Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In Paris one summer, I was told by my then husband that when speaking French, instead of sounding correctly guttural, my "r"s sounded aspirated, which is kind of a nice way of saying your accent sucks, and you’re talking like an American. Blessed with a fairly good ear for language, this did not sit well with me. I wanted to blend in. I wanted everyone to speak to me as if I was a native, to be dumbfounded when I revealed my nationality. I would not accept my aspirated American "r"s as a linguistic handicap. No way. I would no longer say, “Mehci beaucoup. Au revoih, à tout à l’euh!” Oh no. That would call me out instantly. Nor would I stand to utter anything so derogatory as “J’adoh les escahgots avec du beuh et du pehsil,” about those elegant French snails. I had a plan, and for my plan, I needed a new name, a disguise. On the walk back from the heart of Paris to my husband’s father’s house, I became Véronique.
“Exaggerate the sound; it’s aggressive, that "r",” encouraged my Swiss-French husband, and not feeling like American Banu while pronouncing these very foreign sounds, Véronique provided my cover. Véronique could read every word and sentence in sight, aggressively pronounce the "r"s, and add an extra feminine French flair to the rest: crème caramels, crème fraiche, rapide, rapide, les Citroëns, les livraisons, arrêt de bus, marché aux Puces, gésiers d'oie, etc. By the time we reached our destination, and with some helpful tips from my then husband, I was sounding more like a French person. Or more like Véronique, anyway.
I mention all of this because I need another name. I have a new video camera, and I’m learning a new language. The video posted here is my first attempt at filming or editing anything and it is a beginning. I’d like to introduce a regular video element to my blog, and I’ve decided that it will be an experiment in content and in style, and that I’ll allow it to evolve. So, in honor of René Clair, and his fantastic Dadaist film, Entr'acte, which I have only recently seen, I have dubbed myself René. My humble first video is like a full spoken minute of aspirated "r"s, but I’ll practice, and in doing so, I might just one day be able to flawlessly pronounce my self-given alter egos' names. And in the meantime, I’m going to go enjoy some of these tasty shrimp cakes. À tout à l'heurrre.
Ginger-Lemongrass Shrimp Cakes Recipe
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemongrass, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon salt
Put the first five ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whiz them around. Add the shrimp and the salt, and process until everything is combined. Form the shrimp mixture into a log using plastic wrap. Unwrap, and cut into inch-thick pieces. Steam for about five minutes in a bamboo steamer, or pan-fry over medium-high heat until crispy on one side, then flip, and cook briefly on the other. For textural contrast, I steamed half of the shrimp cakes, and pan-fried the other. Serve immediately with the following sauce.
Spicy Thai-Style Dipping Sauce Recipe
Note from Banu: this made enough sauce for the amount of shrimp cakes in the above recipe, but you could double it if you wanted more. I added maple syrup because I was out of regular sugar, and I liked it, and will probably use it in other Thai dressings I make, as it didn’t overwhelm with maple flavor, as I suspected it would.
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
juice of 1 lime
1 serrano chile, sliced (or sliced red Thai bird chiles, for more heat)
red pepper flakes, to taste
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Nearly ten years ago, I spent a few dark winter weeks in Sweden while co-staging CRWDSPCR, a work of Merce Cunningham’s, for the Royal Swedish Ballet. It was detailed, exhausting work, the first time I’d attempted a staging, and mostly, my friend Tom and I worked in a basement dance studio, with only a few tiny portholes near the ceiling to let in a brief amount of the already scarce light. The sun worked fewer hours than we did, and concurrently, so we missed each other daily. I’d wake and eat breakfast in the dark, walk to the theater by the light of the streetlamps, and by the time our work day was finished, the sun had passed cocktail hour, eaten dinner, and was already off to bed.
But even in the winter black, there is plenty in Sweden to be happy about. While there, I ate reindeer with lingonberries, västerbotten cheese tarts, avocado halves filled with löjrom, the mild orange vendace fish caviar, rye flatbreads with pickled herring of every sort (curry, mustard, spiced, creamed, in wine sauce, with juniper berries), gorgeous and tall sandwiches on seeded bread with sprouts, and salmon with potatoes covered in lemony dill sauce. As an aperitif, I drank caraway and cumin aquavit from delicate glasses, and for dessert I tried barely sweetened and cardamon scented cakes and breads, some braided, some with cream fillings.
