Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
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Cauliflower and Carrot Gratin Who would have thunk it? This was outrageously delicious -- and to think, I'd been about to write it off as a disaster. Here's the deal, I'm trying to widen my veggie repetoire, and I seemed to remember an entry early in the Julie/Julia Project about cauliflower gratin, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I added carrots to mine because, well, it was a small cauliflower and it was so white ... I like a little color in my food.
Here's what I did: cut the cauliflower into florets and cut one big carrot into those ovals you get when you slice on the bias. You want about the same amount of carrot and cauliflower, enough to cover a baking dish in a nice even layer. I put them in salted water and blanched for about five minutes, then drained and dumped into the buttered baking dish (mine is an oval one, about 11 inches long).
Then you make the sauce (any decent cookbook can tell you how to make this sauce -- Fannie Farmer, Joy of Cooking, etc ... so if you need exact directions, I'd go there). You'll need to grate about 1 cup of cheese at this point and put it aside. I used half cheddar and half swiss, because that's what I had in the fridge (and the cheddar was getting old). In a small saucepan you want to bring 2 cups milk, 2 cloves, a bay leaf, and a smashed clove of garlic just to a simmer. When the milk simmers, you need to make the roux. In a separate pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and add 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir around on low to medium heat until it all clumps together and starts to smell slightly toasty. At this point, you want to fish the spices out of the simmering milk (I left the garlic in, because I like garlic) and slowly pour the milk into the roux while whisking. I tend to add about 1/2 cup of milk at a time, and whisk until smooth before adding the next 1/2 cup of milk. Then I added a hefty shake of cayenne pepper (probably 1/4 tsp. but as cayenne varies widely in potency, use your own judgement), and grated some nutmeg in (again, I just grated until it smelled right. I think the proportion was about 1/2 as much nutmeg as cayenne), and added about a teaspoon of salt. The recipe I was (sort of) following said to add 1 tablespoon of cognac or brandy at this point, but I didn't have any, so I added a slug of white wine out of the glass I was drinking from on the theory that cheese fondue often has white wine in it, so it would probably work in this recipe. All the while I was stirring and waiting for the white sauce to begin to thicken, when it did, I started adding the cheese, a little at a time until it was all incorporated and smooth Then I poured the sauce over the vegetables in the gratin dish, and sprinkled with a pretty generous topping of bread crumbs. I dotted it with butter and into a 400 degree oven it went. I cooked it about 40 minutes, until the whole thing was bubbly and the sauce had reduced.
This was where I thought the recipe had failed. There seemed to be way too much sauce, so I cooked it longer, and then I thought "those vegetables have cooked for 45 minutes, they're going to reduced to mush." But I was wrong. The veggies were good. There was just enough spice. The sauce was all custardy and quiche-y. The breadcrumbs were crunchy. It was buttery. It was delicious. With a green salad, this is a great dinner all on its own. Who knew? Cauliflower no less ...

posted by Charlotte at 1/08/2003 12:16:00 PM

Since Jeanne d'Arc was nice enough to post my response to her blog on the Vatican's rush to cannonize Mother Teresa, and since I did say in the header that this blog would be partially about faith, you may want to look at The Stigmata Incident, a piece I wrote for the Salt Lake Acting company a couple of years ago. (Sorry about the inelegant HTML, I'm still new at this.)

posted by Charlotte at 1/08/2003 09:13:00 AM


Bookslut has a surprising conversation about the independent bookstore issue. I must say, I agree about the clique-ishness of too many independent bookstores. If they want to survive, they need to stop vibing people

posted by Charlotte at 1/07/2003 11:51:00 AM

The Meat Problem The problem for me is not whether one should eat meat, but how to eat meat without supporting factory farming. Here in Montana, several of my neighbors accomplish this by only eating wild meat, which aside from raising your own animals, does seem to like one of the least hypocritical paths out there. When it's a deer, or elk, or antelope one has killed and butchered oneself, there's no denying that death is an integral part of the cycle, nor that we can eat meat and retain our innocence of this fact. It's been years since I've eaten a factory farmed chicken, but it's taken longer to wean myself from supermarket meat. Call it denial, call it convenience, I fudged that issue for a long time by claiming to myself that I don't really eat that much meat anyway. Somehow though, I've hit the point of no return. I can't buy meat in the supermarket any more (don't even get me started about those terrifying five-pound tubes of ground beef that seem popular up here). It all looks sad to me now, and when I see those Hormel stickers slathered all over the pork case, I can't help but feel implicated in the terrible lives not only of those factory pigs, but of those farmers who have been convinced to build factory pig sheds that they must know, deep in their souls, are just wrong (but the kids need clothes and the mortgage has to be paid, and it's hard just to stay on the land), and for the workers in the abbatoirs and packing houses, all those Mexican immigrants who have migrated to central Iowa where they're, as usual, doing the work none of us want to do. It just looks ugly to me, and I can't buy it any more.

