I wish I could say I loved Teju Cole's Open City, because it got rave reviews and seemed promising when I picked it up. Unfortunately, I found the book very hard to get through and when I did get finally get through it, I did not really feel like the work was worth it. Perhaps it is because I just need a little more plot to push me through a book. I read a lot of dry stuff for a living - as a lawyer I pretty much read all day, so when I read for fun I want a little escapism and storytelling. What Open City basically is is a narrative of what is going on in the main character Julius' head as he walks around New York. Just like the thoughts in your own head - sometimes this stuff is interesting and sometimes it is a total snooze. Julius is a doctor of Nigerian and German descent who is living in New York and finishing up his residency in psychiatry at what I assume is the hospital associated with Columbia University. Julius is what you would call a lost soul - he does not have strong connections to any people or community in New York. There are things in life he loves - such as an old professor and classical music - but even these things he seems to treat in a detached manner. I think it is this detachment that really made it hard for me to dig into Open City because the book felt aimless and without any real emotion. The book reads this way because this is how Julius' thoughts are - but for me this made for a tough read. These Akara fritters were more successful for me - they are not inspired by the book in any way other than that Julius grew up in Nigeria and this is a Nigerian dish. They are made with black eyed peas and a small amount of habanero chile that delivers a nice amount of heat. Paired with a red pepper dipping sauce, they were a winner.
Hello everyone! Sorry for being so remiss in my blogging of late. It has been a combination of my new job, passover, and the fact that it has taken me over a month to read a 250 page book that has kept me from bookcooker for so long! I finally finished that book (Open City by Teju Cole) yesterday and will be posting about it this weekend. But in the interim I will share with you this pretty asparagus tart. As the seasons change, I am always looking for that ultimate recipe for certain produce that only really shines once a year. Spring in particular is great for these things - asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, spinach - and at this time I year I feel like I am constantly eating asparagus. In a few weeks we will all be sick of it though, so hopefully this post catches you when you are still enamored of it. It is a rich tart that really lets the asparagus shine. It has a dramatic look to it that would look even cooler with a square or rectangle tart pan, but you can also make do with a round pan, as I did above. I thought the filo dough would mean making this tart is more weeknight friendly, but to be honest I found the filo just as fussy, if not more, as tart dough. But it adds a real lightness to the tart. This was an ambitious but doable weeknight meal for me but it also really screams brunch as it is basically a quiche. The recipe after the jump.
Happy almost passover. In the next couple of days I hope to squeeze in a few passover recipes, starting with this classic matzo ball soup. This is often referred to as Jewish penicillin and is just a very simple but rich chicken soup of matzo dumplings. The recipe I made is from Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa). Matzo ball soup has always intimidated me, as it is so hard to get the matzo ball just right. It is a fairly simple thing - just a dumpling made with matzo meal instead of flour, but when a matzo ball is good it is heavenly - light and airy but rich with chicken flavor. Conversely, when a matzo ball is bad it is like a hockey puck made of paste. So there is a lot of pressure there to get it right. Growing up, I would say at least half the time my mom bought her matzo balls from the local deli. I remember she also had the same matzo ball anxiety that I now have. I remember some years she would come to the table after serving us frustrated with how her matzo balls turned out. I do remember always loving whatever matzo balls she serve, whether she thought they were good or not, because of course she was serving them. Unfortunately I do not have her matzo ball recipe so was forced to go to backup in the Jewish recipe department, Ina. I made this batch of soup earlier this week as a dry run for the soup I will make for my family this weekend. These matzo balls were great and the soup was fantastic, but to mimic my mothers matzo balls this weekend I will eliminate the herbs - it will make them plainer but that is what a matzo ball should be - humble and homely.
Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters is a wonderful novel that is at its heart about sisterly love. The novel is narrated by all three of the Andreas sisters. I don't mean that novel is divided between each sister narrating in the first person but instead they all narrate together, a collective "we." This narrative trick is just one of the things that makes this novel so charming. What is also charming is that the characters often speak to each other in Shakespearean verse. The father of the three sisters is a professor at a small but prestigious college in Ohio that has devoted his life to the study of the bard. His deep knowledge of Shakespeare was passed on to his daughters - whether they wanted it or not - and the family communicates both trivial and important things to each other through Shakespeare's words. The three sisters are named after characters in Shakespeare's plays - Rosalind (Rose) from As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) from The Taming of the Shrew (and Othello) and Cordelia (Cordy) the favored daughter from King Lear. The book follows these three very different sisters as they all come home, really for their own reasons but also to help care for their mother, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Each sister, while dealing with their mother's illness is also dealing with a major crossroads in her life, and it is the time the sisters spend together that helps each sister move forward. These pancakes were inspired by a meal the family had together, the first meal cooked for them by the prodigal daughter, Cordelia. I fancied up the pancakes with some fresh ricotta cheese and Meyer lemon. A wonderful easy brunch dish.