Monday, December 2, 2013

The Fruit Plate: Pears

On coming back cheerful and satisfied from the theater with a huge pear for his wife in his hand, [Oblonsky] had not, to his surprise, found her in the drawing room or in his study, but finally saw her in her bedroom holding the unlucky note that had revealed everything.

---Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, chapter 1

In a previous post I talked about how much I prize fruit as a dessert. It works for us because it's easy to prepare, inexpensive, healthy, and best of all (to my way of thinking), seasonal. As I write this, it is the second day of December. The Macoun apples that I so anticipate every year have started to taste a little mealy; I've started using Braeburns when I want apples for raw eating. Braeburns have a good flavor and do not turn brown when cut, a critical point when there are reluctant fruit eaters in one's household.

Still, there comes a point in the year---rapidly approaching, I'd say---at which one gets tired of apples. As the apple appeal fades, pears start to arrive on the scene. Pears, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, may not be enough to appease a wronged wife, but they certainly do, as Diner #2 would say, "step up" to save the winter fruit plate from being bullied into nonexistence. Here are a few of the most commonly seen heroes.

Boscs, with their elongated shape, russet skin, and melting flesh, are a good all-purpose pear, but they seem to be most in their element when poached in sweet wine and spices for an elegant dessert. If Ingres had wanted to paint a pear reclining on a sofa, he would surely have chosen a Bosc.

Bartletts, whether the pale yellow-green or red varieties, are delicious for raw eating, especially in salads. I love the contrast of the red Bartlett with cheese (Gorgonzola Dolce is my favorite for this purpose) and nuts.

I haven't had good luck with the Anjou variety; the Anjous I've tasted have been too grainy, but people with access to better ones like them very much indeed for both raw and cooked eating. Anjous are pale green and do not change color when they ripen.

Tiny Seckels will absolutely make any fruit platter as people lean over and say, "What's that?" That is a cute and super-sweet pear worth seeking out for fresh eating. They can also be pickled or used as a garnish.

Forelle pears are a tiny, spicy, delicious fruit with freckles like those of a trout (hence the name). Forelles are a little harder to locate and all the more charming because of it; if you find some, pounce.

As for picking them out, pears are supposed to be harvested unripe. If you press the pear's flesh near the stem and it gives, it is ready to eat. Now. Another day could mean mush time. Otherwise, just leave an unripe pear to ripen at room temperature on the countertop. Some varieties have a good scent when they're ready, others are more reticent about this. That's how it is with pears: each, like a good novel, ripens in its own way.



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Punch

I first drank punch at funeral receptions. Not just any funeral receptions, but the downstate Illinois kind, which are usually held in the church basement. The menu is set in stone. It includes at least six different kinds of coleslaw because the church ladies are engaged in a silent, neverending competition to determine whose is the best. Even though the heat index will be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, these ladies' well-honed baking abilities will also be on display, as will creative interpretations of the word "casserole." And punch. Lots of punch.

The church will provide two huge punch bowls (one for each end of the buffet table) and an endless supply of the little tiny cups. Being designated to pour punch for guests is a traditional honor, though the honoree can also easily get stuck talking to the sort of men who hit on punch servers at funeral receptions.

It's taken me some time to get over these morbid associations and admit that punch was a convenient way of ensuring that a large group of Methodists got enough to drink on a hot day. I now make punch for all sorts of occasions, and people seem to appreciate it. People also seem to have definite preferences for either spiked or virgin punch, which I like to accommodate, and so my kitchen, like every church kitchen in the Midwest, now has two punch bowls.

My favorite dessert flavor is lime, possibly because I don't remember real limes putting in much of an appearance during my childhood. (My Russian friends feel the same about lemon, and for similar reasons.) Lime plus just about anything else is a winning combination for punch.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not remind all of cyberspace that if you want to make really good punch in the summertime, you had better chill the bowl and all your ingredients beforehand and plan on some sort of iced garnish. Generally, this garnish is best made in a ring mold---yes, that's right, the kind that church ladies use to make Jell-O salad.

