Saturday, February 13, 2016

Some cooking, some reading

Looks like dessert, but isn't.
Two delicious dishes I cooked this week from Michael Solomonov's Zahav:

*The sugar/fat/salt/crunch combo in Solomonov's chicken pastilla cigars makes them even more lethally irresistible for some of us than actual cigars. Have you had b’stilla, that lovely, unusual Moroccan squab pie? This is that, deconstructed. You fry together some ground chicken, onions, fennel, cinnamon, and orange flower water. Roll this into filo dough cylinders (filo can be fussy and if it breaks, just patch and fake it), sprinkle with sliced almonds, bake, and sift some powdered sugar on top. You will enjoy.

*The risotto-like Israeli couscous with mushrooms and kale is another winner. Fairly easy, too. I added Parmesan cheese, which was a good move. I would also next time use the whole bunch of kale and more maitake mushrooms. The vegetables are where the flavors and nutrition is, so I say: maximize. My adaptation of the recipe is at the bottom of the post. 
Israeli couscous  

On another subject, I've been keeping a list of the books I've been reading and the other day I pulled it out. I have only finished two books in 2016! Very slow by my frenetic standards, but there’s a reason.

This is the reason:

One fun part of opening this book was seeing my underlinings from when I tried (and failed) to read it when I was 22, along with the phone numbers of old boyfriends and addresses of editors to whom I was going to send my pathetic college newspaper clips.
Don’t be impressed. Anyone can do it if they are patient. Tolstoy isn't hard, just long. Starting War and Peace is like boarding an ocean liner and you need to settle in for a leisurely journey. I’ve been reading for weeks and weeks and there’s still no land in sight, but I'm not bored at all. Tolstoy's insights into the counts and countesses and scheming blackguards and high-strung maidens of the early 19th-century apply with deadly accuracy to men and women of 2016. Every page or so comes a moment when I stop and think: yes, this is exactly how people are! I’ve had that same subtly awful interaction before and never seen it described. I’ve disliked someone for precisely those reasons -- how did he capture it? And so on.

Here are the books I’ve finished. What a puny list:  

So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. It could be you. It could be me. Ronson’s book reads like a long and chilling magazine article about the power of  an internet mob to destroy the lives and livelihoods of unlucky individuals, many of whom have done nothing more egregious than post an ill-advised joke on Twitter. The book dampened my enthusiasm for blogging and if you read it you will understand why.

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis. If you like to ponder the underpinnings of literary taste and often argue with a teenaged boy about the artistic value of comics, which he stubbornly insists are on a par with Tolstoy, this excellent book-length essay will help you frame your arguments. Or maybe just lay down your arms. Who knows? Instead of tackling the issue of whether a book is good or bad, Lewis says we should instead look at the way people who love the book read it. Over the years, I’ve read Experiment three times and I’ll probably read it again -- a sign that it is of high literary quality, per Lewis. I never got into Narnia, but this is an all-time favorite, a short, invigorating gem of a book that will make you feel instantly sharper. The title makes it sound daunting and dry, but it's not at all.

Finally, let me say a few more words about Role Models by John Waters. I’m almost done listening to the audio version, which I touted in the last post. I still recommend these funny, weird, warm-hearted essays, but I had forgotten just how sordid the chapter on outsider gay pornographers is. How sordid? Very sordid indeed, and maybe even nauseating unless you're on the same psychosexual plane as John Waters. I still think Role Models is a great book. I just don’t want anyone to get to the part about Bobby Garcia and shriek, "WTF, Jennifer?" 

You’ve been warned.

Israeli couscous, adapted from Zahav 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a baking sheet, toss 2 cups Israeli couscous with 2 tablespoons olive oil and toast for 15 minutes or so, until golden. Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and add 1 grated carrot, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook until softened but not browned. Add the couscous and stir well to coat in oil. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine (or vermouth) and 1 cup tomato sauce. Cook until the wine has evaporated and tomato sauce reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat 6 cups water (or chicken stock, but water is perfectly fine so why waste the stock?) in another pan and now start cooking the couscous a la risotto. In other words, add a 1/2 cup of the simmering water to the couscous and stir. When that is absorbed, add another half cup. Keep doing this until the couscous is tender, up to 40 minutes. (It went faster than this for me.) Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat another 2 tablespoons olive oil and add 2 cups coarsely chopped maitake mushrooms (or more) and 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook until onions are soft and mushrooms have released all their liquid and begun to brown at the edges. Add a bunch of shredded kale and cook just until leaves are tender. Fold this into the hot couscous along with 3 tablespoons butter and some grated Parmesan -- as much or little as you want. Serve with additional Parmesan. Serves 6. 

