“a fab food-ish poem”

I’m back from Maine and slowly making my way through all of the emails and RSS feeds that have piled up this week like an unseasonal snowdrift, but I wanted to share something Marcella sent to me earlier today.  See, clearly I’m very interested food, but what might not be clear is that I also tend to sometimes be a little bit morbid, so the “fab food-ish poem” that Marcella emailed to me just about hit all the right spots.  It’s featured on Poets.org as “Today’s Poem,” but here it is regardless of the day:

My Autopsy (Excerpt)
by Michael Dickman

There is a way
if we want
into everything

I’ll eat the chicken carbonara and you eat the veal, the olives, the small and glowing loaves of bread

I’ll eat the waiter, the waitress
floating through the candled dark in shiny black slacks
like water at night

The napkins, folded into paper boats, contain invisible Japanese poems

You eat the forks
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables

What do you love?

I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs
turning over
the earth

Happy end-of-May, beginning-of-June.

Away, and an Apology.

MaineI know I haven’t been around as much lately, but I’m hoping your patience with my absence will hold a little while longer.  I’m heading up to Maine for a week — we’re renting a cottage on a cove in Cushing.  I’m really looking forward to it: reading in the porch swing, picking interesting stones from the rocky beach, falling asleep while smelling the sea air…  I won’t have Internet access while I’m away, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report when I get back!

Map from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas.

Dinner at (the new) Ten Tables.

I’d been wanting to check out the new Ten Tables in Cambridge for a while.  I had visited the original Jamaica Plain restaurant at the end of the summer; the memory of that meal had stayed with me over the fall and winter, so when Keith suggested trying the recently-opened Harvard Square spot for dinner I immediately made a reservation.

Ten Tables, 1I started with the spring sorrel velouté with bacon, crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chives.  I chose the dish because I specifically wanted to experience the soup’s texture; a traditional velouté is one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine, and its name comes from the word for “velvety” — the perfect adjective to describe each spoonful’s mouthfeel.  Honestly, I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary, and still I can’t come up with a better word.  Flavor-wise, the smoky bacon and sweet, tangy sorrel were a fantastic combination, and the rich, slightly sour crème fraîche added even more lusciousness to every slurp.

Ten Tables, 2The follow-up to my starter was an adobo-rubbed bavette steak, frites and a ramp-infused aïoli.  When asked, I had requested that the meat be brought to medium-rare, which it was; in retrospect, I should have said something like, “Whatever the chef thinks is best.”   Don’t get me wrong — my steak was perfectly cooked, but the cut did not lend well for medium-rare.  Each bite was a challenge to chew, and its squishy texture made it difficult to cut… which was all too bad because it tasted wonderful.  We all know I’m a heat-baby, but the spice rub here balanced intensity and elegance exactly like The Tightrope Walker (which I saw in Chicago earlier this year).

Ten Tables, 3As soon as I spotted the chocolate terrine with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream on the menu, I knew I had to have it.  The terrine’s texture and taste were both reminiscent of an ultra-dense mousse — which made me incredibly happy, as chocolate mousse just might be my all-time favorite dessert.  Chewing was completely unnecessary, as each concentrated, chocolatey mouthful slowly melted on my tongue.

The ice cream was an utter surprise, oozing a refreshing licorice fragrance.  Normally I back away from all things anise, but this cold globe was the exception to the rule.  This I want to eat directly from the carton, in front of the open freezer, at three o’clock in the morning.  It was that good.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mark each course’s cost with its description; that’s because Ten Tables Cambridge runs a special on Sunday nights, the best evenings to stop by.  For $38.00, you can pick an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert from the menu.  Not a bad deal at all, particulary for food of this caliber.  After all, the restaurant is located in the basement space recently vacated by the old Craigie Street Bistro (now Craigie on Main on the fringes of Central Square), giving it some pretty big culinary shoes to fill, something I think it does excellently.

Ten Tables
5 Craigie Circle
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Ten Tables on Urbanspoon

More Risotto.

risotto-with-leeks-and-peasThere’s no such thing as too much risotto, is there?  I truly hope not, because I can’t stop making it.  Or eating it, for that matter.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I seem to constantly find myself in the presence of tantalizing-sounding recipes like this one from Gourmet, which I bumped into with my typical grace — meaning I was reading as I walked down the street, not noticing the  loose cobblestone in my path until I stumbled over it and tore the risotto’s recipe page out of the magazine.

Regardless of how I found it, this is a lovely springy dish.  The leeks give a delicate flavor to the rice, and when combined with the peas, it’s a perfect meal for this time of year.  The only change I would make would be to add a squeeze of lemon juice and maybe some zest, just to add even more brightness to it all.

Leek + Pea Risotto, from Gourmet
Makes four portions.

6 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced and washed
1 ¼ cups Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  1. Bring stock to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan, then keep at a bare simmer.   Cook leeks in 2 tablespoons oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add remaining tablespoon oil and rice to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is coated evenly, about 1 minute. Add wine and briskly simmer, stirring, until most has been absorbed, about 1 minute.
  3. Add 1 cup hot stock and briskly simmer, stirring constantly, until stock has been absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until 1 cup stock is left, 15 to 18 minutes. Add peas, leeks, and remaining cup stock and cook, stirring, until rice is just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in butter and cheese, then remove from heat.  Serve.

Homesick, Sort Of.

I’m feeling homesick again, except I’m nostalgic not for where I’m from but rather for where I could be.

When we moved to this apartment about two years ago, one of the selling points aside from the ability to remodel the kitchen was the proximity to a massive supermarket.  For someone accustomed to hauling groceries home during a fifteen-minute walk, this was a big deal.  The thing is, the novelty has worn well off now, especially as I make a point, when I travel, to visit markets like London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon.  Each time I do drop in to such a market, my excitement is smothered a bit by a combination of my longing and my jealousy.

How wonderful would it be to instead of having a local grocery store to have a local market?  To be able to form a relationship with my chard-grower, to become friends with my sorrel-supplier, to pal around with my berry-picker…  It sounds awesome, doesn’t it, to have a connection not only with our food, but also the people who coax them out of the earth?  The closest I can come at this point is taking part yet again in the Food Project‘s CSA program this year.  We’ll start getting produce boxes in a few weeks’ time — I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s a link to 2008’s food.

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky.

suite-francaiseIf you want a feel-good, happy-time novel, Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française is not for you.  After all, the author’s story itself is so utterly tragic, and one so closely tied to the book that the reader can’t help but think of Némirovsky while turning the pages.  Here’s why:

The Ukrainian-born Némirovsky planned for Suite Française to be a five-part novel portraying life in France during the German occupation, which began in June of 1940.  With parts one and two (“Storm in June” and “Dolce,” respectively) complete, Némirovsky then loosely sketched her plans for part three (“Captivity”) and considered titles for parts four and five (“Battles” and “Peace”).  Before she was able to begin working on “Captivity,” however, Némirovsky was arrested for being “a stateless person of Jewish descent”; a month later, she died at Auschwitz.  Both the manuscript and Némirovsky’s notes survived, as did Némirovsky’s daughters Elisabeth and Denise.  Denise, the eldest, took her mother’s writing with her into hiding, thinking the notebook was merely a diary, and one too painful to read.  Fifty years would pass before the two sisters would discover their mother’s novel-in-progress, which would then be considered to be one of the first works of fiction written about World War II.

As if that’s not heartbreaking enough, then we have the remaining parts themselves, which tell the story not only of life during the Nazi takeover, but also of the invasion as well.  With “Storm in June,” Némirovsky introduces us to an epic cast of characters spanning a myriad of class distinctions; they join the masses fleeing Paris with the hopes of evading the advancing German forces. There is the bank manager who takes the precious promised space in his car from his two employees and gives it instead to his cosmetics-loving mistress and dog.  We have the beaux-arts collector who ranks his acquisitions higher than his countrymen, only to trot speedily down a tragically karmic route.  There’s the trusting priest who shepherds orphans out of trouble, only to have them turn on him, and his patriotic younger brother who abandons his family to join the army even though he has yet to come of age.