I’m remembering Sweden because of a recipe. Claudia, who found this recipe in an online Swedish newspaper, was a foreign exchange student to my cousin Sarah long ago, and sent it to me via the only email chain letter I didn’t break, a recipe chain. Claudia has a German father and a Swedish mother, and in the many years since her time in Ohio, has become part of the family. When I was still in high school, I visited Claudia in Hamburg, Germany, where we ate plentiful breakfasts of whole grain breads and cheeses and jams and butter to spread with those quaint Swedish butter and jam paddles I would purchase years later for myself, on that dark trip to Stockholm.
I like the addition of coffee in this recipe, and in the interest of healthy eating, I substituted agave nectar (see note in recipe below) for the sugar, and swapped out one cup of regular flour for whole wheat pastry flour. Even healthier, now, this recipe is easy and delicious. Make it next time you have some extra ripe bananas lying around, or if you’re craving a little sunshine in your kitchen. Thanks, Claudia. Thanks, Sweden.
Swedish Whole Wheat Banana Bread Recipe
5.3 ounces butter
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup of agave nectar, but you could use up to a cup for a sweeter cake) note: Whoops. I just heard about the myth of healthy agave and will write about it soon.
2 cups flour (I used one cup all-purpose unbleached white with germ, and one cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 medium sized ripe bananas
1/4 cup cold coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Centigrade), and grease a round baking form, round with a hole in the middle, diameter about 11 to 12 inches, or use a non-stick one. (I used a rectangular loaf pan)
Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer and then add the two eggs and mix again until fluffy.
Mash the bananas with a fork.
Add the flour, baking soda and baking powder, bananas, and coffee to the dough and mix again.
Pour the dough into the cake pan.
Bake for about 45 minutes in the lower part of the oven. After cooling down you may cover the cake with icing or powdered sugar.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Stinging nettle is more common in Europe than it is in the United States, so it’s no wonder I first encountered it while hiking between Pringy and Pâquier, Switzerland. My then husband pointed out the nettle while describing a wild herb soup his mother used to make, and, eager to experiment, I pulled up a spiny stalk with my bare hands, too quick to heed his fervent admonitions as he watched me harvesting. Needless to say, we didn’t eat soup that evening, and I soothed the burning red welts on my hands for more than a day with healing clay.
But there is something seductive about an herb that can be so dangerous and so healthy at the same time. With some protection, and proper cooking technique, this defensive plant turns into a nurturer: long known as a medicinal herb for treating myriad conditions from arthritis to moodiness, it is high in vitamins A, B, C, D and K, and contains lots of protein, too. I wait eagerly every spring for the nettle to arrive at my food coop, and this week, after reading about Italian nettle gnocchi online, purchased several bunches, some for the gnocchi, and some to freeze for later, for that soup.
After a few minutes in simmering water the nettle loses its sting, and the cooking water becomes nettle tea. While it’s simmering, nettle smells and tastes vaguely of the sea, but mixed into these gnocchi, it adds a welcome touch of sweetness and a gorgeous deep green color. Inspired by this blog entry, I made two sauces for accompaniment: a cream sauce made by heating a little heavy cream with some garlic, sage, and melted Verde Capra, an Italian blue goats’ milk cheese (unspecific proportions; I suggest improvising), and, the following day, I added some crushed tomatoes to the leftover cream mixture to make a savory tomato-cream sauce.
My father, who was on his way to Milan, Italy on Friday when he was grounded by Eyjafjallajökull’s ash, ate both versions, and proclaimed the tomato-cream sauce superior. I agreed, thanked him for testing my humble first gnocchi, and now I'll thank you, too, Icelandic volcano, for allowing us to have to have some pretty great father-daughter time, with or without these gnocchi. Thank you, volcano. And now you can stop, ok? I've got a flight to Paris in a couple of weeks...
Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe
8 ounces nettle, rinsed, trimmed and blanched for 3-4 minutes, until tender (please wear gloves for the rinsing and trimming part)
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cubed, and cooked in simmering water until fork tender
about 2 cups of all-purpose flour with the germ
pinch of salt
After squeezing all the water out of the cooked nettle, whiz the nettle around in a food processor for a while, or chop it finely.
In a large bowl, mash the cooked potatoes and stir in the chopped nettle.
