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!

___________________________________

*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.

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June brings tulips

June brings tulips, lilies, roses, 
Fills the children’s hand with posies

June’s image from the Limoges Brothers’ Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry doesn’t match up with the couplet from Sara Coleridge’s poem, “The Months.” I ascribe this to the different worlds featured: the Duc de Berry’s wealthy lands — with nary a posy in sight — at the height of the Middle Ages, versus Coleridge’s middle-class genteel life 400 years later in the early l9th century. She’d have seen field workers, but to her, June means flowers for bouquets.

However, the image from Très Riches Heures does illustrate two stanzas from a 16th-century farming calendar that Dorothy Hartley has been quoting for each month of Lost Country Life. Thomas Tusser (1524-1580), farmer and poet, wrote A Hundredth Good Pointes of Good Husbandrie in 1557 to encourage and instruct his fellow farmers (as well as their wives). The stanzas advise:

Thomas Tusser, from AllPoetry.com
If meadow be forward, be mowing of some,
but mow as the makers may well overcome.
Take heed to the weather, the wind and the sky,
if danger approacheth, then cock apace cry.

Plough early till ten a’clock, then to thy hay,
in plowing and carting, so profit ye may.
By little and little thus doing ye win,
that plough shall not hinder, when harvest comes in.

The men mow, while the women rake the cut grain into haycocks. A cloudless sky means they can keep working. Tusser would have approved.

Most of Hartley’s June chapter concerns sheep (washing, shearing, applying salve, preventing sunburn — yes, sheep can get sunburn after they’ve been sheared) and wool (rolling fleeces, packing wool sacks, spinning, dying). Other ovine products (lanolin, tallow, parchment, horns) get a nod. It’s reassuring to know that nothing was wasted.

A Year in Provence, Illustration, Judith Clancy, 1990

Down in Provence, Peter Mayle and his wife join their neighbors in an emergency blood drive. Afterwards, he notes with pleasure that in France the reward for donating blood is not the usual tea and biscuit one gets in England but instead a buffet at a long table full of “Coffee, chocolate, croissants, brioches, sandwiches of ham or garlic sausage, mugs of red or rosé wine”.

His friends don’t believe him when he says he’s too busy to go to Avignon or Arles, the Camargue or Marseilles. It’s just too pleasant at his little house in the countryside, with all the interesting neighbors and workmen. Even the odd visitor or two is welcome

But Aix-en-Provence is an exception. They travel down the terrifyingly fast and busy RN7 (Route Nationale Sept, now the D7N) to Aix for a day of wandering, shopping, and eating. He mentions cafés, restaurants, streets, boutiques — and thus Aix moves up a few notches on my must-get-there list. I understand this is the price I pay for reading travel books, the ever-growing list of places I’d like to travel to. But better to have that list than none at all. Nothing wrong with dreams.

And finally, Gladys Taber at her country house on The Stillmeadow Road spends June dealing with dogs. She and her housemate, Jill (another divorced mother who lived with Taber for decades), already have, if I’ve counted correctly, three cocker spaniels and one Irish setter. But now the dog show is in town and other dog owners visit, bringing even more dogs into the mix. Taber has referenced a local breeder from whom she’s gotten puppies, so among her own dogs are no mutts or animals rescued from the pound. But she is a glutton for dogs — there can never be too many, for her, and even the noisy ones are just “having their say.”

Holly at Cape Cod, illustration by Edward Shenton

Yet Taber’s narrated year — and I use “year” loosely, as each chapter is filled with memories that range across the 30+ years she has lived with Jill at her house on Stillmeadow Road — is interrupted by a “Between Seasons” interlude. She and Jill and Holly, one of the spaniels, are at Cape Cod. “If there were any warnings of disaster, I do not remember them,” she writes in the interlude’s first paragraph. At first I thought something was going to happen to the dog. Then, when she visits the doctor, I wondered what life-threatening disease she’d picked up. But it was neither. Jill had anemia whose cause the doctor couldn’t pin down. It was perhaps 4 weeks from initial tests to Jill’s death, and the last few pages of this chapter take us through Taber’s anguish as she works towards hope.

