Book #18: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

08-05-2012-06_59_56pmI’ve already read Julia Child’s autobiography this year, and I’ve been referring to her two cookbooks about French cooking for almost everything I’ve cooked since I got both books. I made macaroni and cheese at Christmas that was much improved thanks to Julia’s advice on making a great roux to begin a bechamel sauce. I can’t say that I’ll ever be as devoted a cook as she was–she understood the chemistry of each dish, and kept voluminous notes in order to perfect everything she made–but I think I’ll always turn to her for information on the basics.

After I read her autobiography–it really focuses mostly on her time in France and the first of her cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so it doesn’t necessarily give a full portrait of her life. It’s also, of course, her perspective exclusively. In this exhaustive autobiography, Julia’s entire family history is outlined, helping to understand her family dynamics, her relationship with her sister Dort, and even her husband, Paul Child. The author relies on accounts of other people as well as Julia, and the resulting stories are just great. I think 85-year old Julia, while writing her memoir, may have downplayed her own loud, profane, bawdy nature for a more demure audience, but her biography truly embraces all 6 foot 3 of her, foul mouth and all.

Even if you have no interest in French food, Julia Child was an extraordinary American. She was incredibly motivated, undeterred by her own shortcomings, and truly self-made. Her life, almost accidentally, changed the way that Americans thought about cooking, and I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that her influence has something to do with the homegrown, local, organic, slow food movements of our age… it’s because of people like Julia that we wonder where our food came from, and question what in the world makes instant mashed potatoes possible–and why would we want to eat it?

Read it, and the next time you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, think of Julia, out “marketing” in the streets of Paris, befriending her butcher, farmer, cheese woman, and milkman. She was on to something.

The list so far:

18. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

Christmas & A Swiss Chard Pear Tart

DSC_0082Doesn’t Christmas happen really fast? I feel like I’m slowly getting ready for it all through November, and then after Thanksgiving I keep telling myself that I have a bunch of time before Christmas, but that’s never true. I ended up–like always–scrambling in the last couple of weeks to get gifts for everyone, and most of my homemade gift ideas went totally down the tubes. The things that I did manage to make are done hastily and I certainly did not to take pictures of it while I did it. You’ll have to believe me that I made a lovely marmalade, Irish cream, and vanilla. Just take my word for it, will you? I did have a chance to make brunch on Christmas day, and the tart that I made was so good, I remade a few mini-tarts today with the sole purpose of taking pictures…and then eating them for dinner. But, before we talk tart crust and custard, here’s a peek at my Christmas.
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We went out oystering and made friends with a pelican.
DSC_0125Palaki the dog is terrified of me, but only if he’s inside. When we’re outside, he can deal.
DSC_0181My Dad and Uncle Dickie
DSC_0186After about an hour, we had a bushel and a peck of oysters.
DSC_0200These are their excited faces–just before opening presents!
DSC_0202I think my dad has a future in glove modeling, don’t you?
DSC_0205More gift modeling
DSC_0198Coffee and beer at breakfast.
DSC_0092My Mom and I make sugar cookies every year, and it’s always a little messy.
DSC_0104We made stars and trees.
DSC_0231Speaking of my Mom, here she is with Mona.
DSC_0245We had Prosecco cocktails on Christmas morning…

DSC_0217...And Emily wore everything she opened.
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Santa brought lots of books and an ice cream maker!
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Mona got a bone and a blanket. She also helped everyone else open their gifts.
DSC_0077Okay, okay, back to this tart. I made it on Christmas morning, so I promise it’s deceptively easy. It’s just a simple butter crust, and you don’t have to roll it out, it’s just a press-in situation. You can even make the crusts ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator or freeze them.

Here’s the recipe for the crust: (makes 4 mini tarts, 1 nine-inch round tart, or 1 14 inch rectangular tart)

1 cup all purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
pinch of salt
4-5 Tablespoons of ice cold water

Whisk the flour and salt together, then cut the butter into the flour mixture using either a pastry cutter, fork, or your fingers. It should look like course meal when you’re done; none of the pieces should be larger than a pea.

Pour the water into the mixture and using a fork, gently incorporate the liquid. When you can pick up a handful of dough and it holds together when squeezed, it’s done. If it doesn’t hold together, add more water. Do not overmix.

Dump the course dough into the pan and gently press it into the bottom and against the sides. Smooth the edges with your finger.

If you’re planning to keep the tarts for a while, place them in the refrigerator or freezer, well wrapped, at this point. If you’re going to make them now, You should still chill them for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling: (recipe adapted from http://www.cannellevanille.com)

1 medium leek, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped Swiss chard, (remove tough ribs but use the tender ones)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 ounce  Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
1 medium Bartlett or Bosc pear, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a pan over medium-high heat, sautee the garlic and leeks in olive oil until fragrant. Then add the swiss chard, wine, a pinch of salt and pepper, cover and let the greens wilt. It should take about 8 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs, coconut milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, half of the Gruyère, and the Parmesan.

Take the tart shells out of the refrigerator, poke holes in the bottom, and bake just the shell for about 10 minutes. Press any bubbles down when you take them out of the oven.

In the par-baked shells, make a layer on the bottom with the sauteed greens, then arrange the sliced pears on top of the greens, then pour the milk mixture over everything, stopping when the shells are nearly full. Top with the remaining Gruyère.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool, pop off the tart pan’s sides, and enjoy warm!
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Book #17: Jerusalem Gap by T.R. Pearson

Jerusalem-Gap-T-R-Pearson-9780615398655Yesterday, I took a sick day. I was legitimately feeling terrible, but I have a really hard time NOT doing something. Sure, I can stay home from work, but I’m still going to answer work emails all day. I can also stay in bed, but I’m probably going to set up some sort of command central where I can reach my cell phone and computer at all times. I’m also going to make lots of lists about the things that I would like to do. Then, when the sun comes in through the window and illuminates the dust on the dresser that I haven’t noticed, you’d better believe I’m getting up to clean it. Luckily (for me, not so much for him) Jason was off work yesterday, so he stayed home with me. He put up with my complaining  for a while, then he finally set up up outside (it was like, 70 degrees yesterday!), handed me a book, and told me to stay put. After some eye-rolling, I settled in and started Jerusalem Gap.

T.R. Pearson’s novel is only 136 pages long. It was the perfect sick-day book to read. The little novel tells the story of a divorced man living in the Shenandoah Valley who seems to be trying to disappear. He’s almost like a transplant from an Ernest Hemingway novel: he’s quiet, stoic, in touch with nature, and cut off emotionally. The novel opens as he stands on the side of the road, tinkering with his truck to try to get it to start, when a Chevy Nova pulls up and dumps out a mangy-looking collie. The man puts the dog in his truck with the intention of taking it to the pound. Then, the way she looks at him and sleeps on her back with all four legs straight up in the air gets to him, and they never make it to the pound. He names her Nova.

For such a short novel, Jerusalem Gap packs a punch that is often missing from novels 5 times as long. It’s a touching story of the everyday life of a man and his dog, for the short while that they have together. Nova helps the man meet people that he wouldn’t have otherwise met, and she plays an important role in finding a woman lost from a nursing home. Together, Nova and her owner discover a place called Jerusalem Gap, a forgotten graveyard where a yellow orchid grows wild. Nova brings the man back to life, and he loves her the way you can only love a dog.

The cast of characters certainly bears mentioning. From the vet who plays a cello in his shed in his spare time, to the “cow man” who only ever wants to talk about the weather, to Agatha, the woman who calls our man “Mr. Prickly,” to the zebra that is inexplicably kept behind the vet’s office, this novel is full of characters that make the story sing. They’re all charmed by Nova, and in turn by her owner.

As you can imagine, this story ends like most dog stories do. It’ll always be cruel that dogs don’t live as long as people. This story is even more heartbreaking because Nova and the man only have a little more than a year together. If you’re a dog person like me, this book is for you. It’s My Dog Skip and Old Yeller and Lassie all wrapped into one. You can read it in an afternoon, and I hope you will. (With tissues close by, you’ll need them.)

Book #16: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage PlotEarlier this year (before the 50 books thing), I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. For some reason, Middlesex was this big book with a cover that I saw everywhere when I was in college, and for some reason, I was sure that it was really boring. Does that ever happen to you? I feel like at some point, I associated it with something negative (someone who was reading it, the fact that it was an Oprah book), and then I kind of wrote it off as something I didn’t want to read. Then, I asked Jason to recommend a book, and he pulled Middlesex off the shelf and handed it to me. I probably made some kind of face, he probably rolled his eyes and told me to give it a chance, so I did. And I finished it in less than a week. I would recommend that book to anyone. It’s socially relevant and educational without being preachy. It’s a story that brings a controversial issue to light in a way that leaves the reader unable to ignore the reality of the transgendered experience. I feel like fiction can really be a way to change opinions and open minds–that’s why I love John Irving so much. Middlesex does that.

