Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Clubs and Brussels Sprouts

I decided early last year that, in my "new" life, I wanted to join a Book Club. I had never had time before, so why not take advantage of the time I had now? I thought that by belonging to one, it would force me to read -- a pasttime I used to love with a passion, but one which had sadly lapsed over the years of so much "work reading".

A few initial outreaches taught me that most existing Book Clubs were NOT looking for new members. So for a while, I explored the notion of starting one myself.  Since I came to the conclusion that I did not want to take on that leadership role, I was so pleased when my friend Laura's Book Club decided they wanted some "new blood".

Life intervened for a while -- for the first two or three meetings, I was out of town or had a previous commitment. (This club doesn't meet at a set time/date each month.) Then I broke my leg-- that was was about 4 1/2 months out of commission. But this month I was able to "officially" join their Book Club!

The book chosed to read could not have been a better one for me: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I purchased it in the LAX airport in late January, read half of it on the trip home, and the remaining half later that week one evening. What a delightful read! It was EXACTLY what I had hoped for when I first decided I wanted to join a book club. It was easy to read (it's a short book, and I flew through it.) It has history (I learned a lot about World War II that I had not known before), humor, mystery and romance. And it celebrates the love of books, and the love of mankind, throughout.

So now for the second part of belonging to a book club that I think I will enjoy: food! I discovered that the host of the "meeting" provides the main course, and the rest of the members fill in with the "fixin's". I volunteered to bring a salad, and used the opportunity to try out a recipe from Saveur Magazine that I had been saving for quite a while.

Brussels Sprouts in the Raw?
Brussels sprouts are a funny vegetable. I never heard of them until I was a teenager, and then it was mostly hearing friends speak of their dislike of them. While I was in high school, my mother decided to try them for our dinner, and prepared some from one of those frozen boxes. I liked them -- not LOVED them, but didn't understand why some people seemed to loathe them so much.

It wasn't until much later in my life, when I began to cook myself and enjoy reading about food and cooking, that I discovered their true potential. I think first I was drawn to them as an artist: they are a quite unusual looking vegetable, aren't they? Tighty little bulbs of green and pale yellow, with a wonderful textured design where the little leaves overlap each other.

My first success in cooking them was when I learned that if you roasted or grilled them until they carmelized, you had hit a home run. You see, I think most people don't cook them LONG enough, or hot enough. Caramelization brings out their nutty sweetness. My friend Joey and I prepared them one year as shiskabobs on the grill for a Green Pond repast . . . even those guests who professed to hate Brussels Sprouts loved them! (The caramelizing grill marks, olive oil, lemon, kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper helped!) And they are perfect for threading on Kabob sticks -- they look so cunning! A great way to add green to your shiskabobs.
So when I saw the recipe in Saveur (one of my favorite magazines, by the way. . . it is more than a cooking mag-- it is also a travel magazine, a culture magazine, and a history magazine all rolled into one beautiful slick publication!) I wanted to try it immediately. Of course, life got in the way again, and I needed a reason (and a crowd) for which to make it.

Enter the book club meeting! TA-DAAA! So I purchased the ingredients at the Fresh Market on my way home from my IVIG treatment (thankfully, the store had some beautiful small, brightly green sprouts on hand) and assembled the salad.

Now, I must admit that I had to do some last minute improvising: evidently I had either misread the recipe or copied it incorrectly into my computer. Where it should have read "1/3 cup cheese", I thought it said "3 cups cheese"; and where it said "1/4 cup olive oil" I had down "4 cups olive oil". !!!!!! Thankfully, as I was pouring, I quickly became aware that the amounts were WAY too much, and was able to adjust downward in mid-preparation.

The result? Delicious! This is a very flavorful salad, with a nice crunchy texture. It was a great accompaniment to our host's lasagna, and later that week, the leftovers were fabulous with sliced turkey thrown in. (It keeps very well, so it is a perfect "make-ahead" salad.)