Turn the potato mixture out onto a floured surface, and make a well in the center. Add the egg and the flour, and working from the center out, gather all the potato and the flour until a soft ball forms. Do not overwork.
Form the dough into a large log (covering with flour if necessary), cut medium sized pieces from this log and form them into smaller, skinnier logs. Cut inch-long pieces from these skinny logs, and roll in flour.
Flour the back of a fork, and with your thumb, roll the individual gnocchi off the back of the fork, creating ridges on one side, and a concave area on the backside. These ridges will help hold the sauce.
For a first time gnocchi maker, I found it helpful to look at these gnocchi-making videos. That Claudio sure looks trustworthy, doesn't he?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
My parents’ house in Turkey is on the Western side of the Bodrum peninsula, and, when first traveling here as a teenager, and for the entire fifteen hour drive along the coast, I listened to Sezen Aksu’s Sen Ağlama album on my new walkman. I flipped this tape over and over, and imagined a fictional adult life with the Turkish boy crush I left in Istanbul, a sullen teen attempting to remove myself from the sweaty reality of the cramped backseat of my parents’ car. A side, B side, A side, B side, sen ağlama, dayanamam, benimle ol, bu gece, geri dön: overly sentimental Turkish song lyrics about the moon, the sea, the luminous phosphorescence of the moon’s reflection in the sea, and love, sunset, more love, tonight, you and me and the sea and the luminescence, and then I would look out the window of the car at the real sea, and the real cliffs, and the real dramatic landscape that was this distant and unfamiliar other part of my culture, and well, so, as a half-Turkish American, I have been romanticizing being in this house since I was seventeen years old.
The garden here is a paradise of hibiscus, tangly blue and fragrant white jasmine, bougainvillea, pomegranate and bay trees, and a grape vine that my father has trained to climb the side of the house. Two years ago, I harvested a few bunches of green grapes at the end of the summer, and this year, the vines will be old enough to provide shade on the rooftop, where I may sit with a chilly Efes beer and some Turkish pistachios while I watch the sunset over the island that's close enough to swim to. This little bit of land on the Aegean sea is my perfect place on earth.
It takes no cooking skills to make a delectable meal here, as the produce is the Mediterranean sun. Combine a tomato, some garlic, an eggplant and a green pepper, add some buttery rice and a free-range chicken, and you’ve ingested that sun, and it will warm your insides. I have several individual weeks of work in Europe this summer, and I’m trying to figure out how to combine a teaching trip to Bern, Switzerland with a little beach time vacation, and, with Turkey on my mind, I made this spinach, egg and lemon soup. Not as perfumed as it would have been made with those Turkish ingredients, it still managed to conjure sentimental memories of Sezen Aksu, mandarin orange blossoms, and the cool, refreshing Aegean sea. (And some luminescence, too.)
Spinach Soup (Ispanak çorbası)
From Ayla Algar’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking
Put 6 cups of the beef stock (I used chicken stock) in a large pan with the carrots and the celery root; simmer until the vegetables are tender. Wash the spinach several times; shred finely, and add to the pan of soup. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the spinach is cooked.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Blend in the flour and stir over medium heat until smooth and bubbly. Heat and stir in 2 cups remaining stock, mixing with a wire whisk. Gradually pour this mixture into the soup and simmer 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice, gradually stir 1 cup of the hot soup into the mixture and blend well. Return this into the soup stirring constantly. Add the dill and parsley. Bring just to the boiling point and remove from heat. Correct the salt.
2 quarts beef stock (or chicken, or vegetable stock)
3 medium carrots, cut into shoestring pieces
1/2 cup celery root (optional), cut into shoestring pieces
3/4 lb. spinach
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Yes, those asparagus stalks and tender broccolini branches are gorgeous, but the parsley topping I made for them is addictive. I can spoon it up straight, finish the entire bowl in one sitting. In fact, I’ll call it salad. Years ago, I made it as a garnish for a white bean soup, and, not so enamored by the soup, I have since made it several times, on its own, for spreading on crusty French baguettes, and today, it became a nice dressing for some steamed spring vegetables. If I hadn’t hidden the remainder in the back of the refrigerator, I’d have eaten it all, one garlicky spoonful at a time, making excuses to get near the kitchen table for another bite.