Taber has written in earlier chapters about her deep religious faith, and it plays a critical role in her process of recovery from the loss of her companion. Through her children, Jill’s children, and various grandchildren, as well as the dogs, Taber reconnects with life and moves forward. She even regains her optimism. “What do I believe?” she writes at the end of this chapter. “I believe we never lose those we have loved…. I believe eventually good overcomes evil, and that we are put on earth for a purpose which has to do with love and with good.” A few lines later, she adds, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, and the substance of living. With faith, we may face the fact of death and not be defeated.”

More to come next month, as we move into summer.

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Soup and salad, May

Items you’ll never find in my pantry or refrigerator: Lima beans, asparagus, eggplant, black-eyed peas, rutabagas, celeriac, spaghetti squash, brandy, sherry. Yet I hasten to point out that I’m not a picky eater, because that list is pretty much the limit of stuff-I-won’t-eat.

So, some months it’s easy to choose recipes for this project, for Brother Victor-Antoine frequently uses ingredients from my never-list, like celeriac (2 recipes in May alone) and brandy (2 other recipes). Often the recipe’s name draws my attention, but I tend to go for soups or salads that allow me to use ingredients I already have. And now on to this month’s selection.

SOUP

I must have curdled the sour cream. Tips for avoiding that?

I love a good tomato soup, so d’Avila’s Shaker-Style Soup, which starts with a can of tomato paste and calls for lots of fresh dill, seemed worth a try. Add minced onion (which I sautéed first) and water, bring to a boil, then stir in milk and heat, and then stir in some sour cream. Even as I type up the ingredients, I think, “This ought to work.” But it doesn’t. The tomato paste is just too overpowering as a main ingredient. The soup was slightly better the next day, but I’ve still marked this as a recipe I don’t need to make again. I have other, better options for the rare times I want to make tomato soup.

The parsley stopped the soup from blinding me with purple.

Saint Christopher Soup was my next selection, and it would be difficult to find a simpler recipe: Red cabbage, vegetable broth, lemon juice. It looks exactly like Borscht, which I make about once a year when I get a yearning for that beet-sour cream contrast. But back to St. Christopher. Pickle the shredded and minced cabbage in lemon juice for an hour, then add this mixture to boiling vegetable broth. Salt and pepper to taste, and you’re done. As a note to this recipe, Brother Victor-Antoine writes that St. Christopher Soup “is often used in France to ease indigestion problems or hangovers.” That reminds me of Munkholmen, an island about 40 minutes from Trondheim. A Benedictine abbey was established there in about 1100 CE, and the monks’ parties were often so loud, they could be heard back on the mainland. Perhaps they knew about the restorative properties that d’Avila refers to. I can assure you, a little of this soup goes a long way, but I haven’t been able to test it as a cure for a hard night of drinking. I don’t expect I’ll ever need to.

SALAD

I had better luck with my salad choices, finding two that I’ll be happy to repeat in any season.

Farfalle and Chickpea Salad on the left, Radicchio and Tomato Salad on the right

First, Farfalle and Chickpea Salad. Farfalle (bow-ties) are a finicky form of pasta, needing the impossible: two cooking times. But unlike turkey or chicken, you can’t chop up the pasta and cook each part separately. The pinched centers will still crunch after the rest of the pasta has reached al dente, so the timing is never perfect. But what makes this salad is the good dose of chopped fresh basil, along with cherry tomatoes, diced green pepper, minced Vidalia onion, parsley, and the chickpeas, then dressed with a light vinaigrette. This is a hearty salad, good on its own for lunch or dinner. I sprinkled a bit of parmesan on top, but bocconcini mixed in would also be just right.

Radicchio and Tomato Salad from Venice surprised me with how good — and versatile — it is. Radicchio, tomatoes, red onion, red bell pepper, a dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Quick to put together, lovely to look at, and equally lovely to eat. The next day, I added arugula and parsley, and it was just as good. And the next day I topped it with some mushrooms I’d sautéed with shallots and allowed to cool. See what I mean? I bet this salad would be good on cornbread — I must remember to try that next time.

