Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Foraging is something that has always fascinated me. I was never very dedicated to it, but my sister always knew where to find the best morel mushrooms; she would go through the woods picking all the edible leaves and make salads with dandelion greens. Because of her interest, my parents got her a book about cooking with flowers – it was more about picking blossoms from your flower garden than it was about foraging, but I’ve never forgotten the lavender shortbread recipe that we made. It is floral and sweet and for some reason I cannot stop eating it when we have it around.

Now, I have friends who get excited when ramp season starts, or know when to pick plantain leaves, or the best way to cook fiddleheads or nettles. I’m still way behind on learning to forage, but lately the lavender bushes in everyone’s yards around the neighborhood have been blooming, and I was inspired to pull out this recipe, again. If you don’t have lavender growing around you, many spice stores (such as Penzy’s) will carry it.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from “Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion with Recipes” by Kitty Morse
Makes about 24 cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 lemon, zested
11/2 tablespoons fresh or 3/4 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms
Additional blossoms, for garnish

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour in increments, mixing until a smooth, firm dough forms. Stir in the lemon zest and lavender blossoms. Line a flat surface with parchment paper and lightly flour. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts and roll out into 2 (10-by-7-inch) rectangles about ¼-inch thick. Place the parchment on a baking sheet and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using your favorite shaped cutter, cut out the cookies. Place them onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart so they have room to expand.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies turn light brown around the edges. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Write Me A Book, Put My Voice Inside It: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Occasionally, I am guilty of spending more time reading about books or daydreaming about them or rearranging them on my shelves than actually reading books. Sometimes, I plow through reading them so quickly, I barely have time to absorb them or think about them at all and then I’m onto the next one – which is partly why I missed writing about Pachinko, Vacationland, Never Let Me Go, Come As You Are, Gilgamesh, Beloved, and Gideon the Ninth over the last year. I enjoy writing about the books I read because it allows me to gather my thoughts, see patterns that I might not have noticed right away, and re-live some aspects of the book. Writing also carries a danger with it, though, which is that it tends to concretize those thoughts. Once written, they form something more rigid than the swirling ideas and emotions that existed before. Rigid things are less likely to fit everywhere they need to go; they are harder to reshape and may end up broken – either by accident, or by necessity.

Some of those themes of rigidness versus flexibility, writing versus speaking, logic versus experience are at the heart of A Stranger in Olondria. I didn’t notice immediately upon reading it, however. It started off feeling almost like a travel-memoir with luscious descriptions of islands and cities inspired by Sudan, the Ottoman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Mediterranean. I wanted to go there. I honestly might have been completely happy if the book continued in this vein without any plot at all, but the story did grow from there. It became a haunting, then a story of religious persecution, and finally a journey of self-discovery and homecoming. It wasn’t until well after I put the book down, however, that the themes that ran through every chapter and every travel stop started to make themselves known to me.

Jevick is the son of a wealthy pepper merchant who longs to hear stories about Olondria. When his father dies, Jevick has his opportunity to finally go there himself as a merchant. However, on the way he meets a dying girl and when he begins to be haunted by her, he is trapped in Olondria until he can find a way to let her ghost pass on.

Before I started reading A Stranger in Olondria (which is subtitled Being the Complete Memoirs of the Mystic, Jevick of Tyom), I was aware that Sofia Samatar’s father was a Somali scholar, historian, and writer, and that Samatar had done her own Masters and PhD on African literature, but I did not fully appreciate how much her experiences and her Somali heritage shaped the book until I found this article from Strange Horizons. In the article, A Stranger in Olondria is compared to African memoirs, stories of the African diaspora, African themes of returning home a different person, the fear of the erasure of one’s home culture by a colonizer, and the relationship we have with the dead. I learned that for much of history, Somali was an unwritten language with a rich oral tradition. That was when the first theme revealed itself to me and as I followed its thread, I began to realize how layered and multi-faceted the themes in A Stranger in Olondria truly are because like Somali, Jevick’s native language is unwritten. His adventure begins when he sees written language for the first time.