Here is my favorite punch recipe. It can be made with or without alcohol.

Lime-Pineapple Punch

Chill and combine in a chilled bowl:

4 c. limeade
2 c. pineapple juice
6 c. ginger ale or champagne

Taste and add more of any ingredient desired. Garnish with

Lime slices 
Scoops of lime sherbet, or limeade frozen in a ring mold

Makes about 24 servings.


Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen

Monday, March 25, 2013

Planning an Easter Dessert Table

After my miserable defeat at the hands (fins?) of gefilte fish, I turn to something with which I've had a lot more experience: lining up menus for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. The "feast of feasts" is a time and place when the Diners and I do enjoy dessert, cherishing our freedom at the table, as the hobbitlike creatures we are. Since we are a household of three, since it's nice to have different choices on hand, since I genuinely enjoy baking for big occasions such as this, and since we don't want to be complete hobbits about the leftovers (even if Eastertide does last awhile), it makes sense to share our Easter dessert table with a crowd of guests, to give treat boxes to friends, or both.

Holy Week can be exhausting, what with all the church services, errands, baking, and cleaning, yet I cannot help noticing that no matter how stressed I get about the "many things," year after year, Easter comes just the same. Moreover, the season does last almost two months---a fact that many church cultures overlook---so there is plenty of time to celebrate beyond the one day. Thus I make plans, but also make a pact with myself to forgive myself if it doesn't all get done. Here are the plans so far.

Rolled and decorated sugar cookies in Easter shapes. I make these early in Holy Week and frost them on Saturday.

Butter cookies scented with Fiori di Sicilia ("flowers of Sicily"). This flavoring, a luxuriant, intoxicating blend of citrus and vanilla, needs to be added in minute quantities. (I once used it in a recipe as I would vanilla extract and the results were appalling.) The King Arthur Flour Company carries it. These, too, I usually make early in Holy Week.

Kulich, the tall, domed-shaped bread traditional at Russian Easter, is a lot like panettone or other festive breads; it includes candied citrus peels and slivered almonds as well as raisins plumped in rum. You'll need a 2-pound coffee can. Paskha is the sweetened cheese spread that goes with it.

It wouldn't be Easter without chocolate, which so many people avoid eating during Lent. I make triple-chocolate biscotti early in the week and, on Holy Saturday, a white-chocolate cheesecake, with strawberries to accompany the latter prepared at the last minute before Sunday dinner.

The centerpiece of the dessert table is the pound cake in the shape of a lamb. I make a cake in Diner #2's favorite flavor, lemon, and frost it with lemon buttercream. The cake itself, since it is brushed with syrup, can be made early and stored in the fridge; the buttercream can be made then too, but if I'm going to do that, I freeze it, then take it out of the freezer on Saturday night so the cake can be decorated on Sunday. Decorating this cake is a lot of fun. You could press coconut into the frosting for "wool," but the Diners are not fans, so I don't. The cake, which represents Jesus, bears a little banner with the word "PAX"---peace. If a priest is a guest at your table, she or he gets the head of the lamb!



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen

Saturday, March 23, 2013

In Pursuit of Gefilte Fish (Part Two)

One of my hobbies is going to grocery stores, particularly specialty stores. The kosher supermarket in West Hartford was a place I'd been wanting to visit for some time. I was hopeful that they might have what I was looking for: pike, whitefish, and carp. Maybe (be still, my heart) I would even be able to choose a live fish. This was not just a fantasy left over from girlhood days spent reading the All-of-a-Kind Family books; I had often bought live fish at Super H Mart, the Korean supermarket chain, when we lived in suburban Chicago.

I found the market without difficulty; the enormous parking lot was almost full. Inside, the store smelled agreeably of toasted onion. The customers were mainly women of my age and older. There was a sense of camaraderie about the place that struck me as unusual for New England. Something else struck me, too: although both the shoppers and store employees were racing the clock on this Friday afternoon three days before Passover, they were careful to acknowledge each other with smiles and greetings and not to bump into each other as they swerved and reached and negotiated their carts and baskets and dollies through the aisles. Their body language said: food is important, but people are more so. It all reminded me vaguely of some other setting, somewhere I had been before, but I couldn't place it.