Not only delicious, this spring greenery is pretty good for us, too. High in vitamins K, C, A and folic acid, parsley is also known to contain volatile oils that can neutralize certain carcinogens. Asparagus, possessing additional A and C, is rich in B vitamins and several minerals, too. Broccolini, a cross between conventional broccoli and Kai Lan, and known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, triples the antioxidant power of the vitamin C and A in the parsley and asparagus, and tastes pretty sweet, too.
I’ve been craving fruits and vegetables lately, and returned from the food coop with mangoes, blood oranges, apples, blueberries, bananas, and lots of vegetables. It’s warm in New York and, after taking an intensely physical dance class and sweating a lot in this eighty degree weather, there’s nothing like a plate of healthy green things and a juicy mango for dessert to replenish.
Steamed Asparagus and Broccolini with Parsley-Parmigiano Reggiano “Gremolata” Recipe
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 bunch broccolini, trimmed
For the “gremolata”:
1 large bunch parsley, washed and minced, stems included
2 cloves garlic, minced
about a half a cup of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or less, depending on your taste, I like it vinegary)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Set up a steamer, and steam the vegetables until al dente.
Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the gremolata, and set aside.
Toss the cooked vegetables with a bit of the gremolata, and serve immediately.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
From the bench where I sit in the Greenwood Cemetery I can see the Brooklyn Bank building, the working industrial piers of New York harbor, the high rises in midtown Manhattan (and a corner of its namesake's bridge), the obelisk tombstones of Culbert and Lowe and Mac Donald, and engravings on them with sentimental phrases like, “Our Only Treasure”, and, above the graves, thousands of cherry blossoms slowly pushing their way out of winter’s hibernation. It is warm enough to pick up grass blades with my bare toes as I write, and to want to gather my hair up off my neck. Spring is really here, and I am surprised.
I did not expect to feel this warm breeze so soon, and yet, as sure as the sweet, pervasive scent of these magnolia blossoms, the confident yellow wall of burgeoning forsythia marking the edge of a wobbly stone path here, even as sure as the hesitant crocuses that gingerly test the air before unfurling their delicate purple leaves, spring has definitely arrived.
Expectations / impermanence. It’s simple: I did not expect spring, and the impermanence of winter suddenly became evident. And as this perfect day passes, I’ll not hold onto it with slippery fingers. This treasure is today's treasure. Tomorrow holds its own unique beauty.
I read some of Rumi's poems while I was in the cemetery, coincidentally flipped directly to the spring section of the anthology, and connected with the romance of all of this renewal surrounding me. Romantic spring, I'm happy you're here.
"Flutes for Dancing", by Jelaluddin Rumi, with translation by Coleman Barks
It’s lucky to hear the flutes for dancing
coming down the road. The ground is glowing.
The table is set in the yard.
We will drink all this wine tonight
because it’s Spring. It is.
It’s a growing sea. We’re clouds
over the sea,
or flecks of matter
in the ocean when the ocean seems lit from within.
I know I’m drunk when I start this ocean talk.
Would you like to see the moon split
in half with one throw?
and, from "A Great Wagon":
Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.
If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.
Cauliflower and Dandelion Green Gratin with Gingery Coconut Milk and Panko Crumb Crust Recipe
Note from Banu: Full disclosure: I actually didn’t really like this week’s concoction so much, but I’m posting it nonetheless because it’s a healthy dish, and who knows? Perhaps this will become someone’s favorite recipe. The bitter dandelion greens are a nice foil for the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk, and the cauliflower and turmeric are a classic combination, and together, provide more protection against cancer than they do alone. This is a fine recipe, it’s just no perfect spring day.
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets, and blanched in salted boiling water
1 bunch of dandelion greens, chopped, and added to the simmering cauliflower water for the last minute or so of cooking, to just wilt the greens.
1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon turmeric root, minced (or you could use powdered turmeric, but use less of it)
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of soy flour (or brown rice flour)
1 14 oz can of coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Panko crumbs, about 1/4 cup
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, and cook until soft. Add the garlic, turmeric, and ginger and cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in the soy flour and cook briefly, stirring constantly. Slowly add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then let simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine the blanched cauliflower and the wilted dandelion greens with the sauce. Pour everything into an 8 x 8 x 2 inch (or similarly sized) baking dish, and top with the panko crumbs. Bake in the oven until bubbly and golden brown. (I put mine under the broiler for a few minutes to get a good crust.)