However, I need to come up with another name for it -- some people won't even try a "Brussels Sprout Salad", so I would rather tell them AFTER they have eaten it what the main ingredient was! (Sprout Salad with Walnuts? Green Walnut and Pecorino salad? Nutty Green Salad? I'm looking for suggestions!)

The recipe is below (with my suggestions added).

The alliteration of Book clubs and Brussels sprouts: bountiful and beautiful!

Photo: Andre Baranowski

When shopping for brussels sprouts for this appealing side dish, look for small ones that have a bright green color. Brown spots on the cut edge of the stem or yellowing of the leaves usually signifies older sprouts, which tend to have a more bitter flavor. Store brussels sprouts in the refrigerator in a paper bag.

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 2 cups toasted walnut halves (I found that I liked it better with the halves broken in half -- smaller pieces)
  • 1⁄3 cup grated pecorino, plus more for garnish
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish (I used a lemon infused olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon for sweetness)
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1. Working over a large bowl, shave brussels sprouts into very thin slices on a mandoline, starting from each sprout's top while holding it between thumb and forefinger by its stem. Discard stems. (I don't have a mandoline -- I'm afraid of slicing my fingertips off! I used my chef's knife.)
2. Add walnuts, pecorino, olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste. Depending on the saltiness of the cheese, season lightly with salt to taste.
3. Toss with a spoon until just combined and divide salad between 4 bowls or small plates. Using a peeler, shave more pecorino over the top; drizzle with more olive oil and add more pepper to taste.


This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #115

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's snowing, so I must be blogging. . .

It is one of those rare days in Atlanta: it is showing outside, so much so that it seems as if I am looking through rice paper as I gaze out my kitchen window. The trees are outlined in white, and the ground and building tops are beginning to look solid while. I think it was snowing like this the last time I wrote here. . . hmmmmm. . . maybe I should move to a colder climate to be a better blogger!

I have fennel roasting in the oven, with parmeson, herbes de provence, and lemon olive oil (which also seems to be one of my snow-day activities!) My little dog is beside me -- all I am missing is a roaring fire! But alas, this condominium doesn't allow even a gas fireplace.

A horse is a horse; of course, of course. . .
Last night I met some friends at the High Museum of Art, and we toured the Da Vinci exhibit (go see it! I believe this is the last week.) Very well done, and I really enjoyed it. Especially the Da Vinci's equine drawings. I remember studying them as a kid (a very horse-crazy kid!) I had a book of famous artists drawings (something I am sure my mother found at a garage sale or library sale, since that is where she bought almost everything nonessential!) The are small, and exquisite. There was something quite breathtaking about seeing the real thing. . . seeing the master's strokes on the paper. Another little surprise was who owned these little treasures: the Queen of England! There was actually quite a lot in this exhibit on loan from Her Royal Majesty. My friends and I all agreed that the High had missed a real marketing opportunity in not publicizing this: there are quite a few people that might not be that interested in seeing an exhibit on "Da Vinci and Sculpture", but who would make it a point to see something belonging to the Queen!

As much as I loved the little drawings of horses, my favorite thing was OUTSIDE the exhibit: the reproduction of Leonardo's horse sculpure, long since destroyed. It fills one end of the piazza with its powerful looming presence. It is so exquisitely EQUINE-- the proportions, the sensuality, the strength . . . it just filled me with joy. I wish we (Atlanta) could keep it! I would enjoy sitting outside sketching it (but not in the snow!) Unfortunately, I believe it travels next to the Getty in L.A. (it will look spectacular there, too.) Magnifico, and bravo to the person who thought to put it there!

A Life Lesson
One of my things I resolved to do is to try to make sure I use this blog to share "lessons learned". So I'll end this post with my new "motto". I can't take credit for it, although the paraphrasing is mine. Let me give you the background, before the motto.