However, not only am I not a vegetarian, I believe in farming and ranching, and believe that one indicator of a healthy society is a heathly agricultural sector. Family farming in America is under attack on so many fronts: from land developers, from agribusiness, and most painfully from the cultural denigration of rural peoples by environmentalists and urban dwellers, a denigration which serves only to divide people who have common enemies. (For example, had some environmentalists not been so contemptuous of ranchers and ranching, perhaps it might not have taken so long for the ranchers of Wyoming's Powder River Basin who are watching their wells run dry and their streams destroyed by coal bed methane drilling to unite with environmentalists to fight this practice.) My concerns fall along the Small/Big divide -- not ony are our food crops being endangered by the consolidation of seed stock and farmland by multinational agribusiness corporations, but farm animal species diversity has also been dangerously depleted over the past century.

Which brings us back to the problems of buying meat. I live in the middle of ranch country, and I can buy local meat, although it's kind of a hassle. Buying local meat here means a trip to the Co-op in Bozeman, or to one of the local butchers who may or may not have what I'm looking for. It also means buying frozen meat, which I'm not so keen on, especially since some of the local ranches pack in butcher paper. I like to see what I'm buying before I buy it, especially considering how much more expensive organic, local meat is, and I must admit, I waffle and backslide. So this week I picked up a Hutterite chicken (brining reccommended, these are chickens with actual muscles -- yummy, but different than what you might be used to), some lamb shanks on sale, and some bison short ribs (more on the beef/bison issue shortly). I realize that buying local meat is really difficult in most parts of the country, and that it's expensive, and often has to be mail ordered. But I also can't help feeling that this is like the early days of organic vegetables, when people complained that they were too expensive, that the quality wasn't good, that the organic vegetable movement was impractical, and it would never work. And fifteen years later you can now find at least some organic produce in nearly all supermarkets (and like bison, I'll get to the agribusiness-ification of organic produce in the future). I can't help but feel that if consumers begin to demand healthier, cleaner, leaner grass fed organic meats, they will become more available. So maybe we should all start by just asking, asking our supermarkets and food co-ops to order some, and then supporting those businesses with our dollars.

posted by Charlotte at 1/07/2003 11:06:00 AM


How to Save a Soup Because I am a slightly obsessive person, once I discovered Julie Powell's amazing blog, the Julie/Julia project, I went back and read the entire thing (thank goodness she only started in August, but on the other hand, the writing is so terrific, that I wish there had been more). As I was driving back from Bozeman with a carload of groceries and organic meat (more about that later) I became fixated on the memory of a garlic potato soup with saffron she described on November 20 and decided I had to make it. I have this great Mexican bean pot that I make soup in, so I went to town. I did the part about boiling the herbs and garlic and smashing it all through the sieve. Then I added potatoes and saffron and began to cook it down. The only problem was I clearly hadn't added enough potatoes, and so, because I was addled from the Bozeman Experience (really! I moved here to get away from obnoxious yuppies. Why then do I even bother with the food co-op. And if you're the smug woman who was glaring at me as you used your recycled bread bags for your vegetables, while I, heathen that I am actually used the plastic baggies provided by the co-op, well, you are not a part of the solution), anyway, since I was rattled by shopping, and having a small blood sugar issue, I decided that rather than adding more potatoes to the soup, I'd boil it down. After an hour of the soup not reducing much, I gave up, put it up in quart mason jars, and had a sandwich.

So, this morning, I had these two quarts of pale yellow, watery potato soup to deal with, and at some point it came to me. Curry! Curried potato garlic soup. I chopped up carrot, some celery, some more onion and some ginger and started sauteing. Then I added curry powder, a couple of cloves, some coriander, some cumin, and a hefty dash of red pepper flakes. Meanwhile, I peeled and chopped one more potato, and drained a can of tomatoes in the sink. I had a vision of a smooth yellow soup with red chunks of tomato floating in it and a garnish of green onion. After the vegetables sauteed for a while, I added the jar of not-quite-soup and the potato and simmered it for about twenty minutes. Then I got out my Cuisinart wand. Like Julie, I too am absolutely in love with the "boat motor" as Emeril has been wont to call it. I fished out the cloves, but decided to leave the ginger in and see what happened. I pureed. It was lovely. I added the drained tomatoes and decided they looked odd, so I cooked them down for about ten minutes, then pureed again. I now had a soup that was a lovely orangey red color, that was redolent of spices and deeply layered. It was perfect. I ladeled some into a bowl, garnished with green onion and a dollop of Straus Family Creamery whole fat yogurt (which is amazing wonderful stuff). It looked like something out of Martha Stewart it was so beautiful. It tasted great. And I have a whole jar of it in the fridge still to eat for lunch all week (I work at home so things I can microwave are good). It's what I love about soup; soup can always be fixed...

posted by Charlotte at 1/05/2003 04:30:00 PM


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