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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

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READ ME

Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Other works: (by Barbara) The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees, etc.

Recommended by: Book Club! I also find that Kingsolver’s work recommends more of itself to be read.

Genre: Non-fiction/Cooking/Poetry (because honestly, everything she writes is full of poetic gorgeousness)

Main Characters: Her family – she, her husband, and two daughters – and the FOOD.

Opinions: I adored this book, as I expected to. I had read a bunch of her fiction, as well as non-fiction essays; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has the added practical advice, recipes, and lots of horticulture that make it useful and educational, as well as just beautiful. I don’t remember all the opinions from the Book Club meeting, but it gets 4/5 on Goodreads.

A quotation I liked: “Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicious consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spirtual error, or even bad manners.”

What sticks with me: This book is not preachy, but it says a lot about sustainability and the realities of our food culture, especially in North America. It makes me think all the more often about where my food has come from, and whether I want to support the way it’s grown or exported. I also really really want to have dinner with the author.

Recommended to: Farmers, Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists, Poets, and people who don’t cook but want to start.

To sum up: Inspiring. Sometimes depressing, but mostly uplifting. Barbara’s writing is always full of compassion for humanity, and this book makes you feel like a friend in her warm kitchen.

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100 Happy Days – Day 30: Pumpkin Waffles

As I mentioned, we had a pumpkin that needed to be eaten, starting with the seeds.

Here’s what I did with the rest of it, using Adam’s recipe. (Adam is the author of the Intimidating Liège Waffle Recipe I tried during my Waffle Odyssey. He’s also a very interesting guy and a good sport, as it turns out. Check out his obsession with French pastry.)

Not surprisingly, they are exquis. They smell shockingly good while cooking, and the flavour and texture are simply awesome. (Adam did guarantee they’d be the best.)

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Next time, I’ll try the metric ones, which are apparently better than best. (They contain yeast, so you know they’re hard-core. Metaphorically.)

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100 Happy Days – Day 25: Black Lentils

I’ll be honest. This day was a hectic, somewhat crappy day. One of those days when my kids are simultaneously screaming before 8:30 a.m.; also, one of those days when I asked myself, “Why did I become a teacher again?” Sigh.

BUT.

There was this bag of mysterious legumes I’d accidentally bought months ago, thinking they were black beans. This was the morning I’d finally Googled “black matpe” and realized they’re just lentils.

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Which was important because A) lentils are my FRIENDS, and B) curried black lentil soup (usually called Tarka Dal) is one of my top three things to order at an Indian restaurant.

So I easily found this slow-cooker recipe for Black Lentils, and put them on to cook during the workday.

Sean got home before I did that day and actually texted me: “What smells like delicious in here?!” He was the one who cooked up some basmati rice for us.

When I came home, I had the same lovely feeling of walking into a warm house that smells like delicious – and dinner’s basically ready to go. And here’s what my not-so-mysterious lentils looked like: THE REAL DEAL. They cooked up creamy and flavourful with minimal effort.

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As it happens, I didn’t have chiles, cilantro, or mustard oil, and I used canned coconut milk/cream instead of whipping cream, but… IT WAS SOOOO YUMMY. And so easy. Not to mention vegan and gluten-free.

Happy.

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100 Happy Days – Day 24: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Our pie pumpkin was frozen on the doorstep after the first snows.

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Time to toast seeds! I followed this advice for getting them plump and salty, and then golden-brown.

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MMMMMmmmmm! SO TASTY.

(Plus: antioxidants, mineral nutrients – especially zinc, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.)

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Black Raspberry Cobbler: Summer with a Spoon

This week, in Southwestern Ontario, has been that magical time of year when strawberries and raspberries overlap in their ripening. Last Tuesday, I finally got to pick black raspberries at our local berry farm.

Just to clarify: black raspberries are not to be confused with blackberries, which look similar but A) are not raspberries, B) are easily available in grocery stores and therefore less exciting, and C) are frankly not nearly as tasty.

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These are blackberries. They’re nice but meh.
black raspberry plants
THESE are black raspberries, on their way to being ripe.