I enjoy doing cryptograms. (I admit I only seem to do them on planes, in waiting rooms, and (ahem) in the bathroom. I was working in a new book my cousin had given me for Christmas, and when I solved it, discovered it was quote from Mary Pickford (the silent film actress who went on to become a powerful Hollywood business executive.) I don't remember what her quote was exactly, but it was quite lengthy, so I shortend it and paraphrased it to be this:

Failure isn't falling down . . . it is getting back up after you fall.

Man, does that hit close to home for me! Literally and figuratively. I'm going to keep that close to my heart from now on. I have a feeling I'll need it again and again in the future!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I must state for the record that dark chocolate with sea salt is a SUBLIME combination . . . divinely and deliciously sublime!

Late-in-life chocoholism?

Something peculiar has happened to me, and I can't understand it. All my life I have been the OPPOSITE of a chocoholic. I never even really liked chocolate very much. Not even as a kid. (I would give away most of my Halloween candy to my sister, except for the Sweet Tarts, caramels, or hard candy.) If I did eat chocolate, it would just be a little nibble. . . say, one Hershey's Kiss would do it for me. Don't get me wrong: there were a few chocolate-related candies I could pig out on, like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, or Reeses Pieces, or Toffee, or Turtles (mostly something with nuts, caramel and/or peanut butter involved!) And it was always milk chocolate, never the hard core dark stuff! The sight of thick, gooey chocolate fudge would make me almost cringe (and actually, it still does.) However, today while I was at the drug store getting prescription refills, I did something that is very bizarre for me (my mother wouldn't believe it!) I bought a Lindt bar of dark chocolate with Fleur de sel. !!!!! And I have already eaten half of it!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME???

This all started when I was imprisoned in "Golden Living" (the rehab center I spent 3+ weeks in after I broke my leg). Friends brought me goody bags, and since people who like chocolate think that everyone likes chocolate, I recieved several chocolate bars (the upscale kind -- one even had bacon in it, as ALL my friends know of my love for bacon!) Maybe it was because I was hungry (the food at Golden Living left MUCH to be desired); or maybe I was bored; or frustrated; certainly I was depressed. More likely it was a combination of all those things, but I began nibbling on them. It started as one little bite. It then became like a little treat to myself at odd hours in that bleak place. To prove that I wasn't eating a lot, I actually came home with part of an uneaten bar.

I didn't really think anything more about it for a while. I certainly didn't feel any cravings. In fact, I purchased two bags of Kisses  (one milk and one dark) to take to our "Gaming Party",. thinking that I wouldn't eat any. Here's the interesting thing: I started munching on the dark chocolate kisses that night. I couldn't stop! And the rest of the bag I brought home, I have DEVOURED! It's only the dark ones; the milk chocolate ones just don't do it for me.

So, can one develop this kind of craving late in life? I always thought I was safe from this particular craving, but I'm starting to scare myself! I know EXACTLY where the rest of that bar is I bought today, and I am fighting the urge to go finish it off.

I may have to enroll in a 10-step program!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One small step is one giant leap!

Today I had a "victory" of sorts.

You see, I was reaching for the door handle of a restaurant about 4 months ago (August 28, to be exact) to go inside for a meeting of Atlanta Pet Rescue. (I had volunteered to help out with some fundraising advice. . . this is the organization from which I adopted my beloved Oggi.) As most of you know, I never made it inside. . . somehow I tripped, and went hurdling into the door, bouncing back onto the sidewalk, and in the process broke both my tibia and fibula (broke them badly... compound fracture).

Well, this afternoon I agreed to attend another meeting of this group. It was also at a restaurant. . . a different one, but still a restaurant. AND, there was remnants of ice still around. So as you can imagine, I was somewhat nervous inside as I approached the restaurant door (So much so that I used my cane, just to be on the safest side possible!)

I'm VERY happy to report that I've come and gone to that meeting without incident. WHEW! One small step for mankind is a pretty big leap for Del.