There was a fine selection of smoked fish, but I saw no sign of fresh other than a few packages of trout. A manager asked me if I needed help. I told him I was making gefilte fish for the next day. He listened. He summoned the fish lady. I asked: did they by any chance have fresh pike, whitefish, or carp?

The fish lady shook her head kindly, but firmly. "You have to special-order that," she said. I thanked her and wandered away, speechless.

Back home, I unpacked my consolation prizes: whitefish salad, bagels, mandelbrot, and long, jam-covered things called railroad-tracks cookies, which looked as if they would be perfect sliced up alongside a cup of espresso. It was then that I realized what the kosher supermarket had reminded me of: shopping in Italy. Food for thought.

Checking email, I saw that the Facebook friend and Rabbi had sent me a message saying that people in the Pacific Northwest used wild-caught salmon to make gefilte fish and that this was, in her experience, tastier than the traditional whitefish. With this idea under my belt and with one other place in mind that I wanted to check, I called Diner #1, who was preparing that night's dinner, to see if he needed anything.

"Pick up a big bag of shrimp, will you?" he said.

Thus I headed off to the Store Which Must Not Be Named.




The Store Which Must Not Be Named goes by several other names, of course. Some people, including Diner #1, call it Whole Paycheck; others call it What the Foods. Many look down on it, calling it pretentious, overpriced, and insufficiently "green." Whatever your opinion of it, the very mention of it provokes such vehement reactions from most people that I hesitate before mentioning that I shop there, lest I be called a food snob, not enough of a food snob, or some horrid amalgam of the two.

When I walked up to the fish counter, my jaw dropped. In the iced display there lay, among the snapper and mackerel, two whole fresh whitefish. I perked up. Maybe this idea was going to take off after all.

"May I help you?" said the fish guy. I asked him to fillet one of the whitefish, reserving the trimmings. I considered taking the other one as well, but then a warning bell went off in my head; I remembered reading somewhere that whitefish on its own is much too soft and delicate for gefilte fish. It has to be mixed with a firmer fish. The Rabbi had mentioned salmon; I bought some.

Removing the skin in my own kitchen proved a challenge, since Diner #1, our in-house fish cutting expert, was off at work. When I was done, the fillets looked as if they had been attacked by some vicious beast who had been scared off in mid-meal. Never mind. I started the stock with the skin and other trimmings, then tossed bits of fish into the food processor (finding the idea of hand-chopping at this point unspeakably exhausting). I added what seemed even to me, a former Russian major, an outrageous amount of onion, but Joan Nathan's and Faye Levy's cookbooks, splayed over the counter, indicated that this was key. Carrot. Salt and pepper. Okay, a lot of salt and pepper. No parsnip in the house. Can't add parsnip. How much matzo meal? Joan Nathan said a cup for five pounds of fish; Faye Levy said two tablespoons for three pounds. I tossed in a handful. No recipe mentioned dill, but I had some in the fridge, so I added it too. I strained broth, mixed the ground fish with its seasonings, shaped patties, poached them, gently removed them to a platter, and chilled them and the broth. Next stop, Saturday dinner.



"It's ready!" I yelled. "Get the camera!"

I had prepared a salad of cucumber and red onion in vinegar and plated the fish with it in the kitchen. I had added a dab of wasabi and even a bit of pickled ginger for myself, leaving the Diners to choose whether or not they wanted to go down that path. I called them to the table. Diner #1 appeared with his usual courteous promptness; Diner #2, who had heard there was cold fish for dinner, had to be ordered.

I spread wasabi on my first bite, popped it into my mouth, and snuck a look at Diner #1, whose face was unreadable. Diner #2 was not eating.

"Don't eat it just by itself," I advised. "You have to have horseradish." Diner #1, taking another swig of his drink, reached for the wasabi and ate in silence.