Remember, if you’d like a copy of any recipe, just let me know. I can easily send it to you. Happy cooking to all!

Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year | Tagged | 5 Comments

Another quick recommendation

Hernán Díaz, In the Distance (2017) and Trust (2022)

Hernán Díaz’s latest novel, Trust, is the May selection for the NYPL/WNYC Virtual Book Club, which aims to get New Yorkers reading (and, obviously, discussing) new books. I heard an interview with the author, and Trust‘s structure (4 novellas within one novel, a sort of Rashomon in book form) intrigued me. The NYPL has multiple copies available, so there was no wait to check it out, download it, and start reading.

As soon as I finished it, I moved on to Díaz’s earlier novel, In the Distance, which was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize.

Within a week, I had finished both. Yes, they’re that good. Incredible stories and beautiful writing. Who could ask for more?

Trust is the story of a Gilded Age financier and his wife, told and retold through the 4 novellas. Each version is different enough to make you doubt the earlier narrator/s, so each version raises questions about trust. How do the characters in this novel learn to trust one another? Should they? Whose purposes are served by each of the varying narratives? Do we all tell our own stories as a means to justify questionable behavior?

Underneath the obvious trust issues are others, about the sources of vast wealth (trace any wealth to its origins, and you’ll find theft and enslavement, rapine and pillage, human trafficking and environmental destruction), and how it’s so easy to hide this, to lie to ourselves, as we (and here I mean the ‘wealthy’, which I’m not, but I’m close enough) go about our lives in our bubbles within only slightly larger other bubbles.

The most admirable character in Trust is the anarchist, a printer who, as the Great Depression inflicts misery throughout the land, interrupts his usual anti-capitalist lectures to his daughter, to scoff at the lazy ‘modern’ printers who have never handled metal type and composing sticks.

In the Distance, Díaz’s first novel, is his version of the Great American Western. And it is brutal. Set in (approximately, for Díaz provides no exact dates) the 1840s to 1870s, the action ranges across the western side of the country, from San Francisco to the Great Plains and back, encompassing salt flats, desert, mountains, canyons, and forests. Díaz makes oblique references to the California gold rush, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Civil War, but for the most part his hero, Håkan Söderström, a Swedish immigrant, wanders a seemingly empty land that rockets between hell and paradise and back again each time he meets other people.

Håkan and his brother, both barely old enough to travel alone, must emigrate to America, but at the wharf in Sweden, they’re separated, and Håkan lands in San Francisco instead of New York. Years and years of lonely wandering follow, filled with violence, kindness, beauty and horror for Håkan. Each encounter with others ends in tragedy, usually violent, bringing physical and mental anguish to Håkan and killing others; I came to find relief in the months and years when he was on his own, wandering, or holed up in a canyon or cave. Meanwhile, his reputation as a violent and unstoppable monster grows, and he’s eventually known throughout the West as the Hawk. His size (he’s abnormally tall and strong), red hair, and outfit (hand-sewn cloak that includes a cougar’s skin) make him immediately recognizable and thus a threat whenever he’s seen.

Díaz is quoted in an interview for The New York Times, reacting to his own amazement about how there are plenty of popular novels in the Western genre (Zane Grey) and plenty of anti-Western novels (Larry McMurtry), but no literary Western novels:

“It’s weird,” he said. Weird that the western novel was so underachieving, given how tightly the genre embraces America’s most potent myths about itself. Westerns, he said, glamorize “the worst aspects of the imperial drive of the United States” — brutality against nature, genocidal racism, “the whole macho thing, the place of women, the frivolous violence, it goes on.”

Lawrence Downes, “A Debut Novel. A Tiny Press. A Pulitzer Finalist.” The New York Times (May 2, 2018).

So, if you’re looking for something different, something challenging, perhaps something to keep you awake at night, either of these books will do.

Posted in Am reading, Fiction, Historical fiction | Tagged | 2 Comments

May brings flocks

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, 
Skipping by their fleecy damns. 

