my blog, you’ve served me well, but i’ve moved to another space.
Lately we’ve been in town quite often on the weekends, and our days loom ahead of us, giant, empty spaces to fill. Sunday morning at 7, we went on a nature walk with the Bombay Natural History Society in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The park was so green, and since we were walking on BNHS private property, free from litter. However, the group on the walk was large and unwieldy and therefore took a while to mobilize.
But we walked through streams, which, after I resigned myself to it, was refreshing and fun, and got caught in a shower.
Soup. Especially blended soup. Is there anything more boring? A bunch of vegetables, boiled to death and pureed. Soup takes the joy out of eating. Non-soup meals have distinct flavors and smells and smooth, creamy, and crunchy textures, whereas soup, for the most part, is one temperature, one texture, and an amalgamation of flavors that generally taste a better when not beaten into each other.
(That said, I do like beet and celery soup.)
Non-blended soups have a bit more promise. I like tom-yum soup, and other, similar herby, brothy soups. I like thick curries with vegetables bobbing around. I dislike minestrone soup, where both the pasta and vegetables are generally mushy and/or chalky (peas in minestrone soup? chalky).
I’m talking so long about soup because I joined an online cooking-book club, called This Book Makes Me Cook, where every month we read a book and make a dish inspired by it. This month’s book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and it inspired me to make soup. Gazpacho soup. A soup that some (my husband) may argue is more of a salad.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is an epistolary novel set in 1946 about an author, Juliet, who starts communicating with a group of people from The Channel Islands, a British Territory occupied by Germany during World War II. The members of this group write to her about how their book club inspired hope and joy and friendship and learning under the bleak period of German occupation. Juliet writes back with questions and they talk about various shared loves.
I didn’t enjoy the book because I found the characters’ voices irritating. Every letter was a bit too charming or touching or sad or sweet. I wanted to like the book but I just ended up annoyed, and then annoyed that I was annoyed.
However, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society did inspire me to make soup…sort of. The book hadn’t mentioned much food, except a hidden, roasted pig, and a pie made from potato peels. Basically, food was extremely difficult to come by due to the German Occupation on the Island. Hrishikesh mentioned that the book he’s reading, M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, is about cooking during World War II; I decided to look through that for other recipes the Gurensey society “might” have cooked, and in addition to enjoying Fisher’s prose, I found a recipe for wartime Gazpacho. Simply: mashed tomatoes, herbs, garlic, lemon and oil, pounded together, a sprinkling of bread crumbs to thicken the soup into a meal, and the addition of chopped bell pepper, onion, and cucumber.
I tinkered with it a bit, consulting Alice Water’s recipe also, and in the end settled on a soup that was more of, as Alice says, a “liquid salad.” That is, a bouquet of fresh flavors and textures, bright and pretty, resting in a puddle of tomato juice. In this gazpacho, it’s possible to taste the fine, fruity olive oil, the additions of sweet yellow corn and bursts of cherry tomatoes, and a tangle of herbs, in each heaping spoonful.
Gazpacho is obviously perfect for summer, and versatile- I omitted cucumber and added corn. It’s delicious, and I’d love to make it again, even though it is soup.
1 pound tomatoes, halved horizontally
4 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 cup slivered basil
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Indian limes)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Over a bowl, grate the cut sides of the tomatoes on the medium holes of a grater until only the skin is left. Discard the skin. If you would like the remove the seeds, pass the pulp through a strainer (I didn’t remove the seeds).
2. In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, lemon juice, a tablespoon each of parsley and basil, salt, and a dribble of olive oil.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix together the tomato pulp and breadcrumbs. Then mix in the pounded garlic/herb/lemon juice, and the rest of the olive oil. Finally, add the bell peppers, green onions, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, basil and parsley to the tomato pulp, mix well, and taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
apples in the fall/ if i can’t have you all the time/ i won’t have none at all…
I was singing Gillian Welch’s Wayside/ Back in Time last week, driving my brother crazy. I love that song, and I love peaches. Listening to it always reminds me of my friend Elana performing it on stage, when we were in college, and her soft, wise voice.
Elana and I talked for a good hour on last week, which was wonderful. We weren’t in the same state, but at least we shared a timezone, and a lovely morning on the phone.
We graduated four years ago and we’re both in places we would have never imagined.
Two weeks ago, before I left for America, I went to my nani’s house to have peaches for lunch. Nani’s a true-blue fruit buyer: she particular and knows the best vendors for any fruit. Although it pains her swollen legs to walk much, she’ll make special trips to get her lychees, or peaches, or strawberries.