Via incredibly sparse language (some of which must be credited to translator Sandra Smith), Némirovsky’s characters endure the impossible turbulence of a terrified exodus — only to skate onto the uneven ice of occupation.  In “Dolce,” Suite Française slows its pace to reflect country life in the pastoral village of Bussy, where a German garrison is billeted.  Some characters overlap from “Storm in June,” such as a docile adopted farmer’s daughter married to a fugitive, but Némirovsky produces even more personalities: the incorruptible aristocrat whose son is incarcerated in a German prison; her emotionally-conflicted daughter-in-law; the officer assigned to their house; the affectionate cook who works in the kitchen.

That’s just in one house.  Némirovsky gives equal coverage to the other villagers, creating a story that I can only describe as miraculous.  Think about it — Némirovsky wrote Suite Française as it happened, meaning the events her characters endured were the same that Némirovsky herself endured, almost simultaneously.  In a sense, the novel is an example of in medias res; we are thrust into the middle of the action just as the author was.

The tragedy, of course, is that Némirovsky was unable to complete the novel, but there’s more to be mournful of than simply that.  My edition contains two appendices; one is devoted to Némirovsky’s notes on the story she would never finish, the other is reprints of letters to, from and about the author.  In her last letter, she writes to her husband and daughters, “My dearest love, my cherished children, I think we are leaving today.  Courage and hope.  You are in my heart, my loved ones.  May God help us all.” Through his correspondence, we learn that her anguished husband searches for Némirovsky until he too is deported to Auschwitz after securing hiding places for Denise and Elisabeth.

I’ll end this with the last two paragraphs from the beginning of Suite Française, which I urge all of you to read.

Still at some distance, great guns were firing; they drew nearer, and every window shuddered in reply.  In hot rooms with blacked-out windows, children were born, and their cries made the women forget the sound of sirens and war.  To the dying, the barrage of gunfire seemed far away, without any meaning whatsoever, just one more element in that vague, menacing whisper that washes over those  on the brink of death.  Children slept peaceful, held tight against their monthers’ sides, their lips making sucking noises, like little lambs.  Street sellers’ carts lay abandoned, full of fresh flowers.

The sun came up, fiery red, in a cloudless sky.  A shell was fired, now so close to Paris that from the top of every monument birds rose into the sky.  Great black birds, rarely seen at other times, stretched out their pink-tinged wings.  Beautiful fat pigeons cooed; swallows wheeled; sparrows hopped peacefully in the deserted streets.  Along the Seine each poplar tree held a cluster of little brown birds who sang as loudly as they could.  From deep beneath the ground came the muffled noise everyone had been waiting for, a sort of three-tone fanfare.  The air raid was over.

Bovine Envy.

First, I had canine envy.  Then leporine and galline.  Now apparently I’ve got bovine envy.

Shreve Stockton over at The Daily Coyote leads what could only be called an interesting life, which I’ve put in italics because I’m unintentionally downplaying.  How else could you describe the day-to-day of a woman living in a Wyoming cabin with a cat, a pooch and a two-year-old coyote that she’s been raising since he was ten days old?  Interesting is an understatement.

Now it seems there’s a new addition to the Stockton cabin: Daisy, the Brown Swiss/Jersey mix.  I know I’m best suited for city living (I’ve yet to meet a subway I didn’t like) but I’ll tell you, after reading Daisy’s milk and cream…  I’d consider a switch just for the chance to drink that on a daily basis.  Milk is one of the foods (beverages?) I crave constantly, so the thought of caring for my dairy provider sounds wonderful.

Yeah, I’m jealous.