When I was a kid, black raspberry time meant foraging into the woods near our house, sweaty in jeans and long sleeves (to prevent scratches), taking precarious steps further into the undergrowth, contorting and stretching in all kinds of awkward ways, in pursuit of that handful of gorgeous berries just out of reach. An intense picking session would end back at home with a baking-soda bath, because no matter how careful you were, the thorns were gonna getcha. But it was totally worth it. The dopamine hit, when you found the good ones, was better than a video game… Oh, and then there’s the EATING. Mmmmmm. They taste like pure, wild summer.

The trouble is, I don’t live around the corner from indigenous black raspberries anymore, at least not that I’ve come across. When I found out that our berry farm grows them, I was SO EXCITED. And I will admit that not having to entangle myself in the briars is nice, if not quite as action-packed.

I would have liked to go picking during Sebastian’s days, because ever since his first anniversary, when I happened to go berry-picking on his birthday, the two things are connected in my mind. Picking berries in the sunshine feels like the right thing to do. Like I’m near him. I can’t explain why. This year, they weren’t ripe on his birthday, but six days after is close enough. And as it happened, on that particular afternoon, I picked some in the sunshine and some in the rain.

That first year, we saw a cicada sitting peacefully and perfectly still on a raspberry plant. This year, it was a dragonfly.

black raspberries and a dragonfly
Still Raspberries With Dragonfly.

My mom swears that the domesticated raspberries don’t taste as good as the wild ones. All I know is, when I eat one, Mini-Di pops up in my soul and says Yes. YUM.

If you find yourself picking black raspberries, make sure you look under the leaves, especially the lower ones. You’re likely to find the most beautiful berries there, in whole ripe clusters.

And on to the point of the blog post: our family’s favourite black raspberry recipe.

I should probably warn you – if you have a problem with little seeds, this fruit, and by extension this dessert, is not for you. Both are seedy par excellence. But if you can get past that (those seeds are actually really good for you), Black Raspberry Cobbler is summery heaven with a spoon.

black raspberry cobbler
SO DELICIOUS.

 

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a 9 x 13 pan (or a 10 x 10, which is what I have) melt 1/4 – 1/3 C of butter or margarine.

3. In a bowl, mix 1 C flour (I use whole wheat – it’s robust and it fits – but it’s up to you), 3/4 C sugar (white or brown), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 2/3 C milk (dairy or not), and 1 (optional) egg.

4. Pour batter over melted butter. Don’t worry, it’ll spread itself out if you don’t get into all the corners.

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5. In a bowl, mix 4 C black raspberries with 1/2 C sugar and 1/3 – 1/2 C water.

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6. I also add a dash of lemon juice and a couple drops of almond extract to the berries.

7. Distribute the fruit mixture over the batter in the pan. It’ll look like a soupy mess, but don’t worry. (If you are brusque with the fruit, the juiciness will get underneath the batter, which actually produces quite a tasty berry-flavoured caramel, but a very hard-to-clean pan.)

 

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8. Bake for 45 minutes.

9. Enjoy warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, table cream, milk of your choice – or just plain.

black raspberry cobbler for breakfast
Makes a really nice breakfast too. (I apologize for my lack of foodtography talent. Just trust me about the recipe.)

 

Voilà. A dessert I fervently looked forward to as a child, and still look forward to as an adult – maybe even more fervently.

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What to Feed the Vegetarians at your Holiday Gathering

I’ve been to my fair share of holiday gatherings as the lone vegetarian. I know people get really excited about their turkey/ham/roast/whathaveyou, and spend a lot of time and energy – and money too – to make it fantastic. And I can relate, to a certain extent; even though I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of 14, I still enjoy the scent of turkey cooking, because it smells like holidays to me.

Although I understand folks’ connection to their festive meats, I’m one of many who don’t partake. If you don’t ever cook vegetarian and therefore get anxious thinking about that person coming to your holiday dinner who isn’t going to eat the pièce de résistance, here’s a very easy and nutritious main dish that we in my family (veggies and non-veggies alike) have loved for a long time. It’s delicious, festive, and very hard to eff up.

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Lentil Cheese Pie – originally from Crank’s Restaurant cookbook.