I cut another piece, spread horseradish on it, raised it to my lips, and paused. I put down my fork.

"What is it?" said Diner #1.

"I can't," I said.

"What?"

"I can't eat it," I said. "It tastes like---cat food."

All three of us lost it. Diner #1 dropped his fork with a clatter and pushed his plate away.

"Cat food?" Diner #2 shouted.

"Cat food."



"You mean it smells like cat food, " Diner #1 corrected. "I sincerely hope that you have never, in fact, eaten cat food."

"It tastes terrible!" I wailed. "It doesn't taste at all like I remembered! How could this have happened? I went to so much trouble!"

"Maybe it's like that thing in Europe, where all that meat turned out to be horse meat?" Diner #2 offered. "Except here in America, all the fish is actually cat food. Do I have to eat this, or can I go get something else?"

"Go get whatever the hell you want, kid," I said. He pulled a package of Hebrew National hot dogs out of the fridge.

"This is going to go down in family legend," said Diner #1. "This is going to be one of the great stories. I can hear it now. For years we're going to be saying, remember the time when you tried to make gefilte fish?"

What he doesn't understand is that this is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. That while this particular dinner may have failed, the desire to work with fish trimmings remains. That there are a lot more adventures to come. That I am growing stronger, ever stronger, and from strength to strength. That I'm holding myself to a higher standard. That I know who I am and what God expects me to do. That I am an eternal optimist, or a realist because I believe in miracles, or some wonderfully and fearfully made amalgam of the two. This year, a culinary disaster. This year, homemade cat food. Next year, real gefilte fish. Next year, in the Holy Land.




Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen

Friday, March 22, 2013

In Pursuit of Gefilte Fish (Part One)

Where there is no vision, the people perish, said the prophet. Cooking for loved ones is one way in which I've felt, from time to time, as though I had got a glimpse of the celestial city from out here in the suburbs of everyday existence. Perhaps nowhere else in world cuisine is the link between that city and the suburbs so clearly, so overtly expressed as in Jewish cooking, to which I was introduced in my college dining hall---and no dish in the range of Jewish cooking is better, in my opinion, than gefilte fish made from scratch.

I have tasted homemade gefilte fish only once, a long time ago, at the house of a neighbor when the Diners and I lived in another town. It was an exquisitely delicious dish (I suspect that our hostess and her mother, a Holocaust survivor, took the time to chop what must have been over ten pounds of fish by hand) and I have yearned to taste it again ever since. The very thought of it makes my mouth water every time I see Passover displays in the stores. However, there is a problem, which is that although we have Jewish friends, the diplomatic nuances involved in wangling a Passover invitation elude me year after year. I can't find the words to say, can the Diners and I come to your Seder? That would be rude, and one must not be rude. So, year after year, I've stood with my nose pressed to the glass, an outsider looking in, wishing.

This year it occurred to me: why wait? I wouldn't do a Seder, but I could make gefilte fish. I wouldn't expect it to approach the heights of the dish prepared by my former neighbor and her mother, but on the other hand, Diner #1 and I own three Joan Nathan cookbooks packed full of recipes that have never let us down, including latkes that had us fighting over the last crunchy tidbits, chicken soup that both Diners swear by as a cure for colds, and hand-stretched strudel dough that you could read the Times through. Why not gefilte fish?

I had dipped my toe into the water. Huh. Not so bad. The next step, taking me a bit deeper in, was to crowd-source the logistics.

If I were to make gefilte fish next week, I posted on Facebook the week before Passover, when would be the best time to hit the fish market?

A woman friend who is a Rabbi replied, If it's next week, I'd say the rush is already over. This is the week to be fighting for your fish.

I thanked her and logged off, thinking, I'm doomed.

I sat with this feeling for a bit, then put on my coat and headed to the fish market a block from our house.

"I'm looking for pike, whitefish, and carp fillets, plus trimmings?" I said. "I'm, um, making gefilte fish this weekend?"

They looked at me.

"We don't have that."

