Posts filed under ‘Reading’
Every once in a while I make something to eat at home that receives glowing reviews from my dear dining mate. This is no easy feat and like all hard-to-achieve praise, it is sometimes hard to understand. This is just mushroom soup – there are some fancy things to add at the end if you wish – cream, a bit of chopped spinach (my favourite), a few drops of truffle oil, a sprinkle of chives – but it is just mushroom soup, and it is easy to make.
The hardest part is the patience needed to cook the onions and mushrooms slowly so the flavours have lots of time to develop and mingle – make sure you do that.
I made this soup for a quick Friday dinner before we went to see Life of Pi, which was very well done – a great movie adaptation of a great book. Like many people, I’m a Yann Martel fan (especially his ‘What is Stephen Harper Reading’ project, which I enjoyed even more than Life of Pi), and it makes me very happy to see Canadian literature turning into Hollywood films. I remember seeing Yann Martel’s books at the Livraria Lello in Porto a few years ago and wondering if he was as pleased as I was to see his books translated into Portuguese. I think his star just took another giant leap.
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or dried thyme)
Lots of fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup red wine
3 cups sliced button mushrooms
3 cups sliced portobello mushrooms
4 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (I used oregano and basil)
Optional add ins (for four servings):
1 cup chopped spinach (frozen is ok, but thaw it first)
4 tablespoons whipping cream
Slowly cook onion in oil over low-medium heat until it begins to carmelize. This will take a while, maybe 15 minutes. Add in the dried herbs, pepper and red wine; stir for a few minutes until the wine starts to reduce. Add in the mushrooms and cook slowly until they begin to cook down, about 10 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock and fresh herbs and remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool down to lukewarm and then puree in the blender (do not blend hot liquid, not ever!). Return to the pot and heat through. Stir in any of the optional add-ins above. Or, if taste differences prevail in your house as they do in mine, add what you will to the bottom of individual bowls, ladle in the soup, stir and serve.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A real book. The kind of book you always hope to find. A can’t put it down, stay up until 2am, fall asleep with your glasses still on your face sort of book. The storyline is epic and sprawling, there are tons of characters (but you’re never confused about who is who), the writing is lush and visual with no “literary trickery” says one reviewer I always trust, and the book is long, which is good because you don’t want it to end.
It’s a great book. I liked it so much, actually, that I closed another book the other night before I finished reading it. Not good enough. I love books, I read a ton of them, and I try to choose carefully. It’s a rare thing for me to abandon a book, but I think my standards have just gone up. There was a great article in the National Post recently by Keir Lowther, a PEI author who was guest editing the Afterword section. He talked about the importance of telling a good story and not just generating literary drivel, which, I have to say, is my assessment of that half-read book I’ll be shuffling back to the library this weekend.
The Night Circus was a Christmas gift last year. I put it on my wish list because I was inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s pep talk for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, and because it sounded like such a great story: a night-time circus. How magical. The Night Circus, a debut novel which has become a bestseller, began its life during the NaNoWriMo challenge, which happens each November. 46,991 words is the closest I’ve come to reaching the 30 day-50,000 word goal. This year will be the fourth time I’ve participated.
There are only nine days left in the challenge and for a variety of reasons I’m off to a late start: a day in, a mere 1,727 words logged. The little word tracking chart on the NaNoWriMo website makes it look like I’m at the bottom of Everest, and I suppose I am, but I didn’t want to break my tradition of participating. Only 48,273 words to go. Every attempt at a novel brings you that much closer to actually completing one, right? Better late than never, and better to fail than not try.
I believe that books find you at the right time and place in your life. If I own them, I tend to wait for them to call out from the shelf instead of reading them the moment they arrive. When November came along and I found myself thinking about the challenge but not actually participating yet, I decided to read The Night Circus. I loved it and now I’m using it to justify this ridiculous decision to try to write 50,000 words – not in 30 days (which sounds so easy now!), but in nine. By the time I was a few pages into The Night Circus, I thought, I want to write a novel just like this some day. Imaginative. Page-turning. Magical. Fun. Something a reader can’t wait to get back to and can’t wait to begin again.
Happy NaNoWriMo, writers. There’s still time to start!
Autumn cup – isn’t that a perfect name for a squash? Also known as buttercup, kabocha or turban squash, it tastes similar to butternut squash, but with a smoother, sweeter, and in my opinion, more delicious flavour. Dark green on the outside, bright yellowy-orange flesh inside – it is as gorgeous thing to look at as it is to eat.
Here are two recipes that will take you through one squash: a risotto flavoured with kale, caramelized onions, and fresh chives, and a soup made from roasted squash, ginger, and paprika. Warm and yum!
Autumn Cup Squash Risotto (inspired by the Acorn Squash Risotto in my favourite Italian cookbook, Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 of a autumn cup / kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated*
1 cup kale, finely chopped
1 small bunch of chives, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
fresh ground pepper
This first, all-important step is so often missing from risotto recipes: Put a chair/stool beside the stove, turn on the music, pour a glass of wine and bring a book. You have an hour of occasional stirring in front of you.
In a large saute pan (large!), cook onions in oil over low-medium heat – let them turn brown slowly so they caramelize. Then add the squash and stir until it softens and starts to break down. Add in arborio rice and cook it for a few minutes so it toasts, and then add in the wine. Have the vegetable stock warming in a pot beside your risotto pan. Add a couple of ladle-fuls of stock to the risotto and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat until you’ve used up all the stock. Stir in the cheese, kale, and chives, and sprinkle with pepper. I made this recently and served it with a spinach, pear and walnut salad and that was a nice match.
*Vegans, omit the cheese.
Autumn Cup Squash Soup
If you make the risotto above, you’ll be left with half a squash – the perfect amount for a pot of soup that provides a generous serving for two people. Cut the squash into wedges, toss with olive oil and cracked pepper and roast it in the oven until soft. Blend with water or vegetable stock, season with ginger and paprika and you’ll have a cozy lunch.
The Self-Completing Tree, a collection of poems by Dorothy Livesay caught my eye this morning. Its green and white spine seemed brighter than normal today, and the book was calling to be pulled from the shelf.
The Self-Completing Tree is an old friend, discovered years ago in a Canadian literature class in university. I loved it then, as I do today. Livesay’s poems have passion and spark – politics and feminism, life and death and love are her frequent subjects. Her work is nuanced, but also easy to read: Livesay wrote poems for real people, not just other poets and academics, and she lived a fascinating life well worth knowing: student, social worker, mother, grandmother, poet, seer of tumultuous times, lover of men, women, children, music, art, pear trees, geraniums. She died in Victoria, BC in 1996.
Livesay has a way of making stillness seem whole and full of being. Plants leaning on windowsills looking for the light can be found in the quiet corners of this book. Poems like this are the ones I appreciated most when I stepped back into Livesay’s words today:
Bartok and the Geranium
She lifts her green umbrellas
Toward the pane
Seeking her fill of sunlight
Or of rain;
She has no commentary
Blows out her fubelows,
Her bustling boughs;
And all the while he whirls
Explodes in space,
Never content with this small room:
Not even can he be
Confined to the sky
But must speed high and higher still
From galaxy to galaxy,
Wrench from the stars their momentary notes
Steal music from the moon.
He is dark
She’s heaven-held breath
He storms and cackles
Spits with hell’s own spark.
Yet in this room, this moment now
These together breathe and be:
She, the essence of serenity,
He in a mad intensity
Soars beyond sight
Then hurls, lost Lucifer
From heaven’s height.
And when he’s done, he’s out:
She leans a lip against the glass
And preens herself in light.
I had two full weeks off work over the holiday break. The first was spent traveling to Vancouver Island and then Calgary for time with family. The second week was all mine. Both were wonderful, but it is a rare thing to be able to stay at home in your jammies all day (all week) doing nothing.
I spent my days sipping coffee, scribbling in a notebook, reading, making soup and going for a walk with the dog in the middle of the day while everyone else was tucked away at the office. I snuggled in for another couple of hours after the alarm clock went off in the morning and the poor sop next to me went off to win some bread.
The solitude, the sleep, the slow unfolding of the day just as you want it to be (instead of having all the demands of the world tell you how it needs to be), those are beautiful things. The feeling of being instead of doing. I’ll remember it fondly.