Once I opened my eyes to the tension between Jevick’s oral tradition of the Tea Islands and the written literature of Olondria on the mainland, I relived the book in my mind from a completely different point of view. As a student, Jevick reads about Olondria, but he will not be satisfied until he sees it. Once in Olondria, he learns that there are people who long to see angels as part of a spiritual experience, but the king and priesthood have declared that such experiences are blasphemous, because they have decreed religion may only be found in the religious texts. Eventually, a violent attack on a religious festival precipitates a civil war between the two factions. In such a war, Jevick knows that entire libraries will be burned and knowledge will be lost. However, this is also necessary in order to free those who cannot read – those who worship angels – from the oppression of rigid adherence to the religious texts. Meanwhile, the angel who haunts Jevick demands that he write her a vallon [a book] despite the fact that she was never able to read in life. “I know what a vallon is,” she says to Jevick, “it is a jut [soul].”

It may seem like a contradiction for the characters and the writer to love books so dearly, and yet also to see a need for their destruction… or to work so ardently at preserving written language while at the same time craving something more tangible… but that is part of the skill of Samatar’s style; she is able to hold that tension without a contradiction. Samatar says that Jevick’s angel is wrong – a book cannot replace a person – only remain as a sign of their disappearance. Jevick eventually returns to his islands and teaches writing so that the existence of books can continue there, but Samatar says, “I wanted this victory of books to be uncertain. Books are not life.”

Samatar’s prose exists not like a painting does, vivid and bright to the eye, but like a memory does in the mind – full of scent and emotion and meaning. When I read the first page, I was so stunned I stopped and re-read it, just to take it in again. She somehow manages to embody the breath of experience with nothing but flat paper and ink. Because of her mastery in this, the complementary and opposing themes are both underscored and elevated. I think this theme is encapsulated well in one of my favorite quotes from the book. It is about a woman whose beloved has been exiled – she has hundreds of unsent letters written to him, but when she meets someone who used to know him, she cannot resist telling her story: “I knew she had told it because she could not give up the chance to say his name, aloud, in the hearing of another, of one who had known him.” Who hasn’t felt that desire – to say the name of the person you love, speak it into the air, and have it land on someone else and see the change in their face when they recognize it? To me, it was such a powerful memory, I caught my breath again.

On its surface A Stranger in Olondria is a romantic tale, but thinking about the themes of logic versus experience made the book a far more valuable for me. I highly recommend you read this book… and then go out and talk about it.

An Abundance of Zucchini: Indian Stir-fried Summer Squash

There comes a time every summer in the Midwest when every person who has a garden is trying to give away their zucchini because ohmygoodness there are three more today and they’re taking over my countertop I can’t eat this much zucchini! I made zucchini bread, zucchini noodles, zucchini oven fries, vegetable “lasagna” and more and Joe and I still ding-dong-ditched our friends to leave zucchini on their porches just to make sure it got used up.

This stir-fry recipe from Madhur Jaffrey was also a favorite – once slathered in roasty, tangy spices with yogurt a pound of zucchini disappeared faster than blinking.

Continue reading “An Abundance of Zucchini: Indian Stir-fried Summer Squash”

The Taste of Summer: Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini

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This time of year, I love eating everything with zucchini, corn, and tomatoes in it because they’re all in season and everywhere and at peak deliciousness… Eating any meal with these three ingredients will instantly transport me back to being a kid, walking through the garden with my mom, running around barefoot with my sister, shucking corn, and catching lightning bugs. The first time I made this galette, all I could think about what how every bite tasted like pure summer. I have made it three times already this summer, and I will likely make it again.

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Joe and my garden has been overflowing with zucchini and tomatoes, which is thrilling, but also terrifying because now we have to figure out what to do with so many tomatoes they completely cover our countertops. This galette has helped.

