Sleepy tea.

Chamomile tea latte

“You need my help,” he shouts, sans pants and full of fury as his purple marker is out of ink and he needs a “very big whale” drawn right now, please. Where any of this comes from, I hardly know. As Toddler’s language develops, his phrases are increasingly amusing – he’s an accidental and illiterate riddler. “You need my help,” he says, because he mixes up his subjects and his objects, and because he will not stand to be corrected, not by me, because what do I know.

Despite the fact that I’m now very near my manuscript deadline (October 1! It looms!), Toddler continues to insist that he be the centre of attention at all times. He is two, nearly three, and frankly doesn’t give a shit about my timelines. YOU NEED MY HELP. So, despite the pile of work I still have to do, I’m still spending an inordinate amount of time pushing Thomas and his railway friends off “bumpy” bridges to their deaths, and reading books about “very scary” animals (and mimicking their sounds, because of course I know what sound a sloth makes?), and drawing whales and rainbows and whole families of monsters (this way, not that way, not blue, not green).

CONSTANT MOTION.

If this is having it all, then out of necessity I am doing it on very little sleep. I think that is the secret to having it all: you just have it all all the time, with no breaks.

I’ve never been much of a sleeper anyway, but I have heard about rest and think I might like to try it someday. I wonder what I could achieve if I had a full night’s sleep? Maybe I’d remember to turn on the dishwasher before the smell of old food and dirty dishes takes over the apartment; maybe I’d stop buying so many cans of red kidney beans – I needed one can to test a recipe one last time and somehow, over the course of a week, I ended up with five. I hope I remember to use them.

But still, we’re getting there, if “there” is a finished book and a happy toddler and dinner on the table eventually; I’m still going to work every day, and functioning as an adult most of the time. We have not yet run out of toilet paper. I did finally remember to pay the hydro bill.

Most of my work gets done after dark, and so I approach bedtime with eyes stinging from the glare of a back-lit screen. Sleep experts advise that this is not a great way to ease into bedtime, but sleep experts are probably not much fun. You are supposed to avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, I’ve read, or else the light tricks your brain into believing it is daytime. I like to think my brain is smarter than that; in truth, it’s probably much dumber, because it’s never not tired and if it was really clever, it would knock me out from time to time to catch itself up on some rest. YOU NEED MY HELP, Brain.

So, to sort of limp towards unconsciousness, I’ve devised a beverage that calms me down the way my morning latte picks me up. Tea lattes have become bookends to my day, and it’s kind of nice. It’s soothing, and sweet, and if you drink it in bed while you read a few pages of whatever David Sedaris book you have on your bedside table, you’ll drift happily off to sleep, with little to no fretting about all the things you still have to do before dawn.

Stuff.

Chamomile latte

  • 1 mug full of milk
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 1 chamomile tea bag

Measure a full mug of milk, then dump it into a small sauce pan. Add the honey, and whisk to mix the honey into the milk. Add the teabag.

Gently warm the milk to the point where it just begins to bubble, somewhere between 170°F and 180°F. When it reaches this point, remove the pot from the heat and set your timer for five minutes.

After five minutes, pour the milk back into your mug, discard the teabag, and go to bed.

 

Shameful sangria.

photo 3Hello! How are you? How has your summer been? I hope it’s warm and dry where you are, and that you’re finding the time to read books in the sunshine with cold beverages. Please tell me you’ve been enjoying long, warmly lit evenings of leisure because I need to live vicariously through you. I have been spending most of my time in front of screens, stress-eating simple carbs and not-fitting into my clothes. Writing a book is fattening, and sooner or later I am going to have to stop testing my fried chicken recipe. Or I guess I could buy a whole bunch of colourful caftans? I think waistbands are why I am so curmudgeonly in real life.

This has been an intense summer, and I am very tired. There was a long stretch of 2012 where I was very unsure of myself, as I was suddenly unemployed and had a hard time finding work while we ran out of money but still had to pay for daycare, lest we lose our spot. (Daycare in Vancouver is a pretty big issue, where the cost of daycare over four years generally costs more than a university education. There also aren’t a lot of spots.) It didn’t seem like there were any opportunities, and I felt very much like a failure as I was passed over for job after job after job. I am trying to remember that now, as just two years later I’ve recently been offered more than my share of great opportunities, and in addition to this book, which has been my goal for as long as I’ve had a kitchen and a computer, I’ve just accepted a shiny new job.

Things are going better than I could have imagined during those worried months in 2012, and though the weight of it all is sometimes unwieldy, I feel tremendously grateful for all the supportive people I’ve got to whine at and have reassure me. Nick isn’t saying anything about the number of doughnuts I’ve eaten (I can’t say the same for the cashiers at Safeway, where I buy my deep-fried maple-bacon feelings-vehicles), which makes me think it might work out with him long-term.

It’s safe to say at this point that, if I felt shame about the usual shameful things, I would be ashamed of myself. There are many reasons why, and recently I’ve been enjoying a new one: shameful sangria. Or, “red wine pop thing oh my goodness what is wrong with me why is this so good.”

According to Nick: “That’s surprisingly good. I’m actually really surprised.” I add a lot of value to this relationship.

It’s a mix of orange pop and cheap red wine, and you drink it cold and it’s enough like sangria to pass on a hot summer day when the store seems so far away and dressing your lower half seems like an impossibility. If you are fancy and have that good San Pellegrino Aranciata on hand, or a bottle of Orangina, this would be an inch shy of amazing; with Orange Crush or C-Plus, it’ll do, but in a good way. You could drink this with a bowl of Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips and it would be a pretty great afternoon.

None of this was actually my idea – I don’t really know where it came from but I went to a friend’s house a couple of weeks ago to sit in the sun and watch our kids run through the sprinkler in her back yard, and she said “I heard in Spain they mix red wine and pop,” and I was like “yes, I know of this. They mix it with Coke.” “BUT NOT JUST THAT!” she declared, and soon her husband was sent off to the supermarket for a couple of two-litre bottles of pop so we could do some science.

photo 4We went with the red wine and orange pop, because of course and/or why not? And it was, as Nick says, surprisingly good. Would it be as good in December, indoors while wearing pants? Probably not. But who cares about then, we must live in the now and the now is about refreshment and simple alternatives to effort and going out. I looked it up after, and she was right – this is a real thing, in Spain, which is a place neither of us has been to. It’s called tinto de verano, and I don’t care if only teenagers drink it.

So what’s the recipe? There isn’t one, really; just pour equal parts red wine and orange pop into a cup with ice. How much? That’s up to you; I use a short glass so I feel like a responsible parent (even if I refill it six or ten times). What kind of wine? Whatever kind – a shiraz is nice, and so is whatever’s on sale or left over in your fridge from some other evening. Pour your drink, then take off your pants. Sit down outside. Put your sunglasses on your face. And just go with it. Go with it all afternoon, until the light fades and you get that wistful “forever summer” feeling and start posting heavily filtered photos of each drink to Instagram. As one does.

Relax. You’ve earned it. We all have. What are you drinking? I need recipes that don’t require a trip to the store.

 

A big, exciting thing.

In real life I work in communications and any time anyone wants to communicate anything I first have to write a communications plan, which, for the uninitiated, is an extremely boring document detailing your goals, key messages, tactics, deliverables, and how you’ll measure your success. I don’t really like writing them, because I am a BIG PICTURE (impatient) person and I just like to jump into things and see how they come together once I’m in them. Nevertheless, I follow protocols and write plans and pretend I am an adult professional who can do things properly.

And now, here I am, with communication of my own to communicate, and I know I should take a deep breath or ten and write a plan. Or, at least, figure out my key messages.

But sweaty and messy has always been more my style. Which is why I am nervously thrilled to announce that Well Fed, Flat Broke, the cookbook, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press and on bookstore shelves in Spring 2015. I have so much work to do, but I am so excited. And I could not have done it without you. Without you, I’m just some pantsless cat lady with a gross kitchen and an abnormal enthusiasm for fibre. Actually, I pretty much am that, but you keep coming back. So this is all your fault, but in a really good way.

Thank you. Like, very much.

Well … I guess I’d better grab a beer and get to work.

Love,

Emily

 

 

Smoked fish cakes.


IMG_5846

I work at a health research institute where I regularly get access to some pretty brilliant people, and often my job is to translate their complicated science-speak into regular-person language. So I’m pretty lucky, as these are pretty high-profile scientists and because of the nature of my work, it’s often up to them to try and help me understand stuff. I tell myself that one day, one of them is going want to inquire about my expertise; until then, I’ll be figuring out just what that is.

One of the researchers I speak to studies human nutrition, specifically children and pregnant and nursing women. She is one of my favourite people to talk to, because she’s just so sensible. Did you know that feeding yourself and your family is nowhere near as complicated as so many articles, blog posts and news segments would have you believe? Just eat food. Choose variety, whenever possible. There no such thing as “super foods.” Fad diets are stupid and potentially harmful. Try to avoid really fatty and really sugary junk. No need to over-think it. Take a multi-vitamin if you think you need to. This is very empowering when you’re bombarded with so much misinformation and pseudo-science. It’s a huge relief when you’re always half-thinking the worst about your picky eater.

We were talking one day about some of her research around omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats (which means our bodies don’t make them – we have to get them elsewhere). Omega-3s are important for brain health. The North American diet is not always rich in omega-3s; good sources of omega-3s include anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel – things we don’t necessarily eat a lot of. It’s also in salmon, lake trout, and other fatty fish (including fresh tuna), but your best bets are small, oily fish. The good news is that adding more of these to your diet is easy, and they taste good, and they are a lot more sustainable. They’re also cheap.

Side note: Alton Brown lost something like 50 pounds eating his Sardine-Avocado Sandwiches. I’ve tried them – they are delicious – but I am still heavier than I’d like. I wish it was possible to just eat one magic thing that would counteract all the other things I eat with no additional exercise. Come on, science – get on it.

One thing we eat a lot of is fish cakes; it’s a dish that’ll feed the two of us for dinner and then breakfast or lunch the next day; you can also double your batch and freeze them. They reheat pretty well in one of those office-kitchen toaster ovens, though you may want to heat them on a piece of foil or the person who toasts her lunch after you will be a little off-put.

My recipe uses tinned smoked herring, but you can use any smoked fish you like. I just spent my morning smoking the rest of last year’s lake trout, so I’ll be subbing trout for herring for the next little while. Smoked salmon or cod make these pretty fancy; smoked sardines and mackerel work pretty well too.

Smoked Fish Cakes

(Serves 2 to 4 people.)

  • 4 cups mashed potatoes* (approximately two large or three medium Russets)
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek or other hot sauce
  • 1 180g to 190g tin of smoked fish (drained), or about a cup of chunked smoked fish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil, for frying

*You can use leftover mashed potatoes to make this even easier. Or, if you’re making them fresh, let them cool until you can handle them comfortably with your bare hands.

Put your potatoes, scallions, and garlic into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your eggs, mustard, sambal/other hot sauce, and a dash each of salt and pepper.

Crumble your fish into the bowl with the potatoes, give them a bit of a mush, then pour the egg mixture over top and mix thoroughly.

Form into six or eight cakes, about three inches in diameter and about an inch thick.

Fry each batch in a pan with about two tablespoons of a neutral oil, such as canola. You will want the pan to be hot when you put these in, so they form a nice crust; they should sizzle when they hit the pan. Cook for about two minutes per side.

Serve with ketchup, more hot sauce, or fancy mustard.

Fish Cakes

 

Potato salad.

Potato salad ingredients

It’s officially summer here in Vancouver, and all I wanna do is eat cold food outside on a hot day. I’m looking forward to a pretty much endless feast of watermelon and pink wine from now until October, and I will not be deterred.

Now is not the time for dainty salads or leafy greens.

Now is the time for cold potatoes and mayonnaise and hardboiled eggs and pickles and all those radishes that just exploded in the garden. Potato salad. You can make it ahead, stick it in a container, and tote it to the beach and it never wilts or weeps or sucks to eat. Potato salad is one of the greatest culinary inventions of our time, because it is simultaneously a salad and a vegetable side dish, and nobody dislikes it, and it’s got pickles in it.

Who doesn’t want a hot dog and some potato salad? Nobody, that’s who.

This is a pretty straightforward potato salad, the version my mom and everyone else’s mom and grandma makes. It makes a big bowl, enough to serve eight or so as a side dish, and it’s even better the second day. Make sure you make it while the potatoes are still a bit warm; there is a lot of sauce, and when the potatoes are warm they suck the dressing into them as they cool.

I make this with homemade mayonnaise because I’m too cheap to buy it in a jar considering how much we go through, so if you’re using store-bought mayo you may find you need to adjust the salt or acidity a bit to taste; keep in mind though that the dressing should be a bit saltier and a bit more acidic than you’d normally prefer as those flavours will tone down once the dressing is on the salad and it’s served cold. Please, please do not use Miracle Whip for this. I will know somehow that you’ve done it and feel really sad.

Potato salad

Potato Salad

  • 3 lb. white or red waxy potatoes (not Russets), cubed and boiled until tender and cooled slightly
  • 6 scallions, white and light green part only, sliced
  • 4 to 6 radishes, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill pickles
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. dill pickle brine
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh dill, chopped

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, scallions, radishes, celery, eggs, and pickle bits. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, pickle brine, lemon juice and zest, mustard, sugar, curry powder, paprika, pepper, cayenne pepper, and dill. Whisk together. Taste, adjusting salt and acidity as needed.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and toss to coat. I use my hands to gently mix the dressing into the potatoes – you should too. Clean hands are the best kitchen tool there is.

Top with a sprinkle of additional dill, and some more radishes and green onion, if desired. Chill, and serve cold.

Garlic-scape fergazza bread.

IMG_5627

My last memory of a proper loaf of fergazza bread is hazy – I was with my parents, on Granville Island, and I can’t remember the circumstances or anything else about the day, but we bought a loaf from one of the bakeries there and they put it in a bag and for some reason the bag was handed to me and I ate the entire loaf while we were wandering around and then I didn’t poop for four days. It’s weird what lives on in the mind.

Fergazza bread seems to be a local thing, or a Canadian thing, and not particularly common – you see it in the occasional bakery, but I’ve never seen a recipe for it and to be honest, I’m just guessing at the spelling. It’s not fougasse, though there are similarities. It’s a loaf of bread that’s crammed full of Cheddar cheese and green onions, with a herbs and a whisper of hot sauce. It’s wonderful toasted with a bit of butter, and you really could just mindlessly eat a whole loaf. Don’t do that, unless you’re prepared to have a lot more free time and a heavy abdominal sadness for a few days after.

Garlic scapes

It’s pretty wonderful with green onions, and you could certainly use those if that’s what you have or if it’s not garlic scape season, but it’s garlic scape season right now so I’m just garlicking everything even more than usual – this might be my favourite application of garlic scapes yet.

I’ve found that by adding just a bit of beer to the dough, the result is a bread that’s just breadier. You can omit it if you prefer – just replace with water, and put the full amount of liquid in with the yeast at the beginning.

Fergazza Bread with Garlic Scapes

(Makes one 9″x5″ loaf)

  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed for kneading
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. cubed aged Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. sambal oelek or sriracha (or other chili paste or hot sauce)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Additional coarse salt, to top loaf

Combine water with sugar and yeast in a bowl and let rest for five minutes, until yeast is foamy.

Add yeast mixture to flour, with beer, one tablespoon of olive oil, salt, oregano, and pepper. Mix until a shaggy dough forms, then knead for eight minutes or until the dough is smooth and stretches when pulled. Form the dough into a ball. Place it into a greased bowl, cover with greased plastic wrap and a dishtowel, and let rest in a warm, draft-free space until doubled in size, about two hours.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with sambal oelek and garlic.

Once the dough has risen, spread it out over a clean, floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it to about 10″x14″. Paint the oil-sambal mixture over top, leaving about a half inch border all the way around. Sprinkle with garlic scapes, and scatter with cheese cubes. Form as tight and firm a roll as you can.

Fold the edges of the roll under, then place into a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Cover again, and let rise another hour to hour and a half.

Using a sharp knife, cut slits into the top of the loaf. Paint the top of the loaf with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with additional coarse salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350°F. Check the bread halfway through baking – turn the pan, and if the loaf is browning too quickly cover it with foil for the remainder of your cooking time.

Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a rack for at least an hour before serving.

Fergazza bread

Something to Read: Blood, Bones and Butter

30days

The best chef’s memoir I’ve ever read was Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter. She’s another writer-chef I heard about through Anthony Bourdain on Twitter, and when I looked Gabrielle Hamilton up, it turns out she’s a bad-ass chef with an MFA in Creative Writing (those are my dream credentials) – I pre-ordered the book (hard cover) and paid full price. It was worth it. So worth it.

Blood-Bones-And-Butter-Gabrielle-Hamilton

If you like Cheryl Strayed, I think you’ll like Gabrielle Hamilton. Both write beautifully and simply about lives both lush and hard-lived; Hamilton just also happens to be writing about food in addition to life and working and marriage and motherhood, so there’s another layer of sensory oomph.

I find her so relatable.

Even now, as I’m sitting here just trying to say something nice about a book I loved, I’m overwhelmed with my own tiredness. Re-reading passages again about Hamilton’s struggles with her 18-hour workdays and her two small kids at home and everything she has to do to keep everything afloat is cathartic, and just when I’m caught thinking maybe you can juggle everything if you just throw high enough, she reminds me, in writing more eloquent than I could muster, that the one who suffers most of all is the juggler.

Maybe this book resonated so much for me because I read it just after it had been published in 2011, when I was just adjusting to life with a small person and the million little changes that go along with that. Everything felt so much harder then; I’m not sure things are any easier now. While the book is just good writing, it appeals in particular to those of us who are struggling to do everything, to make sure that the work gets done well and the kid gets fed and talked to and most of the bills get paid and the partner doesn’t get throttled even though he has done ten things this week to deserve it (and it’s only Wednesday). It appeals to those of us who can do one thing great or two things shoddily.

Which is not to say that Hamilton is in any way shoddy; I’m projecting. Her writing is clean and sharp, with the flawless execution that comes from really knowing one’s craft. This book is not only not boring, but it is not like any other chef’s memoir I’ve read because it is written by someone who is as much a writer as a cook. Both are hard skills to learn, but Hamilton has mastered them, and I read her book in awe.

The Italians have a way of counting for these kinds of family dinners that I wish we had in English. If you ask how many we are expecting for dinner this evening, they’ll answer “un trentina” – a little thirty – or “una quarantina” – a little forty. It’s like saying “roughly twenty” so we know that we can expect anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five when someone answers “una quarantina.” I want this vague yet perfectly precise way of counting in so many contexts of my life. I always want to say everything was twenty years ago. Or you can cook it in twenty minutes. Or I’ve been a cook for twenty years. Or I haven’t spoken to my mother in twenty years. But exactly twenty? Not for an Italian minute. Exactly a “ventina.” (Page 243.)

This is the best book of all the books I’ve told you about, and if you buy any of them I hope it’s this one.

There are no recipes in the book, but here’s one of hers I’ve made and loved. I believe she’s working on a cookbook; I will buy it when it’s out. Preorder, hardcover.

Fennel baked in cream

  • 1 1⁄2 lbs. fennel (about 2 large bulbs), stalks removed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1⁄2″ wedges
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1⁄2 cups finely grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine fennel, cream, and one cup of the cheese, with a bit of salt and pepper, and mush everything together with your hands. Pour the mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Place the cubes of butter over top, sporadically. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for about an hour.

Pull the dish out of the oven, remove the foil, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the dish. Put the whole thing back into the oven and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the fennel is tender and the cheese is golden brown.

It’s very good with white fish, or chicken. Or, cold, out of the refrigerator when you’re up at 3:00 a.m., wondering what you should do with your life.

 

 

Something to Read: Fresh Off the Boat

30days

Fresh Off the Boat is a memoir about food, family, and not fitting in in America. It’s author, Eddie Huang, is a foul-mouthed, hip-hop loving raconteur and restaurateur, a Gen-Y immigrant kid from a Taiwanese family in Orlando. It was Anthony Bourdain who turned me on to him via Twitter, and though he is occasionally problematic and I don’t always agree with him, I’ve been a fan ever since. I knew kids like Eddie, and while I might be a little too “middle-class white girl from the suburbs” to really relate to many of his stories, I respect his hustle and the way he tells his story unfiltered. This is not a boring book.

fresh-off-the-boat

(If you are sensitive to colourful language, this may not be the book for you. If you would like to learn to swear more effectively and casually, this book will help. You could also come over any night I’m cooking something that splatters. The tops of my feet are freckled with burn scars.)

This is more over-arching memoir than straight food book, though food is a dominant theme.

Earlier in the day, Grandpa had asked me where I wanted to go for my sixth birthday. He figured I’d say Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s, but Momma didn’t raise no fool. Chuck E. Cheese was for mouth-breathers and kids with Velcro shoes. “I want to go where they have the best soup dumplings!” (Page 5)

After we ate, I was kinda pissed with the shitty soup dumplings. It was my birthday! Yi Ping Xiao Guan, you can’t come harder than this for the kid? Chuck E. Cheese can serve shitty food ’cause you get to smash moles and play Skee-Ball after lunch. But all you have are soup dumplings! How could you fuck this up? Yi Ping Xau Guan was like Adam Morrison: your job is to slap Kobe’s ass when the Lakers call time out. If you can’t do that, shoot yourself. As I sat there, pissed off, I saw a waiter pouring off-brand soy sauce into the Wanjashan Soy Sauce bottles. Corner-cutting, bootleg, off-brand-soy-pouring Chinamen! (Page 6)

Been there, in some form or another, too many times. What I like about this book is how much stuff matters to Huang. Soup dumplings, hip hop, fire red Air Jordan Vs – all of it is important, and defining. And Huang is defiant, opinionated, and not good with authority. He is an underdog throughout – at home, at school, in America – and he wears it well. Huang is an anti-hero with a felony on his record, a law degree, and a 2010 New York Times “Best of New York” credit to his restaurant’s name (Bauhaus).

He has a lot to say about race, class, food (history, origins, quality, sourcing – you name it), music, American and Taiwanese cultures, basketball, poverty, and family. It’s all complicated, and though it wraps up pretty nice in the end you never get the sense that there’s any promise of that. You never quite know what to expect. Eddie Huang fux with you.

No recipe today because I’m kind of dead tired, but if you’re looking for a good/witty/occasionally abrasive summer read (and if you grew up in the 90s … there are a lot of references to get), check out Fresh Off the Boat. I have two more posts to produce and three more recipes; stay tuned.

 

Something to Read: Between Meals

30days

I bought Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris without knowing anything about it because I was about to go to Paris and also it seemed kind of absurd. The back cover describes the author’s experience as a “Rabelaisian initiation into life’s finer pleasures,” and I emitted a Ha! so loud I knew I had to buy the book.

between-meals-an-appetite-for-paris

The author is AJ Liebling, a journalist and noted glutton. In James Salter’s introduction to the book, Liebling is said to be someone whose “pull was towards the disreputable elements of society, the seamy part of life, men who lived by their wits.” He was “a big, rumpled figure with a homely face and his navel showing through an unbuttoned shirt,” and his gluttony, “however it had begun it had become an essential part of him, a rebellion, a plume.”

“He had given up on his appearance but was living lavishly.”

I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, and I am aware of Liebling’s suffering and ill health toward his end, but something about all of this is very appealing. Who doesn’t want to eschew convention and expectation and just eat all of everything that Paris has to offer? I can’t just be speaking for myself when I say that it’s hard not to feel the burden of moderation? Real life is so restrictive. Let’s all take a study abroad term in France.

“The optimum financial position for a serious feeder is to have funds in hand for three more days, with a reasonable, but not certain, prospect for reinforcements thereafter. The student at the Sorbonne waiting for his remittance, the newspaperman waiting for his salary, the free-lance writer waiting for a check that he has cause to believe is in the mail – all are favorably situated to learn. (It goes without saying that it is essential to be in France.) The man of appetite who will stint himself when he can see three days ahead has no vocation, and I dismiss from consideration, as manic, the fellow who will spend the lot on one great feast and then live on fried potatoes until his next increment; Tuaregs eat that way, only because they never know when they are next going to come by their next sheep. The clear-headed voracious man learns because he tries to compose his meals to obtain an appreciable quantity of pleasure from each. It is from this weighing of delights against their cost that the student eater (particularly if he is a student at the University of Paris) erects the scale of values that will serve him until he dies or has to reside in the Middle West for a long period. The scale is different for each eater, as it is for each writer.”

AJ Liebling was a lush and a “feeder” and a talented writer and a lover of France in that snapshot of time when Paris was the stuff of romance, of longing, the stuff of so much good fiction at a specific time in our history, the stuff of fantasy that endures. Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris is funny and indulgent, the kind of thing you read and think “I have made so many poor life choices,” the kind of thing you should read on a rainy weekend with a lot of pinot noir and pâté close at hand.

Chicken liver pâté

(Serves four regular people or two gluttonous fiends.)

  • ½ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ lb. chicken livers, membranes removed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole sprig of fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp. ground white pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. cognac (I’m poor, so I use brandy)
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream

Over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook until the onions have turned shimmery and translucent.

Add the livers, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook for three to five minutes, until the livers are just barely pink in the centre. Remove from heat and let cool.

Remove the bay leaf and the sprig of thyme. Dump the contents of the skillet into a food processor, and pulse until smooth.

Scoop the liver mixture out of the food processor and into a bowl. Beat the remaining butter into the mix, then add cognac (*cough* brandy). Stir until well combined, then gently mix in the cream. Taste, adjusting seasonings to your preference. Spread the pâté on bread or crackers, and feel very gourmet about the whole thing.

Something to Read: India, Ireland

sleeping

For some of us, it’s been a rough week. On Thursday, the little nugget started running warm and flu-like, and by Friday’s earliest hours, he was in full-blown fever mode, seizing and feverish and feeling pretty awful. We spent Saturday trying to convince his little belly to keep fluids down, and only now is Toddler back to normal.

We also had one particular hour-long Thomas (the really annoying train) movie going pretty much on repeat, which occupied my computer for most of those three days; we’ve now memorized a whole bunch of really annoying songs about hard work and helping out so we also didn’t get anything done.

So, with today, I’m now three books behind. Maybe goals are for people with free time? Maybe I’d be better to set small, reasonable goals, like “I will fold the laundry after taking it out of the dryer” or “I will open all the mail, even the scary envelopes?” Maybe I should get on with it and tell you about the books.

Let’s get international.

30days

The first book is one that I wanted desperately but that was kind of expensive so I had to wait and wait and wait and insist repeatedly that it would be a valuable resource and the best Christmas present ever. I just shouted down the hall at Nick to ask which occasion the book was and he said “It was definitely Christmas because it was too expensive – I wouldn’t spend that much on your birthday” which I guess means we’ve left the honeymoon phase.

I feel like all my books are either “kind of expensive but worth it” or “super cheap and amazing.” Anyway.

India

India Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant, an Indian food writer and critic, is 815 pages and 1000 recipes, and “the definitive collection of recipes from all over India.” I cherish it the way other people cherish heirlooms or members of their extended family. This book is serious, and detailed, and gorgeous, and according the the cover, “the only book on Indian food you’ll ever need.” On this, I concur.

The book is thorough, and many of the recipes are long and involved, but the results have always been delicious and well worth the time and effort. There are recipes for spice mixtures and pastes, which you can make in large batches and use whenever you need them – this has been quite handy, though I’ll admit I’m moving into bigger and bigger Mason jars for storage and my cupboards are starting to look a little ridiculous.

Every recipe includes the Indian name of the dish, the English translation, the region of the recipe’s origin, and preparation and cooking time, and the number of servings, either in pieces or weight. The instructions are very detailed, and if, perhaps, you don’t have a coal fire over which to roast your lotus root, for example, alternative steps are included.

There are dishes from all over India, so there’s so much more than just the most popular stuff on the take-away menu. One thing I love about this book is that anytime I have a bunch of a vegetable I’m bored with just killing its last days in my crisper, I’ll refer to this book and find something new and exciting to do with cabbage or cauliflower or chickpeas (every vegetable, it seems, is given its place in the sun). India’s seemingly endless number of vegetarian dishes means that this book is a fabulous addition to the herbivore’s kitchen; often, the recipes also happen to be vegan-friendly, no adaptations necessary.

If you like Indian food, and want to learn more about it (and there is so much to learn), India Cookbook is worth the investment (it’s about $50 if you buy it online).

As it would otherwise be simply impossible to choose which recipe to share, I’ll give you the last one I made.

Parathas are dough patties stuffed with delicious stuff, which is essential to every culture’s cuisine, it seems. They are like pupusas, kind of – that’s my first point of comparison, so hopefully that makes sense to you. Basically, they are the best and you can make a ton of them and freeze them and then take them to work in your lunch bag and all your coworkers will be so jealous.

I simmered the potatoes for this recipe in coconut milk, because I wanted to slip some potatoes into Toddler and coconut milk is a sure-thing with him. You don’t have to do that – the recipe is perfect as it is.

Aloo ka Paratha

(Shallow-fried spicy potato stuffed bread; makes 4 or 5.)

Origin: Punjab/Delhi/Awadh
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 4 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup ghee (if you don’t have ghee, clarified butter will work but it’s not the same; vegetable oil will work in a pinch)

Filling:

  • 2 medium potatoes (9 oz.), unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 6 green chilies, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 large spring cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds (I didn’t have these; I used 2 teaspoons of amchoor powder; a squish of lemon will do in a pinch)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt

Boil the potatoes whole for 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain, then cool. Peel off the skins, return the flesh to the pan, and then mash. Move the potatoes to a bowl, then add the ginger, chilies, coriander, pomegranate seeds, and chili powder. Mix, taste, season with salt, and then set aside.

Sift the flour and salt into another bowl. Mix in enough warm water to make a soft dough, about one and a half to two cups.

Knead the dough for about five minutes, then divide the dough into 8 to 10 equal portions and roll it into balls. Using a rolling pin (on a floured surface), flatten each ball to a disk about six inches in diameter.

Spread about a quarter (or a fifth, if you’re working with ten rounds) of the mixture on one disk, then top with the other and seal around the sides. Roll gently with a rolling pin until the rounds are sealed and have spread out to about seven inches in diameter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Place a paratha in the pan, cook for 20 seconds, then turn over and cook for an additional 20 seconds. Repeat with each paratha.

Add the ghee to the pan, then fry each paratha until golden brown on both sides. Serve with mango pickle and yogurt. I also like them with ketchup, but I am ashamed of this.


The next book I want to tell you about is one that fits into the “super cheap and amazing” category, but was also the result of being in the right place at the right time.

The place was a bookstore that was closing; the time was just before the book won a James Beard award (Best International Cookbook, 2010) and came out with a new cover. The book is The Country Cooking of Ireland, and it’s by Colman Andrews, one of the guys who founded Saveur Magazine.

ccoi

Most people probably don’t think of Ireland as being a great place to grab something to eat, but in fact Ireland is basically a nation of comfort food and good beer. It’s full of good farmland and, since it’s an island, it’s in close proximity to all the best fish and shellfish. It’s not just potatoes, though they are well-represented among the 225 recipes contained in the book (which I don’t think is a bad thing – potatoes are the best, obviously). Among the recipes are stories of Ireland – the history, the people, the cookbooks; it’s as informative as it is lovely, with pictures that make you gaze out your own window and sigh, longingly.

I’ve made quite a few of the recipes in the book, for everything from Irish Stew to Donegal Pie, a cheap and easy dish made of potatoes, chives, hard-boiled eggs, bacon and shortcrust pastry. The food is hearty and warming, and makes sensible and interesting use of affordable ingredients.

One of the recipes I am fond of is the Battered Sausages, which, according to the book (and my stomach) are “admittedly dietarily excessive and nutritionally incorrect.” I’m trying to understand how that’s not a selling feature.

“A staple at gas-station food counters all over Ireland, battered sausages are usually grim and greasy. If made correctly though, they can be a real treat.”

Battered Sausages

(Serves 4.)

  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups stout, preferably Guinness
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Oil, for frying
  • 12 small breakfast sausages (not the maple kind)

Whisk together the yeast and the beer. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture, mixing well. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.

Heat about six inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a cast-iron or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Heat to 350°F.

Toss the sausages with the remaining flour, then dip into the batter. Deep-fry the sausages, a few at a time, for about eight minutes each. Drain the sausages on a wire rack over a pie plate until you’re finished frying; serve hot. Then take a nap.