable or pasta salad. What’s more, I’ve come to regret all those little containers of onion chutney I had discarded for decades. That stuff is delish!

But big pieces of raw onion? No thanks. Not even scallions.

So, remember that soup from July that was so terrible? It called for an entire raw onion, chopped and then blended with the other ingredients. (That was only part of the problem, but it was enough, and I should have known, but this year is all about trying things.) That flavor was still there, undisguised by the other ingredients, possibly enhanced by the crushing of the blending process.

I’ve learned something. For soups, sauté the onions. Always.

SOUP

Most of the August soups can be served hot or cold, and more than two stood out as options for this post. The Wild Rice Soup tempted me, but it called for a large dose of sherry, which seems too heavy for summer. Soup Pelou was another option I considered, with its base of radish greens, onions, and potatoes — finally, a use for the radish greens from the farmers’ market! But in the end, I chose these two:

Brother Victor-Antoine’s Broccoli Soup starts with sautéing broccoli, garlic, parsley and bacon (trimmed of its fat), then adding water for a quick simmer, and finishing with a run through the blender. Garnish with parmesan and fresh parsley. The bacon gives this soup a smoky flavor, which is great hot, but I decided not to try it cold. Next time, I’ll skip the blender and leave the soup chunky. A garnish of crisp bacon could be good as well. I might try this one again.

The Spicy Carrot and Orange Soup, served cold, is delightfully refreshing on an early afternoon of a hot August day. Start with a few chopped carrots and a leek, briefly sautéed with cayenne, ginger, nutmeg and paprika. Stir in vegetable broth, orange juice and zest, and simmer until the carrots are cooked. Blend, chill, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro. (Brother V-A’s recipe says to cook the cilantro with the carrots, but I prefer it freshly minced. Otherwise the cilantro loses most of its bite and all its color.) My version is spicer than the good Brother’s, exactly to my liking. I can see this soup working just as well on a cold winter’s evening, so I’ve marked the recipe as a keeper.

SALAD

For this month, I’ve chose something savory, something sweet. I could have gone with the peach and blueberry salad, steeped in port wine, but the watermelon salad below looked simpler.

Rotelle in Spicy Napoleon Sauce

For the Rotelle in Spicy Napoleon Sauce, I had to use frozen peas, for there were no fresh ones to be found. You can’t see the finely minced Vidalia onions, but they are there. The julienned red peppers as garnish are my own addition (parsley would work equally well).

But “spicy” is misleading.

Despite the cumin, cayenne, curry and coriander, the yogurt-based Napoleon sauce barely registered on the Scoville scale, a tad above bell peppers, but not even as high as pepperoncini. The spiciness increased only slightly overnight, so if I make this again, I will definitely turn up the heat. (And here’s how: warm the spices in a dry skillet before adding them to the yogurt/lemon zest.)

At least the salad was good for a week — nice enough, even, when refreshed with lemon juice, for a picnic with friends. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, those are rotini and not rotelle, which look like wagon wheels. Like the fresh peas, rotelle were unattainable.

As for why it’s called Napoleon Sauce, Brother Victor-Antoine keeps silence.

This next recipe is quick and easy to pull together (just cantaloupe, watermelon and blueberries, with a wine-citrus-honey dressing and a garnish of fresh mint). The lengthiest step in making the Summertime Salad is the time to chill it thoroughly before serving. You can minimize this by buying the fruit a day early, so that these are cold before you cut them up.

Surprisingly good the night I made it, and equally so the next day for breakfast.

I hear the concerned mutterings: “Breakfast?” “With wine in the dressing?” “Are you ok?”

Not to worry, dear readers. The recipe calls for a minuscule amount of dry white wine: two tablespoons whisked into a half cup mixture of orange and lemon juice, along with two tablespoons of honey, over at least four cups of chopped fruit. The cantaloupe and watermelon add even more liquid. I suspect I tasted the wine only because I knew it was there. But you could always omit this, perhaps replace it with white wine vinegar, I suppose. Or just not dip into the salad before the sun has gone over the yardarm.

And now two-thirds of the year has passed, with autumn just three weeks away. What will it bring? More soups and salads here, and my continued wishes for great eating and reading for all of you.

See you all in September!

That object in the lower righthand corner is probably a vegetable and NOT a hooded flame dancing to the beat.
Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 7 Comments

August brings the sheaves

August brings the sheaves of corn, 
Then the harvest home is borne

If you go by the August image from Les Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, this month is more about the lords and ladies hunting with their hawks than about the harvest, yet look more closely beyond the pond full of bathers, and you’ll see a couple of workmen mowing the hay and tying up the sheaves. That’s the real work of this month.