Friday, January 8, 2010

SNOW DAY! Others get milk and bread; I bought fennel

If you live in the south, and especially in Atlanta, you know how the media hypes the heck out of possible snow, and how southerners react to such hype. EVERYONE races to the store to stock up on milk and bread. Well, about two days ago the predictions came fast and furious about a snow storm, and true to form, grocery stores saw the classic run on milk and bread. This shows you how quirky I am: yes, I turned into a grocery store on my way home yesterday morning from an appointment. But it wasn't to stock up on "staples" . . . no, I had been salivating over a recipe I had stumbled upon recently, and it occurred to me that it would be a GREAT "snow day" meal. I mean, what is more perfect in the middle of winter than roasted root vegetables? Specifically, FENNEL.

I never even heard of fennel until I was an adult, and I don't believe I tasted it until well into my 40's. Thank goodness that first taste of this vegetable (which sort of looks like a cross between a giant leek and celery, with a bushy head of dill weed on top) was in Italy. The Italians know what to do with vegetables: simply roast them until they caramelize. It was love at first bite.

Since then, I've used them a lot in my own cooking. I'm happy that I introduced my mother to fennel (she loved licorice, so it was an instant match.) My stand-by risotto is in fact Fennel Risotto (which is yummy, if I do say so myself.) I hadn't had any in a long while (they didn't serve roasted fennel in the Golden Living Rehab Center, funny enough) so the more I thought about the recipe, the more I craved them.

So, I made "Parmegianno Roasted Fennel & Carrots" today, and boy, did they hit the spot! They were also beautiful to behold (I regret I didn't take a picture before I dove into them.)

So, here is the recipe:

PECORINO-ROASTED FENNEL & CARROTS (okay, right off the bat I substituted Parmigiano Reggiano, which I had, for Pecorino; it worked!)

  • 3-4 fennel bulbs, cored, sliced horizontally, plus 2 tsp
    chopped fronds

  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch
    thick slices

  • 2 tsp Herbes de Provence

  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used
    Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, because I had it, and because I thought it would add to the taste. . . it did!)

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a 13 x 9 inch
baking dish. Layer sliced fennel and carrots in dish, sprinkling layers with
salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Herbes, then cheese. Drizzle with the oil. Bake
until veggies are tender and top is golden brown, about 1 1/4 hours. Sprinkle
with fronds and serve. (Great with roast chicken, fish, or just about anything!) (I found this recipe on line, "adapted from Bon Appetit via

I admit that made a smaller portion just for myself (using one fennel bulb and adjusting accordingly.) The roasting made the veggies soft and sweet, and the seasonings just melted into the nutty, slightly licorice-y taste of the fennel. The carrot bits were a good foil for the fennel.

Kind of makes me want to paint a picture of it!

So, that was my snow day treat!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stepping Out Means Stepping Back??

I try hard not to be negative, but sometimes it is so hard! Especially when I use a perfectly good day to "recover". Yesterday I felt like the Freddie Fender song "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights". . . I was so EXHAUSTED . . . I couldn't get out of bed.. . and when I did get out, it wasn't long before I was back in it, asleep.

I knew when I got home Saturday night (at a perfectly reasonable midnightish hour) that Sunday was going to be a recovery day; I just didn't realize it would take ALL day and ALL night.

You see, I think my autoimmune disease, polymyositis, combined with the still recovering compoundly-fractured leg, is pulling a double whammy on me. Getting ready for the "gaming" party took a lot out of me; by the time I loaded up my car with all the food, drinks, cooler, ice, etc., my body was hurting. But the comraderie and laughter of the evening helped me overlook all that, But by the time I got home to the quiet of my bedroom, I couldn't ignore it any longer. And boy, did it grab me in a choke hold for a while! Makes me mad.

But, I tell myself, I can't let that get me down. Today is another day; it is cold but gorgeous outside; I have to get dressed and go out for a 2:00 appointment. Let's make this a productive day!

Anyway, the "gaming" party was a success, I think. I know I enjoyed it. A bunch of people like me who enjoy playing board games: we played Clue (I won!), Scrabble, and Trivial Pursuit. And most of all we laughed.

