There is much to enjoy about Downton Abbey, but Violet, aka Dowager Countess of Grantham, as portrayed by Maggie Smith, is the creme de la creme. Which is what led me to rent The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a recent movie-watching evening with “my gerls” (can’t you hear Miss Brodie and her Scottish accent now?) To the enormous pleasure of spending an evening in the company of the romantic and passionate Miss Brodie, we added the pleasures of rib-eye steak, pommes dauphinois and Toutoune’s Winter Salad. Continue reading “Dinner with Jean”
I think I may have been the last person in the country to have read the “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, and I really can’t believe I waited so long. Being more than a little partial to Jane Austen, I just couldn’t imagine that I’d be captured by a Scandinavian thriller series, involving a heavily pierced and tattooed, reclusive female protagonist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I devoured these books, completely captivated by the characters, particularly our heroine. She really is a role model for all women, young and old, who have ever been inclined to put up with a bit too much – of anything.
So engrossed did I become that I have watched the Swedish movie versions of the first and second novel, saving the third and the American first in order to prolong my involvement. And perhaps it can be chalked up to the once-you-buy-a-Passat VW-everyone-has-a-Passat VW phenomenon, but it seems that I now cannot escape all things Nordic. In sorting through the various sections of the NY Times that I had held aside for follow-up reading, I discovered “An Open Invitation to Eat in Copenhagen”, quickly followed by Mimi Sheraton’s ode to Nordic cuisine, “Nordic Once, Nordic Twice.” And on the list of “Where Will You Go in 2012?” Why, Helsinki, Finland, of course.
I was therefore not terribly surprised to run across Trina Hahnemann‘s recipe for Nordic Winter Vegetable Soup in a back issue of Food and Wine while hanging out at Kathleen’s house recently. Barley, leeks, celery root, parsnips, thyme, spinach. A perfect early January post-holiday meal. I “borrowed” the magazine and headed home.
I chopped, I sautéed, I simmered, and I browned some bratwurst. Eventually I buttered some rustic rye bread. And when I had tucked my daughters into bed, after this perfect wintry meal, I checked the airline prices for Stockholm.
Ok, so mixed results from last year’s lentils. Could be because I didn’t eat the lentils on New Year’s Day itself. This year, however, I was determined to do all I could to ensure a luck-filled year. And since the tarot card reader Celtic Cricket had informed me that I was in for some tough going in the early months, it was important that I make a strong culinary choice on New Year’s Day. What to do? 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the year, like the Spaniards? Or should I go with the Danes and serve myself up a nice dish of stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon? Perhaps a little mashed sweet potato with chestnut, some simmered burdock root, a spoonful of sweet black beans, and some fish cakes – a few of the components of the Japanese osechi-ryori would be the way to go. But the decision was made when I received an invitation from a close friend to attend his family’s annual pork and sauerkraut party. Though of Italian descent himself, his wife hails from western Pennsylvania, where New Year’s Day pork and sauerkraut eating is a given.
Though some Pennsylvanians declare there to be no reasoning behind it, it’s simply the thing that you do, a number of sources claim that pigs root forward to look for food, and therefore the eating of pork symbolizes forward movement into the future. Pigs are apparently also symbolic of prosperity and wealth.
And so I welcomed 2012 with a plate of roast pork, sauerkraut, and linguiça (a nod to my friend’s love of New Bedford’s Portuguese restaurants). How about we touch base in mid-year to see how the luck is going?
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have had a bit of a problem when it comes to lamb. I can’t quite put my finger on when it began, perhaps in my childhood when my mother occasionally served us what was probably an inexpensive cut, but somewhere along the way I developed an aversion to the taste. In all the exploratory cooking of my college and post-college years, I stayed far away from any racks, legs, and chops. It wasn’t a philosophical problem; it was a taste problem. Gamey. An intolerable gameyness on those few occasions that I gave it try.
A little anecdote from my honeymoon might help to give you the picture. . . We were staying in the unelectrified cottage of a friend, deep in a valley outside of Killarney. When the lights were off at night, it was black and quiet as a tomb. And cold – it was early April in Ireland. After several nights of soup and sandwiches in the cottage, punctuated by a pub dinner here and there, we decided to have dinner at the cottage across the meadow, that also functioned as a B&B. This meant crossing a pitch-black cow pasture (remember that scene on the moor in American Werewolf in London where Griffin Dunne meets his fate?) before arriving at the cottage, to find we were the only guests. And with a guest list so small, we were dining Chez Panisse style – no choices. It was lambing season. Dinner was Irish stew – lamb, potatoes, carrots. For this I had braved the werewolf-infested field?!!! And would have to return across it, belly empty??? If I recall correctly, a few tears were shed.
But fast forward! It’s 2011 and I find myself at a raucous dinner party in West Dover, Vermont, at the home of a hostess who never seems to hit a wrong note. On this occasion, the centerpiece of the wooden farm table is an enormous casserole of moussaka, the Greek dish consisting of eggplant, ground lamb, garlic and bechamel. As I considered the possibility of simply filling my plate with salad, I decided it was high time I faced my lamb issues. A little gameyness wasn’t going to kill me afterall. But surprise, surprise, not only no gameyness, but one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten! I went back for seconds. And then I spoke with Fiona, creator of this dish, to learn what sort of lamb she had used – perhaps that was the secret. She had purchased a shoulder and had the butcher grind it for her. I made a mental note.
A few weeks later, I happened upon Melissa Clark‘s recipe for Pasta with Turkish-Style Lamb, Eggplant, and Yogurt Sauce, from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I remembered the moussaka. I had the butcher grind some lamb shoulder. I prepared a lamb dish for the first time in my life.
When the pasta was ready, I spooned it into a bowl and hesitated. Could the moussaka incident have been a fluke? Would I be digging through my fridge for an alternative dinner of cheese and bread in a few minutes?
No! Dripping with garlicky yogurt and melted browned butter, it could not have been better. I may not yet be ready to move on to racks and chops, but I’m a long way from Killarney!
As I walked to the train yesterday, it occurred to me that the anniversary of my first blog post must be quite near. And so it is – it’s today! When I began, I wasn’t completely sure of the direction I would take, but I’ve come to realize that what I like most to write about is the intersection of food and life. I love to cook, I do love to eat, but it’s when those activities connect with the people and events of my life that the words flow most easily. So here’s how food connected with the Great Snow Storm of October 2011 . . .
Knowing that the forecast called for snow, and wanting to dive into one of the 29 recipes I had dog-eared in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, I decided to make Ale-Steamed Mussels with Garlic and Mustard for Saturday’s lunch. As snow fell and leaf-filled trees began to bow under the weight, garlic, thyme, and ale steamed through my apartment. That and a bottle of ale, made a perfect greeting for Dr. S, who had narrowly escaped multiple fender-benders on his trip north. We sat down to a heaping bowl of mussels, a baguette, a salad of arugula, endive, cranberries, almonds, and Bayley Hazen Blue, and bottles of Anchor Brewing Company’s Liberty Pale Ale.
Out of respect for copyright laws, I’m not going to print Melissa’s recipe here, but I will tell you that where she called for 3 cloves of garlic, I used 6. 3/4 c. of ale? How about a bottle, can’t really have too much broth! Shallots? Damn – forgot those at the store, went with half a sweet onion. I figured there wasn’t too much you could do to mess up a mussel recipe. And based on the fact that when lunch was over not a mussel remained and the better part of a baguette had been used to sop up the broth, I’d say there’s at least one person who agrees with me.