Harvest time, with all it entails, is at the heart of Hartley’s August chapter in Lost Country Life. It’s a long chapter, covering much more than I ever thought I needed to know about working the south forty. I’ve learned the difference between hay and straw (hay has more green in it and so is more nutritious as animal feed), and also the steps for getting the most out of grain crops — gather the head first, so it can be threshed, then the stalks to be sheaved and stored. Rain is always the challenge for harvesters, for if whatever is left standing or lying about gets wet, it will be good for nothing but plowing back into the land.

Sometimes the hinge broke, and the swepel flew far. Amazing that few people died during threshing.

Barley, rye, buckwheat and wheat were the main corn crops (“corn” being British for grain; American corn — maize — didn’t reach Europe until the very late Middle Ages, and even then it was used mostly as feed for stock). Hartley explains the complex task of organizing the workers most efficiently, so that no one gets ahead or falls behind the others. She compares it a bit to an assembly line, because field workers do only one task. But the expert “harvest lord” (i.e., manager) knew who would be best where and allowed no shirkers.

“Threshing and winnowing were winter work,” Harley writes, “done under cover.” Inside the barn, that is, and only as needed. Unthreshed grain was easy to store, so there was no need to spend the time required to thresh an entire crop. Threshed grain went to the miller (few individuals had millstones, and often people were fined if they didn’t send their grain to the local mill). Most of the millstones were imported from France, while “special craftsmen”on site cut the edge and grooves before installing the stones. “It is the straight sharp edge of the stone that cuts the corn — the shallow grooves spill out the flour.”

A Year in Provence, illustration by Judith Clancy

Peter Mayle, in late-20th century Provence, is enjoying his August, despite the crowds and the overall disarray at his home, where their plumber is installing pipes for a heating system: “… the area in front of the house resembled a scrapyard. Piled around an oily workbench … were … boxes of brass joints, valves, soldering guns, gas canisters, hacksaws, radiators, drilling bits, washers and spanners, and cans of what looked like black treacle.” Note that this pile of items doesn’t include the water and fuel tanks, the boiler, and the burner.

On a hot day, Mayle and his wife go up to Bonnieux to bet on an entrant in the annual goat race. Near Gordes, they attend a party packed with elegant Parisians who drop their cool chic when someone puts Little Richard on the turntable:

The barn vibrated, and le tout Paris vibrated with it, arms and legs and buttocks and breasts giggling and shaking and grinding and flailing around, teeth bared, eyes rolling, fists pumping the air, jewelers out of control, buttons bursting under the strain, elegant facades gone to hell as everyone writhed and jerked and twitched and got down.

And finally, Gladys Taber, at her home in mid-20th century rural Connecticut, entertains visitors, deals with kittens and cats and becomes, once again, philosophical. After her housemate, Jill, died, Taber noticed “that I was working myself into a severe nervous state because I never could catch up with the daily chores, the kennel jobs, the errands, and futile attempts to keep some sort of books. I added all this to the major job of adjusting to what was, at that time, compete desolation.” Her solution was to make lists, and then feel happy about tasks completed: “And then, as if Jill spoke to me, I felt the sense of quiet that she always gave me, and it was as if she said, ‘Just do what you can. Forget what you can’t.'”

Good advice, which I plan to follow.

Back in a month!

Posted in History, Memoir, Reading the Year | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Soup & Salad, July

This was an unusual month, since the two soup recipes required me to buy something for which I will have no other use: dry sherry (see my intro to my May Soup and Salad post). Long ago, traveling in Spain, I visited Jerez, in Andalusia, Spain, where I had my first sips of the drink that made the town. The colors ranged from amber to a brown so dark it was almost purple. With each sip, I knew I was never going to be a fan. Too complex, perhaps? or just too strong? As we left Jerez, I took comfort in the thought that I’d never be asked to taste sherry again.

And then Brother Victor-Antoine offers two soup recipes that call for a dash of that dreaded tipple. I made the soups (read below for the details), and poured myself a tiny amount of the sherry to see if my tastes have changed. That first day, it tasted interesting, but I didn’t top up my .5 oz/10 ml. Tried it again the next day, but knocked the glass over before I could have even one sip.

I took that as a message from Bacchus to stick with wine.

I’ve put the bottle of sherry up in my cupboard, where it will wait until someone who appreciates it can take it off my hands. Feel free to call dibs.

SOUP

Many of d’Avila’s July soups are served cold, and I also could have made soup with Jerusalem artichokes, or celeriac, but I looked for recipes whose ingredients I knew I could find. The first soup I made was too terrible to write about, so I moved on to d’Avila’s Avocado Soup. Blend an avocado with some milk, onions, and lemon juice. Heat chicken broth and then stir in a splash of sherry and some cream. Blend everything together and chill several hours. Cilantro garnish. It’s a lovely green color, but the flavor is merely ok. The sherry flavor is strong — be warned — nearly overpowering the avocados. I doubt I’ll make this again; I’d rather have my avocados on toast than in a soup.

