Marie Cooks Skyrim: Juniper Berry Crostata

When looking at the list of foods in Skyrim, Juniper Berry Crostata always seemed like it would be a challenge. Juniper berries are pungent, and an entire dessert made of them would taste overpowering. I spent a while looking up recipes that included juniper to see what flavors might go together… and then one day I saw it. In a listicle of recipes using juniper, I saw a reference to a honey-glazed pear and plumb pie with juniper berries. Perfect, I thought. But the link didn’t work and no matter how much I looked for the recipe online, it was nowhere to be found. So I went and wrote a recipe myself, using 4 or 5 other recipes as guidelines. I sat on it for a while, unsure of myself. Last weekend, however, I finally made it. I was thrilled with how it turned out – the flavors of the pie were perfectly balanced and the juniper came through every so often with a sharp little surprise. My husband (formerly a professional baker for 10 years) said it was one of the best baked goods he ever had and couldn’t stop raving about how good it was. I’m so pleased with how it turned out and so excited to share it with you.

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Revisiting Disney: Aladdin

Revisiting Disney is a small project I’ve slowly been working on over the years to re-watch all the classic animated Disney princess movies. The goal has been to see what I think of them as an adult and view them through a feminist lens. This has been enjoyable for nostalgic reasons and because some of these movies have fantastic music and beautiful animation. Most recently, I watched Aladdin and it is no exception – the opening scenes of a dark blue desert night glowing with stars are stirring, and for several days afterward I walked around the house singing songs from the movie.

Today, the movie is headed with a small disclaimer on racism. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge the 1) negative stereotypes packed in to the first couple minutes including a scamming junk merchant, the song lyric “it’s barbaric, but hey it’s home,” and the description, by Jafar, of a thief as “my pungent friend”; 2) the decision to make “good” characters such as Jasmine lighter skinned and “bad” characters such as the guards darker skinned; and 3) exoticization and misrepresentation of Middle Eastern culture and of Islam. However, I doubt simply saying “this movie is racist sometimes” actually lessens the impact that racist depictions have. I’m not sure what the correct answer is, except to hopefully have a greater number of pictures with better depictions. The Arab Film Institute has a list of children’s movies that may be a good starting point.

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Flavor-packed Louisiana Creole Food – Jambalaya

Because Mardi Gras is such a big celebration is New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to see Cajun and Creole food prepared around Fat Tuesday, even if you don’t live in Louisiana. We may be past Fat Tuesday, but I’ve been thinking about making Jambalaya for the last couple weeks and finally had a chance to do so.

Jambalaya is a meat and rice dish traditional in the Creole and Cajun cultures of Louisiana. While they have a lot of similarities – both are spiced and rely on the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper – there are differences between Creole and Cajun food. The Creoles were descendants of French and Spanish colonists who had mixed French, African American and Native American ancestry. Creole food is considered “city food” and contains ingredients such as tomatoes, butter, and herbs. The Cajuns were French Canadians expelled from Nova Scotia who eventually settled in the bayous and intermarried with everyone there. Cajun food is considered “country food” and uses no tomatoes, oil instead of butter, and lots of peppers.

Jambalaya is one of my dad’s favorite foods to make, and I also love making it! Because my jambalaya is a mash-up of a number of different recipes, I don’t think I’ve ever made it the same way twice, but I have definitely overheard my husband bragging about how good my jambalaya is. This Creole-style “red” Jambalaya is the version I made most recently.* Every time I make this, I am flabbergasted at how flavorful it is – every mouthful is amazing. Maybe someday I’ll try a Cajun “brown” Jambalaya, but for now I love this version enough to keep making it again.

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Book Pairings: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and There There

At any given point in time, I am simultaneously reading a fiction book, a non-fiction book, a graphic novel, and (occasionally) a book of essays as a bedtime read. Non-fiction still takes me a long time to read. I can never shake the feeling that I have to remember everything – as though I have a test to pass afterwards – and sometimes it is difficult for me to really get into non-fiction. It actually took me several *years* to finish reading A People’s History of the United States, and a full 6 months to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It doesn’t always happen that the fiction I am reading pairs with the non-fiction, but I happened to read the novel There There at the same time that I was reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Bury My Heart is subtitled “An Indian History of the American West” and is one of the most well-known histories of Native Americans. There There is the Pulitzer-nominated novel following a large cast of Native American characters in Oakland. It was interesting for me to get both the factual presentation of the Indian History of the American West, and an emotional portrait of the Indian present in the United States at the same time.

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Cooking In Season: Winter Squash and Leek Risotto

This past year for Christmas, Joe gave me a cookbook I’ve been interested in checking out for a while: Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden is all about, yes, cooking in-season vegetables. I immediately read through the cookbook including the spring, early summer, mid summer, late summer, and fall sections. Then I bookmarked all the recipes in the “winter” section that I wanted to try right away.

Risottos often catch my eye on recipe blogs and in restaurants, but too be honest, I often find them boring – the flavor can be one-note and the texture a bit like baby food. Not so with this winter squash and leek risotto. The squash, leeks, wine, cheese, and spices created beautiful layers of flavor and the leeks gave it texture. Joe and I enjoyed this a lot and agreed we should make it often.

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Marie Cooks Skyrim: Chicken Dumplings

Fantasy is often stereotyped for excessive descriptions, including descriptions of food. Who could make it through The Chronicles of Narnia without wanting to find out what Turkish Delight tastes like? Or read A Game of Thrones without craving a bowl of beef and barley stew? I am certainly not the only one who has thought so… you could create a library of cookbooks written solely to give people a taste of fictional worlds. The summer before last, I was at the Renaissance Faire and was tempted by a bookseller and several fantasy-themed cookbooks by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. It should be obvious how my checkbook fared against that temptation.

My recreation of Skyrim’s chicken dumplings is adapted from this book. The filling is flavorful – sweet from the carrots and roasted leeks, spring-like from the dill and fennel, balanced with richness from the cream. I’ve made these 3 times already, and will definitely keep making them.

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Earl Grey Tea Cookies

I love Earl Grey tea. My dad always had some in the house and he would waft the smell from the jar of tea leaves and sniff deeply every time he took the jar out of the cabinet. We always had some with us on our camping trips and the memory of sitting at a rough wooden table outside with an enameled mug full of hot Earl Grey is one that I think of often.

Lately, I’ve been wanting some small sweet thing to eat each night after dinner and landed on making these cookies, made with tea leaves. They were very quick and easy to make, with a short ingredient list and I will happily make them again.

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The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie

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The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie made a lot of waves when the books were first released. Ancillary Justice was the first book to win all three of the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clark Awards (along with numerous other awards), and every book in the trilogy won a Locus award along with piles of nominations. They are well deserved for the writing which uses the unique point of view of a thousand-plus year old AI looking for revenge, and for the story which follows the complex political maneuverings throughout a massive space Empire ruled by the many clones of a single leader. At the outset, Ancillary Justice in particular received attention for the way it handled artificial consciousness and gender awareness.

I first read Ancillary Justice about 6 years ago and initially found it challenging. At the time, I was out of practice of reading science fiction, so being plunged into a world with new rules (and no hand-holding from the author*) was confusing. However, after the first 3 chapters or so I was hooked and by the end I was completely blown away. I was very eager to read the next book, but unfortunately it took me until now to do so. While being quarantined at home waiting for the results of a COVID test, I had the pleasure of re-reading the first book and then reading the next two back to back.

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Roasted Winter Vegetables for Winter Panzanella

This may be embarrassing to say, but I get excited about squash season. I am not really a fan of pumpkin-spice-lattes or anything like that, but I do love wearing sweaters and getting in season with my produce. This panzanella recipe is perfect for winter – sweet Butternut squash are balanced by slightly bitter Brussels sprouts *just* starting to caramelize and savory Parmesan croutons are all tied together perfectly with quick pickled red-onions in a light vinaigrette. How great is that?

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