49 comments:

  1. I am making Zahav's kale salad today. I think this cookbook is a winner, in general. I will have to buy it since my library loan is over. You didn't say how the rest of the family reacted to these recipes. Did they like them? Ah, War and Peace! Jennifer, I am impressed, no matter your warning not to be. My experience trying to read it when I was in my 20's mirrors yours. I got about halfway through the first volume and quit. I had too many other fun things to do! (Not so much these days - HA!) With your encouragement, I may pull those volumes back out. As to Water's work, I can't imagine anyone reading it and being shocked. He is one of the original shock jocks as far as I am concerned. He rides that fine line of hilarious and gross for me. I usually ignore the gross since the hilarious is so good. I also tried to read Narnia and thought it was a big snooze. I will look up this Lewis volume you recommend. As to public shaming, I love John Oliver's quote about the internet, "the internet is a dark carnival of humanity's most wretched impulses". But your blog is a very bright spot, so please don't quit! I love all your writing, recipes, family stories, book recommendations, everything!

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    1. I hope you like the salad, Beckster. I think W&P is a book for an older, more patient age -- I was way too jumpy when I was younger. I could do Anna Karenina because it was so intense and romantic, but War and Peace is stretched out in such a way that I really struggled.

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    2. Loved War and Peace! Yes, it's so worth reading...even experienced readers caught up in the experience, often try to swallow it whole, and are forced into more measured meals. Now, I'm re-reading Les Miserables and am more shocked at how much of the brilliant writing I've forgotten...Even more stunning to savor again than the Tolstoy...

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  2. Twice I tried reading War and Peace but I have not completely given up on it .. how did you keep all those names straight in your head?

    Love your blog; look forward to each new post!

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    1. My daughters read War and Peace in high school and loved it. The names were difficult. All those names that end differently depending on, what? Sex? Rank? Not sure. I tried to read Ulysses in high school but become disgruntled when Joyce kept lapsing into French and Italian as if we all should know what the hell he was talking about. I vowed to take it up again when I had learned a latin language, but I did, and I didn't. Maybe I should, now that I speak Italian and kitchen Spanish. Nah. War and Peace, though, maybe.

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    2. The last names end with an "a" if it's a woman -- I don't know much else about Russian names, though. Kathy W -- I have all the main characters down, but a few of the peripheral characters I keep forgetting. Kristin -- War and Peace is much easier than Ulysses. I read it in college. Supposedly. Hey, I'll try to fix the linking thing -- it will require some help, but I know exactly what you're talking about.

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    3. I read almost exactly half of Anna Karenina some years ago. I got to the point where Levin has married his lady-love and Anna has given birth and almost died and been forgiven by Karenin, and I felt done. But many people say it's the best novel ever written, so maybe I should try again.

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  3. I read W&P a few years ago. Fun fact: It has 365 chapters. We started on New Year's Day and finished on New Year's Eve. In between, I got into the habit of sitting down each weekend and reading 7 chapters. It never took long, and it was a very manageable way to read the book. Which, overall, I really enjoyed and would read again someday.

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    1. That is a fun fact! I wish I'd started on the first and read a chapter per night.

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  4. I'm looking forward to diving into "The Food of Oman," by Felicia Campbell, one of the 2016 Piglet contestants. Such a gorgeous, warm-hearted book.

    Have you had a chance to see it? It's one of those books where the post-its marking recipes that strike my fancy become meaningless, they're so numerous. I'd love to hear what your take on it. It matches my palate the way Yotam Ottoleghi's recipes appeal to many others. (No affiliation, just a very happy purchaser.)

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    1. Oman??! I'll definitely check this one out! Isn't another Piglet book about Ukraine?

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    2. Yes, Mamushka, which is also a really lovely book, with excellent recipes and great 'voice.'

      But I think Oman is something truly special. If you have a moment, read the Amazon blurbs, the first couple of reviews, and 'Look Inside.' It's a really fine book, and a beautiful one, too.

      Here's another review that gives a sense of how its food reflects its history with India, Southeast Asia, eastern Africa, and the Middle East:

      http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/11/06/food-of-oman-serves-surprising-cuisine-at-crossroads-of-cultures

      I'm so excited that it's Piglet time! There are some very good books this year, but I'm tipping my hat for this one.

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    3. I have a copy of Mamushka now -- very intriguing! I also found a copy of Senegal at the library. So far no Oman. I might have to buy it.

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  5. This is such a tiny little suggestion for your site but I think it actually makes a bit of a difference: Can you investigate whatever setting makes it so that when someone clicks on a link within your site their browser opens another tab instead of navigating away from your fabulous page? I love your blog so much that I have a psychological block to clicking on your links because I know they'll take me away. It's entirely stupid and ridiculous, because I do have your blog bookmarked, obviously. I notice many sites have this feature and I like it. Maybe I'm an Internet hoarder?