  • 1 cup red lentils (they’re actually orange)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 cup grated cheddar (we like old)
  • 1 tsp (or a bit more) seasoning – we use oregano, basil, coriander, thyme, and/or sage
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (we use whole wheat)
  • salt & pepper to taste

It’s a good idea to rinse the lentils, though it’s not a huge deal if you don’t. Then cook the lentils at a gentle boil in 1.75 – 2.25 cups of water (I usually use about 2), until all the liquid is absorbed. This is the one part I have effed up: don’t let them burn. Stir them regularly. They should look approximately like this when you’re done:

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While the lentils are cooking, dice the onion and sauté it in the butter or oil until transparent. (If you accidentally caramelize it, it’s okay!) Then combine the two ingredients, and add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. (If you accidentally put in way too much cheese, it’s okay! Same with the seasonings, up to a point.)

Press the mixture into a greased 9″ pie pan. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes. (If you accidentally overcook it by like 20 minutes, it’s okay! I have absolutely done that and it was still delicious.) Slice and serve warm.

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Seriously, this dish smells and tastes awesome and is THAT EASY. You should go for it.

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Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup

Our family is lucky enough to be able to buy super-fresh, uber-local veggies from gardener friends of ours. Our first batch included pea shoots, green onions, rhubarb, and sorrel.

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Image from urbancultivator.net – but it looks just like our sorrel.

To my knowledge, I had never cooked with or even eaten sorrel. It sounded like something from Outlander. But I figured, sorrel is a green leafy thing, must be good.

And it is! But rather strange, too. I was warned that it’s “tart”, and it is. Sour, actually, in a yummy way, but strong enough that I don’t think I could eat a whole salad of sorrel. We sprinkled bits of it in our salad the other day, but would take a long time to use up all the sorrel we have at that rate.

So yesterday, I looked up sorrel recipes, and read that cooking the sorrel tones it down a bit. I found some recipes that sounded all right, especially soups, but ultimately decided to wing it.

This is how I tend to cook: winging it. Like my mom and siblings, I rarely use a recipe except to bake. And I’m not good at recording what I do when cooking, at least not with any meticulosity. But when this particular soup turned out really well, some friends asked if there was a recipe. So here is something approximating a recipe.

  • I coarsely chopped up a medium-large onion and two large cloves of garlic and sautéed them in melted “better butter“* on medium-high heat until they were getting brownish.
  • Meanwhile, I chopped up two smallish potatoes (skins on) and then threw them in and crumbled half a head of cauliflower on top.
  • I had some frozen vegetable stock (2-3 cups) so I put that in to melt into everything with the lid on.
  • I took two big handfuls of sorrel, barely chopped them, and added them a few minutes later. The stock had melted and was a nice brown colour from the onions.
  • Once the cauliflower was tender, I took out a couple pieces with one piece of onion and mashed it with a fork to feed to the baby. (This step is optional. I did notice that, with cauliflower for dinner, her night diaper a lot stinkier than usual, despite being just pee. Just in case you do have a baby and follow this step. Hmm. Was that an overshare?)
  • By this time, all the veggies were tender and the sorrel had turned brown (the Internet warned me about this – it’s because of the oxalic acid). I added some whole milk (maybe a cup?) and then took The Wand (immersion blender) to the whole thing.
  • It was a bit thick so I added a bit more milk and some water (probably another cup’s worth at least) until I liked the look of it, you know, sort of a restauranty consistency.
  • The last thing to add was about a cup-and-a-half of grated old cheddar, which I stirred in until blended.
  • Then I tasted it, and I was like, “Where’s the sorrel? I don’t even taste it!” So I took another modest handful of the sorrel and chopped it more finely and put it in and did not blend it. It quickly wilted right in and made itself at home.
  • I added salt to taste. (Our salt is actually ground butcher salt, which contains soupçons of rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram, which were very pleasant but not necessary.)
  • We also added fresh black pepper at the table.
Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup
I didn’t serve it like this originally. These are the leftovers we had today, shamelessly studiously dressed up for y’all.

Done!

Everyone at the table over the age of 4 called it delicious. I was frankly surprised that my experiment worked so well. We agreed it was very nice with the extra bits of sorrel, which still have an acidic kick but somehow work anyway. I like to think that the blended sorrel provided the context for them to shine.

Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup
Looks pretty good?

Try it y’self! Tirrah!

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*My mom introduced our family to “better butter” ages ago: you soften some salted butter in a container and add vegetable oil in equal proportion, then (carefully) Wand them together. It cuts the saturated fat and salt of the butter while retaining good flavour; it’s cheaper than pure butter all the time; and most importantly, it’s much more spreadable.

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