Well, nothing so pastoral as lambs cavorting around the ewes in the May image from the Limbourg brothers’ Très Riches Heures. It’s the Duke with his lords and ladies who are cavorting, their gorgeous gowns and cloaks competing with the gilded reins and bridles draped across their horses. It’s the colors that make these images so “rich”. I particularly love the fern-green of the ladies’ gowns.

But on to the main part of this post, my comments on the three books that include chapters set in May. For Peter Mayle, May begins with a short bicycle ride that he and his wife expect will be easy — after all, other cyclists (wearing spandex, which should have been a clue) whipped up and down the tiny hills of Provence all day long. The ride starts well, the two of them wheeling easily along the quiet roads, but 5 miles later, after making the climb to Bonnieux, they stagger into a café and drink beer “in the comfort of chairs designed for human bottoms”. They have still another few miles to reach their goal, and then, of course, the ride home.

Mayle usually took his house guests to the Sunday markets, where “Faded sepia postcards and old linen smocks were jumbled up with fistfuls of cutlery, chipped enamel signs advertising purgatives and pomade for unruly mustaches, fire irons and chamber pots. Art Deco brooches and café ashtrays, yellowing books of poetry and the inevitable Louis Quatorze chair, perfect except for a missing leg.” And so on. Then they would drive another 30-60 minutes for lunch. He writes that because the French love and respect good food, even an obscure little restaurant in a tiny village will have its devoted customers. He found one whose owner/chef was happy exactly where he was and hoped to still be there in 25 years. Mayle writes that he and his wife “hoped we would still be in a fit state to totter up and enjoy it.” (I checked against the publication date, and 25 years later would have been 2016; Mayle died in Provence in 2018, so I like to think that he did.)

Cutting and carting wood, Dorothy Hartley (1979)

May at Glady Taber’s home in rural Connecticut is for starting the garden, when she begins to wonder if they’ve over-committed themselves with their seed purchases. “Now it is planting time,” she writes, “and all the packets of seeds that seemed so small in February take on huge proportions.” It’s a thin line between not enough and whoa, there, too many! Anyone who gardens, or with neighbors who garden, understands the challenge. What do you do with all the tomatoes, squash, and beans? There’s only so much preserving a person can manage.

Yet Taber, who quotes Edna St. Vincent Millay (“I am waylaid by beauty”), can’t resist the glories of this month. “After a thunderstorm, it is an opalescent world.” I’ll look for this pearly effect on leaves and grass and sky the next time it rains.

Finally, in her May chapter on medieval life in England, Dorothy Hartley tells us all about sheep, including sheep dogs, shepherds and their crooks, and musical pipes. First she explains that “A flock is just a lot of sheep; a herd is a lot of sheep of the same breed; a hirsel is much larger, and more mixed, than a herd and is sometimes an entire breeding settlement.” That last phrase explains why it was still, at the time of Hartley’s writing (1979), illegal to sell off a hill’s entire hirsel. Sheep don’t wander aimlessly; they know where and when to find feed, shade, water, and protection from inclement weather. Without old sheep to show them the pathways, new arrivals would starve or die of exposure, because sheep are not adventurous.

No more highlights for this month. Get out and enjoy whatever weather comes your way, and keep safe! See you in June.

Wikipedia says the spork was patented in the US in 1874, but could this illustration be evidence of medieval sporks? Because Hartley doesn’t acknowledge any illustrator, I assume the drawings are her own, what she is drawing from, whether a real object or some other illustration, is usually not provided.
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Soup and Salad, April

Brother d’Avila likes cooking with eggs, and not just because it’s spring. His book of salad recipes offers 45 salads that use eggs, nearly four per month, and many of his soup recipes call for beaten eggs or egg yolks. This should come as no surprise, since eggs are cheap, easy, and quick sources of protein, not to mention handy for thickening a broth or adding richness to a thin soup. So if you feel there’s an overabundance of eggs in these posts, it isn’t completely my fault.

