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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

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

animal vegetable miracle barbara kingsolver
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 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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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.

sorrel
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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