I noticed that the Cold Salmon Chowder also called for sherry, so I thought I’d give it a try. Poach the salmon (I used butter and a splash of Sauvignon), simmer onions, celery and red pepper in milk, stir in the flaked salmon along with cream, sherry and salt/pepper. Then chill overnight. This was actually quite good, the sherry balancing well with the salmon. It was thick enough to be a chowder, and pleasantly cold on a brutally hot day. This recipe may be worth revisiting in winter, when it can be served hot. I might find some use for that bottle of sherry after all.

SALAD

The main ingredient of St. Benedict Salad is rice, which makes a nice change. And because the dressing calls for curry powder, I took the liberty of making a rice pilaf: sauté garlic and ginger in oil, add the rice and sauté for a couple more minutes, then add the water and cook to al dente. When the rice is cool, add chopped cucumbers, raisins, kalamata olives, capers, minced shallots, mint, and lemon juice. The dressing is mayo with minced garlic and curry powder. I added the hard-boiled egg to complete the meal. The combos of sweet and salty, curry and mint, crunchy and chewy make this recipe sound busy, but it isn’t (although I think you could omit the mint and no one would notice). By the way, St. Benedict established the Benedictine rule in the 6th century CE and is the patron saint of Europe.

Zucchini Salad, Basque Style returns to the more traditional, vegetable-based salads. Very Italian, and easy to whip up. Chop some zucchini and cook briefly (d’Avila suggests boiling for 2-3 minutes, but I roasted mine), add chopped tomatoes, red onion, and yellow pepper. Oil and vinegar dressing. Garnish with Italian parsley. Simple, and a great side salad or appetizer. Not sure where the “Basque Style” comes in. The cooked zucchini? Yellow pepper? Whatever the case, I know I’ll make this again, because I can never get enough tomatoes. And bonus: two days later, when the tomatoes had broken down a bit more and the salad was somewhat watery, I added cooked couscous and stretched the recipe to two more meals.

That’s it for July. I hope you’re all keeping cool. And, as usual, if any recipe piques your interest, just let me know and I’ll send you the details.

Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 7 Comments

July brings cooling showers

Hot July brings cooling showers, 
Apricots and gillyflowers. 

My experience has always been that showers in July provide no cooling at all, for they only add to the humidity, but that could be the difference between east coast USA in the last 40 years, and Sara Coleridge’s England of nearly 2 centuries ago.

In this month’s image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Limoges brothers, 1412-1416) we see farm workers shearing sheep and scything hay. In Lost Country Life, Dorothy Hartley devotes more than half of her July chapter to three crops: hay, flax, and hemp. Rain at the wrong time during harvest can ruin a harvested crop left unprotected in the fields. Proper haycocks require skill and great care — if the interior is still damp, the hay will begin to rot and can even spontaneously combust.

Hay, flax and hemp were not food crops — not for human consumption, that is. Hay, of course, fed cattle and sheep and provided bedding for various stock animals. Flax was made into linen, hemp into ropes. Here’s an interesting side note: according to Hartley, “A first-rate man-of-war was said to require 80 tons of rough hemp to supply her* with necessary tackle….[thus] a man-of-war requires 1 year’s produce of 320 acres of hemp for an outfit of cordage.” A square mile is 640 acres, so that’s one year’s crop from half a square mile per ship per year.

This image from Lost Country Life shows three types of scythes (English, Scotch, Welsh), and the fairly basic dance moves for mowing hay. But don’t let the drawing fool you. I imagine a day of swinging the scythe would leave newbies with aching muscles and seeping blisters on the palms of their hands. Note the final comment about how the “experienced reaper” will leave a neat line of grass just to their left. How many acres must a person mow before they can call themselves experienced?

The other half of Hartley’s chapter is given to bees, honey, beeswax, and fungus (used to pacify the bees before harvesting their honey). Hartley undoubtedly admires the medieval beekeeper, who knew the hives centered around a queen, while “experts” (i.e., people who had never worked with bees) were certain that a king sat at the center of a beehive. And one final note: the birch polypore fungus (see an image here), is tough enough to use as a strop for razors and other tools. Next time you hike through a grove of birch trees, perhaps you’ll spot one of these.

This Common Ground, illustration by Jessica Reynolds

Scott Chaskey, in This Common Ground, also discusses bees, including what to do when your bees decide to swarm. If you’re lucky enough to notice the swarm in time, and prepared with their next home, you can often coax them into it by shaking the tree limb they’ve moved to temporarily. If the queen inside her ball of devoted drones and workers drops into the new home, you’re all set for another few years of honey-making.

On Chaskey’s community farm, summer is a busy season of harvesting crops, planting for fall, weeding, and watering. He has lived through enough droughts out on eastern Long Island to know what to expect, and is ready. Even so, he notes that some summers, their wells run dangerously low, refilling each night, but barely lasting through the next day. Birds take a large portion of their crops (crows, of course, are the worst), and sometimes 90% of a corn field will go to the scavengers. Yet, despite the challenges, he finds solace and even pleasure in working the land. He helps set up a summer camp for children in foster care, noting how the children seem to blossom as they work on and with the land. I love seeing the land through his language: “As we glide into summer with the diving finches we see the green hem of the valley garment flash with the sea’s light. Seamless–gold through green, finch through bramble, honeysuckle, and the wild grasses, seamless–through the quilted valley.”

Since it’s summer, and I’m sure you have better things to do, I’ll cut this short. Life for Ella Pontefract in her Yorkshire Cottage, for Gladys Taber on The Stillmeadow Road, and for Peter Mayle in Provence continues as ever. Perhaps there’ll be something of note to report next month. Until then, get outside!

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*A man-of-war ship is nevertheless gendered female. Weird, eh?

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Soup and salad, June

True confessions time. One of this month’s recipes brought back a memory that contains a lesson for all. I’ll preface this story by pointing out that these events happened 47 years ago. I was very young and blinkered. Carrying my bubble with me, so to speak. Feel free to skip down to the recipes if you’re not in the mood.

mango-tree” by nutrilover is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I was teaching in a tiny village in equatorial Africa, where the local officials had given me a house: square, cinderblock, corrugated metal roof, divided into 3 rooms. Half was the living area, the other half my bedroom and washroom. No electricity or running water; all water (2 buckets a day, brought from the local river) had to be filtered. Fairly large “yard”, with no grass, a couple of shrubs next to the front door, latrine out back, and a bit further out were two huge mango trees, no more than 50 steps from the back door. When I arrived, the trees were full of fruit, and about two weeks later, the fruit began dropping. A dozen or so fell each day, and I could go out and pick one up for breakfast. Livin’ the life!

A proper mango (not one of those green monsters), on a 7-inch Masons Strathmore plate

One day, I discovered 3 or 4 young kids under my trees, gathering my mangoes! I yelled at them, telling them off in the best French I could muster, but there was a lot of English in there as well. The nerve, coming into my yard and stealing my fruit. I wasn’t having it. It took me all of a week to realize that I was being a complete jerk. First of all, those weren’t actually my trees, growing in my yard. But even more importantly, it would have been impossible for me to eat all of that fruit. Some days, more than 20 came down, and this went on for a long time. Why not let the kids have as many as they could carry? And come back for more. Please!!!

That was me, showing the worst aspects of America: greed, white-lady privilege, etc. etc. Even as I tell this story, I wonder about that young woman I used to be. I know where she came from, and I’m glad she’s gone, but what kind of ignorant self-importance do I still carry around? None, I hope, but I keep an eye out for this person I was and hope never to be again.

And now the recipes. This month, Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette did not disappoint.

SOUP

My sister-the-chef, from whom I got d’Avila’s two recipe collections, recommended the Cream of Cauliflower Soup, so I had to give it a try. I love cauliflower in nearly all forms, so I knew this recipe would be risk-free. The creamy effect comes from a white sauce as well as the puréed vegetables (cauliflower, potato, carrot, onion, garlic). As with some of the other soups, this needed some heat from chili powder or red pepper flakes, so I drizzled a bit of chili oil on top, along with the chopped parsley garnish. Tasty, and certainly hearty.

Spanish Cilantro Soup offered me a new experience, and on the first day I worried I had overdone the cilantro, but that calmed down overnight, and on the second day, this was perfect. Sauté leeks, onions and garlic, add potatoes and simmer in a vegetable broth. Add chopped cilantro and purée. Reheat. Served with some Serrano ham and manchego cheese on sliced baguette, this makes a perfect meal.

SALAD

Pesto-Filled Deviled Eggs are exactly what they sound like. Mix some pesto in with the cooked yolks before stuffing the egg whites. Serve with sliced tomatoes, minced red onion, and chopped fresh basil. It’s a caprese salad, but with eggs instead of mozzarella.

And, finally, we get to those mangos that set me off at the beginning. I knew I had to make the Mango Salad Piquant. Mangoes, endive, red onion, red and green bell peppers, with a gingery vinaigrette, on a bed of lettuce and garnished with cilantro. Just exactly right.

Next month we move into full summer. Fresh produce straight from the farm. I hope d’Avila offers some exciting options for the next few months.

Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 2 Comments