Nani made me this fantastic dessert of peaches and swirls of cream, sprinkled with cinnamon. She watches cooking shows in the afternoon, where she collects ideas- did you know you can make a lampshade out of a watermelon? Yeah, either did I.
Something new: my brother is going to start contributing recipes onto the blog. He lives in Baltimore, really close to a farmer’s market, but terribly far from me. His approach to cooking is much more fearless and creative than mine.
I’m leaving America today, until next year. Going back to my husband, and to getting drenched on our monsoon walks.
Lavardin is the prettiest place.
What’s amazing is that it’s real.
I suppose that sounds silly. What I mean to say is:
the bright flowers in windowsills, against the muted color of a house + white lace curtains
flower pots, flower pots
are the everyday, beautiful details of people’s lives in this town, and in the other small towns/villages we visited. Such tiny places, with such capacity to charm.
Lavardin is famous for the Chateau de Lavardin, though when we went there, we didn’t know that.
A mosaic map of the town.
In this tiny town, about thirty minutes from Chateau de la Barre, we ate an exquisite meal at Relais d’Antan.
Olives and onions, flecked with thyme, and bread sticks that were more like puff pastries, or khari biscuits.
The tomato and goat cheese tart was piping hot- Hrishikesh burned his mouth- and utterly delicious. Vivid bursts of tomato dribbling into creamy, pungent cheese- this is one of the most wonderful foods I’ve eaten. One day, I will replicate it.
An elegant take on mushroom risotto: cream risotto resting in a luscious mushroom broth, topped with stewed mushrooms. Hrishikesh loved it but my heart belonged to the tart.
Of course we had wine. We shared a bottle of a white, and then I felt all giddy, and there was a cheese platter coming, which was quite the occasion, so I had a bit of a red wine, too. Hrishikesh had to drive.
This is why I felt like celebrating. Look at it. I should have taken a picture of the cheese cart. Our waitress pushed it out with both hands, and when she came to our table, she ceremoniously lifted the lid off of the platter of cheeses. The effect was dazzling. We asked for every cheese.
Then, there was dessert. For the record, we usually don’t eat so much of such rich foods. I would have been fine with half this amount. But prix-fixe was the only option, so we enjoyed it.
For dessert, I got a passion fruit charlotte, and Hrishikesh got some chocolate thing with mint chocolate ice cream. Mine was airier, and better.
Then we drove back home
as if in a dream.
The French countryside sure is lovely.
We spent two days in Conflans sur Anille, near the Loire Valley and stayed at Chateau de la Barre. When we arrived, the owners, Guy and Marnie, served us homemade cider. Guy grew up in Chateau de la Barre; it has been in his family since the 14th century.
We walked through their flower garden.
That evening, we visited the farm next door- a cheese making farm! We watched the owner milk her goats.
This is the temperature controlled room where she sets a variety of goat and cow cheeses.
Some are one day old. Some are eight weeks old. She puts vegetable ash on top, for flavor.
For dinner our first night, we stayed at the chateau and ate artichokes from the garden. Marnie made a superb cheese, herb and oil dipping sauce, which H. then spread onto everything else.
We also had salad, vegetable ravioli, and delicious zucchini (also from the garden).
Then, there was the cheese course.
From left to right (and finally center): a day old goat’s cheese, that tasted like yogurt; a deliciously nutty cow cheese; an extremely creamy roquefort; a cow cheese similar to cheddar but made with unpasteurized milk – I loved it; a semi-aged cow-goat mix, and, finally, a strange cheese covered with paprika that we didn’t like at all.
There was dessert, too- blueberries and chocolate and cream, I think, but I have no photos of it.
More tales from France to come.
I went to America expecting to eat peaches, but that shows how little I know about peach season. Instead, I ate tender, so new they were almost sweet- radishes.
I ate them whole, like baby carrots. (By the way, I detest baby carrots. And baby corn. Anyone else?)
I ate transparent lengths of them in salads.
But after various methods, I decided to try Julia Child’s, who said the best way to eat a radish is to butter it.
So we did that, buying some excellent butter, and since we were serving these at a party with booze, and slippery, buttery fingers were a concern, we bought a couple of baguettes as vehicles. What an snack, and a simple party appetizer- butter, bread, the slight crunch and sharp spice of a thin radish round…and a sprinkling of sea salt, which elevates almost anything.
So: buy a baguette and some excellent butter. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise, slather your good butter over it, and then cut it into three-inch pieces. Press radishes into the buttered bread, and if you feel indulgent, sprinkle it with sea salt. Enjoy.