So, when I saw that Jeffrey Eugenides published another novel, The Marriage Plot, I jumped at the chance. However, this novel is miles from Middlesex. It’s a study of the traditional marriage plot in the Victorian novel. Set in the mid-eighties, the novel follows Madeline Hanna, a recent graduate of Brown University. Madeline studied English, and wrote her thesis about the Victorian marriage plot. While she navigates the world as a college graduate, two men weave their way in and out of her life–Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus. Madeline dates Leonard (even marries him), in the throes of a manic high due to Leonard’s bipolar disorder. The marriage plot that Madeline wrote about in college is played out in her life, as Mitchell loves Madeline from a distance while she marries a man who is totally wrong for her.

Eugenides, I think, is re-inventing the marriage plot for a modern audience. He’s right that the traditional fall-in-love-get-married story is still one that we tell today. In the world of 1980s Brown College, Madeline and Leonard can meet in a Deconstruction class, study Derrida, and then live out a traditional, non-deconstructed version of the Victorian marriage plot. It looks like even Mitchell Grammaticus (Of Grammatology is the touchstone text of Deconstruction) will follow the marriage plot, as expected. It isn’t until the last page of the novel that Mitchell, staying true to his name, successfully deconstructs the plotline.

Honestly, I think the reason that I like this novel so much is that I’m a total literary nerd. The book is academic, while still being compulsively readable. It’s interesting to watch characters read and react to Derrida, to obsess over the Victorian marriage plot, and then watch those characters live their lives outside of a literature classroom. And all that happens within the structure of a novel, which is totally enticing for literary nerds. I guess we could call The Marriage Plot a deconstructed look at the Victorian marriage plot as it exists in modern literature. Doesn’t that make you want to go buy it as soon as you can??

 

A Saturday Evening Study of Jason Faces

DSC_1121When I take out my camera, I can guarantee that Jason will immediately do one of three things: open his mouth, stick out his tongue, or open his eyes really extra wide. If I wait a few seconds, and maybe tell him that his mouth is still open, he’ll start to relax and do normal things with his face. Then, if I start taking to him about something else, suddenly I get pictures like this one. The window of opportunity here usually lasts about 10 seconds. Then, he’ll say something like, “Let me just fix my hair. I want to make sure to have an effortless tousled look going on,” and I get something like this:
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Then, he says, “Look! This is my GQ model face!”

DSC_1138Things quickly go downhill from here. He involves props. Says things like, “I bet they would put this in an Anthropologie catalog!”

DSC_1148DSC_1145But then, sometimes, right after I stop taking pictures because I’m laughing too hard, Jason laughs, too. If I’m quick enough, I get pictures like this last one, and it’s all worth it.

DSC_1147I know I’m probably kind of partial, but my goodness, isn’t he cute?

Pulled Pork Sandwiches on Sesame Seed Buns

Pulled Pork Sandwich

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Sometimes at work, I find myself standing in front of the microwave at around 3 o’clock, reheating that morning’s coffee and dreaming about the weekend. While I try to avoid watching that little glass plate spin around, I can close my eyes for a second and remember what it’s like to spend a day unencumbered by obligations. It’s almost like I forget what Saturdays are like by Tuesday of every week. That moment–that small, desperate moment before a bad cup of coffee–is when I dream up meals like this. I so relish the idea of spending a whole day in the kitchen that I make plans to do just that.
DSC_1038Today, Jason and I woke up around 7, went for a run that ended with coffee at Weaver Street Market, and then came home around 9 to get to work on this pulled pork. It’s a day-long process, truly. It has to be in the oven for 6-6.5 hours, but you don’t have to do anything to it in that time. So, you have plenty of time to do crazy-ambitious things like make your own sesame seed buns.

DSC_1057For these sandwiches, I made a brussels sprout slaw to go with. (Did you know that it’s a brussels sprout and not a brussel sprout? I had no idea until very recently.) A slaw made of brussels sprouts is like the grown-up fancy-pants cousin of a slaw made of cabbage. It has a more intense flavor, but the same crunch. To be honest, the whole meal was sort of a fancy-pants version of a traditional (but sometimes kind of boring) Eastern North Carolina Barbeque Sandwich. I love vinegar-based barbeque sauce, but I feel like the buns you usually get are so soft that they just become immediately soggy when faced with the sauce. To combat this, I made my own buns. Like I said before, this is an all-day sort of situation.

