Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Little Crunch of Cardamom

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few days ago I had one of those beautiful writing days when everything was coming together. The words were flowing from my quickly tip-tapping fingers and I felt that it was making sense. Sure, there were moments of difficulty and I'm also more than certain that there were some phrases in what I wrote that, when I eventually get around to looking at them again, will make me blush. But that hardly matters. Any pages produced automatically qualify as good pages.

But a girl can write for only so long before the words run dry. One must also stand and stretch one's legs. Eat. Emerge from the funk of one's solitary thoughts and narrative structuring. And sometimes, in that moment of respite from the keyboard, you randomly decide to make the biscotti that's been on your mind for months now. Obviously, cardamom, being the best possible spice for most things, was the obvious choice for a dominant flavor.

My crush on cardamom hasn't faded; we are as tight as ever. And dissertating just so happens to make me hungry; during the mid-afternoon, I often find that I need something to chew on as I ponder the next step and make myself a cup of tea. Plus, since I currently don't have time to read my New Yorkers, I thought it might be fun to use them as bright and colorful backgrounds. Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes.

But you know, whereas I usually have trouble writing and then the baking seems like the fun, easy and infinitely preferable alternative, this time around it was the opposite. The dough was crumbly, as most doughs with ground almonds tend to be; shaping it into a log was an incredibly frustrating experience--so frustrating, in fact, that I briefly considered making cardamom cookies instead. Being stubborn until the bitter end however, it became a simple matter of pride: the dough would be turned into a log or else. I offer no excuse for my absurdity other than the fact that writing does funny things to the mind.

And, you know, just like with writing, if you keep at it for long enough, crumbly biscotti dough will eventually look like what you expected all along. It may not be perfect, yielding some tiny slices of biscotti--baby biscotti also has a lot of charm and lots of tea-dunking potential!-- but who cares? Flaws make things infinitely more interesting anyway.

Cardamom Biscotti
Adapted from Martha Stewart

I made several important changes to this recipe. Firstly, when I realized I didn't have enough granulated sugar, I decided that brown would have to do. This maybe slightly changed the consistency (and perhaps accounted for my log-rolling difficulty), but I think that the brown sugar complemented the cardamom quite well. Also, I added a tablespoon of ground cardamom after I realized that the cardamom pods I had painstakingly cracked open were too small to be crushed in my food processor (it was worth a shot). As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to cardamom, the more the merrier. Also, I should note that, whereas the Martha Stewart site says that this recipe should yield 30 biscotti, I ended up with a mere 18--and that was even counting the baby biscotti.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 3/4 ounces blanched almonds, ground (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsps. granulated sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place rack in center of oven.
-Sift flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into a large bowl.
- Mix almonds, cardamom, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar into flour mixture.
- Beat eggs and vanilla, then mix into dry ingredients until well combined.
-Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.
- Roll dough into a 9-by-2-inch log.
-Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
-Press gently to flatten top.
-Bake until pale gold and lightly cracked, about 30 minutes.
-Lightly beat egg white, then brush onto biscotti.
-Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet on a wire rack.
-Transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut dough into -inch-thick slices.
-Place slices, flat sides down, on baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 18 minutes.
-Transfer biscotti to wire rack, and let cool completely. (Biscotti can be stored for up to 3 days.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter on the Spit

Happy was the hunting.
-Euripides ("The Bacchae")

Yesterday I had my very first Greek Easter; the day was full of roasted lamb, folk music, and a language I don't quite understand. But it was fun, strange, confusing, slightly terrifying (imagine being told that when Greeks try to have their annual festivities, the cops sometimes appear....because passersby think that they just might be torturing and roasting dogs) amusing and bemusing and just all of those other things that come with your first "anything." Truth be told, until yesterday I had had no idea that, in Greek culture, Easter constituted the biggest and most important holiday of the year. But there you have it...which is exactly how 40+ Greek people, some other random non-Greeks and I ended up in Stanford under an improvised pavilion (i.e. a very loose tarp) on a very windy day debating whether the lamb was ready to be removed from the spit....well, umm, I didn't really have an opinion about that, but it did amaze me that, while one lamb was ready after about 4 hours of roasting, the other took about 7. Even more surprising than that was that 50 people and little old me could go through two whole lambs. The Greek explained it in simple terms: Easter is to Greeks what Thanksgiving is to Americans. Believe me when I say that that's the kind of logic I can easily buy into; I love food-oriented holidays. This holiday did not disappoint.

But before giving you the details of my trip to a mini Greek-"isle" in the heart of Palo Alto, I should add that, although there were no Easter baskets full of chocolate and other goodies, the morning did start off firmly grounded in American/Californian culture with a vegan cinnamon roll (courtesy of Cinnaholic; I had mentioned it to the Greek and it was my Easter surprise) and a fruit salad. The American side of things, however, was just a preamble to the real feast.

Drool away:

What would a Greek feast be like without Ouzo, the licorice-flavored aperitif? Despite my newfound love of fennel, I can't quite say that I really like the flavor of Ouzo. But perhaps it will grow on me; I have the feeling that, on a hot balmy day, this could be quite refreshing.

Clearly, if you're going to go to the trouble of roasting two lambs on a spit, you're going to make the most of the occasion and roast the internal organs too! And here, my friends, we have kokoretsi, i.e. lamb intestines wrapped around some other organs that Greeks consider to be delicacies--the liver, stomach, etc. I was very against trying this and even had to laugh when one of the Greeks proudly and glibly commented to me on the "barbaric" nature of their Easter, but, like a true food champion, I did try it and I'll confess that I really liked the crunchy crispy texture of the intestines. If this is barbarianism, then let it have a long and happy life!

It wasn't all about the animal flesh, however! There was salad and bread with the yummy cucumber dip, tzatziki. There were two different tzatzikis there and I'm proud to report that the one the Greek and I took was by far superior. One ought not to fear garlic; that's a rule worth living by.

The skill and technique I witnessed yesterday was truly amazing; Greeks clearly take both their meat-eating and their lamb-roasting very seriously--seriously enough, in some cases, to blow on the charcoal with a hair dryer to keep the flames going! And it was a true communal event. Nearly everybody took a turn at the spit, your errant blogger included. That's how we earned our right to stand in the lamb-line and partake in the feast.

I can't say that I've ever really cared for lamb, but this experience has changed my mind. It was maybe one of the most succulent (I just love this word and I rarely get to use it) pieces of meat I've ever had in my life. If only every lamb could be cooked on a spit in the backyard....

However, Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving, there's a limit to how much meat one petite girl can eat. And, unlike the majority of the Greeks, when this delicious cake made an appearance, I couldn't help but cut myself (to be shared with the Greek, of course, though I can't honestly say how much he got) an extra large slice. Did I have any idea what it was? No. But it didn't matter. My meat meter was hitting its peak. And the obvious antidote was what I discovered to be a Walnut Spice Cake (karithopita), which, like most Greek pastries, was covered in the kind of sweet syrup that makes my heart sing. Don't worry; this has risen to the top of my list of things that must be baked soon. When the time comes, the recipe will be shared!

And then I had to walk it all off. I was excited to see a blue bird!

All before sampling--just the tiniest of bites--the marinated pork. And then, as happens with any holiday resembling Thanksgiving, I never wanted to eat again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Act of Appreciation

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things.
-Gilbert K. Chesterton

Today I biked the 4 miles uphill to campus, taught an intermediate Russian class for a friend who was taking her Ph.D. exams and then went to a dissertation workshop. Afterwards, inspired by my new "let's get this thing done" plan, as well as the fact that it was a fairly crowded workshop and I got to see just how many other graduate students have no clue how to go about this process of seemingly endless writing, I went to the library, got out three heavy Russian art history books and then promptly discovered that they were useless. Such is basically an average day in the life of me and, as they say, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

In some cases, it may even make you appreciate the things that you do have, the things that you surround yourself with and occasionally treat yourself to. And so I've compiled a little list of some of my recently discovered and rediscovered favorites.

That tart you see above? Well, this past summer when I was house-sitting, I had a good friend up to the castle for dinner. We made both this Cherry Macaroon Tart from 101 Cookbooks (which, according to Deb at Smitten Kitchen, was revamped for the cookbook) and a fantastic, eternally pleasing pasta recipe from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The memory was recalled fondly and more than once, so, a few weekends ago, we reconvened at my place to relive the culinary delights of the evening, but this time in the right chronotope. It was a great evening--the pasta turned out better than it had the first time, which was largely due to the addition of the lemon pickles I made back in February. Those pickles are outlandishly good and could spruce up the blandest dinner ever. The tart delivered as well, but I will say that it made me more wary of frozen fruit than ever before. While we used fresh blueberries and strawberries, the cherries were frozen and the crust just didn't keep as well due to the extra moisture. I will, however, add that chopped chocolate is a welcome addition to the coconut and fruity flavor.

Also, my ridiculous allergies be damned, I've been into long, rambling walks lately. Can you blame me with scenery like this?

A long time ago I kept a paper journal, in which I chronicled my daily life in Japan, but then, right around the time I got into grad school, I stopped. But about three weeks ago, I rediscovered the habit and the pleasure of having a non-public place to write down and organize my thoughts. Soon I'll have filled up all the pages in the journal that I started back in 2005 and I've already decided that the next journal I buy will be from this lovely Etsy store; I think I like the one with feathers best.

I love lasagna. Especially what I like to call Lazy Lady Lasagna: no-boil noodles, a jar of decent tomato sauce, a few cloves of pressed garlic, mozzarella and parmesan cheese and several handfuls of spinach. 40 minutes later, voila, dinner! Yes, short cuts are a grad student's number 1 method of survival.

There's also yoga, which, even if you're in pain when it's all over, is really a wonderful way to end the day. And this past Monday, after several downward facing dogs and painfully trying to mold my body into the shape of a tortoise (doesn't that just look like it would hurt?), the Greek, whom I had finally convinced to go to yoga (naturally, it was a particularly intense class), and I made the Spring Pasta recipe that was recently posted over at 101 Cookbooks. After yoga, healthy food was key and the egg, avocado and broccoli combination was helped by pickled lemons, leeks, fresh mint, parsley and cilantro. No matter which vegetable/spice route you go, it's a must try recipe that makes for a simple weeknight meal.

While I, for the most part, have stopped reading for pleasure until the chapter is written, I recently found two authors who I think are worth recommending. The first is the Greek author Margarita Karapanou, about whom I found out from a friend (she used to blog here) who works in the publishing world and even knows the translator (the message I sent my friend expressing my pleasure has since been forwarded and responded to!). I read Rien ne va plus in two days and liked it so much that I'll be teaching it in the fall. It was brilliant, surreal and slightly weird; in short, right up my alley. The other author is Karen Russell, who writes whimsical, yet bizarre stories about the South; she's like Flannery O'Connor, but without Catholicism. Also, how can you not love the title of her book: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves? I sometimes read one story with dinner, which can sometimes be salads with artichokes and parmesan and a lemon garlic vinaigrette. And don't forget the pine nuts!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Snickerdoodles and Tea for Two

The outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado about nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say. But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup. Mankind has done worse.
-Kakuzo Okakura (The Book of Tea)

For as long as I can remember, the majority of my friendships have been marked by tea. Tea and cookies, tea and cakes, tea and long, meandering conversations. It's a lovely little ritual that, when I was at Columbia, involved afternoons at the magical Alice's Tea Cup; in Japan, it consisted of weekly meetings on Shijo Kawaramachi at Mariage Freres, followed by trips to the massive bookstore upstairs; and here, in California, it consists of afternoons at friends' apartments, usually with some kind of homemade baked good. It's the kind of thing that can really spoil you.

And this past Sunday, I had an idyllic afternoon at a friend's, free from worry, work and with sunshine streaming through the massive windows that dominate her apartment (all of my friends have better natural lighting than I do, which is kind of sad; I swear that my next apartment will be full of light, regardless of how much the size of the closet might tempt me!). Our mission was simple: to bake snickerdoodles and then to enjoy the fruit of our labor with some tea. And when I say "some tea", realize that this is an understatement. This particular friend has one of the most impressive tea collections I've ever seen. In fact, it's so impressive that I just had to document it. After all, it makes me sad to think that in about four months, she and her soon-to-be husband will be moving to Pasadena. It's a good thing I'm willing to travel for the pleasure of tea. :)

But clearly it wasn't just about the tea. There was the company (it's nice to have somebody with whom one can share one's dissertating woes) and the cookies. Oh, the cookies. It had been ages since I had thought of snickerdoodles. Being somebody who usually prefers chocolate chip cookies to sugar cookies, I'm pretty sure the last time was maybe home-ec class in middle school! But trust me when I say that snickerdoodles are one of the unsung heroes of the cookie club.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the simple combination of cinnamon and sugar, not to mention the great joy I derive from simply saying "snickerdoodle." And I won't lie to you: I was so taken by these cookies that, wanting to know more about their origins, I did a little google search. It wouldn't be right for me not to share my findings. According to one site, "New England cooks seem to have had a penchant for giving odd names to their dishes, apparently for no other reason than the fun of saying them. Snickerdoodles comes from a tradition of this sort that includes Graham Jakes, Jolly Boys, Branble, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles." The Joy of Cooking attributes the cookie to Germany, suggesting that the name is a corruption of the German word schneckennudeln (umm, can you blame anybody for corrupting that mouthful?), a type of cinnamon dusted sweet roll. And, although incredibly unlikely, my personal favorite is the suggestion that the cookie is related to the eponymous tall-tale hero, a "powerful pee-wee," who rides around in a peanut and fights evil with laughter.

In any case, regardless of where this cookie comes from, it's basically a little ball of perfection--sugary, spicy and light. Call a friend, bake these cookies and make a pot of tea. And giggle shamelessly when you say the name; that's half the fun.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies
from Allrecipes

The only way you might say we spruced these up was by using a delectable-smelling Vietnamese cinnamon. Also, our cookies didn't flatten, but I have to say that I quite enjoyed their round shape. They were like sugar mini-doughnuts.

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Combine 1 1/2 cups white sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs. Mix well.
-Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Blend well.
-Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.
-Then, shape dough into 1 inch balls (the dough might be hard to work with, easily fall apart. You can persist, as we did, or refrigerate the dough.).
-Roll balls of dough in sugar/cinnamon mixture and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
- Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set.
-Immediately remove from cookie sheets.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lentil Love on a "Home Day"

On his way to the kitchen, he stopped at the closet and took an accounting of the coats, then he hurried on to the kitchen, where everything was as it had been a few hours earlier. He was that future self he had many times foretold but always dismissed as an impossibility. It was dizzying. He had to steady himself on the counter. He wanted nothing more than to tell her everything about the evening now. What cruel fun. What meagre compensation. Her wedding ring and the one with the diamond remained on the counter, where she had left them before she started cooking.
Joshua Ferris ("The Dinner Party")

A few days ago, I had one of those days that I refer to as a "home day." On these days, I do all the things that I've managed to put off--dusting, sweeping the floor, going crazy with the Clorox spray/wipes (I like the assurance that things are really clean and that germs are being killed; I've tried certain "green" products and, frankly, I don't think they get the job done. Kill the flu virus and/or other similar viruses and then we're in business) and, more often than not, laundry. Although this may sound boring, the secret truth is that I relish these moments. "Home days" are glorious. I like when things sparkle and shine and a sense of freshness permeates the apartment.

One of the best thing about these days is that they often follow some major accomplishment--usually the completion of some paper or another. It's as if a tiny window suddenly opens and, rather than sitting in front of a computer all day, you're allowed to move and to have your day pass in a blur of activity. Granted, in this particular case, it's not as if some paper has been well and truly completed, but one must celebrate the small stuff and allow for life to creep in in whatever form it can.

To top off the pleasant feeling of knowing that things were finally being put in order, I decided that it was high time I had a proper meal and chez moi at that. I was tired of subsisting on salads (even if yummy ones full of kumquats) and more than eager to try something new, hearty and that would provide a fair amount of leftovers.

In short, enter lentils. And not just any lentils, but simple, spicy Delhi-style lentils courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey, whose cookbook, "An Invitation to Indian Cooking", I had borrowed from a friend back in July. While I did make Chana Masala in November, I can't say that I've done justice to this gem of a cookbook, which I've looked at many times and, somehow or another, always ended up making something else for dinner. Needless to say, I've squandered a good thing. But no more!

Somehow, the mood was right; lulled into the domestic comfort that "home days" give me, I gamely got out a bag of lentils, brought my laptop into the kitchen so I could listen to a New Yorker Fiction podcast (the Joshua Ferris story quoted above) while cooking and set about filling my apartment with the simmering smell of cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves and lemons. If you have a well-stocked spice cabinet, making Indian dishes really is easy; I'm always pleasantly surprised by this because I expect it to be a massive undertaking and, instead, it's the antithesis of high-maintenance cooking.

Maybe this just tells you that I don't get out enough or that dissertating really can take over your life (or make you crazy), but it was honestly one of the nicest days I'd spent in a while. For me, it doesn't get much better than literature, cleanliness and good food.

Adapted slightly from An Invitation to Indian Cooking
Yields 6-8 servings that can be eaten either with bread (flatbread works beautifully) or basmati rice

To change this recipe, all I did was add more bay leaves and bigger pieces of fresh ginger; I also left out asafetida since I didn't have any in my pantry and had already been to the store once. The recipe was still tasty without this.

2 cups lentils
1 cinnamon stick, 2-3 inches long
2 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 slices fresh, peeled ginger (1/2 inch thick)
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3/4 lemon
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, but a nice addition in terms of flavor)
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or usli ghee (I used vegetable oil)
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

-Wash the lentils and drain.
-In a 4-quart pot, combine the lentils, 6 cups water, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, garlic cloves, ginger slices and turmeric and bring to a boil.
-Cover, lower heat and simmer gently until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.
-Slice lemon into 5 or 6 rounds and remove seeds. Lift cover of pot and put in the lemon slices, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Stir.
-Cover and simmer another 5 minutes. (At this point, I was disappointed to see that my lentils were sticking to the bottom of the pan; this, however, became a non-issue once I followed the next step.)
-Just before serving, heat the vegetable oil in a 4-6 inch skillet over medium high heat. When very hot, put in the cumin seeds.
-As soon as the cumin seeds darken, pour the contents over the lentils and stir.
-Get out the bread or rice, heap lentils upon them and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Rekindled Flame

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."
-Oscar Wilde

With this Oscar Wilde quote, I welcome you to my world. You'd be surprised sometimes how big a difference one little comma seems to make. I am, however, trying to restrain myself, to overcome the perfectionism and just to do it. I think The New Yorker is sending me a subliminal message; when I opened up the latest issue tonight, I saw that there was an article called "Just Write it!", about why authors shouldn't make their readers wait. Well, message received. And, gloriously enough, I'm basically done, at least for now, with the Chekhov section!! Onwards and upwards tomorrow with Sologub, which will constitute the bulk of the chapter.

While writing has moved to the center of my existence, the simple truth is that a girl has got to eat. And this past weekend, on a morning when my allergies seemed to be cooperating with my need both to breathe and eat, I baked banana bread. It had really been too long.

You see, this past summer, I was obsessed with banana bread. I made it at least 5 or 6 times. The Bakesale Betty recipe that started this blog off was my go to, but I also experimented with peanut butter (besides coffee, the great love of my life), chocolate chips, cardamom, raisins and rum....Yep, it's a very versatile food and worth a revisit. But somehow, my banana bread flame, perhaps after I almost caught my hair on fire during one experiment (which would kind of make sense) burned out and I started using my bananas in other things.

I just couldn't stay away, however; the pull was too strong. And after this round, well, banana bread and I, we've rekindled things. We'll be seeing each other at least once a month. Maybe more. Maybe there are lots of fish in the sea, but it's important to make time for old friends. If that seems strange to you, just call me old-fashioned.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamon

It could never yield enough, but, practically speaking, about 8 thick slices
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life, with minor modifications

Because I like texture and things that taste of nuts, I added what was left of an almost empty bag of walnuts. I also added the leftover ground almonds that I've used in Greek butter cookies and my favorite breakfast polenta. Ultimately, this led to a slightly heartier and rich bread.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup ground almond
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 medium-sized bananas, mashed
1/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a standard-sized loaf pan.

-Melt the 6 tablespoons of butter and let cool.
-In the meantime, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, ground almonds, walnuts and salt. Add the chocolate chips and mix well to combine.
-In a medium bowl, mash the bananas.
-Then, add the lightly beaten eggs, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.
- Pour wet ingredients into flour mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula until just combined.
- Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and lumpy.
-Pour into prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with both cinnamon and brown sugar.
-Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. -- If the top seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.
- Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
- Then let cool completely or, as I did, cut into it and enjoy it while it's still hot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dissertation Survival: Community and Cookies

I'm the smartest little geisha in Japan.
-Sidney Jones ("The Geisha")

One of the best things about the department I'm in is that there's a real sense of community: the graduate students know and like each other. We respect each other's work. Besides seminars, which yours truly is no longer taking, the main forum for sharing our academic preoccupations with each other is the Slavic kruzhok (accent on the o). The kruzhok, which literally translates to "little circle," is a place where we meet at least once a month to discover what we're all working on and to exchange ideas, as well as to eat and do what people usually do while eating: complain, pleasantly bicker, catch up and learn from each other. It's a great thing to have in place for intellectual support (not to mention surviving graduate school) and really helps to foster ideas.

Yesterday, some of my fellow graduate students and I went to the SF Ballet to see Igor' Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" (staged in the same way it was back when it premiered in Paris with the Ballet Russe in 1911)--an event that was sponsored by Kruzhok. After the performance, the Greek and I (who attended as an honorary member of Slavic) went to Hayes Valley where we continued the French theme by getting crepes and buying delicious macarons (featured above) from Paulette. Like with most things, I'm now obsessed with the thought of making my own, but this project will have to wait until the fast-approaching summer is well and truly here. I need to buy supplies; this isn't just a pantry-ready undertaking.

Then, today was our last meeting of the semester and we had ice cream cake, festively decorated for spring (Kruzhok was proudly written across the cake in its original Cyrillic font) and, coincidentally enough, more macarons....this time, however, from the delicious Masse's Pastries in Berkeley. Don't you just love the colors? They're like mini works of art.

The topic of discussion was dissertations. And, yes, I'm still working on mine. Slowly but surely, this beast is coming together. It will be done by mid-May....before I float off into the land of age 28 (!!!!) and my fun summer travels begin. To show you what I'm working on--in the non-culinary arena--I offer two images: the first is a perfume ad from the 1890s in Russia when Japonisme was on the rise and geishas were a rising symbol of beauty; the second is a Russian ad for the somewhat shockingly silly and yet oh so forgivably campy operetta by Sidney Jones, "The Geisha, or the Story of a Japanese Tea House" (1896).

My ideas on both are currently mapped out in my mind, but are still working their way into a written and polished format. I guess you'll just have to read the chapter. Maybe that's just the incentive I need. :)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring is for Salad

A Pang is more conspicuous in Spring
In contrast with the things that sing
Not Birds entirely -- but Minds --
Minute Effulgencies and Winds --
When what they sung for is undone
Who cares about a Blue Bird's Tune --
-Emily Dickinson

Lately, I've been all about kumquats. It's my love of sour things; I just can't get enough. Plus, the fact that you don't have to peel's like popping candy in your mouth. And I haven't even mentioned the health benefits. Fiber, vitamin C!

Yes, I can't help but be a tad...eccentric. In my world, braised fennel is comparable to french fries; kumquats are my new favorite candy. I clearly measure my maturity by the new and healthy ways I find to make good on my childhood love affair with junk food. At least with kumquats I won't burn my tongue off like I used to do with these Warheads.

This little love affair wouldn't have started had I not gone to a friend's for a lovely dinner a few weeks ago. Not only did she make a fantastic Chana Masala, but a very simple salad--with greens, walnuts, parmesan cheese and kumquats. I loved the idea of substituting kumquats for tomatoes and not just because tomatoes--even the bland hothouse variety with which we must now make do-- have been ridiculously overpriced. It simply added a whole new flavor to the salad; it was vibrant and tasty. Salad was suddently interesting again.

And then I got my most recent copy of Bon Appetit in the mail and one recipe that immediately jumped out at me was Molly from Orangette's "Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs." But as good as it sounded and looked, I was envisioning something different: Chickpeas, arugula, kumquats, feta cheese and pine nuts. A light peppering and one clove of garlic. Lemon juice sprinkled over the whole thing and topped with a simple dressing of olive oil and White Balsamic Vinegar.

Should we not, after all, be paying tribute to spring? Haven't we been waiting ages for this?

Chickpea Salad with Kumquats, Feta and Pine Nuts
Yields 2 servings

Inspired by Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs

2-3 handfuls of Arugula
1 15 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small block of feta cheese, crumbled
a sprinkling of pine nuts
1 garlic clove, pressed
5-6 kumquats, rinsed and sliced
Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon

-Place the arugula in a bowl.
-Add the drained chickpeas, pressed garlic, pine nuts, kumquats and crumbled feta.
-Pepper according to taste.
-Squeeze the 1/2 lemon over the prepared salad.
-Add a fine drizzle of olive oil and 3-4 teaspoons of White Balsamic Vinegar (like with most things, I like my salad dressing more light and tart than weighed down by the heaviness of olive oil. This, however, is entirely a matter of taste)
-Toss and enjoy!


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