Archive for May, 2014

May dinner: The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

May 31, 2014

The Classical Cookbook is one of the little treasures of my cookbook shelf, a collection of recipes drawn from ancient Greek and Roman sources and presented both in their original form and in kitchen-tested modernized versions. I’ve done several dishes out of this book before and they’ve always been interesting, so this month E and I dug in again and found a handful of new things to try.

E laid a nice table with a blue theme, including wooden trenchers and our Maho glass plates.

No dining couches, but few classical touches.

No dining couches, but few classical touches.

For a starter, I made honey-glazed shrimp, a Greek recipe.

Shrimp glazed with honey, fish sauce, and olive oil

Shrimp glazed with honey, fish sauce, and olive oil

The main course was a fancy Roman salad made with cold chicken and sausage along with nuts and cucumbers and molded in a shell of bread. Mine didn’t mold particularly well, but it still tasted good. The dressing was particularly interesting; made with honey, wine, mint, and coriander, it tasted quite unlike what we’re used to these days. I also cooked mushrooms to go on the side.

Chicken salad in a not-very-well-made bread shell

Chicken salad in a not-very-well-made bread shell

Mushrooms coked in honey and wine

Mushrooms cooked in honey and wine

Dessert was a pear patina. A patina is a Roman dish made with an egg base and various additions for flavor. Some are quite dense, like an omelet, but this one was a little lighter and more like a custard, flavored with pear and sweet wine.

Patina of pear

Patina of pear

I always set aside a full afternoon for these monthly dinners. Part of the fun of it all is spending three or four hours in the kitchen. I was surprised at how quickly all of these recipes came together. I was ready to serve dinner an hour earlier than I had been planning for. Fortunately, E was quite flexible and we went ahead and tucked into an early dinner.  We, quite properly, drank wine with our dinner.

A Greco-Roman dinner

A Greco-Roman dinner


April dinner: Cooking Down East, Marjorie Standish

May 19, 2014

Now that May is more than half over, it’s time to report on the April dinner. April went a lot better than March in this respect, and we had a very satisfactory dinner.

My cookbook for this month is an old standby, Marjorie Standish’s Cooking Down East. This cookbook is a little piece of home for me, as I bet it is for a lot of my fellow Mainers. It is the bible of classic Maine cookery and even flopping open its pages and glancing over the familiar type is nostalgic. This is the sort of cookbook that gives advice on how to dig your own dandelion greens and starts off recipes with: “Try out a piece of salt pork in a spider,” on the assumption that the reader will not only have these items on hand, but will know exactly what they are and what to do with them. (Heat a piece of fatty salted pork slowly in a cast-iron frying to render the fat out of it for cooking.)

I have done plenty of cooking out of this book in my time, but it was fun to go through and look for recipes I haven’t tried before. We ended up with a very satisfying dinner.

We started with baked scallops rolled in bread crumbs.

Baked scallops.  Not quite the same as the ones freshly harvested by my father the diver, but still pretty good.

Baked scallops. Not quite the same as the ones freshly harvested by my father the diver, but still pretty good.

For a main course we had stifled beef served with lyonnaise potatoes and fried cabbage.

Stifled beef is cooked long and slow in the oven to make it tender.  The cabbage and potatoes both go very nicely with it.

Stifled beef is cooked long and slow in the oven to make it tender. The cabbage and potatoes both go very nicely with it.

Dessert was a hot milk cake with broiled coconut icing.

On the whole, I don't do well with cakes.  This one came out pretty well, though.

On the whole, I don’t do well with cakes. This one came out pretty well, though.

E made a nice simple table setting for this dinner. I appreciated the touch of green, especially at the end of a long winter that just wouldn’t go away.

A classic setting for classic food.

A classic setting for classic food.


May 10, 2014

I’m in a little lull between final exams– finished grading what I have, waiting for more to come in. I’m getting a little of my sanity back. In these past few days I’ve been thinking about the people who are important in my life but who rarely hear it from me because it’s not the sort of thing we talk about, so here goes:

My father. I owe him some of my best qualities: patience, curiosity, a Horatian kindness in the face of human foibles, a love of terrible puns (some may quibble on the “bestness” of this quality). I learned so much from him when I was young, without even realizing I was learning anything. Lately I’ve been noticing how much I have become like him, from the little things like how I fold my hands at the table when I’ve finished dinner to the big things like how I muse and doodle my way to the solutions to my problems. If I have anything I can call wisdom, it is because I learned it from my father.

My mother. If my father made me wise, my mother made me smart. I have never seen her face a problem she couldn’t solve, all with self-possession and confidence. I don’t have her gifts for dealing with people (or with plants, though I keep at it), but she taught me to think on my feet, to get up and try again, to make do with what I have but to keep trying to make myself better. I would like to think that I have inherited some of her roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done-ness (though, sometimes I could use a little more of it). I am a better, happier, more successful person because of all that my mother has done for me.

My sister. I always looked up to her, and I still do. She went first into everything and I followed, hoping to live up to her example. We had our fights when we were very small, like all siblings do, but we grew out of that pretty quickly and she was the big sister everyone should be lucky enough to have: smart, supportive, and fun to be with. I miss our long, meandering, sometimes giggly talks in the kitchen late into the night. We have ended up living in different places and working in different, though related, areas, but she is still the person I look up to and think: “I’m gonna be like her someday.”

My family-in-law. From the moment I arrived in the Helsinki airport for the first time and found one of my future sisters-in-law waiting to greet me and help get me to the train station, I have felt nothing but welcomed and loved in my new family. They have spoken English for me and tolerated my halting Finnish, fed me delicious food and sent me licorice for Christmas, even as I took their daughter/big sister away to a faraway land. They have always made me feel at home, even when it must have been hard to do, and I am so grateful for all of it.

There are many others who could, and by all rights should, be on this list, but these are the people I’ve been thinking of lately. I love you all and am grateful to have you in my life.

Almost done

May 4, 2014

Classes are over and the other business of the semester is wrapping up. Last week I spent more time in meetings than in class. Now I have a full week of not having to be on campus and it’s great. I still have a bunch of final projects and final exams still to come in and be graded, two graduation ceremonies to attend, and a big department meeting to wrap it all up, but the end is in sight.

It was a rough semester. I had some problem students and some difficult days in class. The weather just made things worse as we had a long winter than just wouldn’t go away and spring has been cold, wet, and slow to get moving. I’m always tired at the end of the semester, but this spring has been particularly exhausting.

The bright spot of the spring is getting tenure. I expected that achieving tenure would feel good, but I’m still surprised at how much it has changed my outlook. For years now I’ve had the thought always in my mind: “I ought to serve on this committee / apply to this conference / write this article / teach in this program / etc. because it will look good on my tenure application.” Now that’s gone. Now I feel more clear-headed and less conflicted about doing the things I care about and bowing out of the things I don’t.

I have few big plans for the summer. I mean to send out an article and work on preparing a book manuscript and looking for a publisher. I have the usual work of preparing for fall classes. I’m going to try growing peas and cucumbers out back and see if I can get some fruit off the trees this year. I will definitely be visiting Maine (though we’ve decided not to go to Finland). Right now, though, I just need to take some time to sleep, cook, write fiction, play games, be with E, and the other things that help restore my energy, because this spring has wiped me out.