I trudged back home. Now I was starting to worry. I considered calling a local friend to find out where she sourced her Passover fish, then discarded this idea as fraught with potential faux pas. What if she took this (correctly) as a hint that I wanted to be invited to her Seder? What if she used jarred?

And I was stupid enough to post about this on Facebook. Fantastic. I'll wind up making gefilte fish out of cod or something. Episcopal gefilte fish, the latest in cultural misappropriation. How pathetic would that look on the blog?

Breathe, Anna. Calm down. You're going to give yourself a heart attack.

Then it occurred to me that there was a well-known kosher supermarket in West Hartford, an hour from my house. Surely they would have fish. I went to their website, clicked on the link for the fish department, and read the words, ALL PASSOVER FISH ORDERS MUST BE PLACED BY 6 PM ON MARCH 15TH. Of course. It was March 20th. Much too late. Much too close to Passover.

I shook myself. What had gotten into me? What strange tale courtesy of Kafka had I fallen into? A friend once told me in jest that I had a Jewish soul; was this, then, how such things manifested themselves? What kind of comedian was in charge of this universe? Who was God, that He could make such a mistake, taking a shikse's body and implanting deep within it a desire to work with fish trimmings?

Almighty God, You delivered Your beloved people from bondage in Egypt, parting the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass through on dry land. You drowned the Egyptians with their horses, their chariots, and their chariot drivers. Get me out of here. If I am to be embarrassed in front of three hundred of my closest Facebook friends, not to mention the rest of the world, so be it. If I am never to taste hand-chopped anything again, so be it. Just get me out of here. I'm begging you. Either help me find a way to make gefilte fish or help me stop wanting to. Amen.

It was then that I realized something. Sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with God on the other end was not going to get me anywhere. That was shikse behavior, taught to me by other shikses, and let's face it, ladies, we are not known for our competence. If I wanted out of this quagmire I was going to have to find a way out myself. I would have to be my own Moses. I would find the words, however halting and insecure, to talk to the people at the fish counter at the kosher supermarket. I would get into the car and drive to West Hartford on a Friday morning with an insulated grocery bag in pursuit of pike, whitefish, and carp fillets, with trimmings.

(To be continued)



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen









Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Surprised by Awe, or, the Lion, the Fish, and the Wonder

"When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again," goes the rhyme about Aslan, the Christ figure in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The other bit of doggerel on my mind today is the old one about the month of March: "In like a lion, out like a lamb." As I write this March 19th, the ground is slushy and a cold rain is falling. To my knowledge, C.S. Lewis never experienced March in Connecticut, but if he had, perhaps he might have rethought Aslan's persona.

Lamb is indeed what I'm waiting for: not only a warm end to March, but also the lamb of Easter, which falls this year on March 31st. "At the Lamb's high feast we sing," and although Episcopalians are not nearly as strict about our fasting as, say, Orthodox Christians, and do not necessarily avoid meat in Lent, it feels odd to me to eat lamb during this time. This scruple echoes something that happened to me about fifteen years ago, when Diner #1 and I were visiting relatives in a remote area of Norway.

The idea came up of going fishing; one of the relatives, who knew where the fish were, steered the boat bearing Diner #1 and me into the fjord and began eyeing points on the horizon. When he was satisfied that we were in the right place, he dropped the jig, which jerked violently over and over again. He pulled the jig back up. On it were glistening pollock, some of them as much as two feet long. As he took the pollock off the jig, cut their throats, and tossed them into the boat, they flapped and slid about. I watched as the life in their eyes ebbed away; my white sneakers got spattered with blood.

Back at the house, Diner #1's grandmother prepped most of the fish for the freezer (a process which took her several hours, but she refused help) and fried the rest for dinner. She called us to the table, laden with the traditional accompaniments: boiled potatoes, crispy fried onions, cucumber salad, and melted butter, along with a huge platter of fish. As I took my place and looked again at the fish, a weird feeling came over me, something I could not quite name. Diner #1's grandmother offered me, the guest, the platter first, and as I took it, I felt my hands shaking and realized that I was scared out of my mind.