Continue reading “The Taste of Summer: Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini”

No One Is Free Until We Are All Free

BLM

I have tried multiple times over the last 5 years to write something regarding race for this blog, and I always failed to write something that I thought was worth publishing. My goal was to write a sort of open letter to family members or old friends who opposed or did not understand the Black Lives Matter movement and help them to see that yes, racism still exists, and it is still a major problem, and we have to do something about it. The thing is though, I’m not an expert. I’m not a full-time activist. The world does not really need my personal opinion added to the noise. Although I may want to write an essay, here (because that I what I enjoy doing) there are other, more important ways I can actually be helping.

First, by staying informed on current events. For a while, this meant anxiously checking every couple hours to see if anything new had happened at the protests and reading thorough accounts from trustworthy news sources (rather than taking official statements of the cops at their word). But it also means understanding what is really being asked for when we chant “defund the police.” I appreciated this clip from Angela Davis regarding the movement to defund the police. https://www.democracynow.org/2020/6/12/angela_davis_historic_moment?fbclid=IwAR2vuwGVmk6LG2EpgMybEooSapQnCVVB02hkhNLpAAiDaMSEe-VAbc4vHV0

Second, by continuing the educate myself on the history of oppression and white supremacy in the US. I am not an expert, (and most of us would be deluding ourselves to think that we are), so continued learning is always needed. I have shared this list with some of my friends and family so we can continue to grow: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR1yfz9Y1x81vw1ZbLOjYRfdR-2I9fxzK4LKU51_orFZNcrjXIY37Nde3h4

Third, by listening to and amplifying black voices. In part this means sharing The NAACP’s demands https://www.naacp.org/latest/update-naacp-demands/ to decrease the use of force by law enforcement, the ACLU’s demands to end the 1033 program which funnels military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and end the COPS grants that puts excessive numbers of enforcement officers in the community, and to divest from the police and instead reinvest in the black and brown communities which are disproportionately affected. It also means listening to black people when they share their experiences. This video by Kimberly Jones is passionate and heart-breaking: https://youtu.be/llci8MVh8J4

Fourth, by speaking up when hearing racist comments. This means having individual conversations with those family members and acquaintances, slowly, over time. 1, 2, and 3 come into play here, as well, in order to actually reach people and have a discussion, rather than simply cutting off people or yelling at them. I think it is important to remember that, as someone with white privilege, it is my job to confront white supremacy in all it’s forms.

Fifth, by signing petitions; contacting my mayor, senators, and representatives by mail, phone and email; donating water, food and other necessities to the protests, or money to freedom funds and other organizations such as the ACLU; and by attending protests (wearing a mask, of course.)

Sixth, by supporting black-owned businesses and black artists. For me, this has meant checking out black restaurants (Joe and I have been getting take-out once a week anyway since COVID-19 shutdowns started, and there are some fabulous food joints out there that we have not yet tried); actually buying that rap album I’ve been listening to on spotify; and getting my little self-care items like candles and candies from local black businesses. This list has been a starting point for me in Milwaukee: https://milwaukeemom.com/around-milwaukee/guides-to-milwaukee/milwaukee-black-owned-businesses/

Seventh, by remembering that I can always do better, and if I am ever called out on my privilege or blind spots as it relates to race, to apologize, grow, and keep working for change.

hx
image credit from Ben and Jerry’s

I used an instagram post by @made_by_maddd to help structure this post

Marie cooks Skyrim: “Apple Cabbage Stew”

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I used to have a bit of a problem with Skyrim. I spent *a lot* of time playing during my grad school years; for a little while my addiction was so bad I literally ran a mile home between classes to play just a few minutes before running back. One of the things I liked about the game was making food. Cooking roasted rabbit or grilled leeks in game to scarf down in the middle of a dragon fight always made me crave hearty winter food. Even now, whenever Joe makes beef stew or split pea soup I will have a fleeting desire to play Skyrim again. I don’t play as much anymore (thank goodness) but I never quite shook the silly desire to make every single in-game food in real life.

One of the most memorable dishes in Skyrim is Apple Cabbage Stew. Which sounds, frankly, gross. I was able to find several dishes for broth soups with apple and cabbage, but these didn’t really seem appealing to me. In addition I don’t like calling a thin soup “stew,” since I think of stew as having a thicker texture. However, braised cabbage with apple is a traditional German recipe. This seemed to me the best place to start when trying to find an apple cabbage recipe that would actually taste good.  I saved a handful of different versions of braised or fried cabbage and apples that looked tasty and told myself I would make them some day.

On a recent rainy day, I found myself with an abundance of cabbage left over from makingIndian Spiced Cabbage and Onion Patties and decided to go ahead and try one of the recipes I had saved. This one is based on a Southern fried cabbage recipe and I found it surprisingly delicious. It has a sweet-and-sour taste and good texture and would pair well with sausage or pork roast, although I completely devoured my bowl full on its own, without any accompaniment. Continue reading “Marie cooks Skyrim: “Apple Cabbage Stew””

Easy Indian At Home: Cabbage and Onion Patties with Green Chutney

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I have been wanting to buy Madhur Jaffrey’s “Vegetarian India” for a long time. Although I do not keep to a vegetarian diet, and although I do love chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, goat vindaloo, lamb biryani and more, some of my favorite dishes every time I go out for Indian food are the dals, chana masala and other vegetarian dishes. I finally  ordered Jaffrey’s cookbook a couple weeks ago and immediately bookmarked nearly every page. The first two recipes I made last weekend were simple and delicious, but made me feel accomplished nonetheless. Continue reading “Easy Indian At Home: Cabbage and Onion Patties with Green Chutney”

Forbidden Knowledge and a Love of Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

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Growing up, my parents’ home was always full of books. Most of the volumes on my dad’s shelf held a mystical fascination for me – they promised to be full of new and interesting facts and stories that I was excited to one day be able to read myself. The spines of The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Dune, D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, and more promised great things. (It’s partly why I tried to read Moby Dick when I was about six. I failed that time, but I did love it when I finally read it in its entirety at 27.) One of the books that tantalized me from the bookshelf was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I knew very little about it aside from: 1) it takes place in a medieval monastery, 2) there is gruesome murder, 3) I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie. Years later, I was in Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis and wandered through the back into Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore where I saw The Name of the Rose sitting inconspicuously on a bookshelf. Because I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying something, I picked it up. I’m not sure what made me pull it from my large pile of to-read books a month ago, but I was delighted when I found that much of the story centers around a labyrinthian library and the quest for forbidden knowledge.

Continue reading “Forbidden Knowledge and a Love of Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco”

A Quick Lunch: Tuna Patties with Cocktail Sauce

When I was growing up, my mom used to make tuna patties fairly often. Joe has a strong aversion to any seafood, so I don’t usually make anything with fish. Sometimes after going a long time time without I start to crave seafood, though (especially in the winter when there is no sun to get necessary vitamin D!) Usually, this means I call up a friend to go out for sushi downtown or Friday night fish fry at any local restaurant. Today, I made my mom’s tuna patties and realized why she made it so regularly as a mom with a job and three crazy kids: this is an easy meal that is done in a few minutes and and quickly provides plenty of nutrition on a budget. She would serve this with a simple side of steamed peas and carrots, but I think it would be good in a pita with some lettuce or even on a bun like a burger.

20200510_122703 Continue reading “A Quick Lunch: Tuna Patties with Cocktail Sauce”

Roasted Vegetable Baked Ziti

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Several years ago, I decided I was going to make a lasagna for my friend’s mom (which I like to do for births, funerals, Christmas gifts, get-well presents, and more). She eats very little meat, however, so I decided to make a vegetarian lasagna instead. And she keeps gluten-free, but the only gluten-free noodles I could find in the store were ziti. And when I tried to layer the ingredients they all just kind of smooshed together. It did not turn out like I expected, but my sister and I brought it over to her house, we all shared it while playing Eucher together, and we all had second helpings…

Now, shelter-in-place and limiting shopping trips to once every 2 weeks has made it hard to eat as many fresh vegetables as I would like, so I found myself thinking once again about that vegetable baked ziti and I decided to see if I could recreate it. I tried my hand at it this afternoon, and this evening Joe and I sat on our porch with a glass of red wine to accompany it and we both had second helpings. Continue reading “Roasted Vegetable Baked Ziti”