My favorites – reading, cooking, Paris, introspection

Sometimes when I read a book I really like, I do a Facebook post recommending it, and every now and then I get really inspired and write a blog.

This blog combines a book, my transparent emotional life, and this god-awful earache I am experiencing.

Today I finished “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn.  And knives notwithstanding, I cried when I read the last pages.

I’m having an emotional day.  I have an awful ear infection and I feel miserably ill.  In my usual style, I waited way too long to see the doctor and I now know why little kids cry and pull their ears.  So when one doesn’t feel good physically, it is easy to feel emotionally crappy.  I have no job and have not had one for nearly a year.  I am told that is enough to make anyone cry.  Last week I had a conversation with a friend about not working, depression, insanity.  As you can see, our talk apparently degenerated rapidly.  I told her I had decided years ago that I was intellectually insane.  Defined by me – I’m so overly-analytical that no matter how hard I try, I cannot always tell how I feel because I’m intellectualizing everything instead of just being.  This may be why I’m not feeling crazy about being unemployed and almost broke; I just keep thinking about it.  And turning it over.  And looking at it from the right and the left and the top and the bottom.  And concluding there is no reason to be depressed.  I’m alive.  I have a great family and nice friends and a dog I adore.  I love where I live.  What good would being depressed do?  Attitude is everything.  Right?  But part of me “feels” like crap.  I think I say all this to try to explain why I cried over a book I loved without good reason.  For one requires a reason to weep?

I am programmed to have loved this book.  A woman is laid off from her job, depletes her savings account, moves to Paris, attends and graduates from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, falls in love and gets married, learns tons about herself, and writes a book about it.

eiffel-tower-dayle cordon bleu

I learned again I know nothing about cooking.  The hardest, and by hardest I mean most time-consuming and detailed thing I have ever made, recipe I have ever followed, is Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon.  Recipe here if you have a snowy Sunday afternoon to spare.

http://www.tablespoon.com/recipes/julia-childs-beef-bourguignon-recipe/1/

julia-childs-beef-bourguignon-lg-150455

After I did it, I swore I’d never do it again.  But time has dulled the memory of this undertaking and I’m planning on doing it soon.  This winter.  Why not?  It was fabulous.  I think everyone who loves to cook should stretch now and again.  It’s good for you.  Kathleen Flinn cooked every single day like this.  I’m impressed.  Her book includes recipes.

The very end of this book, there is a paragraph that reads as follows:

How many tears did I cry because I didn’t know what I wanted?  “The sharper your knife,” as Chef Savard had said, “the less you cry.”  For me, it also means to cut those things that get in the way of your passion and of living your life the way it’s meant to be lived.

Also from the book – toward the beginning (I looked hard to find this passage for you):

“Chef says that with a dull knife, it’s true, you end up pressing too hard on the onion.  This crushes the cells, causing volatile oils from the onion to be released, and it’s the oil that makes you cry.”

onions

I was also very happy about how much written French I understood – like 98% of it.  The cooking and the French relate like this.  I am considered a decent cook by lots of people – even myself.  I can speak French – more than most and some people think I am actually good at it.  But here is what these two things have in common.  I cook enough to know I’m not that good.  I speak enough French to know I’m not that good.  But I keep on trying and enjoy learning more.

Kathleen Flinn met Julia Child twice – the first time at a food writer’s workshop.  Also from the book:

She took copious notes of the morning’s session.  As we broke for lunch, she closed her notebook with a satisfied smile.  “I always love to come to this workshop.  You learn so much. “This amazed me. After all, she was Julia freakin’ Child.  I assumed she knew everything there was to know about food and cooking.  I politely told her so.  She laughed.  “Oh, no, you can never know everything about anything, especially something you love,” she said, patting me on the knee.  “Besides, I started late.”

juliachildmastering-the-art-of-french-cooking

Kathleen Flinn grabbed the opportunity that presented itself to her.  It wasn’t exactly what she wanted but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.  She was brave and she was rewarded with a wonderful experience.

In conclusion (laughing at myself), I loved this book.  I can see lots of my reading friends loving it.  Especially those who like to ponder, cook, travel, learn.  Those who strive for something a little more.  Those who have considered, if only for a moment, of tossing it all and doing something different.

Happy Reading my friends!

http://www.amazon.com/Sharper-Your-Knife-Less-You/dp/0143114131/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359164666&sr=1-1&keywords=kathleen+flinn

Soup

Several of my friends have suggested I should write about cooking.  And with that I mind, I am going to write about soup.

I love soups and stews.  I like eating them, making them – I love chopping.  I have a nice big heavy knife that I keep reasonably sharp and I could chop all day.  When I was working and I had a bad day, I would think of something to make for dinner that required a lot of chopping and swing into Stop & Shop on the way home to buy it.  I’d walk in the door, change my clothes, don an apron, pour a nice big glass of wine and start chopping.  I found it relaxing and therapeutic.  I love chopping.  So I’ve said – twice.

Anyhow, soup is something that usually requires lots of chopping so here is my story.  Recently I have been wanting soups with beans.  I was at a friend’s house looking at a pile of cooking magazines she had saved.  And I came across a recipe for Ribollita.  The recipe is here.