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    Replies
    1. Kristin - if you hold down control when you click on a link, it will open the link on a new tab. Works on every site!

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    2. I'll work on it from this end.

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    3. I am using Chrome. Don't know if that matters. But I right click and get the option to open in a new tab OR open in a new window. This is actually how I start the day; a quick peruse of the news headlines and open in a new tab each article I wish to read. Then all day long I 'browse' through the next tab as time permits.

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    4. Weeks later I still haven't tackled this. But I will.

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  6. The Ukrainian cookbook is Mamushka, written in Cyrillic in the cover. I minored in Russian while in college, and understanding the whole naming convention helps a lot when reading Russian stories. Every name has about three nicknames, so each character can be referred to in lots of ways, and you just have to know. I bet there now exists a site that shows how that works.

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    1. And there are names in War and Peace that are very similar. Bolkonski and Volkonski (or something like that).

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  7. Here is a recommendation for you: a lovely documentary about the late Svetlana Geier, who translated the works of Dostoyevsky out of Russian into German, called Die Frau mit den 5 Elefunten.

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  8. Aaaah Tolstoy. He saved my ancestors and converted them to veg and no alcohol (apparently the no alcohol was the harder part) I don't know if the proceeds if W&P or AnnaK funded the exodus but I've tried and failed soooo many times with both. I can't even get into the movies (pvrd W&P but haven't watched it). Way too many weird last names (and I'm Russian for god's sake) . When reading Tolstoy one must get the proper translation of it. I once read an article somewhere about different passages and totally different translations that were totally different from each other. That alone has seemingly put me off. It seems I need to go to a used bookstore and buy them. Maybe just having them in the home will make me feel like I've accomplished something.

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    1. It's kinda odd... But my mother (82 yrs) and I got into the subject of ancestry over Xmas visit here and she had many stories bout Tolstoy that have come down the line from 1890 or so. About his fanatic eating habits and converting everyone around him. I really have to get her and my only surviving aunt on tape one of these days. Before the past is The Past.
      The many finding our ancestors shows have made me realise that "we are here today.... Only because our relative survived" and Tolstoy is responsible for my ancestors survival.

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    2. Translations of Tolstoy by this team are supposed to be excellent:
      Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

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    3. Even though I own my own copy of War and Peace, I found this translation at my library and ordered it. So big and heavy. I had to force myself to approach it and settled in. Finally, I admitted to myself that reading should not be a chore, it's not required reading for some course and I put it down. I have some regrets about giving up on it.

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    4. Kathy -- Your family relationship to Tolstoy is very interesting and mysterious. You really should capture it.
      I have the Maude translation -- too late to try another. Kathy W., I am struggling very hard right now with War and Peace. Bogged down around page 800. I quit books all the time, but this one I must stick with until the end.

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    5. Let us know when you finish W & P if it was worth it to "stick with it until the end." There are books that I start that are impossible to put down and I try to read them in one go, even if my eyes are crossing trying to stay awake!

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    6. The New Yorker I believe had a very interesting article on the various translations and a huge knock on the new translation being praised.. worth looking at to be sure...!

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    7. The New Yorker I believe had a very interesting article on the various translations and a huge knock on the new translation being praised.. worth looking at to be sure...!

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  9. Loving your tomato red old school Norton edition of W&P.

    Read all of Tolstoy, but I vigorously agree with Vladimir Nabokov - Anna Karenina towers over W&P.

    Who cares about the gay pornographer, John Waters long term friendship with and advocacy for the Manson Family woman is what jumps out. Some very serious ethical considerations there.

    I enjoy FEMALE TROUBLE, Divine, and entourage as much as, or more than, the average bear, but I have grave doubts about Waters/Manson connection. Actual evisceration of 38 week pregnant women plus super campiness doesn't work for me.

    John Waters' opinions in this matter should be considered circumspect at best. As a self-confessed longtime Manson Family fan, who "relates" to the clan, he comes across as an irresponsible groupie.

    Sorry, I think it's *shock* worthy.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111585116

    Don't miss the comments.

    ps A well played note of sweetness in savory dishes is reliable magic - Moroccan ciggies, come to me!

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    1. See, I thought JW balanced things well in the Leslie van Houten essay. It did not shock me at all. I felt he dialed down the campiness and wrote with real feeling and thought and I found myself weighing all the issues very gravely. That essay set a certain tone for me and then the sophomoric essays that ended the collection (the leering pornography stuff, his ramblings on his art collection, his personal cult) diminished it.
      It's a weird mix in that book. Maybe it doesn't all belong together. Maybe the LVH essay should have stood alone because it IS more serious than the rest.

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  10. Are you watching Cooked on Netflix yet? Please talk about it next so I can agree with you about how beautiful it all is. It's captivating. Can't recommend it enough.

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