DSC_1035Orange and Avocado Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette: (recipe from NotWithoutSalt.com)
1 avocado
2 navel oranges
1 small shallot, minced
small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
3 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, minced shallot, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Cut the peel off the oranges, then slice them into rounds. Arrange 4 slices on each plate. Then, halve the avocado and slice each half, arranging the slices on top of the oranges on both plates. Then, sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with the dressing. Serve immediately.

DSC_1050Brussels Sprout Slaw:
1 pound brussels sprouts
1 t grainy mustard
juice of 1 lemon
1 t honey
salt and pepper

Wash the brussels sprouts, then cut off their stems and peel away any bruised leaves. Then, if you have a mandoline slicer, use that to slice them really thin, starting at the stem end. If not, use a sharp knife and try not to cut off your fingertips. Gently separate the rings and place the shreds into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and serve! It’ll stay in the fridge for a couple of days, but it might get a little wilty.

Pulled Pork (Rub and Cooking Method): (recipe from NotWithoutSalt.com)
5-7 pound pork shoulder
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t cayenne pepper
3 T paprika (regular or smoked, I used half and half)
3 T salt
1 T black pepper
1 t sugar
1/4 t molasses
2 t cumin
1 T yellow mustard, 2 T dijon mustard

Mince the garlic and add the spices and salt. Add the mustard, sugar and molasses and mix until goopy. Then, rub it all over the pork shoulder (after rinsing and drying it with paper towels). After that, put the whole shoulder into a roasting pan or large dutch oven (don’t worry about putting anything in the pan with it, it will throw off enough fat to keep it from sticking). Put it in the oven, uncovered, at 300 degrees F, and leave it there for 6 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. (I did eventually cover mine, just keep checking to make sure the top isn’t getting too brown.)When the shoulder comes out of the oven, take it out of the pot and use two forks/your fingers to separate the meat until it looks like it should. You can also take out the bones and then chop the meat with a big knife, but I prefer it pulled. It’s up to you!

Eastern North Carolina Barbeque Sauce:
2 c apple cider vinegar
2-3 T crushed red pepper
1 T dijon mustard
salt and pepper
(this time, I used a little paprika because I used it on the pork itself, but it’s optional)

Whisk all ingredients in a small pot over medium heat. Then, Pour 2/3 of the sauce into the pot/roasting pan to deglaze the bottom. Throw the pulled pork back in on top of the sauce and mix. Use the remaining sauce for sandwiches.

 

DSC_1044Sesame Seed Buns: (recipe from NotWithoutSalt.com)
2 t active dry yeast (I like Fleischmann’s)
1 1/3 c warm milk (about 95 degrees F)
2 T honey
4 c all purpose flour
2 t sea salt
1 egg
1/2 stick butter, softened
sesame seeds for topping
1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash

Start by heating your milk to around 95 degrees F. Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the honey, milk, and the yeast. When it’s combined, leave it alone for about 10 minutes. When you come back, the top should be foamy because the yeast is eating away at the honey. If it’s not, throw your mixture out and start again. Your water may be too hot or cold (killing the yeast or failing to activate it), or your yeast may just be old–check the date! (Tip: store yeast in the refrigerator for longer lifespan)

Next, put the flour and salt into the bowl, but switch from the whisk attachment to the dough hook. Mix on low until all is combined. Then, add the egg and keep going on med/low while you add the butter one tablespoon at a time. When everything has come together and the dough isn’t sticking to the sides of the bowl, turn off the mixer, cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel, and leave it alone for about 2 hours in a warm place. (Your house is probably a fine temperature.)

When the dough has doubled in size, roll balls about the size of your fist and place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. When you finish that, cover them again with a damp dishtowel and let them rise again for about an hour and a half (they should double in size again).

When they’ve risen, brush the tops of the buns liberally with the egg wash. Then, sprinkle on some sesame seeds. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-35 minutes. Watch them carefully. When the tops and bottoms are golden brown, they’re ready!

Assemble all aforementioned parts and pieces to make sandwiches. Enjoy with beer and laughs. You deserve it after all that work! Next Tuesday, I’ll be thinking about these sandwiches while I lazily watch the microwave plate rotate. How about you?