SOUP

Cream of Mushroom Soup, with Northern Italian Bean Salad (recipe below)

When my siblings were young, our mother used canned cream-of-mushroom soup as a thickener for all kinds of sauces, whether for chicken, beef stew, vegetables, and cassseroles. She now regrets all those recipes, for she can’t stand the sight or smell of c-of-m soup. That’s a shame, because when made from scratch, it can be quite tasty, and d’Avila’s recipe, Cream of Mushroom Soup à la Romaine, succeeded. Blending the cooked vegetables before reheating hides one secret ingredient: a carrot, chopped and sautéed with the mushrooms, onion, and garlic before simmering it all in water thickened with a roux. Add cream, seasoning, and then garnish with grated or shaved Romano cheese. I believe when I make this again, I’ll try adding some kale or spinach.

Sour Cream Soup

The surprise success, though, was the Sour Cream Soup. I often garnish soup with a dollop of sour cream, so there’s nothing surprising about sour cream as a garnish. But stirred into the soup and simmered for 10 minutes? This was a first for me. Two large potatoes, chopped very small, are cooked in a broth flavored with bay leaf, caraway seeds and salt until just done. Add a roux to thicken the broth, then the sour cream and simmer several more minutes. Garnish with chopped scallions and parsley. Perhaps the next time I make this, I’ll add a bit of heat — chili flakes instead of caraway seeds at the beginning, or mix the scallions and parsley with chili oil. Options!

SALAD

Eggs Tonnato, with a side of veggies

This month’s salads were simple, with ingredients coming almost ready made. The Northern Italian Bean Salad (pictured above with the mushroom soup) of cannelloni beans and chickpeas as well as chopped celery, carrots, and scallions needed just a simple vinaigrette.

And for something completely new, I give you Eggs Tonnato (left). These are hard-boiled eggs served with a tuna-based sauce: mayo, ketchup, capers, shallot, and canned tuna, run through the blender. Even just one-fourth of the recipe made more than enough sauce for my one hard-boiled egg, so now I’m trying to decide how to use the remainder. (Since I used only 1/4 of the can of tuna, I added what was left of the Northern Italian Bean Salad — a good choice.) (Update: Instead of mayo, I used the rest of the tonnato sauce in a tuna salad, and it worked perfectly.)

This month’s recipes have a decided Italian flavor, something I hadn’t noted until writing this post. I’ll try to go further abroad next month, but it all depends on what Brother Victor-Antoine offers.

Bon appetit to all!
Posted in Cooking, NOT a food blog, Reading the Year, Soup and salad | Tagged | 2 Comments

A quick recommendation

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), The White Road (2015), and Letters to Camondo (2021).

A gift from a good friend, The Hare with Amber Eyes arrived as I was working slowly through Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (by the way, 12 years later, still not finished). When de Waal inherits a collection of 260 netsuke from his Great Uncle Iggie Effrussi, he decides to learn how these gorgeous tiny carvings came to be in the Effrussi family. The book traces his family from its origins in Odessa to Paris and Vienna, then London and, eventually, Tokyo, where Iggie Effrussi lived for half a century.

My friend knew what she was about, because Iggie’s cousin, Charles Effrussi, had known Proust, and been at least part of the inspiration for Charles Swann. Other real-life people also inspired characters, and de Waal never hesitates to point them out.

But that’s just a piece of this book, which ranges across European history (mid 1800s to mid 1900s), anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, art and architecture, Nazi theft of artworks, and the role the ultra wealthy played in building art collections and endowing museums in Vienna and Paris.

A current exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City displays about 150 of the Effrusi netsuke until early June. These are the ones remaining in de Waal’s possession. Others were auctioned to raise funds for refugees, or donated to museums. I was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of people at the museum, bent over display cases to examine the tiny carvings. The photos below, which I took, give you no idea of the size of these pieces, but each of these could easily fit inside a 3-inch cube.

De Waal revisits Paris of the Belle Epoque up to WWII in his third book, Letters to Camondo, about the wealthy Camondo family, whose mansion in Paris is now a museum, donated to France in 1936 by M. Camondo. (It was this donation that saved the building and its contents from the Nazis, and today it remains almost completely unchanged.) The Camondos and the Effrussis lost all their wealth after the Nazi invasions of Austria and France, and the Camondo family didn’t survive Auschwitz. Both books are heart breaking.

I’m only just now reading de Waal’s second book, The White Road, in which he traces the history of porcelain clay. He calls himself a ceramics artist who also writes books, and most of his work is with porcelain. His interest, then, comes from his work, and I expect to learn much as he tracks down the origins of porcelain, starting with China.

Forty years ago, I took some pottery classes and tried working with porcelain clay. It was lovely, smooth and light. Yet too delicate for a beginner like me. None of my pieces survived the wheel. Reading this book will probably make me want to try again. It will be easy to resist, since the nearest studio and kiln are miles away. But we’ll see.

Posted in Am reading, Artist profile, History, Memoir | Tagged | 4 Comments

ULYSSES+ Quarterly Report

NYC has had its usual share of rainy weather since the start of the year, which means that I’ve been making good progress on my ULYSSES+ project. In just 3 months, I’ve read 5 of the 12 books-published-in-1922 chosen as partners for my reading of Joyce’s tome. The 5 are all re-reads, which may be why I’ve started with them. And, in no particular order, here they are:

Lamb House, Rye. The Garden Room on the left is a mock-up for the Mapp & Lucia series Photo © Lizzie Ross, 2014/2022

EF Benson’s Miss Mapp. Set in Tilling (Benson’s fictional Rye, where Benson lived for many years), this novel introduces us to Miss Elizabeth Mapp, who later serves as foil to Mrs. Emmeline Lucas (Lucia). Benson wrote dozens of novels, but none so wonderful as the 6 in the Mapp & Lucia series. The squabbles over bridge games, golf games, food hoarding, recipes, and dress designs never fail to draw me in. And Mallards, the home where we first find Miss Mapp and which Lucia much later buys from her, is based on Lamb House, in Rye, whose residents included Henry James, Rumer Godden, and Benson himself. Another resident of Rye, Joan Aiken, lived just around the corner; The Haunting of Lamb House is her homage to Rye, that house, and Henry James.

Elizabeth Von Arnim’s Enchanted April. I saw the movie before I read the book, and I love both. I also read Elizabeth and Her German Garden, an early semi-autobiographical work by Von Arnim, who certainly had an interesting life. Here’s one interesting tidbit: her cousin, Katherine Mansfield (with a short story collection on my ULYSSES+ list), thought Von Arnim was patronizing and got a type of revenge in her short story, “A Cup of Tea” (which you can read online here), first published in 1922.

TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. The poem’s first line begins, “April is the cruelest month”. For densely-packed obscurities, you can’t beat Eliot. Latin, German, Italian, French, Sanskrit. References to Wagner, Shakespeare, the Bible, folk songs and tales, English history and geography — even Bram Stoker, according to Wikipedia. You can find a thoroughly annotated version here, and I can’t guarantee that the annotations will help you make sense of the poem, but 100 years later it’s still a distressingly apt view of humankind.

Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. A bit of a palate cleanser here. Nothing but pure frivolity. This book won the Newbery Award (the second in the award’s history).

Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. Perhaps some day I’ll write a lengthy essay about my history with this book. I had it on my shelves for decades and then added it to the list of readings for this project. But when I went to look for it, it was gone. I vaguely remember thinking, “I’ll never read this book again”, before sending it off to my local Little Free Library.

As for Ulysses, I haven’t made much progress. Reading that book is too much like work! It’s chock full of references, just like Eliot’s The Waste Land, and how much time did I want to spend tracking them all down? Turns out, not much. I’m enjoying the idea of thinking that I’m reading Ulysses, but not the act of reading it. It’s how I feel about Proust, although Proust gives a much bigger pay-off.

But never fear. I will finish Joyce’s masterpiece in good time. And then disappear it from my bookshelves, for I’m certain I’ll never want to read it again.

Posted in Am reading, Animal tales, Castles and towers, Classic, Fantasy, Humorous, Newbery Award, Poetry, ULYSSES+ | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments