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Great new cookbooks. November 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The library at the tiny town near me and our friend Ben, scenic Kuztown, PA, got in two great cookbooks recently that I checked out and loved. (I loved one so much that I asked OFB to get it for me for our anniversary at the end of this month, and of course he did. Yum! Can’t wait to get cooking.) To take my mind off the nightmarish commercialism that has destroyed one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving, I’ll tell you about them so you can check them out.

The first is Salads: Beyond the Bowl by Mindy Fox (Kyle Books, 2012, $19.95). I was put off rather than intrigued by the title, which I thought was too precious, but OFB and I love salads so much that if we don’t have at least one a day, we feel horribly deprived. So I checked the book out of the library, and I’m so glad I did. The recipes are just extraordinary, the photography ultra-inviting. As a vegetarian, I rarely buy cookbooks that contain recipes for meat unless they’re of historic interest, but if I find myself dying to make more that ten recipes from a book, as in this case, I’ll make an exception.

Check out Mindy’s Pimiento Cheese with Cucumber, Scallion and Celery Salad, Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Pico de Gallo, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Olive Oil, Lemon and Peppered Sheep’s Milk Cheese, Asparagus Mimosa with Capers, Radishes and Chives, Red Cabbage, Green Apple and Sweet Currant Slaw, Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Lemon-Olive Pesto and Toasted Pine Nuts, Cress, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette, or, say, Green Oak Lettuce, Fried Green Tomatoes and Goat Cheese with a Chimichurri Vinaigrette. Wow. And we haven’t even added any of the numerous grains and beans, or eggs, potato and pasta, or any of the other variations Ms. Fox so deftly weaves into her salads.  

Then there’s John Schlimm’s Grilling Vegan Style (Da Capo Press, 2012, price sadly obscured by library tags, but unlikely to be more than $19.95). Not being an expert on all things grilling, I felt somewhat adventurous when I picked up this book. And okay, what about grilling had anything to do with vegetarians, much less vegans, beyond grilled veggie kabobs, frozen veggie burgers, corn on the cob, or pizza? (Let’s please not discuss the horrors of pseudomeats like Tofu Pups, aka vegetarian hot dogs. Spare me, please.)

Having been served grilled zucchini and cherry tomatoes as the “vegetarians’ alternative” at way too many friends’ barbecues—I wish they’d try to eat these horrors for themselves, tasteless, mealy zucchini and unspeakable exploding tomatoes—I was ecstatic to discover a world of grilled delights in John Schlimm’s book. Dishes like Golden Tandoori Seitan. Mushrooms & Peppers over Minty Pesto Triangles, Cedar-Smoked Mushrooms, Midsummer Night’s Asparagus with Mandarin Oranges and Pimiento Sauce, Crackling, Kale, Swiss Chard and Red Bell Pepper, Flame-Glazed Eggplant with Hoisin Sauce, Artichokes with Cumin Dipping Sauce, Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime & Pepper Sauce, Mexican Tortilla Burgers, Slip-N-Sliders, Italian Herb Burgers on Focaccia, and Flame Day Fries. Plus grilled pasta, pizza, desserts, and cocktails (er, the cocktails aren’t grilled, they’re simply meant to enhance the food).

Our friends Chaz and Delilah are experts at grilling, like our neighbors Steve and Bill. We’re complete idiots, watching, drooling and eating.  But Grilling Vegan Style has inspired us to try to fire up our grill and get beyond the boring veggie kebabs. Thanks, John Schlimm!

I suggest that you check out these books, whatever your dietary habits. You’ll be glad you did!

                 ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Spices, Scotland, Shiloh… and cheese. February 22, 2010

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Silence Dogood here. For Valentine’s Day, our friend Ben surprised me with (surprise!) cookbooks. If, like me, you love cooking, I thought you’d enjoy hearing about them.

But first, a brief digression about the other thing OFB produced as a Valentine’s Day present: A bottle of my favorite liqueur, Drambuie. Drambuie is a Scottish liqueur that was apparently developed in 1745 for Bonnie Prince Charlie and which has been enjoyed by countless lesser beings, such as yours truly, ever since. (Their classic motto is “The spirit lives on.”) But when our friend Ben triumphantly produced the bottle, I thought he’d bought a knock-off by mistake. That was definitely not the classic Drambuie bottle, brown glass with a shape as ancient and dramatic as its origins. This was a plain old clear liquor bottle that could have held vodka or rum. Worse, until I picked it up, I thought it was, gasp, plastic. How the mighty had fallen! Tragically, it proved to be the real thing. The bottle had been redesigned, so the company claimed, to “reveal the unique golden liqueur” inside. Ha! How about, the bottle has been redesigned so it’s cheaper to produce and more of them will fit onto a store shelf. Give me back my brown bottle!!!

While I’m already off-topic, let me explain how our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh fits in to all this. (Fortunately, Drambuie has nothing to do with it.) Our friend Ben had somehow managed to find a Valentine’s Day card with a photo of a black German shepherd on it. At first I thought that, despite his true Luddite incapacity around anything technological, including cameras, OFB had somehow managed to Photoshop it. I mean, how likely is it that a greeting card company would decide that any sort of German shepherd was a good subject for a Valentine, much less a black German shepherd? But checking it out, it was a real honest-to-God Valentine from Shoebox/Hallmark. Kudos to OFB for pulling that off!

Now, back to the books. Back in the fall, I’d read a review of a new cookbook called Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen by Monica Bhide (Simon & Schuster, 2009). It sounded like a must-get. Having long since abandoned any pretense of subtlety where our friend Ben is concerned, I clipped the review, handed it to him, and said “Next time you’re stumped for a present for me, I’d really like this.” At the time, I was hoping it might make an appearance for my birthday or Christmas, but it didn’t, and I eventually forgot about it. Meanwhile, poor OFB was carting the review around in his book bag all this time. And for Valentine’s Day, he not only got me Modern Spice, but Ms. Bhide’s earlier book The Everything Indian Cookbook (Adams Publishing, 2004). And, for something completely different, The New American Cheese: Profiles of America’s Great Cheesemakers and Recipes for Cooking with Cheese (Laura Werlin, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000).

The Everything Indian Cookbook is aimed at the beginner who’s just sticking a toe into the enticing, exotic ocean of Indian cuisine. It features 300 recipes, including (to quote from the front cover) Minty Potatoes in Yogurt Sauce, Malabari Coconut Rice, Spinach Lamb Curry, Sizzling Tandoori Chicken, and Almond-Coated Naan Bread.

But what I found most valuable about it were the pointers throughout the book to help the novice feel at ease with Indian cooking, from chapters on “Basics of Indian Cooking” (including techniques and a basic Indian spice pantry) and “Basic Recipes,” including the classic spice mixtures garam masala, tandoori masala, and chaat masala, plus homemade ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (Indian cheese), to tips and definitions scattered throughout. Tips include everything from “Deep-Frying Made Easy” to how to find and use dried fenugreek leaves and the proper techniques for cooking with cumin seeds. (“Cumin is never used raw.”)

The Everything Indian Cookbook is, admittedly, not something it would have occurred to me to buy. But I’ve really been enjoying paging through it. It has no photos and is not vegetarian—two drawbacks in my book—but it has tons of veggie-friendly recipes and others that can easily be adapted, and I’ve already learned plenty of things I hadn’t picked up from more beautiful and sophisticated Indian cookbooks. (My friend Huma, for instance, has told me a hundred times that the Indian dish I make with spinach and paneer is not saag paneer, but it wasn’t until I got this book that I saw that the dish with spinach is called paalak paneer, and that saag paneer uses mustard greens instead of spinach.) Highly recommended if you’d like to expand your culinary horizons.

Modern Spice is a whole different animal. To quote Ms. Bhide: “This book takes Indian cooking and translates it for our generation—this book embraces the intense, spicy Indian flavors but is not stuck on an artificial standard of authenticity that no longer exists even in India.”

As an intuitive cook, I completely approve of this approach, as long as it’s plainly stated upfront. To say that India, with all its diversity, has a “standard” cuisine is like saying that there is one style of cooking that characterizes my native South. Anyone who’s tasted the signature dishes of, just skimming, South Carolina, the Florida Keys, my home state of Tennessee, Louisiana, and South Texas will find little similarity between them, and little do they know how many variations play out in every region. Think about the endless variations of a single food such as barbecue or chili or even coleslaw (that’s just “slaw” to us Southerners) and you’ve said it all. Ms. Bhide’s point is well taken.

Modern Spice is full of useful advice, instructions, and tips, many gleaned from Ms. Bhide’s years teaching cooking classes and coming to understand what American amateur cooks need to learn. But it has a sophistication and range that picks up where a basic Indian cookbook leaves off. You won’t, as Ms. Bhide notes, find a recipe for mango lassi here. Nor will you find saag paneer or even paalak paneer. Paneer, yes, used in recipes such as Paneer and Wild Mushroom Pilaf, Paneer and Fig Pizza, Anaheim Peppers with Mint-Cilantro Chutney and Paneer, Papad Stuffed with Crab and Paneer. (As you can see, this book isn’t vegetarian, either, but again, has many veggie-friendly recipes.) I was deeply disappointed by the lack of photos—the book has only eight, stuffed awkwardly in the middle—but was charmed by the author’s essays, interspersed throughout, about her upbringing and food adventures. If you already know and love “classical” Indian cuisine in its many variations, Modern Spice is a must-buy.

Now let’s leave the world of spices and talk about cheese. As an avid cheese-eater, I have many books on cheese and cheese-making. I fantasize about learning to make my own cheeses. I also avidly read articles about American cheesemakers and fantasize about eating their luscious boutique creations. (Our friend Ben and I will very occasionally splurge on a handmade cheese by a local artisan, but normally fine cheeses are, like fine wines, alas, far beyond our budget.)

So The New American Cheese was the ultimate fantasy. This book won one of The IACP Cookbook Awards, and it’s easy to see why. It is photo-rich and breathtakingly beautiful. It tells the story of the evolution of cheese in this country and profiles 80 of the foremost American artisanal cheesemakers at the time of its publication.

And the recipes are to die for: Bruschetta with Fig Puree and Blue Cheese; Teleme, Squash, and Onion Galette; Mozzarella and Roasted Mushroom Panini; Mixed Beet and Crottin Salad with Walnut Oil and Lemon; Dill-Lemon Greek Salad; Blood Orange, Fennel, and Feta Salad; Pistachio-Coated Goat Cheese Rounds on Mixed Greens with Nut Oil Vinaigrette; Pizza with Blue Cheese, Butternut Squash, and Fried Sage Leaves; Polenta with Wild Mushrooms, Fontina, and Aged Cheese; Green Garlic Risotto with Cauliflower, Pancetta, and Fromage Blanc; Lemon Parmesan Risotto with Asparagus; and Cheese Enchiladas with Lime-Tomatillo Sauce. There are also tantalizing meat-based main courses, like Grilled Pork Chops with Cheddar-Corn Spoonbread and Apple-Sage Chutney; sides like Fennel, Apple, and Celery Root Gratin and Lemony Artichokes with Feta and Oregano; and dessert classics like (of course) cheesecake and apple-Cheddar pie, as well as more innovative desserts.

One thing (among many) that charmed me about The New American Cheese was a delightful chapter devoted to upgrades on classic American comfort foods, from French onion soup, mac’n’cheese, Cobb salad, and fondue to Welsh rarebit, grilled cheese, cheeseburgers, classic Iceberg lettuce with Maytag blue cheese dressing, and shepherd’s pie. This cookbook is a must-have for anyone’s shelf, for the recipes alone but especially if you want to really learn about cheese and cheesemaking.

In case you’re wondering why I’m torturing you with the concept of all these recipes and not giving you any, every one of these books threatens dire consequences if any of their content is reproduced in any way. Sob! You’re on your own, I’m afraid. I can’t afford artisanal cheeses now, and would really rather not contemplate the prospect of eating “Government Cheese” behind bars. (Just ask Martha.) But perhaps I’ll write a post soon that provides you with my own distinctive recipe for saag—I mean, paalak—paneer…

          ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

The Dirty Old Ladies’ Cookbook. January 14, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when people know you like to cook, they tend to give you cookbooks. This Christmas, I received a great stash of cookbooks from friends and relatives. Despite our friend Ben’s groans of dismay as he viewed the already-bulging kitchen shelves, I was thrilled, especially since, as it turned out, not one of them duplicated a book I already owned.

New-to-me additions to my cookbook collection included American Cookery (“The First American Cookbook, by Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan, A Facsimile of the Second Edition, Printed in Albany, 1796″); The Rustic Table: Simple Fare from the World’s Kitchens by Constance Snow (William Morrow, 2005); Bucks the Artists’ County Cooks: A Gourmet’s Guide to Estimable Comestibles with Pictures (of Bucks County, PA notable homes and landmarks, not recipes; from The Woman’s Auxiliary of Trinity Chapel, 1950); Mediterranean Light by Martha Rose Shulman (William Morrow, 1989); The Book of Stir-Fry Dishes by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen (HP Books, 1994); and two classic old Pillsbury cookbooks, Pillsbury’s Bake Off Cookbook (1970) and Real Home Baking  (1994). Not bad for one Christmas, eh?

However, there was a final cookbook gift that left me feeling a bit dubious: The Dirty Old Ladies’ Cookbook by Julia Goodbody (private printing 2008). Just what was the presenter of this particular cookbook implying?! True, I may currently resemble a bag lady, bundled up as I am against the delightful 56-degree temperature of our cottage home this winter, but dirty and old? Please.

Mind you, I’m actually looking forward to reaching the age of grannydom and white hair, when I can look and act like whatever I damn well please. My role model in this respect is the crusty, smart-mouthed comic character Maxine, and trust me, I’ve been studying. Whippersnappers, watch out! (And to all you forty-, fifty-, and sixtysomething grannies who actually look more like movie stars than the stereotypical “little old lady,” no offense intended. When I think of grannies, I can’t help but think of my own, one silver-haired and dignified, the other plump and jolly, both deeply beloved by me.)

Anyway, it was with some trepidation that I opened the cover of this particular cookbook. The “Dirty” part was particularly disturbing: Would it be filled with crude jokes and lewd illustrations? Eeeewwww.

Was I ever in for a delightful surprise! Turns out the book was written by one of my favorite local artists, Julie Longacre. An original watercolor of her “Stone Barn in Snow” hangs on the wall here in my home office as I write; another original hangs over our living room mantel. The dear friend who gave me this cookbook even had Julie inscribe it to me personally. Paging through, I found it full of Julie’s sketches and personal recollections as well as cooking tips and, of course, recipes. And, good soul that she is, Julie’s donating part of the price of each book to organizations to help feed the hungry. What a treasure, and what a thoughtful gift!

I confess, I still don’t know why Julie called her cookbook The Dirty Old Ladies’ Cookbook. But I will say that it just goes to prove the old maxim, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

            ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

A great regional cookbook. December 30, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. On our way home from North Carolina, our friend Ben and I made the ritual late-lunch stop at Mrs. Rowe’s, a locally famous restaurant outside Staunton, Virginia. One reason we enjoy stopping there (besides the homestyle cooking) is that next door is a shop that sells pottery, wooden ware, artwork, books, crafts, soaps, and many other delightful things, all made in Virginia. There’s also an excellent assortment of regional foods, from smoked hams, seafood dips, and peanuts to grits, jellies, honey, and handmade candy. And this trip, there was a simply wonderful regional cookbook that—to OFB’s despair—ended up coming home to join the legions already bursting from our kitchen bookshelves.

Why did I feel that I just had to have yet another cookbook, you ask? (Or, at least, OFB asked.) Well, The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook & Tour Book by CiCi Williamson isn’t just any cookbook. It contains recipes from family farms, local B&Bs, and great plantations, including the homes of Washington, Jefferson, and Lee. Not to mention historic recipes from one of my very favorite places, Colonial Williamsburg.

But the recipes, though authentic and delightful, aren’t the only reason I wanted this book. Every page is packed with little-known information about the ingredients used in the recipes (did you know that turkey farming, as opposed to turkey hunting, originated in Virginia?), tips, interviews with Virginia farmers and chefs, and “tours” of great places to visit such as the Museum of American Frontier Culture and the historic home of the Lees, Stratford Hall. There’s even an “interview” with Thomas Jefferson. If you live in or near Virginia or simply enjoy passing through the beautiful and historic state, as we do, you’ll find a wealth of places to visit, eat, and stay, all with contact information (including websites).

Getting back to those recipes, if you’re expecting grits and biscuits, think again. From Hope & Glory Pate, Steeles Tavern Manor Country Inn’s Lemon-Turkey Cutlets, Hungarian-Style Emu Goulash, and Georgetown Bison Fajitas to Martha Washington Inn’s She-Crab Soup, President John Tyler’s “Tyler Pudding” (actually a coconut pie), Shields Tavern Syllabubs, Wayside Inn Wine-and-Cheese Soup, and Hotel Roanoke Peanut Soup, the vast diversity of indigenous Virginia produce is on display.

Just to tempt you, here are two simple recipes featuring two of my favorite foods, lima beans and cornbread:

          Lima Bean Hummus

Unlike traditional chickpea hummus, this lima bean hummus is a beautiful pale green. 

2 cups fresh lima beans or one 10-ounce package frozen lima beans

1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup well-stirred tahini

5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

dash cayenne pepper

ground black pepper to taste

chopped fresh parsley, chives, or green onions (scallions) for garnish

Cook lima beans as package directs. (If cooking fresh lima beans, cook until thoroughly soft.) Drain, save cooking water, and allow to cool. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except garnish and reserved cooking water and puree. Add 1 to 4 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid to make an easily spreadable mixture. Refrigerate. Hummus will thicken upon refrigeration. Bring to room temperature before serving and top with your garnish of choice. Serve with warm pita bread wedges, a thinly sliced crusty baguette, or crackers. Makes about 2 cups.

           Custard-Filled Cornbread

“As this amazing cornbread cooks, a creamy, barely set custard makes a layer of filling in the middle—no crumbling allowed!”

2 eggs

3 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream

Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and place it in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and let dish get hot while mixing batter. Beat eggs with butter until well blended. Add sugar, salt, milk, and vinegar; beat well. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to egg mixture. Mix just until batter is smooth. Pour into heated dish, then pour cream into center of batter. Do not stir. Place dish in oven and bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm. Makes 9 servings.

Intrigued? Order your own copy from Menasha Ridge Press (www.menasharidge.com) for $19.95. Your money will be well spent: Not only will you get a fantastic cookbook and guide to Virginia’s best tourist sites, but “A portion of proceeds from book sales is channeled through the Publishing Partners to develop and promote agriculture education, agriculture tourism, and state products.” I love a cookbook that’s as much fun to read as it is to use. How about you?

            ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Cookbooks to be thankful for, part three. November 22, 2008

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For this good food

and joy renewed

we praise your name, O Lord.

Amen.

     —a French Thanksgiving

 Silence Dogood here with the final installment of my series “Cookbooks to be thankful for.” (Part one reviewed cookbooks that focused on autumn and winter foods, and part two spotlighted books about baking; check them out if you missed them.) Today I’d like to share with you some of the many cookbooks in my collection that have gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving at their hearts. As our Thanksgiving holiday is rapidly approaching (yikes! where does the time go?!), it seems most appropriate to combine our feelings of thankfulness and gratitude for our many blessings and abundance with the act of cooking itself.

Fortunately, this is easy to do thanks to the many cookbook authors who’ve shared my feelings on this topic. Let’s plunge right in, and you can see which of these speak to you. I’ve enjoyed them all!

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. Astute readers will note that this is a person, not a cookbook. But Brother Victor-Antoine is the author of a slew of fabulous, joy-filled, reverent cookbooks that I love to take down and read. One of the many beauties of his books is that recipes are grouped seasonally, so that gardeners (and those trying to eat locally and seasonally) will have an easy time choosing from the many luscious recipes. Like me, once you buy one, you’ll want them all! Brother Victor-Antoine’s cookbook library includes From a Monastery Kitchen, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Twelve Months of Monastery Salads, Fresh from a Monastery Garden, This Good Food, and Table Blessings.

The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry, S.J. (Harper Perennial, 1995). Following the sacred seasons from Advent through Easter, Brother Rick shares bread recipes, breadmaking secrets, prayers, and lore from Jesuit bakers around the globe. You’ll find yummy treats like Irish Soda Bread, St. Peter Canisius’s Stollen, Holy Thursday Apple Bread, Spy Wednesday Biscuits, and Brother Bondera’s Italian Easter Bread.

Brother Juniper’s Bread Book by Brother Peter Reinhart (Addison Wesley, 1991). Recipes and reflections from Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa, California, voted the best bakery in Sonoma County. Brother Peter’s subtitle, “Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor,” and chapters with titles like “On Not Cutting into Bread Too Soon,” give a feel for this book on breads made by monks who give their profits to support homeless shelters. Recipes for Struan, Roasted Three-Seed Bread, Wild Rice and Onion Bread, Cajun Three-Pepper Bread, Oreganato, Stout Bread, Tex-Mex Cumin Bread, and many another baked good from pizza and stuffing to brownies and muffins will show you why Brother Juniper’s Bakery won its stars, and incredibly detailed, supportive directions will take all fear out of bread-baking no matter how inexperienced or discouraged you are.

The Spirituality of Bread by Donna Sinclair (Northstone, 2007). Before we leave the subject of bread, I’d like to present a very different kind of book. This simply beautiful, evocative book celebrates the sacredness of bread, bread-baking, and bread-eating worldwide. The photographs are breathtaking. The stories and portraits are enchanting. Yes, there are bread recipes, too—good recipes—but there’s something much more powerful at work here. A few quotes selected from the book will show you better than I can: “To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.”—Pearl S. Buck. “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”—Mahatma Gandhi. “The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”—Simone Weil. “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”—Nelson Mandela.

What Would Jesus Eat? by Don Colbert, M.D. (Nelson, 2002). This book and its companion, The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook, explore the foods Jesus might have eaten and healthful ways to prepare them. A more spiritual take on the Mediterranean Diet, if you follow Jesus’s culinary path, you’ll feel better, look better, and eat better.

A Biblical Feast by Kitty Morse (Ten Speed Press, 1998). This lovely little book celebrates the foods of the Holy Land, with a wealth of authentic dishes from Bitter Herb Salad and Braised Cucumbers and Leeks with Fresh Dill through Lamb and Lentil Stew, Jacob’s Pottage, and Pomegranate Honey-Glazed Fish to Ezekiel’s Bread, Abigail’s Fig Cakes, Barley Cakes, Herb-Coated Yogurt Cheese, and even Homemade Red Wine. Rejoice!

Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings by Edward Espe Brown (Riverhead Books, 1997). For those who, like me, grew up with The Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking, Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and chef at the Tassajara Zen Monastery and Retreat House, was an icon as well as a cooking inspiration. Lest you picture a minute bowl of unseasoned brown rice and, for variety, a little unseasoned brown rice as typical Zen fare, Ed Brown was also a chef for years at the celebrated Greens restaurant and coauthored The Greens Cookbook with Deborah Madison. He has brought a lifetime of cooking and mindful eating together in Tomato Blessings, and it is a delight. Where else would you find sections devoted to “How to Eat Just One Potato Chip” or “The Sincerity of Battered Teapots”? And then there are the recipes: Corn Timbale with Ancho Chili Sauce, Broccoli with Olives and Lemon, Winter Squash Soup with Apple, Cumin, and Cardamom, Mushroom Filo Pastry with Spinach and Goat Cheese, Beet Salad with Watercress. Oh, yes.

The Zen Monastery Cookbook by the Monks at Zen Monastery Practice Center with Cheri Huber (Keep It Simple Books, 2003). Like the original Moosewood Cookbook, The Zen Monastery Cookbook is adorable, with its hand-written recipes and rustic hand-drawn illustrations. Essays from monks, former monks, and pupils, like “The Pupil and the Black Pot” and “The First Thing That Happens,” remind us that even those who are striving to be holy can burn the granola or mistake baking powder for flour. Fortunately, the delicious recipes will keep you from making any mistakes, and you’ll enjoy Nutty Rice Salad, Curried Spinach Salad,  Red Lentil and Squash Soup, Green Velvet Soup, Apricot Bread, Roasted Beets, and many another yummy dish.

Wake Up and Cook, edited by Carole Tonkinson (Riverhead Books, 1997). This book’s subtitle, “Kitchen Buddhism in Words and Recipes,” and the fact that it was published under the aegis of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review show that it takes itself a bit more seriously, especially when the back cover begins by proclaiming “In the Kitchen with Buddha.” (If the Buddha was ever in a kitchen, it’s news to me.) But the next line, “The preparation and eating of food is a celebration of life and a holy endeavor,” rings true to every cook. There are a lot of essays and poems in this book to inspire you to think of food, and the cooking, eating, and offering of food, in a new and more sacred way. But there are also some amazing recipes. In what other book would you find a recipe by the Dalai Lama himself, for Momos, or filled dumplings in soup? There are also plenty of recipes that would astound folks like yours truly who’d grown up believing that all Buddhists are vegetarians. You’ll find Steak Fajitas, Stewed Fox, and Free-Range Coq au Vin, as well as such seemingly non-Buddhist dishes as Apple Crisp and canned corn with milk.

A Simple Celebration by Ginna Bell Bragg and David Simon, M.D. (Harmony Books, 1997). This book presents the nutritional program from the Chopra Center for Well-Being. As the Center’s founder, Deepak Chopra, says: “This book is about food for the soul. It is the celebration of nourishment at all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. It is about wholeness and therefore about healing and that which is holy.” You’ll find some Indian recipes, like Cosmic Curry and Cucumber Raita, here, but also a world of other wholesome vegetarian cuisine, from Pasta with Madeira Mushroom Sauce to Vegetable Strudel to Baked Winter Squash with Wild Rice-Cranberry Stuffing, Lemon Bars, and Baklava. Mmmmm!!!!

Speaking of Deepak Chopra brings me to a great void in this list, books like Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine that celebrate the great culinary traditions of India’s Hindu population. Mea culpa! There are so many fabulous books on Indian cuisine, even in my own cookbook collection, that I’ll have to save them for another post.

I Am Grateful by Terces Engelhart with Orchid (North Atlantic Books, 2007). A book by the owner and chef of San Francisco’s Cafe Gratitude surely belongs in this list. A celebration of raw foods cuisine at its most elaborate, this book is an eye-opener for folks like me who tend to think of raw foods in terms of salads, sprouts, and crudites. Mudslide Pie, Key Lime Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Tiramisu, and Vanilla Hazelnut Pie wouldn’t exactly have appeared on my raw-foods radar, yet here they are, along with Cinnamon Rolls, Pad Thai, Chiles Rellenos, Smoky Mole Pizza, Spinach Tortillas, Coconut Curry Soup, Falafels, Nachos, and many another astonishing recipe, all made completely with raw foods and served up with a big, delicious dose of gratitude. The cookbook is beautiful, too.

So many cookbooks, so little time. I’m going to group the next three, all of which take you on culinary travels back to a time when fire was sacred and cooking a ritual act. The most modern, The Sacred Kitchen, by Robin Robertson and Jon Robertson (New World Library, 1999), sums it all up: “In a world that has forgotten the warmth of hearth and home, The Sacred Kitchen provides relevance and meaning for your daily life in the twenty-first century.” Robin Robertson brings her experience as a vegetarian cookbook author to bear in combination with husband Jon’s spiritual insights. The Ancient Cookfire by Carrie L’Esperance (Bear & Company, 1998) is an education in “How to Rejuvenate Body and Spirit Through Seasonal Foods and Fasting.” Serving Fire: Food for Thought, Body, and Soul by Anne Scott (Celestial Arts, 1994) is not a cookbook at all, but a celebration of the central role of cooking throughout human history. 

Last, but by no means least, is a book that might not strike many people as spiritual at all, Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by one of my food heroes, Gary Paul Nabhan. Do we as a nation really need the Hutterite Soup Bean, Hidatsa Sunflower, Jack’s Copperclad Jersusalem Artichoke, Guinea Hog, Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, Chapalote Popcorn, Gillette Fig, Chantecler Chicken, Olympia Oyster, Gloria Mundi Apple, Tennessee Fainting Goat, Narragansett Turkey, Fish Pepper, Zimmerman’s Pawpaw, Cotton Patch Goose, Ossabaw Island Hog, Goliath Grouper, Honey Drip Cane Sorghum, or Waldoboro Green Neck Turnip? Surely we can just grab a Red Delicious at the store or head to the nearest McDonald’s. Renewing America’s Food Traditions presents a beautifully written, gorgeously photographed argument (with recipes) about why these local specialties matter, even if we’ll never see, much less eat, an Arikara Yellow Bean or Eulachon Smelt. And why we should be grateful that we still have this diversity of foods and foodways.

I hope you’re able to find at least one of these cookbooks to savor and enjoy this Thanksgiving. And please, when you’re contemplating making your family’s meals a little more of a sacred occasion, remember to take a minute to give thanks after the meal as well as before. When counting one’s blessings, family members should be sure to thank the cook as well! We have so much to be thankful for.

        ‘Til next time,

                   Silence

Cookbooks to be thankful for, part two. November 16, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Now that we’ve tackled great autumn-themed cookbooks in Part One of this series (which see), let’s turn our attention to baking. Whether you’re planning to make a pumpkin, apple, or pecan pie, bake some bread or dinner rolls, or make coffeecake for the family breakfast, most cooks intend to bake something for the Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some favorite cookbooks to give you inspiration and make sure that whatever you bake comes out great.

Country Baking (Gooseberry Patch, 2000). If you’ve never had the good fortune to enjoy a Gooseberry Patch book before, prepare yourself for a treat! I simply love this series of warm, homey, hand-illustrated cookbooks. Just looking through one cheers me up no end. There are many to choose from, but this one focuses on baking: biscuits and rolls; quick breads, muffins and coffee cakes; yeast breads; cakes and pies; cobblers and bread puddings; turnovers, tarts and dumplings; and cookies and brownies. Sound inviting? It is!

Heartland Baking by Charla Lawhon (Dell, 1991). This one’s a treasure. Four generations of women in Charla’s family have run the famed Jerre Anne Cafeteria in St. Joseph, Missouri, and they all add their voices—along with plenty of tips and favorite recipes—to this cookbook. The Jerre Anne started as a bakery, and you’ll see why it’s lasted so long when you read these recipes. Unlike the other books in today’s list, this one has a chapter on main dishes and vegetables as well as pies, cakes, cookies and bars, and breads and muffins. But keeping to the theme, all the dishes have to be baked!

The Great American Bake Sale by Alison Boteler (Barron’s, 1991). If you’re a devotee of bake-sale treats, or would like some tips on which baked goods make the best gifts and creative ways to package them, this book is for you. From M&M Cookies, Seven Layer Bars, and Pecan Tassies to Kentucky Derby Pie, Red Devil Mayonnaise Cake, and Country Fair Caramel Apple Cupcakes, all the classics are here. Who knows, you might just decide to have a bake sale of your own!

Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie by Bill Neal (Knopf, 1996). When it comes to baking, the South is a bit different. If you’re a Southerner like I am or simply enjoy good Southern food, Bill Neal’s book is a must-find. Ambrosia, Persimmon Pudding, Christmas Compote, Chess Pie, and Robert E. Lee Cake are just a few of the sweet treats inside, along with more savory fare like Hushpuppies, Sweet Potato Corncake, Souffleed Corn Bread, Virginia Spoonbread, and the dreaded Beaten Biscuits. (I’ve always felt that, after taking such a beating, the poor biscuits died and were mummified before baking—they remind me of hardtack or really big, really hard common crackers. Consider yourself warned—these are NOT the light, flaky, luscious biscuits you eat in the South for breakfast; they’re served as an appetizer with shaved sugar-cured ham. Fortunately, Bill Neal includes conventional biscuit recipes, too.) This is more than a cookbook—it’s a wonderful compendium of Southern cooking lore and folkways, with very evocative black-and-white photos.  

Martha White Southern Baking Book (The Benjamin Company, 1983). As a native Nashvillian, I grew up with Martha White Flour—nobody would have even considered using anything else. So I was thrilled to come on this slender spiral-bound book in an antiques mall. Unlike the flour, these recipes are not particularly Southern (apart from the cornmeal chapter), but there are a few gems like Chess Cake, Delta Pecan Pie, Dixie Cobbler, Smoky Mountain Jam Cake, and Cheese Grits Casserole.

Judy Gorman’s Breads of New England (Yankee Books, 1992). We’ve traveled to the Midwest and South (and to the Southwest in Part One), so let’s head up North. This book has everything from homemade doughnuts, popovers and scones to bagels, pizzas and calzones—along with breads, rolls, muffins, pancakes and waffles, steamed and batter breads, and much more. You’ll find classics like Boston Brown Bread, Date-Nut Bread, Jonnycakes, and Steamed Pumpkin Gingerbread rubbing shoulders with Prosciutto Bread Sticks, Red Onion and Gorgonzola Pizza, Whole Wheat Pita, and English Muffins.

The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey (Random House, 1984). As any of you who grew up with the classic Laurel’s Kitchen know, these ladies take their bread-baking very seriously. This book’s subtitle, “A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking,” lets you know that you’re not going to find white-flour biscuits and cakes inside. But like Laurel’s Kitchen, this book is bright, endearing, comprehensive, and easy to follow, illuminated with Laurel’s wonderful woodcuts and Carol’s inspiring introductory essays. If breadmaking has always intimidated you, or if you’re trying to make more healthful food for your family, this is the place to start. You’ll definitely feel like you’re working with a good, caring friend in the kitchen.

The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown (Shambala, 1970). Like The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, the focus here is on wholesome baking, and while some of the recipes from this Zen monastery and retreat house are more successful than others, I find the book, with its low-tech, friendly approach, very endearing. Maybe it’s just nostalgia—I learned how to bake whole-wheat biscuits and whole-wheat bread from it back in the day. (Both are straightforward and good, by the way.)

The Bread Book by Ellen Foscue Johnson (Storey Communications, 1994). This “Baker’s Almanac” has been chugging along since its original release back in 1979, and a look inside will tell you why. Storey can usually be counted on to produce delightful, no-nonsense cookbooks, and they’ve come through with another winner here. Organized by month, with evocative black-and-white photos and bread lore, the book presents recipes like French Bread with Beer, Mill Hollow Bread, Fay’s Spicy Batter Bread, Posy’s Russian Black Bread, and even (gulp) Erotic Tomato Rye Bread. Cottage Cheese Biscuits, Cider Muffins, Carrot Corn Bread, Granola Batter Bread, Jamaican Gingerbread, Squash Rolls, and Hungarian Crepes let you know there’s a lot more than yeast breads in here, too.

You’ll hear more about bread books in Part Three, which will focus on cookbooks that emphasize gratitude and the sacred aspects of cooking. Meanwhile, enjoy these! And, as always, if you have any favorite baking books that I’ve overlooked, please sing out and let us all know about them and why you love them.

              ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Cookbooks to be thankful for, part one. November 10, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. ‘Tis the season to be thankful, and one of the things I’m thankful for is my cookbook collection. Now that cold weather has arrived, I thought I’d share some warming favorites with you. I’m planning a three-part series, with today’s installment devoted to cookbooks featuring hearty and hot foods like chili, root vegetables, roasted dishes, and beans. Part two will showcase books on baking (breads, desserts, and the like). And part three will feature books that emphasize the sacred aspects of cooking, bringing gratitude to the kitchen and table.

Before I get started with today’s list, I’d like to note that many of these books are no longer in print. If a title interests you, I’d suggest that you do as I do and check Amazon and its used bookstore colleagues online. I also haunt local bricks-and-mortar used bookstores, library discard piles and sales, and (of course) the sales tables at Barnes & Noble and any other bookstore I happen upon. And of course, your library might actually have a copy you can check out for free! Flea markets and antiques stores often have cookbooks as well; there’s even one stand in our local farmers’ market that has a stash of them. You just never know what you’ll find!

Okay, on to the list:

The Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier (Storey Books, 1984). Every conceivable apple dish, from Open-Face Apple Sandwiches to Sausage and Apple Stuffing to Apple-Cinnamon Souffle. Plus, of course, all the classics and lots of beverages, salads, soups, desserts… yum. 

Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx & Lew Nichols (Storey Publishing, 2003, 3rd edition). Enough with the ampersands, people! Yikes. But as long as we’re talking about apples, we might as well add cider to the mix. This book certainly tells you how to do it all, from planting your own apples to making & (I mean, and) using your own cider press. And if you’re wondering if this could be the same Annie Proulx whose novels and movies you’re familiar with, yes, it is.

The Cranberry Connection by Beatrice Ross Buszek (The Stephen Greene Press, 1978, 2nd edition). While we’re on the subject of fruit, if you can find a copy of this book, it’s a treasure. Only turkey and dressing are more associated with Thanksgiving than cranberries. The author bought an old cottage across the road from a cranberry bog in Nova Scotia and researched and developed recipes to make the most of the bounty. My used copy included a recipe card from the original owner that listed all her favorites and the pages where she could find them. Some she especially loved include Granville Grog (non-alcoholic) and Hot Cranberry Swizzle, Cranberries in Snow (cranberry-studded meringue frosting on cupcakes), Twangy Tarts, Loyalist Cookies, Polka Dot Muffins, and (of course) Bluenose Special. But recipes range from Celery Seed Dressing (yes, cranberries are involved) and Cranberry Catsup to Cape Cod Cakes and Cranberry Bread Pudding. A must-find!

The Maxwell House Coffee Cookbook (Pocket Books, 1964). Brrr! That mention of snow made me cold. Nothing like hot cinnamon coffee to chase away the chill! The author of this amazing little paperback doesn’t even get credited, but it’s a hugely fun read. From things to eat with coffee (like homemade doughnuts or sloppy joes) to recipes that include coffee, such as Mocha Meatballs and Beef Stroganoff (er, well, maybe) and Shrimp Tempura with Coffee Sweet-Sour Sauce or, say, Coffee-Lemon Salad Dressing (no way), there are hundreds of fascinating recipes to explore. Mercifully, more standard fare like Mocha Brownies, Mocha Bavarian Cream, and Mocha Devil’s Food Cake are also represented, along with the history of coffee (including that newfangled instant coffee stuff), how to throw a coffee party, and coffee break favorites from around the world. It’s definitely a trip. But buyer beware: Some of these recipes are even stranger than they sound, including an extraordinarily horrific recipe for dietetic trifle. Read before you cook! There may be a reason the author’s anonymous… 

The Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haedrich (Garden Way Publishing, 1989). Whew, back on solid ground with a book of yummy recipes showcasing everybody’s favorite autumn sweetener, maple syrup. You’ll find the classics— Maple Baked Beans, Indian Pudding, Apple Pie, Steamed Boston Brown Bread, Candied Popcorn and Nuts, and Maple Walnut Ice Cream, as well as pancakes, waffles, and granola galore. There are recipes for fruit butters, World Class Maple-Basil Mustard, Spicy Sweet & Sour Salad Dressing, and Tangy North Country Basting Sauce. And for everything from Orange-Spiced Chicken Wings to Opal’s Ham Loaf with Maple Glaze to Tawny Maple Cheesecake and Minnesota Kate’s Cosmic Carrot Cake. Oh, did I mention the Deep Dish Caramel Apple Pie?

Indian Pudding should remind us that Thanksgiving isn’t just about the Pilgrims, but also about the generous Native Americans who shared their food and crop-growing techniques so said Pilgrims could survive. You might want to include an authentic Native American dish on your Thanksgiving table this year. Two of my favorite Native American cookbooks are Southwest Indian Cooking by Marcia Keegan (Clear Light Publishing, 1987), with fantastic photos and Navajo and Pueblo lore, art, and recipes, including Pinon Cookies, Blue Corn Meal Cakes, Indian Fry Bread, Navajo Stew with Corn Dumplings, and Zuni Succotash, and Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season by E. Barrie Kavasch (Globe Pequot, 1995). November’s recipes include Chicken in Green Mole, Pawnee Ground Roast Pound Meat with Pecans and accompanying side dish Oklahoma Corn and Squash Pawnee, Pueblo Blue Cornmeal Mush, Juniper-Sage Corn Sticks, Grilled Venison Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, and Spicy Pumpkin Raisin Bread with Pumpkin Maple Butter or Pumpkin Seed Butter.

I also am the proud owner of American Indian Corn: 150 Ways to Prepare and Cook It by Charles J. Murphy (Putnam, 1917), from the days when apparently even Americans didn’t call it just “corn” (the generic European term for grain, such as wheat or the famous John Barleycorn). Though the recipes are riveting—who wouldn’t want to try a Corn-Meal Crumpet?—they were written for the woodstove, so if you’re lucky you’ll find a direction such as “bake in a quick oven” but no time, or “bake fifteen minutes” with no clue as to at what temperature.

Let’s linger in the Southwest long enough to talk about another warming winter favorite, chili. Chili! Mouth-Watering Meatless Recipes by Robert Oser (Book Publishing Company, 1999) presents chili cookoff winners that will prove once and for all that it’s not about the meat. From Easy 5-Minute Chili to the dreaded Nuclear Meltdown Chili, you’ll find a wonderful variety, including Coyote Chili, Hearty Trucker’s Chili, Mango Chili, Georgia Sweet Potato Chili, Texas White Chili, Pesto Chili, Cactus Chili, Tex-Mex Chili Mac, and many others, including chili recipes from around the world.

Looking for something a little more upscale? Then turn to Chile Aphrodisia by Amy Reilly and Annette Tomei (Rio Nuevo, 2006). A literal feast for the senses, this gorgeous little book will entice you with recipes for Chile-Lime Baked Fries, Chile-Citrus Olives, Chilled Grilled Shrimp on Fennel-Apple Slaw, Brie Apple Quesadillas, Chile Corn Chowder, Green Chile Eggs Benny, Chile Mac’n’Cheese, Cuban-Style Roast Pork, Thai Firecracker Rice, Grape Salsa, Piquant Pepper Pesto, Chipotle Hummus, Chile Cocoa, Pineapple-Jalapeno Infused Vodka, Chile-Spiced Grilled Fruit, Orange Chipotle Truffles, Mexican Chocolate Torte, and—just in case things were starting to get predictable—Red Hot Strawberry Shortcake.

All this talk about chili brings me to another cold-weather staple, beans. One beautiful bean cookbook worth investigating is The Bean Harvest Cookbook by Ashley Miller (The Taunton Press, 1997), with lovely photos and mouthwatering recipes by this former Moosewood chef for everything from Lemony Lentils and Beans and Greens with Herbed Polenta to New World Cassoulet, Toor Dal Soup with Vegetables, and Hoppin’ John. At the other end of the spectrum is Rita Bingham’s Country Beans (Natural Meals in Minutes, 1998), which focuses on 30-minute meals from food storage and has nary a photo from the first page to the last. Straightforward recipes include Marinated Bean Salad, One and One-Half Bean Salad, Many Bean Soup, Black Bean and Tomato Soup, Beanchiladas, and “Instant” Refried Bean Mix. The emphasis in this one is on low-fat, no-cholesterol, high-fiber, heart-healthy foods. If you’re trying to eat healthier meals, it’s worth seeking out.

Let’s move along to the rich, robust winter vegetables, beets and potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash, carrots and onions, kale and winter radishes. I have three favorite cookbooks that celebrate these earthy winter staples. The first is The Vegetarian Hearth: Recipes and Reflections for the Cold Season by Darra Goldstein (Harper Collins 1996). This book is much broader in scale than the others, focusing on everything from beverages to breads, but always with an emphasis on dishes for the cold season. It’s an elegant book, whether you’re making its recipes for Onion Jam, Glaceed Kumquats, Sauteed Mushrooms and Chestnuts, Gingerbread with Hot Orange Sauce, or Sugarplums, or are simply revelling in reading the adventures of the great writer (and vegetarian) Count Leo Tolstoy in a chapter on Tolstoy’s Table, including the recipe for Countess Tolstoy’s Hot Apple Compote. It’s a literate work by a professor of Russian at Williams College, but don’t let the references to T.S. Eliot, Tolstoy and the like throw you off, should you be of a more culinary rather than literary bent. It really is one of the best cookbooks I own.

Coming back down to earth (so to speak), you’re bound to enjoy the luscious recipes in The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman (Harvard Common Press, 2002) and Roots: The Underground Cookbook by Barbara Grunes and Anne Elise Hunt (Chicago Review Press, 1993). From Andrea’s fabulous Pesto Eggplant Rollatini, Creamy Penne and Roasted Vegetables, Fall Vegetable Tart, Winter Vegetable Strudel on a Bed of Greens, and White Pizza with Roasted Winter Vegetables to Grunes and Hunt’s Potato Dumplings in the German Style, Vesuvio-Style Roast Potatoes, Elephant Garlic Game Chips, Vichy-Style Carrots, and Root Risotto, these are dishes that will make anyone say “Let it snow!”

Okay, we’re almost done. (Can you see why I split this into three posts?!) But I can’t leave out that other iconic fall vegetable, pumpkins, now can I? Believe it or not, there are quite a few pumpkin cookbooks out there. The one I have is the Pumpkin Lovers Cook Book (Golden West Publishers, 1992). Like The Maxwell House Coffee Cookbook mentioned earlier, this one is anonymous, but fortunately, the recipes all look good. There are plenty of variations on pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll (yum!!!), pumpkin pie, pumpkin biscuits, muffins, cakes, bars, and the like. You’ll find directions for roasting pumpkin seeds, making pumpkin puree, and even drying pumpkin at home. And there are recipes for savory pumpkin dishes like Chicken Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin Bisque, Meat Loaf in a Pumpkin, Mexican Stuffed Pumpkin, Pumpkin Vegetable Scallop, Pumpkin Souffle, and Pumpkin Spaghetti. There’s even a list of pumpkin festivals and other family-friendly fall activities.

Whew! Are you hungry yet? Do you have favorite fall cookbooks I’m not aware of? If so, please write in and let me know. Not that there’s any more room on the groaning bookshelves. (In fact, I think I hear our friend Ben screaming in agony at the very thought of another cookbook entering the house. Good thing he hasn’t seen the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook I picked up at a flea market on Saturday… )

              ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

The cookbook reading group. October 28, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. Last night, our friend Ben and I braved the rain to head out to the Barnes & Noble nearest us so I could attend the first meeting of the Cookbook Reading Group. This group is the brainchild of our friend Delilah, and for the first meeting, we were instructed to bring a favorite cookbook and a cookie recipe to share. (I brought my beloved Chocolate Chip-Toffee Oatmeal Cookie recipe, which you’ll find in an earlier post, “A good day for baking cookies.”)

Now, I’ll admit that the name “Cookbook Reading Group” didn’t strike me as especially inspirational, but it proved surprisingly accurate. All of us who turned up for the inaugural meeting actually loved reading cookbooks more than using them. “I read them like novels,” someone said. I myself love to read them to relax before bed, or, in the case of exotic cookbooks, sometimes I just flip through the pages, letting the fabulous photos take me to distant lands before I drift off to sleep.

Our little group was small but passionate. (It’s hard to lure people out on a cold, rainy night, and even harder when you’re in Pennsylvania and the Phillies are playing what could be their World Series Championship game that very evening.) Delilah’s partner Chaz, who also loves to cook, braved a table of women to join us, while our friend Ben, who cooks only when necessary, skulked—I mean, browsed—in the travel section of the store until the meeting was over.

After the introductions, we shared the books we’d brought. Given that we were in PennsyIvania Dutch country, I’d brought along William Woys Weaver’s gorgeous Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking, one of the most beautiful, interesting, and authentic cookbooks I’ve ever seen. Erin had brought Padma Lakshmi’s inspiring Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet, a book I’ve picked up many times while browsing the “International cookbook” shelves of numerous stores. Delilah brought a book that’s also in my collection, The Great American Bake Sale, and Chaz contibuted another favorite of theirs, The California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook. They’d also brought a new favorite, Southern Living Best Loved Cookies. We all spent a happy time paging through them all and drooling.

One thing that especially interested me about the meeting was that, during the introductions, people discussed the first dish they’d ever learned to cook. For Chaz, it was scrambled eggs, with fried eggs a close second. Delilah’s mother had taught her to make gravy properly when she was four years old. Even our friend Ben, when I relayed this to him on the way home, recalled that the first thing he ever learned to make was toast.

I was mesmerized by this, since I have no memory at all of the first thing I ever made. I grew up with two incredible cooks showing me how to make food. My first memory of participating in a food-making event was helping at my mother’s annual fruitcake extravaganza, where our entire dining-room table was covered with jams, jellies, marmalade, citrus, candied cherries, raisins, currants, candied pineapple, nuts, wines, brandy, port, bourbon, flour, butter, and other good things, all being painstakingly added to make a batter for what would eventually become, to me, an entirely inedible cake.

How on earth could so many good things go into something so foul?!! But of course, my mother and father loved fruitcake, so the annual ritual continued. To this day, I believe passionately in the saying “Get even, give fruitcake.” My palate is simply not wired for fruitcake, spice cake, plum pudding, mince pie, and other (to me) harshly flavored delicacies my parents and many other people love. But I digress.

Thinking hard, I’ll bet that the very first thing my beloved Mama taught me to make on my own was salad dressing. We never, ever had storebought salad dressings in the house, and we were taught early on to despise French, Russian, and Thousand Island dressing as “bourgeois” (without, of course, ever even tasting them). I eventually did taste French dressing, which of course I (secretly) loved, but to this day I’ve never ventured into the Thousand Islands, Russia, the world of the Green Goddess, or many another exotic dressing locale. I have made the acquaintance of Ranch, Parmesan Peppercorn, and Blue Cheese dressings, all of which I enjoy.

I continue to make my own salad dressing to this day. But alas, I’ve left the very specific, very careful directions Mama gave me for vinaigrette practically in the dust. These days, I almost always put the fresh herbs and other seasonings right in the salad, then dress it with a simple mix of good olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar. I still have vivid memories of her showing me how to add the dried herbs, Colman’s powdered mustard, and lemon juice to the oil, then just so much vinegar, then shaking like mad before pouring it over the salad, though. Those were very happy times. 

So thank you, Delilah dear, for reviving happy memories for me and doubtless the entire group. Thank you for setting up the meetings and coming up with your bazillionth brilliant idea. Readers, if you love cookbooks and cooking, it’s worth thinking about setting up your own group in a bookstore near you. By the time our meeting reluctantly drew to a close, we were already discussing the possibility of taking a group trip to Maine next August for their blueberry festival. Good times!

Meanwhile, can you remember the first thing you learned to cook? Do you have a favorite cookbook or recipe to share? I’d love to hear about them! In return, I’ll leave you with the recipe for Delilah’s Mother’s Magic Cookies.

     ‘Til next time,

               Silence

 

   Delilah’s Mother’s Magic Cookies

1 stick butter, softened

1 cup Graham cracker crumbs

6-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

6-ounce package butterscotch chips

1 cup flaked coconut

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Melt butter in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle Graham cracker crumbs evenly over melted butter. Layer chcolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut over crumbs. Drizzle condensed milk evenly over top. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake 30 minutes. Cool completely, then cut into bars. Makes 12 to 16.

Could we please just eat?! August 6, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. Yeah, all right, our friend Ben just wrote a post, “The cookbook wars continue,” making fun of my obsessive cookbook collecting, my enjoyable quest for personable, delightful cookbooks. Fine. I like cookbooks. I love cookbooks. You have a problem with that?

After giving Ben a few choice comments on that post, I checked out my Yahoo! mail and saw that our dear friend Huma had forwarded a New York Times article by Mark Bittman called “Rich, Luxurious, French (Not to Mention Vegetarian).” It was about his visit to a restaurant called La Zucca Magica in Nice (that’s in France, for those who are geographically challenged; say “neece,” not “nice”). This restaurant happens to be vegetarian (“zucca” means gourd or squash; you can see the relationship to “zucchini”). Bittman proclaimed the restaurant good and traditional, despite the bizarrity of its location. (As he says, “The French can be quite hostile to vegetarianism.”)

What makes it possible for La Zucca Magica to thrive in Nice and to satisfy omnivores as well as vegetarians? Quoting Bittman, “Zucca’s owners, Marco Folicaldi and Rossella Bolmida, believe in sizable portions… and extremely rich food. If you associate ‘vegetarian’ with ‘meager’, this place will change your mind.”

Which brings me full circle. It’s horrifying to me to go into bookstores and see the vegetarian sections dominated by minimalist, vegan, raw-food cookbooks. Rather than delighting in books that, for example, tell vegetarian cooks how to create authentic Lebanese or Greek or Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, vegetarian-style, the shelves groan with books that tell us how to imitate meat by torturing soybeans, create raw-food meals with five ingredients or less, or reduce our portions to pinhead size while eliminating all fats and flavor.

Folks, this is a sea change. Prior to the raw-food, postage-stamp-portions trend, vegetarian cookbooks celebrated abundance and flavor and joy. It all reminds me of the saints and latter-day mystics whose goal is surviving on nothing but air. Pitiful, miserable anorexics, say I. Food should be pleasurable. Food should be joyful. Meals should not leave you hungry. Food should be an opportunity to thank God Creator for the bounty we have been given, the delight we find in deliciousness and abundance.

Puritans, go eat raw seaweed—but not too much, God forbid—and flog yourselves if you want anything more. Everybody else, let me just say that vegetarian cooking is not about paucity and deprivation. It’s about delicious food and plenty of it. It’s about celebration. It’s completely about joy, both in the cooking and in the eating. As all good food should be.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

The cookbook wars continue. August 6, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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The normally tranquil tenor of life here at our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s little cottage, Hawk’s Haven, located in the scenic middle of nowhere, PA, was briefly disrupted last night by the latest flareup in an ongoing war, I mean, uh, difference of opinion. Prior to the renewal of hostilities, Silence had been out on a shopping excursion to Pier 1 with our good friend Huma and her sons, Rashu and Sasha, because Huma needed a few dishes to complete her set. Our friend Ben was at home, happily watching one of Silence’s less-favorite movies with our golden retriever, Molly, and assorted cats. Here’s how it went:

Silence, rushing sheepishly past our friend Ben towards the kitchen with two suspiciously large bags: Uh, hi, Ben!

Our friend Ben, stopping the movie, follows Silence into the kitchen: What’s all this?! Was Pier 1 having a yard sale?

Silence, reaching into one of the bags, extracts a jar of preserves: Oh, no! We also went to Williams-Sonoma—did you know they’d opened a Williams-Sonoma store out there?—and I got all kinds of interesting stuff like this quince preserves. And look at this! [Reaches back in bag, triumphantly extracting a couple of packets of dried, green-tinged beans.] Flageolets!

OfB: But what’s in this other huge bag? Isn’t there a [ominously] Barnes & Noble out there by Pier 1?

Silence, airily: You won’t believe this, Ben! The Barnes & Noble was closed!!! There was just an empty shell where that huge store used to be. It was always so popular, too! I’ll bet they just moved out to the new upscale mall. What were you watching in there, anyway? One of your stupid Jeff Goldblum movies? Or was this another nostalgia-fest with some old episodes of “Bonanza” or “The Saint”?

OfB, undeterred by this attempted topic change, lunges past Silence and extracts the other bag. Accusingly: Silence, this is a Borders bag. You go out to help Huma get dishes, and you manage not only to find a bookstore, but to drag everyone else in there. I just knew it! [Looks in bag.] Oh my God, there are cookbooks in here. More cookbooks!!! [Looks despairingly around kitchen at shelves exploding with cookbooks.] Where are you going to put any more?!

Silence: But Ben, look at these! Look at this fabulous book on goat cheese! [Shoves book under Ben's nose, displaying fabulous food photography and delicious recipes.] You love goat cheese as much as I do. How could I pass this up?! And look, The Peppers Cookbook by Jean Andrews, “The Pepper Lady.” It’s a definitive guide to selecting, using, and cooking with peppers. These recipes look really good, and think how pleased Richard will be when he comes to dinner and we’ve made one of these spicy-hot dishes just for him!

OfB, extracting a third cookbook: Twelve Months of Monastery Salads?! Sheesh, Silence, do you really need a book on how to make salad? Much less twelve months’ worth of salad recipes? I had no idea monks ate so much salad!

Silence: C’mon, Ben, this is by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette! You know how much we love his other books—Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Fresh from a Monastery Garden, From a Monastery Kitchen, and This Good Food. These salad recipes are seasonal, too! They should help us make the most of our CSA produce and bring us closer to our dream of eating locally year-round. [Looks pointedly at Ben's waistline.] We could stand to eat more main-dish salads around here, anyway.

OfB, ignoring this, grabs the last book in the bag: What’s this, a library book? [Looks at library tag.] It’s from the New York Public Library! Global Vegetarian Cooking. [Suddenly struck by a happy thought.] So Huma lent this to you, and you’ll be taking it back to her to return the next time she or the boys head into the city?

Silence: Er, no. It’s a discard book. She gave it to me for my, ah, collection.

OfB groans, looks pointedly around kitchen: So where do you propose to put these latest additions to your, “ah,” collection? In the oven? That’s about the only space we have left.

Silence glares at OfB, then smiles sweetly: No worries, I’ll find a place for them. [Pretends to think.] I know! Just think how much more room we’d have if we got rid of all those Jeff Goldblum movies, and the collected episodes of “Bonanza” and “The Saint”?

OfB: GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

[Curtain falls.]

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