Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello, again.

My poor blog has been woefully ignored.  Will I ever finish my posts about the Meatless Month?  Well, I will try my best.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I somehow got through several years of honors English classes in high school and a Bachelor's degree program in English without reading Jane Eyre.  I recently read it for the first time and am so glad I did.

If you dislike classics due to the formal, stuffier language that was de rigeur, you won't like Jane Eyre.  But if you can parse the more complicated text - and I assure you, it's not too much in this one - you'll find yourself wrapped up in this story of love lost and found, with a bit of crazy mixed in, too.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, the titular protagonist is an orphaned ward of her Aunt Reed, who, in the typical "evil stepmother" (in this case, step-aunt) fashion, can never love Jane as she does her own children.  Jane is maltreated and, as a spirited, animated child, has a difficult time biting her tongue against her abuses.  Aunt Reed sends her away to Lowood School, a religious boarding school for orphans and the poor.  Jane remains there as a student and later a teacher until age eighteen, when she advertises for a governess post, and receives employment at Thornfield Hall.

Mr Rochester is Master of Thornfield, and the way the romance between he and Jane unravels was positively swoon-worthy to me.  This is not a Harlequin bodice-ripper; Bronte was writing, after all, in the nineteenth century.  But the slow-building, tantalizingly drawn-out flirtation between the two was almost too much for me; I adored it.  So imagine my dismay when, towards the end of the middle of the book, the wedding between Jane and Rochester was not to be, and Jane dashes off in the early morning, presumably never to return to Thornfield.

Having read my share of literature by Bronte's contemporaries, I was shocked and delighted that in the end, Jane and Rochester are reunited, marry, and are deliriously happy together.  This was exactly as I'd hoped the book would end, and it did.

Aside from a happy ending, I also loved the character of Jane.  Forgive me if I'm restating the obvious that critics and writers more talented than myself have already concluded, but Jane is such an unusual character for the times for her outspokenness and willingness to follow her emotions rather than do what is societally expected of her.  There were points in the book in which I wanted to throw it across the room shouting, "Damn society, Jane!  Do what you feel is right for you!"  I nearly gave up on the text, feeling certain it would be another bleak, Victorian downer. 

I've probably given away the best of the plot now (though I did save a wonderful, surprising little nugget to be discovered!), but if you haven't read Jane Eyre, do.  It's really a classic worthy of the name.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 17

That flirty little hint of filling is trying to seduce you.  I wish I could go back to summer tomatoes so I could make this right now.  This was divine.

Mr. Hungry and I do not possess green thumbs.  We sometimes try to grow tomatoes, but the efforts are usually not rewarded with a bumper crop.  So this summer we relied on my parents' phenomenal vegetable garden to keep us in delicious tomato supply.

Being a household of two can be a challenge when you have pounds and pounds of tomatoes to use.  I'm not fond of tomato sauce, so wasting the gorgeous, juicy, red tomatoes of late summer on sauce seemed a tragedy to me.  I needed something that would highlight them in all of their lusciousness.  Having recently discovered my love of pie crust, I decided a tomato pie would be just the thing.

I worked without a recipe, other than the one for the pie crust.  I prefer to use all butter in mine, but you could certainly use your fat of choice - shortening, lard, margarine - whatever makes you happy.  I chopped the tomatoes but left skin and seeds intact.  I mixed them with salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and left the mixture to sit while I rolled out the pie crust.  To the bottom crust, I spread the barest hint of mayonnaise.  My reasons for this were twofold: for one, I wanted to ensure an unsoggy crust, and two, I love tomatoes with mayonnaise.  I then tumbled the tomatoes into the pie plate, tossed in some chiffonaded basil - this, I managed to grow all summer! - and topped it off with another pie crust.  I sliced a few vents, sprinkled a little more cheese on top, and baked it for about 40 minutes.
 I did experience some pie crust-shrinkage, but I was still rather pleased with the way this beauty came out of the oven.

This was every bit as good as you might be imagining, and then some.  I know what I'll be doing with my first batch of tomatoes next summer.

Meatless Month: Day 16

This was butternut squash risotto.  It was time-consuming and the process had many steps.  And I was in a hurry to get to Bingo with a friend.  Yes, Bingo.  I am always one of the youngest people there, but it's fun, and there's a chance to win lots of money.

Back to the risotto.  The first thing I did was hack up a butternut squash - dang, are those suckers hard! - then seasoned the cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet, and put them in the oven to roast for a while.

While the squash was roasting, I decided to caramelize some onions.  Mr. Hungry is a tough-sell on butternut squash, but loves onions, so I thought by combining something he loves - caramelized onions - with something he's not certain about - butternut squash - I'd be more likely to have a happy eater.  Caramelizing onions always takes way longer than any recipe ever says they will (and I wasn't working from a recipe this time), but here they are in all their sugary glory:

Aren't they lovely?

Risotto really isn't difficult to make, but it is a process.  I heated up some vegetable broth in a saucepan and in a separate pan sauteed some garlic, the arborio rice, and then deglazed with some white wine.  At that point, the risotto process was ready to begin.  Ladles of broth mix with the rice, stir and stir until the liquid is absorbed, and repeat for about twenty minutes.

When my rice was tender and had absorbed most of the broth, I added the cooked squash cubes and a generous grating of Romano cheese, some dry sage, and a bit more salt and pepper, too.  I dished it up onto plates and topped it all with some caramelized onions.

Please excuse the terrible quality of this photo.  Even with the awful lighting here, you can see it looks like risotto should.  But it was lacking...something.  I couldn't quite figure out what it was.  Maybe I should have pureed the squash?  Added browned butter?  I'm not sure, but this was a really mediocre meal that wasn't worth all the work it took.  To end on a positive note, Mr. Hungry actually sort of liked the squash.  Small victories are all I can ask for.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 15

Falafel is a family favorite in the Hungry Household.  I don't make mine from scratch, though I'd like to try some time.  If you ever find yourself at the newer, Central Avenue Price Chopper with the large Kosher foods section, try the falafel mix by Osem.  It's really good.  Anyway, to make falafel from a mix, all you need to do is add water, form into balls or patties (I prefer the latter because it stays in the pita better), and fry in vegetable oil.

If you're unfamiliar with falafel, it's a patty made of ground-up chickpeas and sometimes fava beans and is a common food in Middle Eastern cultures.  We ate ours in a pita with hummus - my favorite is the Sabra brand in any variety.  My friend, the hummus snob, says this is the only kind that tastes as hummus should.

Served alongside the falafel pockets was a homemade tabbouleh salad, which is bulgur wheat mixed with chopped fresh parsley, mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.  It's served cold or room temperature and is a light, refreshing side dish that's pretty good for you, too.  I made a little tomato-cucumber salad, dressed lightly with vinegar, salt, and pepper, out of the awesome tomatoes from my parents' garden, and dinner was done.

This is a meal that's far too easy to stuff yourself silly with falafel goodness.  If you've never tried falafel, you should!  Unless you don't like fried, crispy, deliciousness.  In which case, you're nuts!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 14

I love minestrone.  I love lentils.  So when I found a recipe for lentil minestrone, I knew I had to make it.  I found the recipe in Deborah Madison's very thorough tome, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

The recipe wasn't all that different from my usual minestrone.  It started with celery, onions, and carrots, gently sauteed to soften, then garlic and aromatics in the form of parsley, bay leaf, and thyme are added to the soup pot.  I added vegetable broth and the lentils and let it cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils were sort, added some chopped kale, and cooked a small batch of ditalini in a separate pot to be added to each individual bowl of soup, which was then topped with some grated Romano cheese.

The recipe also called for something called mushroom soy sauce, which I am not familiar with, but a quick Google search tells me that it's a good vegetarian substitute for oyster sauce.

The verdict?  I prefer my usual lentil soup recipe for when I feel like lentils, and my usual, chock-full-of-vegetables minestrone when I feel like minestrone.  This was simply ok, nothing special.  For a more detailed write-up than my sad little post, check out this blog.  She has the exact recipe, too, and likes the soup far more than I did.  With all the wonderful soups I've made, I don't think I'll be repeating this recipe.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I've fallen woefully behind in updating on my Meatless Month Challenge, but it's now finished and I'm trying to catch up with my posts.  The rest of the month's meatless meals, as well as other food posts, are forthcoming.  But now I'd like to tell you about Sarah Water's book, The Little Stranger.

There was a considerable amount of buzz about this book, particularly in the author's native England, when it was published due to its consideration for the Man Booker prize.  I just finished reading it this afternoon and it's the kind of book which, as soon as you've finished reading it, you feel you simply must discuss it with someone.

Dr Faraday, a family doctor in Post World War II rural England, is called out to Hundreds Hall one day to examine the Ayres' family servant, a young girl named Betty.  The doctor suspects there is little wrong with Betty, save a touch of homesickness, but she confides in him that the house spooks her.

Following this episode with Betty, Dr Faraday befriends the Ayres family and enmeshes himself into their lives as their estate falls to disrepair and some troubling and strange occurrences continue happening to the family.

**Spoiler alert!  Read no further if you don't want to be spoiled!**

Waters' writing evokes the era in which it was written and she creates the bleak, rationed Post-War life in which England's traditional class structure was breaking down.  The book is eerie, spooky, and difficult to put down.  The ending seems ambiguous at first - is there truly a ghost or ghosts haunting Hundreds Hall?  Is it a poltergeist, as Dr Seeley suggests?  If so, who is responsible for the poltergeist's activities?  Is there an Ayres family curse? 

The more I think about the book and read other (probably more astute) blogs that have posts on The Little Stranger, the more strongly I am led to believe that it is Dr Faraday himself who is behind the family troubles and tragedies.  Beginning with his theft of the little acorn he prised from the wall as a child, he has longed to be a part of Hundreds Hall.  As his relationship with the family grows, he becomes obsessed with the idea of having Hundreds as his own.  Exactly how he "made" things happen, or whether he's fully responsible for Mrs Ayres' haunting, the smudges in the rooms, or the 'Sss' on the walls, I'm not certain.  But there's no doubt in my mind that Faraday, whether in physical person or just in malevolent spirit, caused the death of Caroline.

I also wonder: did the family feel as fondly for Faraday as he thought?  It's difficult to say, as the story is told from his perspective.  As he proves himself to be an unreliable narrator as the book progresses, I'm thinking he sees them as he'd like to be, a part of the family, rather than as they see him - a nice enough, probably lonely fellow.

I very rarely reread fiction books, but I just might with this one.  If you've read it, please add some of your own thoughts.  The Little Stranger is a book that begs for good discussion.