I'm afraid the "Dalton" people outnumbered the others by a large bit, but those intrepid few were made of stout stuff and so were able to handle us. (I don't know what it is about my hometown--- but we gravitate toward one another. Or at least the ones with the same sense of humor and intellectual curiousity seem to do so. I know it seems weird to others. . . heck, it IS weird! But it is very comforting to me in a way. )

The good news, I think, is that some of the attendees enjoyed it to the point that they want to do it again, so maybe someone else will host one before too long! (I'm afraid I don't have enough room here . . . maybe when my studio gets fixed up?)

OK, Del, let's go get dressed and step out to face the world today, before too much more time has slipped by!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Collards, Black-Eyed Peas, Movies, and "Stepping Out"

It is January 2nd, and it is gorgeous outside: cold, but sunny. Yesterday I shirked my collard-cooking duties and instead had my New Year's Day repast at Mary Mac's (what a crowd! Even at 2:00!) I met two good friends there (one of whom I have shared this day with for many years). It was fun (I will say that Mary Mac's collards aren't nearly as good as mine; nor are her
black-eyed peas! But it was nice to not be cooking on New Year's Eve for a

I think one of the reasons I shirked my annual cooking-fest was because I am still in "recovery" mode with my leg. Oh, the bones have healed, but there is still pain, and more to the point, I get very tired very easily. Standing is just as bothersome as walking in many ways. And those of you who cook know that it involves a lot of standing! (Tangent: I'm thinking about buying one of those "cushion" mats for my kitchen...)

I know I made some New Year's resolutions yesterday, but I need to add "PT" to it. . . I need to try to do whatever it takes to not only get rid of my gimpy limp, but to build my strength back up. (Which also involves caring for my polymyositis! Blah.) Getting out with friends is MUCH more fun that going downstairs and riding the stationary bike, or doing squats!

My take on "Nine"

So, enough about illness and injury. Back to the fun stuff: I met my friend J for the 11:00 a.m. showing of "Nine". (J is one of my "Golden Living" angels -- she would pop in to rescue me by sweeping me away to the mall, or bring me goodies, or to just make me laugh!) We were both excited about seeing it (I used to listen to the Broadway cast recording of it in the 80's.) We were the only women in the theater, and the two of us made up half of the audience! We both loved the movie; it is like a 10-course meal of only desserts. The musical performances by Fergie, Daniel Day Lewis, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, and Nicole Kidman were fabulous, as was their acting. And the actress who played the wife was great, just miscast -- she was too young! Beautiful as Sophia Loren was, I felt she was Sophia Loren -- she seemed to get in the way. But I will watch this movie again and again on cable, just for the musical numbers (and the Italian scenery. . . BOY, did it make me want to go to Italy!!!)

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is fantastic fun

After J and I sat through ALL the credits (one of my quirks) we went to Mary Mac's, where we met my old friend B. After our late lunch/early dinner, B and I went to see "Fantastic Mr. Fox". Loved it! Really cool animation, beautiful and artistic backgrounds. Both movies just kept me grinning. In their own way, each was just beautiful. And I mean visually beautiful. My eye memory is still savoring them both.

I came home after the last movie (and a trip to the grocery store) to a little dog very happy to see me. After attending to his needs, I made "Barbeque Lover's Dip" for our little party tonight (so I did end up in the kitchen!) Today I'm making "Bacon Crackers" (almost finished. . . just have to let one more pound of bacon thaw to complete the last batch!) (If any of our guests are vegetarians they won't be too happy with me, but that is their loss!) I'm looking forward to this "game party" -- (will I play Scrabble or Charades or something new?) If people enjoy it maybe we will make it a regular thing!

So I'll be "stepping out" again tonight, trying to start the New Year off right!
The image here is a photo of my pastel painting "New Year's Day Meal". Got to do some more paintings of some of my favorite food memories!