I had grown up praying before meals, but had never thought much about it; at that moment I suddenly understood why people do say such prayers, and why there are some cultures---Orthodox Judaism, for example---in which the slaughtering of animals is set aside as a holy calling. It came from times when awe of the Presence, whether in slaughtering a fish or a larger beast, was part of everyday life. The prayer was a response to the awe. I was scared because in the fish whose lives we took, into whose eyes I had gazed as they died, I had encountered something much, much bigger than myself. And so, yes, as I sat terrified before a platter of fillets, I muttered something silent and quick. The fear passed and I was able to eat.

I wish I could know such gratitude every day. Thinking of this on a snowy weekday here in Connecticut, when it seemed as if the high feast would never get here, I was inspired to plan a dinner not of lamb or pollock, but of red snapper, prepared as the Greeks do, with vegetables and aromatics sauteed in olive oil. Below is a picture of the fish in question just before it was popped into the oven. The vegetable sauce provides leftovers; thinned with a little broth or water, it makes a lovely soup the next day. Capping the menu is a dessert of (what else) fruit. The Diners and I left the table happy, as if warmed by the sun.

Tapenade
Garlic bread

Red snapper Greek-style
Steamed asparagus

Fruit platter: mango, kiwi, and Cara Cara orange


 Red snapper Greek-style

At the fish market, look for a red snapper with bright, clear eyes. Once you have chosen your fish, ask the fishmonger to scale and clean it, but to leave the head and tail on. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat in a large skillet:

6 T. olive oil

Saute until translucent:

1 large leek, chopped
2 onions, chopped
As much garlic as you like, minced

Add and saute until vegetables are soft:

1 green pepper, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch dill, chopped
1 bunch fresh oregano, chopped
Salt and pepper

Add:

1 large can diced tomatoes 
1 c. white wine 

and cook for about 15 minutes. Spread this sauce in a large roasting pan. Take the fish out of the fridge and "make it swim again" by rinsing thoroughly in cold water. Dry on paper towels and rub inside and out with:

Salt and pepper
Lemon juice

Lay the fish atop the sauce and decorate with

Lemon slices

Butter a sheet of parchment and lay atop the fish, buttered side down. Bake at 400 degrees until the fish is flaky; mine, which was comparatively small at 1.5 pounds, took about 30 minutes.



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Best Dessert

I have given this blog a provocative title. Who in the world has the time to make a three-course dinner on a weeknight? Much depends on what one means by a three-course dinner. One of the ways I've found of making such a thing not just imaginable, but feasible, is to take another look at the dessert course.

When one goes out for dinner in an American restaurant, one is usually offered, after a heavy appetizer course and a main course in which the portions are much too large, a dessert menu full of choices that are tempting but also served in portions that are much too large. If fruit is offered, it is often with cookies or ice cream. This is both a mirror to and an influence on how Americans eat dessert at home, stashing cookies in the cupboard and ice cream in the freezer. I've come to the conclusion that this way of doing things is not only unhealthy and expensive, but also terribly misguided.

Fruit is the best dessert. It is our household's "default setting" for the third course. We have a somewhat fancier dessert, often in individual portions, at Sunday dinner and when we have guests, but eat raw fruit the rest of the time. Sometimes I may make a fruit salad and sprinkle a little Grand Marnier on the adults' servings; generally speaking, though, the fruit has to be good enough to stand on its own. To make this work, I've had to learn how to shop for and prepare it with the respect it deserves.

It's worth learning what's in season. Tropical fruits and citrus are our mainstay from about November, when local apples are waning, until early spring, when strawberries from California and the South become available. As warmth comes north, so does the fruit harvest. The peak experience, of course, is pick-your-own from a local orchard or berry patch; my own favorites here in Connecticut are Silverman's and Lyman Orchards. However, I've never met the raspberries that could match those from my mother's garden in central Illinois.