FNM030111_075

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/slow-cooker-ribollita-recipe/index.html

And the first time I made it, I followed the recipe pretty closely.  But I have made soups in the slow-cooker several times since then following the same basic idea and they have come out nice and tasty.

Wikipedia tells us about Ribollita – link here also.  Seems to me that it is everything that is left in your fridge but we don’t always do that in this country so the recipe above is another way to do it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribollita

But now I get to my point.  For less than bold cooks who worry about cooking without a recipe, you can do this.  And make your soup any way you want it to be.  The last time I made a bean soup, here is how I did it.  I have a very big oval slow-cooker.  I used one cup of dry white northern beans.  But you could use any dried bean you want.  I use about 7 or 8 cups of water per cup of dry beans.  You don’t have to pre-soak or cook the beans.  Just use enough water.  Then I went to the refrigerator and my vegetable basket.  I added to the slow-cooker most of a bunch of celery that I chopped.  Maybe 6 or 8 chopped carrots.  Coarse chop, not fine mincing – you are making a hearty stew.  I had half a box of mushrooms.  I cut those up.  I had some fresh parsley so I chopped and threw that in.  My mother had given me a baggie full of fresh brussel sprouts.  I washed them and cut off the bottoms and outer leaves, and then cut them in half the long way and put them in.  An onion.  A whole head of garlic.  A big hunk of cheddar cheese cubed.  And about a half pound of bacon that I diced up – raw, not cooked.  That was about it.  Put the cover on the slow-cooker and turn it on.  About 5 hours on high.  If you’re going to be at work all day, turn it on low.

But please be sure to turn it on.  One time in the relatively recent past, I set up my slow-cooker and plugged it in and went to work without turning it on.  Luckily someone was home that day and noticed that the lovely aroma usually created by a roast and vegetables in the crockpot was non-existent.  Not kidding.  He turned it on.  Thank goodness as company was coming for dinner.  But I digress.

So essentially what I ended up with was a slow-cooker about 2/3 of the way full and the amount of water just covered everything in it.

So you can make this same soup using any vegetables – broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, green beans, spinach – whatever you like.  I like tomatoes in my soup but not always all the juice.  One time when I made it, I drained a can of tomatoes and threw in the solid pieces right at the end.  That worked out well.  Any meat – bacon, pancetta, chunked up chicken, hamburger, sausage, diced pieces of boneless beef or pork.  Any dried beans you like.  Or any combination of beans – just use enough water.  You could substitute wine or chicken broth for some of the water.  Be careful if you use chicken broth.  One time I did and my soup was a little too salty.  And it is hard to get salt out.  You can add more at the table if you like but once it’s in, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

Here is a picture of my last soup using this method.  I am available to advise insecure cooks.  And would love to.  Make it your own!  Good Luck and let me know if you try it.

soup

All my fault

So something not-so-good happened this week and it’s all my fault.  Did you ever do something just a little wrong but not worry about it because it didn’t really matter and no one got hurt?  Well I did and it had some not-so-good consequences.

I was driving into my condo last Thursday morning.  My complex has a turnaround at the end of the main road and I live off that turnaround.  From way back I can see there is a school bus stopped with the red lights blinking.  So I stop behind the bus and I wait.  And I wait.  And I wait.  At least two minutes, maybe three.  I can see my parking space from where I am parked.  I see no kids, no Moms, no open doors out of which a kid might spring.  I wait some more.  Then I very slowly drive around the bus and proceed to my parking space.  I pull into my spot and the bus is still not moving but I can see that a Mom is standing in the doorway of the bus talking to the driver.  I get out of the car and head for my door and notice the bus is finally moving.  And I’m thinking that it is not very nice to expect someone to just sit behind them waiting while they chit-chat but I really don’t care.  I’m easy.  I go in my house and don’t give it another thought.

And yesterday in the mail, I got an envelope from the Bristol Police Department Traffic Division.  And it contained a note with four black and white pictures of my car going around the bus.  It also contained a ticket for $465.  Yup, you read that right.  $465.  I hardly know what to do about this.  I know I broke the law.  I did it consciously.  Didn’t really worry about it.  And I still think what I did was OK, albeit illegal.

But I don’t have a job.  Coming up on one year – February 7.  $465 would pay half my mortgage; two months of condo fees; it would pay my cable, phone, internet, gas, electric for one month; it would almost pay my monthly Cobra bill.  It would pay off 1/3 of the money I spent getting my car fixed last month – I wrote one of those checks that your credit card company sends – no interest for one year.  That was $1400.  That was bad but I had to do it.  I have to have a car.  I live day-to-day, dollar-to-dollar.  This is ridiculous that $465 is disastrous to me, but it is.

I used to have a job.  I used to make money.   I used to go to Europe every two years.  I traveled all the time.  I spent a fortune on Christmas presents.  I went out for sushi a couple of times a week.  When I went to Maine, I brought a cooler full of steaks, chicken, and pork chops.  I bought lobsters.  I brought bags of fresh vegetables, vodka and wine.  I lived the way I wanted to.  All the time.  And now I don’t do any of this.  And now a $465 traffic ticket is a disaster.  OK.  I’ve told my story.  I’m still depressed about this but maybe 10% less for telling my story.  Thanks for listening/reading.