#WitchWeek2022 Day 1

“Sound Suit”, by Nick Cave, Whitney Museum, NYC. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

BOO!

It’s Halloween at last, and I hope you all are ready for whatever tricks (and treats) are in store for you. For starters, check out APOD’s Cosmic Bat Nebula, LD N43.

Over at Calmgrove, #WitchWeek2022 has officially begun, and we have a bagful of book treats for you, which we’ll dole out over the next few days.

Today’s post introduces you to Joel Donato Ching Jacob, a Filipino fantasy writer. Our guest blogger, Daphne Lee, is a fantasy author in her own right, as well as a consulting editor for Scholastic Asia. Later in the week, Daphne will be back to join our discussion of this year’s read-along book, Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister.

As for this photo, I’d love it if someone came to my door tonight dressed in something like this suit designed by Nick Cave (the African American artist, not the British musician). If you’d like to see more of Cave’s work, check out the various videos on YouTube of Nick Cave’s Heard NY at Grand Central Station. Gorgeous art in motion. And gorgeous Grand Central Station! Thank you, MTA Arts for Transit!!!

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#WitchWeek2022 starts tomorrow

Mural by Eduardo Kobra. Photo by Lizzie Ross.

Just a quick reminder that today marks Witch Week Eve, the day before that wonderful week-long celebration of fantasy fiction in honor of Diana Wynne Jones. Chris at Calmgrove is hosting this year’s event, which will feature books by BIPOC authors from around the world.

In honor of this year’s theme, I’ll be posting my photos of art work by BIPOC artists, ancient and modern, from around the world. Today, the artist is a Brazilian muralist, Eduardo Kobra, with this recent four-story-high artwork honoring NYC’s Ellis Island, through which more than two million immigrants passed between 1924 and 1954.

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find a calendar of events for the week, so check it out, and join us as we celebrate the wide world of fantasy.

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Soup & Salad, October

Quite busy lately, what with WITCHWEEK2022 starting in just a couple of days, so I’ll keep this one short.

SOUP

Hot soups are back on the menu! Ones with lots of vegetables and colors are best, with thick ones running a close second. I’d already tried a few from this month’s recipes (Saint Seraphim Soup, with peppers and saffron; Soup au Pistou, a lovely vegetable soup flavored with pesto sauce; Leek and Potato Soup; and Southern-Style Vegetable Soup), so my options were few. I went with Ossobuco Soup and Corn Soup.

Ossobuco Soup on the left, Corn Soup on the right

Ossobuco Soup, made with neither meat nor bones, is an odd concoction of onions, celery and carrots, flavored with a dry-ish paste of sage, rosemary, thymes, garlic, and green olives, and thickened with rice. Simmer in wine and vegetable broth, add a few capers, and garnish as you see. I’m wondering if that mixture of herbs and olives is meant to approach the taste of actual Ossobuco. This recipe was good, but not one I’m tempted to make again. The Corn Soup, however, was a winner: onions, garlic, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and corn. Lots of corn, cut fresh from the cob. Instead of using the frozen corn called for in the recipe, I substituted two ears of corn, fresh from the farmer’s market. Simmer them with the soup for just 2-3 minutes, pull them out with tongs, slice off the corn, and put that back in the pot for a final hotting-up. I’ll be making this one again.

SALAD

Of the twenty recipes Brother Victor-Antoine includes for October, eight were similar to salads I’ve made before. I had tried a ninth recipe and not liked it, and two others just did not appeal. But two looked interesting, and one of them was a hit. Carrot and Black Olive Salad is just as it sounds: grated carrots, minced shallot, chopped kalamata olives, and chopped parsley, in a citrusy mayonnaise-yogurt dressing. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my carrot salad with raisins rather than olives. The Green Bean and Tomato Salad, on the other hand, was wonderful. Visually gorgeous, and just the right combination of fresh farm produce: green beans, tomatoes, red onion and parsley, with a light lemon-olive oil dressing. The next day I added pasta and feta cheese to the leftover salad for a perfect lunch. Versatile recipes are great.

The year nears its end, and I near the end of this project. However, this is not yet the time for reflection: two months to go, both with big holidays. We’ll see what the rest of the year brings. Happy eating!

Medieval Coffee Klatch?
Posted in Am reading, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 2 Comments

October brings the pheasants

Fresh October brings the pheasents, 
Then to gather nuts is pleasent.

Nuts and game birds. Well, perhaps not here in the big city, except via my local grocery store.

Before I continue my Reading the Year project, I’ll list again the books I’m reading slowly, trying to keep with the calendar as these authors narrate their (or others’) lives over the course of a year. Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1991) may be the most familiar title. The other four are This Common Ground, by Scott Chaskey (2005), about an organic farm at the eastern end of Long Island, New York; Gladys Taber’s The Stillmeadow Road (1962), about her country home in Connecticut; Yorkshire Cottage, written by Ella Pontefract and illustrated by Marie Hartley (1984), from their series about life in the Yorkshire Dales; and Lost Country Life, by Dorothy Hartley (1979), which takes us through the country year in Late Medieval/Early Modern England. All have been in my collection for decades, but until now I’d read only two of them.

Pipsissewa, courtesy WildAdirondacks.org

Up in Connecticut, Gladys Taber is still surrounded by dogs, both her own and those of friends and neighbors. Like the other authors in this group, she is struck by the beauty of her surroundings as autumn moves in, referencing a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (which you can read here) as she admires the “woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag / And all but cry with colour!” Wild geese begin their southerly migration, and the last patch of pipsissewa “carpets a hidden part of the woods.” For Taber, “October is the jewel set in the hand of time.”

Scott Chaskey’s tasks, on his Long Island organic farm, ease up as autumn moves in. Monarch butterflies, that have enjoyed the milkweed Chaskey planted for them, begin their southern migration. The trip south to Mexico and then back north to the eastern tip of Long Island takes several years, meaning that the monarch butterflies you see next summer are the great-great-great-grandchildren of this year’s cluster. As habitat on the migration route disappears, monarchs find it more and more difficult to complete the journey. Fewer are able to reproduce, and subsequent years’ clusters arriving in the north will be smaller.

About the soil on his farm, Chaskey explains, “It is estimated that almost 200,000 earthworms can reside in an acre of soil. That’s 199,999 more than occupied our hillside field when we took it over.” He also reminds us that “nature can manufacture an inch of topsoil every seven hundred years.” Chaskey planted crops that fed the soil; encouraged diversity in plant, insect and animal life; changed plowing techniques; and avoided chemical fertilizers that provide only short-term benefits — all these paid off, with richer soil, higher yields, and tastier crops. And more earthworms.

Back in the Middle Ages, Dorothy Hartley’s farmers are busy with their flocks of fowl and herds of pigs and goats. She explains that when exporters needed pigs to board ship via a gangplank, they “deliberately drove them away from it. Instantly [the pigs] rebelled and went up it! If it is necessary to lead one pig forward, tie a string to its hind leg and pull backwards; the pig pulls forward and so goes ahead.” Now we know exactly what “pigheaded” means.

Fowl were useful not just for their meat, but also for eggs, feathers, down, and guano (an ingredient in gunpowder). In case you decide to make your own bow and arrows, you must take the feathers “from the same wing for each arrow in order to get the air curve correct for the spin.”

Mayle’s and Pontefract’s narratives are mostly concerned with construction. Each has acquired an old cottage in need of repairs, and each spends much of the year reporting progress.* For Mayle, the situation has become untenable:

There comes a time in the restoration of an old house when the desire to see it finished threatens all those noble aesthetic intentions to see it finished properly. The temptation to settle for the shortcut nags away as the delays add up and the excuses multiply: the carpenter has severed a fingertip, the mason’s truck has been stolen, the painter has la grippe, fittings ordered in May and promised for June don’t arrive until September, and all the time the concrete mixer and the rubble and the shovels and pickaxes become more and more like permanent fixtures.

Of course Mayle’s impatience is stoked by the fact that he was living in the house during the restoration. Pontefract’s situation was somewhat different, in that she and her partner, Hartley, lived elsewhere during the most disruptive period. October finds the two of them settled in their finished home, comfortably sat before a fire. Outside, as Pontefract writes,

October flared forth in all her glory, and showed us that at its best it is one of the loveliest times of the year in hill country. For a period the landscape seen through a filmy haze took on a familiar yet enchanted beauty. One morning during that time a streak of sunlight piercing the mist turned the barn on Croft Hill into a cinnamon house, and transformed the sycamore beside it into a red of gold. A curlew calling a mournful farewell made a last flight across the valley. Cobwebs spangled with moisture made networks over the thorn hedge.

Illustration by Marie Hartley

PS: I do believe WITCH WEEK is less than a month away!


*It’s ironic that I chose to read these books while living through my own construction nightmare: work on my building’s roof affected every room in my top-floor apartment. One day, the workmen broke through my kitchen ceiling:

“Is that !@#$%^& daylight?!?” Yes, it is. And this was in mid-January. Here we are, October, and they’re still at it (see second photo, taken at the end of September. “No interior repairs until all exterior work has been completed.” Sigh.

Posted in Am reading, History, Memoir, Reading the Year | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Fantasy, Witch Week | 1 Comment

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