Monday, April 25, 2011

From soup to shoes

cauliflower soup
The spring here has been flat and gray and the American suburbs seem lonely and bleak and Barcelona, in memory, populous and lively and engrossing. If the sun would just stop being so coy maybe all would look rosier. We took a walk Saturday morning, bundled in our jackets, and under the sad white sky we saw a bobcat, a half dozen wild turkeys, a deer, an enormous black beetle, lupines, poppies, the mighty Pacific Ocean, cliffs, a sandy beach, and many joggers in unflattering tights listening to iPods. I whined to my husband that I think I made some wrong life choices because I was so much happier looking at people in harem pants and chunky glasses in Spain. You should all feel very sorry for me. . .

But only because I'm on a for-real diet. I'm trying to make it interesting and delicious, with moderate success. Friday, I had my biggest hit with the cauliflower soup from Heidi Swanson's new Super Natural Every Day. This soup does include croutons and a small amount of aged cheddar cheese, but I still think it counts as a dietetic dinner if you consume just one bowl. The soup is rich and mustardy (!) and if you have this book, rest assured that you can use water instead of stock, omit the shallots, and toast any bread you have around for the croutons (I used leftover English muffins, ciabatta, and hamburger buns) and end up with a supernaturally outstanding meal.

I'm completely under the spell of Super Natural Every Day. I did not plan this. I was planning to cook from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, as I mentioned a few weeks ago. But that book has never quite seized my imagination. Meanwhile, I'm constantly picking up Super Natural Every Day and flipping through it, the way I was constantly flipping through Pioneer Woman Cooks a year ago. Although Heidi Swanson and Ree Drummond are pretty much polar opposites, they both forcefully convey their personalities and sensibilities through food. This is exactly what has always beguiled me about cookbooks: the way they can express so much while seeming to talk about muffins and main courses.

If you're unfamiliar with Swanson's blog, she's a vegetarian who embraces creamy vegetable fats (avocado, coconut oil) and unusual beans and grains. She uses a bit of cheese in her recipes, but never much, and she skimps on sugar.  Her photographs are lush and gorgeous, her voice is measured and precise, and her work inspiring and aspirational. I want to step into the lovely, orderly world she depicts and become the kind of restrained and principled person who can say:

"I do my best to keep a relatively minimalist kitchen, treating it more like a studio space than anything else. . . ."

"You'll likely notice I don't automatically season every one of my recipes with salt and pepper."

"I use little whispers of toasted sesame oil in my cooking but it can be devastatingly overpowering. To say I'm judicious with it is an understatement."

"I find myself most excited about light, bright, refreshing beverages. . . on the fancy beverage front, my repertoire is short and spritzy and none involve hard alcohol."

Sadly, the words "light," "bright," and "refreshing" do not describe the beverages that excite me most. I am most excited by drinks that are "heavy," "complex," and "intoxicating." They always involve hard alcohol. I season everything with salt and pepper. I've never cooked with a "whisper"of anything -- certainly not delicious sesame oil! --  and my kitchen and its cabinets look less like a studio space than the attic of a grandmother with hoarding tendencies. These are clearly my preferences; this is clearly my personality.

And yet here I am, halfway to 90, still envying and aspiring to the aesthetic of others, like I don't have one of my own. My mother did this, too. It's the insecurity of the magpie, the magpie who envies the minimalist.

A magpie sensibility is one reason, pace Gabrielle Hamilton, I ultimately found Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table so delightful to work from. I still haven't gotten that book out of my system. At first glance it's hard to figure out where Greenspan is going with the jumble of recipes, but once you plunge in you discover it's a magpie book that joyfully pulls from all sources and uses all manner of ingredients at the expense of an instantly discernible aesthetic. Don't be deceived. There's a unifying spirit to the book, and it's the inclusive and vibrant spirit of the magpie.

Anyway, here is Swanson's description of her honey and rose water tapioca: "The key to this fragrant tapioca pudding is a light touch with the honey and rose water. Too much of either and the tapioca goes from being lovely, charming and understated to vampy and garish."

I love rosewater more than I can say. I always double the amount called for in recipes. I will now, in a very awkward segue, provide the requested photograph of the platform shoes I brought back from Spain:

Too clunky to be vampy, but definitely garish. Muxart.
Are these loud green shoes a garish anomaly in my closet?

 I am afraid not:

Very cheap. Very uncomfortable. In 5 years, never worn, but treasured. 

Garish. Magpie.

In other news, we got leashes for our goats so we can take them into the unfenced part of the yard to eat blackberry vines. The other night I teased Isabel, who is 14: "Would you rather go without food for 24 hours or take the goats on a walk around the block."

Isabel: "Twenty-four hours? I'd rather go without food for 48 hours."


  1. I have not gotten Super Natural Every Day but I am a devotee of the blog, though I have found my experiences to be less than successful every time (though I did really enjoy the grapefruit-lime-ginger spritzer a few weeks ago). But she is so inspirational, I keep thinking that I too can eschew my inner magpie and eat more like she does.
    But in the cauliflower soup department--it would be hard to top Dorie's in AMFT, though you make me eager to try.

  2. Oh my goodness but those Spanish shoes are FIERCE!!!!! Wear them often, please, and feel unself-consciously fabulous when you do. Because you are.

  3. so funny, thanks.

  4. I too was wondering how the new cauliflower soup compares to the Dorie Greenspan soup, which I made a few weeks ago and loved. Mustard sounds like a great addition.

    And those shoes are to die for. I'm so happy you bought them. Thanks for posting the picture!

  5. The shoes did not disappoint! Since you are taking picture requests, how about a pic of you walking the goats around the block in those shoes while drinking heavy liquor? ;)

  6. love the shoes. made the mistake of looking at Swanson's blog...beautiful in every respect....and so no my world :)

  7. Not a fan of 101cookbooks. Cannot relate to that rustic, calculated sophistication. The same with the photographs: feng-shui meets morgue.


  8. I am a magpie. Thank you for helping me to put it into words.

    I love those shoes.

    Isabel is very funny, and you can tell her that I had a friend who once had to catch and physically subdue her family's wandering pig in front of all her high-school friends on the bus.

    I think I would love the Super Natural food, but not the voice. Seems a little Gwyneth for my taste.

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  10. "Magpies are believed to be one of the most intelligent of all animals: the European Magpie is one of the few animal species known to be able to recognize itself in a mirror test. . ."

  11. A totally awesome friend, who I miss terribly, sent me Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table and the other night I decided to try her Mediterranean Swordfish with Frilly Herb Salad for a small dinner party. This despite the fact that Marcella's swordfish is so delicious that since discovering it some 15 years ago I have not once considered doing anything else with swordfish. Well. Dorie triumphs. Big time! So delicious. Have you tried that one yet?

  12. I like big flavours too, none of that whispering around rubbish. And big shoes. And bright colours. And lots of stuff. And hard liquor. Love the shoes! (PS no feng shui meets morgue for me... oh I laughed)


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