It's also worth spending the time on presentation. This is a chance to indulge one's fantasies of being on the Food Network. Whether it's careful cutting, a garnish of fresh herb, an attractive plate, or some combination of the above, presentation is, I've learned, half the battle. I like to serve fruit already cut up on a platter or on individual plates, and this satisfies the Diners' and my need for dessert. It's also true, of course, that no knife skills can disguise mealy apples, dry oranges, or plums without any flavor. Most fruit tastes better at room temperature, and if you're going to cut it up, this needs to be done as close to mealtime as possible to avoid drying out or browning. I either do this right before we sit down for dinner or postpone it until after the main course, though one problem with the latter approach is that the temptation to jettison the whole idea can then become irresistible. The Diners and I both tend to ignore fruit that is not cut up.

If you have kids who won't eat fruit, try arranging it in funny shapes (a face, an animal) or put out a platter and allow them to spear their choices with a fork.


Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen


Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Almost-Spring Dinner

Here is what I made for dinner tonight for two people whom I'll call Diner #1 and Diner #2. In an unusual turn of events, Diner #2, who has an archconservative palate, agreed with Diner #1 that the veal was tasty.


Haricots verts in lemon dressing


Veal cutlets in tomato-mushroom cream
Sauteed new potatoes with thyme


Fruit platter



Veal cutlets in tomato-mushroom cream

Soak for 1 hour:

1/2 c. dried mushrooms

in 1 c. salted hot water.

Dry thoroughly on paper towels:

3 veal cutlets, pounded very thinly

Sprinkle them on both sides with

Coarse salt and pepper

Saute until lightly browned in

Butter and olive oil

Set aside in a warm oven. In the drippings, saute for 3 minutes:

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
The soaked mushrooms, minced

Pour in the soaking liquid and

1/2 c. white wine

Bring to a boil and cook until sauce is reduced to about 1 and 1/2 cups. Add:

3/4 c. heavy cream

Correct the seasoning. Add the veal cutlets with any accumulated drippings and serve.

                                                                                                   Serves 3



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen







Play On

This is the story of a love affair, the first little flutter of which came, I think, when I was five and one of my aunts gave me a children's cookbook for Christmas. Let's Start to Cook!, screamed the salmon-pink binding. I took one look at the chocolate-crinkle-cookie recipe and said to my mother, "What's a double boiler?" My poor mother, not suspecting what she was getting herself into, dutifully guided me through the recipe, even allowing me to open and close the oven door. I burned myself more times than I can count doing that. What can I say. Burning oneself on an oven door is a rite of passage for Midwestern girls. It sealed my relationship with the oven, my blood sister.

Although I live on the East Coast and was educated here, when I start thinking about identity and roots and such, I put away Eastern things. I am a Midwestern woman, and the thing about Midwestern women is that we're amphibious creatures, part ardent feminists dancing around a bra fire, part Donna Reed. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, dear," my maternal grandmother, born in 1918 on a farm near Weldon, Illinois, told me over and over again as I was growing up. This same grandmother would later inform me, a first-year Bryn Mawrter bent on majoring in Russian literature, in no uncertain terms that she expected me to graduate summa cum laude. If I did not disappoint her, it was surely due in some measure to the distinct shortage of male hearts, stomachs, and other organs on campus.

I had always enjoyed cooking, but it was in college that something odd began to happen: whenever I was home on break, I cooked to relieve stress. My mother, who disliked cooking and avoided it whenever possible, was happy to see the freezer fill up with my creations. I cooked as other people smoke: blindly, unable to stop. I cooked to forget. In retrospect, it seems likely that some of the instincts I now possess---the ability to know whether a boiled egg is done, whether the center of a buttermilk biscuit is still wet, whether an unfamiliar recipe is any good---were developed during this time. In any case, by the time I got to grad school and was living on my own, the kitchen had begun to seem less like a laboratory full of dangerous equipment and more like a musical instrument inside whose resonating chamber I could live and play and be happy.

And so it is for me today: the kitchen is an instrument, and the music produced on it, along with being an everyday joy, connects me to other people far away in time and space. It is this music, this joy, these connections, that remain with me long after each meal, no matter how wonderful, has been consumed.



Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen