Book Review: Thoroughly Modern Charlotte

Yes, yes, I know. You want the recipe for the mushroom stroganoff I was experimenting with last week. I will get there, I promise. But while you’re waiting, how about another book review?

I first read Thoroughly Modern Charlotte: Romance, Third Millennium Style, in the middle of 2015, shortly after it was released. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the time – maybe a modern continuation of Pride and Prejudice, with Charlotte Lucas in the starring role? – and at first I found myself trying to associate each of the characters with a corresponding one from Austen’s classic. This works to an extent (upon second reading, to a large extent, really), but the novel is best taken as its own creation, paying homage to, but not recreating, the original.

Since then, I have also had the great pleasure of meeting the author, Beth Massey. Over a lovely lunch in Chicago last winter, I discovered that the deeply intelligent aura permeating the novel is not accidental. Ms. Massey is as charming and smart as her characters and the world they inhabit, and her passion for matters literary and political comes through both in her conversation and her writing.

And so, as I decided to start posting a few more book reviews in between recipes, I felt drawn to reread and write about Thoroughly Modern Charlotte. I enjoyed the novel the first time I read it. I enjoyed it more the second time. Nuances and references that I had missed on my first reading now opened up to me, and the world Ms. Massey has created took on greater dimension. This is a romance, yes, but it is not fluff. There is stuff to chew on in the text, as chewy as the mushrooms I promise I’ll cook within a couple of weeks. And so, without further ado, here’s my review.

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Thoroughly Modern Charlotte: Romance, Third Millennium Style, by Beth Massey

 

I have to start by saying that this book is not for everyone. If you like your heroines chaste and demure, paragons of elegance with no faults, and pure as the driven snow, this book is not for you. If you like your heroes dashing and alpha, thick dark hair blowing in the wind, the sort who will not accept no for an answer, this book is not for you. If you want a quick read, one that does not challenge in any way, one that does not invite you to consider political and personal motivations outside your comfort zone, this book is not for you. Likewise, if you are hoping for a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with an arch and witty Elizabeth and a brooding and honourable Darcy, this book is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you want an intelligent novel, full of literary and cultural allusions, some explicit and some more veiled, with a flawed and self-assured heroine seeking her own destiny, and a hero with big ears and bigger secrets, keep reading. If you want a novel which alludes to Jane Austen’s classic, without recasting it in modern terms, keep reading. If you want a novel in which the main character sees her family and friends through Jane Austen’s lens, but does not necessarily even want a modern incarnation of Pemberley, keep reading.

Charlotte Otis is a left-leaning literary scholar who manages her family’s small chain of book shops in New York City and who secretly publishes JAFF, but who wants more. After a fight with her boyfriend, a fight which involves her best friend and a somewhat bewildering array of other acquaintances, she takes a serious look at her life and decides to make some major changes. One of these changes involves swearing off men for a while; another involves a new job in England. Enter the hero: Jonathan Holmes is the answer to many girls’ dreams, sensible and educated, and an earl to boot, but not necessarily Charlotte’s. After some awkward early encounters, they discover they rather like each other despite their differences, but Charlotte insists on sticking to her resolution (no men) and Jon has something he needs to tell her – something he knows she won’t like. And, of course, the longer he waits, the worse the fallout!

Unlike many novels that riff on this trope, the motivations behind keeping the secrets are sensible – at least as seen through Jon’s eyes – and his decisions rational. All too often, the reader of such romances rolls her eyes and yells at the characters, “just say five words to each other and it’s all resolved!” Not so here. It is refreshing to see the character mull over his choices and do what he thinks best, even knowing that the consequences will not be pleasant.

There is a full panoply of secondary characters who round out the lives of our main couple. We get a sense of them as real people in a real world, with friends, colleagues, cousins and other acquaintances, and each of these secondary characters is as fleshed out as our main two. These characters are as vital to the resolution of the drama as are the protagonists.

This novel is not perfect. Perhaps the secondary characters, fascinating as they are, are too fully developed. The first section of the book revolves around them as much as around Charlotte, almost to the point where I wanted to take notes to keep track of who was who and how they all interacted with each other. Each could easily star in his or her own story, and there is at least one who I wish had his own tale.

As well, there are some issues in editing, although I suspect they are more artifacts of some formatting problem than actual mistakes, such as missed quotation marks and similar glitches. These are a bit distracting, but not enough to spoil the enjoyment of the novel.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a well-written book with interesting and real characters that will make you think and possibly reassess your expectations, dive right into Thoroughly Modern Charlotte.  You won’t be disappointed!

You can read more about Ms. Massey on her author’s page on Amazon, here.

For a direct link to her novel, chose a link based on location:
US –click here
Canada – click here
UK – click here

Book Review: Miss Darcy’s Companion

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Yes, another book review! Why? Because books are cool! And because we read while we’re waiting for stuff to boil, or to rise, or to bake, or sometimes, when we have no other company, to entertain us while we eat.

While I’m certainly not changing the focus of this page from food, I think I’ll start putting up a few more book reviews, as things cross my path that look particularly interesting. At the moment, I have three books lined up that I’m itching to write about, and this is the first.

Miss Darcy’s Companion has just been released, but I have had the honour and privilege of reading an advance copy. I have come to know and respect – and yes, like! – the author very much, so my review might be tainted by this bias. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to keep my thoughts about the book as balanced as possible, and if you like Pride and Prejudice variations, definitely give this a shot. Her writing is lovely and her stories fun.

You can read the first three chapters on her website, and I have an exclusive excerpt here. This passage comes from closer to the end of the story, and Elizabeth is speaking to Mr. Darcy about his decision to engage her as a companion for Georgiana. Enjoy.

“Pray, let us not equivocate. I know you did not engage me due to my vast accomplishments or the introductions I can make to the preeminent hostesses in society. I trust my time with Georgiana has provided her with some degree of confidence in society. She seems more at ease to me, but I fear I shall hinder your efforts as you embark upon this enterprise; please know that I would not take it as an insult if you chose to replace me with someone more qualified for what lies ahead of her. As her friend, I will see her as often as she wishes and wait until the season is over to seek a new position.”

“How ungenerous of you, Miss Elizabeth!” he exclaimed with a teasing smile. “You insult me with your insinuation that I am not perfectly able to select for my sister the one qualification which matters above all else.” Elizabeth, not wishing to seem in need of his reassurance, did not seek an explanation from him. “May I tell you?” he asked.

“By all means, Mr. Darcy. I await your description breathlessly.”

“My sister needed a friend, Miss Elizabeth. She lacked someone with whom she could confide her cares and open her innocent heart, besides, of course, a ham-fisted brother. I wished to see to all my sister’s needs but never thought to provide a sympathetic young lady to share her interests and energy. You helped her to overcome a propensity for timidity, instilled confidence, and provided your own example to imitate when her own courage could not sustain her. She needed someone like you, unfailingly kind, affectionate and sensitive, prodigiously intelligent, and with considerable wit and address. You cannot know the difference you made. From the first moment she espied you in the park, my shy little sister became a different person; fighting with me for what she knew she not only wanted but needed as well. Never in her life had she stood up to me, and, though I resented you at the time for it and was appalled she would defy me, I see now that she was correct to do so.”

“You are full of kindness to me, Mr. Darcy, and I must say, you disparage yourself in a manner that is most uncharitable. Are you begging for compliments, I wonder?” Her eyes sparkled, matched by a warm smile. “I shall offer only what you are due. I know I was the last person you wished for your sister, and, in meeting you, I was terrified by your fearsome countenance and quelling hauteur.”

“That is quite a compliment, Miss Bennet. If the rest of your speech proceeds in the same vein, I will tell you now to keep your tongue between your teeth. Believe me, my dear; I have heard those compliments the entirety of my life, and there is no need to be further puffed up in my consequence,” he said in an ironical tone.

“No, no!” she exclaimed. “It is only that I must set the stage. You see, at once, I noticed the warmth you displayed when you gazed upon your sister, and I admired the protective instinct which motivates you. One must make allowances for a man who, so young himself, had the full responsibility for such a sensitive child.” She paused. “Blessed with an abundance of sisters myself, I can only imagine what an ordeal this is for you, and yet she is the loveliest, sweetest girl, and her faith in you is not misplaced,” she said with sincerity.

“I am afraid you are under some illusions, Miss Elizabeth. My sister is so much younger that I saw her only during school holidays. When my father’s health declined, I came down from Cambridge for the year before his death. After he passed, she remained at Pemberley while I returned to my studies and my friends. It was selfish; I see that now. Indeed, she saw but little of me, but when we were together, I encouraged her hoydenish behavior which she has not forgot. When I finally put University behind me, it was to tackle a great many new responsibilities. Thoughtlessly, I left her to a succession of governesses whom I believed would mold her into the young lady my parents always wished her to become. This was done with little regard for her tender sensibilities nor her unhappiness with their strict, unloving care they provided. Failing that, I then sent her to school to which she was most unsuited, being so shy and retiring. There she made few friends and was utterly miserable and lonely. It was my intention, upon removing her from Miss Dimwitty—I should have paid more attention to her name before selecting her establishment—to set up Georgie in her own household in London to cram her full of accomplishments and be free to continue about my own business. When you joined us and brought out her brightness and self-assurance so readily, I beheld Georgiana in a different light. For the first time, I saw her not as a perplexing child outside my grasp of understanding. I rethought my plan and became determined to keep her in my company convinced I had much to atone for.”

“Then we must agree to disagree,” she replied. “You may relate the history, but I know that what I saw pass between you and Georgiana was not the work of a day, no, nor a year, but was of some duration. Neither would Georgiana place her trust and dependence on your opinion had you not in some way earned her respect.” Sensing him draw back his shoulders in anticipation of offering further argument, she placed her hand on top of his. “No, no! Let me finish. Why even her conviction that you would forgive her defiance in choosing me shows the deep connection you share with one another. So let me enjoy the last word if you please, Mr. Darcy, for you shall never convince me, and it is the gentlemanly thing to do after I declare it to you.” She laughed up at him and was startled by the look of tenderness on his face. A look she could not misconstrue as being meant for Georgiana.

“By all means, Miss Elizabeth, it would be unhandsome of me to argue with you, nor should I like to disabuse you of your belief in my good character, for that would not serve the purpose at all!” He said smiling.

“Now we have had our walk together, I fear our relationship will be misconstrued if we continue as we are. Shall I walk beside my sister again and you join your own?”

“If it is your wish, though it is no concern to me what other people think, Miss Elizabeth,” he remarked enigmatically, turning to do as she bid.

 

So, without further ado, here’s my review of Miss Darcy’s Companion by Sophia Meredith.

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Miss Darcy’s Companion is another lovely what if story by Sophia Meredith, putting a new spin on the characters and beloved tale of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

What if…  Mr. Bennet had died before the events in the original tale, bringing Mr. Collins to Longbourn almost immediately upon taking the living at Hunsford, and sending Jane and Elizabeth into the arms of their London relatives to find positions for themselves so as not to be dependent on their odious cousin?

And what if… Elizabeth caught the eye of a young girl, recently out of school and needing a companion?

And further, what if… that young girl’s brother found himself unaccountably drawn to his sister’s new friend?

In this beautiful retelling, Ms. Meredith explores these “what ifs,” bringing new life to our favourite characters and sending us on a wonderful journey through the eyes of Miss Darcy’s Companion.  The entire company is present for their moments on stage, including Lady Catherine, in something of a starring role, Miss Bingley with her claws out, and Mr. Wickham, twirling his handsome moustache while plotting evil. There are also some delightful cameos by new characters, including some of Darcy’s family and the ever-fascinating Beau Brummel, who is fascinated by one of Elizabeth’s more unusual talents. What talent might this be? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

As well as telling a lovely tale, Ms. Meredith delights us once again with her beautiful use of language. At times laugh-out-loud-funny, she evokes the elegance of Jane Austen and the effervescence of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling dialogue.

If I have any quibbles, perhaps the ending is a little more drawn out than I wanted, but that might be more my desire to rush towards the Happily Ever After than any fault in the novel itself.

Enjoy this book. I know I did.

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Check out the author’s website at http://sophiameredith.com/
Her books can be found on Amazon:  Amazon US / Amazon Canada / Amazon UK

Teriyaki-Style Quinoa Bowl with Vegetables, Baked Tofu and Mango

DSC00762Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. In the case of this yummy dish, it was an excellent price on quinoa at Costco the other week. I haven’t been making quinoa as much as I used to, but we do eat it and I bought the bag. Then I came home and realized that I still had an almost-full bag sitting in the pantry already. The solution? Eat more quinoa! Fortunately, we really like the stuff, so the challenge was finding yet another great way to serve it.

I hunted around on-line for recipes, and found a few things that looked pretty good, but I felt the need to tinker with pretty much everything I found. This is the result.

A few comments:

Baked Tofu – YES! If you haven’t tried this before, do yourself a favour. I know tofu has a not-so-yummy reputation, but trust me. You marinate it in soy sauce and sesame oil for a while, then bake it till it’s crispy, and you’ll never look back. My beautiful daughter, whose motto is “I’m not going to like that,” has requested that I make it for her school lunches.

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Quinoa – First and most important rule: Rinse it. Rinse it well. Quinoa has a bitter coating, and you don’t want to eat that. Rinse it off. Then it’s really delicious. You can cook quinoa like rice, in twice the quantity of water (eg. 2 cups water for each cup of quinoa), but it’s so easy to make in a rice cooker. When I bought my rice cooker, I never imagined I’d use it as often as I do, but it’s on the counter every week, usually with quinoa inside. It wasn’t expensive or fancy, and it works like a charm.

Mango – if you find fresh and wish to chop up a mango, more power to you. I’m lazy and keep frozen mango in the freezer, because it’s convenient and always there when I need it. And it makes a great snack.

My lovely new bowls – The day I decided to try this dish for the first time,  I happened to buy my ingredients at a supermarket attached to a mall with a fun shop full of Japanese and other East Asian products. I was really just browsing, but these bowls were so pretty, I bought four, each with a different colour glaze inside.

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Teriyaki-Style Quinoa Bowl with Vegetables, Baked Tofu, and Mango

  • 2 scoops quinoa in the rice cooker (this works out to about 1 1/3 cup quinoa)
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu
    • 1 TBSP soy sauce
    • 1 TBSP sesame oil
  • 1 bell pepper, in thin wedges
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • splash of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced mango
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced

Teriyaki Sauce

  • 2 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP sesame oil
  • 1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
  • ½ TBSP honey or maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ TBSP ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  1. Cook the quinoa according to package directions. If doing it on the stove-top, use 1 1/3 cup quinoa and 2 1/2 cups water.
  2. Bake the tofu: Cube the tofu and let marinate in the 1 TBSP soy sauce and 1 TBSP sesame oil for at least 10 minutes. Transfer everything, liquid and all, to a baking sheet that’s been covered in parchment and bake 40 minutes at 375F, flipping part-way through. It you like it crispier, bake a few minutes longer.
  3. Meanwhile, stir-fry the carrots in a splash of oil for a few minutes to soften them, then add the snow peas and bell peppers.
  4. Mix the sauce ingredients in a small container and whisk together well.
  5. When everything is ready, prepare your bowls. Scoop some quinoa into a bowl, top with the sautéed veggies, the mango, tofu and green onions, and drizzle with about 1 TBSP of the teriyaki sauce on each one.

Makes enough for 4.

Bon Appetit

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Black Bean Salsa

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We had planned to have vegetarian burritos for a quick meal the other day, but when I went through my fridge, I discovered that the salsa I thought was good had gone off. Not wishing to run off to the shops again, and feeling creative, I took a look at what was in my kitchen and started assembling something in lieu of the regular old tomato-based salsa.

I almost always have cans of beans lying around, because my kids, especially my daughter, adore beans. Black beans are a favourite. The corn was thawed from the bag in the freezer, although freshly cooked is always best. And limes, cilantro and scallions are staples in the fridge. As for the tomato, I’m as likely not to have tomatoes as I am not to have garlic. Heaven forbid!

The mixture that I created can be used as a chunky fresh salsa as well as a salad. It’s yummy either way. However you use it, feel free to play with proportions and the spicing. We enjoyed the result so much, my husband suggested I write down what I did.

This is what I did!

Black Bean Salsa

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup (or a bit more) corn kernels
  • 1 green onion, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • juice of 1/2 lime, or about 1 TBSP, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Check flavourings. Enjoy on chili, in tacos or burritos, as a salad, or anyhow you choose! Bon appetit.

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Mahlabi Custard with Fresh Fruit

 

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Shavuot holds a double purpose in the Jewish liturgical year. It commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, during the long sojourn in the wilderness. This aspect of the holiday is often celebrated by the preparation and eating of dairy dishes. There are several reasons given for this tradition, including the symbolism of the journey to the Land of Milk and Honey, the gematria (numerology) that equates the value of the word for milk (chalav – חָלָב) with the forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, and the need to eat only dairy food while waiting for the dietary laws concerning meat. Also, the Torah, like milk, is a complete nourishment for the people. Just as a baby thrives on its mother’s milk, so the people thrive on the words of Torah. Other explanations abound, and for every person you ask, you will likely get two or three answers. Personally, I don’t think we need a reason for cheesecake. It is a reason all by itself! But I digress.

Shavuot is also the Festival of First Fruits, when individuals could first bring their offerings from the first harvest to the temple. My main memory of Shavuot from when I was a child in Israel was a school-wide celebration, with all the children dressed in white, adorned with flowers in our hair, carrying baskets of fruit. I can still see the flames from the small braziers set up around the school grounds for the evening ceremony and feel the warm breezes coming off the Mediterranean, just a few short blocks away. This image is vivid, where others have faded.

When I began thinking about what treats I wanted to make this year for Shavuot, both of these aspects of the holiday came to mind. I will certainly make a cheesecake, because, well, cheesecake! But there are so many other treats and delights for the taste buds, and I always love exploring foods from around the world.

I decided to experiment with a fruity version of Mahliabi, an Arab boiled milk custard. I got this recipe from my friend Michal, who made it for me once as part of a bread pudding, with orange-syrup-soaked challah and topped with pistachios and silan (date syrup). This version omits the bread (but feel free to experiment) and replaces the nuts with a fresh fruit salad. Mahlabi is light and refreshing, and only lightly sweet, but you can adjust the sweetness to your tastes. Also, while it is traditionally a dairy treat, I particularly enjoy the pareve and vegan version I’ve given below.

 

 

Mahlabi Custard with Fresh Fruit

For the custard:

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 850ml coconut milk (or dairy milk or almond milk or …)
  • 1 can coconut milk or cream (or 400ml heavy dairy cream or other non-dairy cream)
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP orange blossom water (you can also use rose water)

 

  1.  In a medium saucepan, mix the cornstarch with a small amount of the milk until it is smooth and there are no lumps of cornstarch remaining. Cornstarch is stubborn. Don’t let it win.
  2. When it is all dissolved, add the remaining ingredients and stir well. I use a whisk.
  3. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil, stirring constantly. This can take a while, so be patient.
  4. When thick, pour the mixture into small cups or a serving bowl, leaving plenty of room on top for the fruit. Let cool. Cover any larger bowls immediately with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. When cool, refrigerate till ready to serve.

Fresh Fruit:

This part doesn’t come with a recipe. Use whatever delicious fruits you love and chop them into small enough pieces that they’ll sit beautifully on top of your custard. I used raspberries, kiwis, blueberries, grapes and melon for my fruit salad. Mango would be delicious. Pomegranate would be most appropriate too, as it is closely associated with the Torah.

Just before serving, top your custard with a healthy serving of the fruit you’ve chosen. If you wish, drizzle the entire dessert with silan (date syrup), or for a distinctly Canadian flavour, maple syrup, and serve.

 

Victoria Day Along the Lakefront

Today is Victoria Day, the civic holiday which, in theory, celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria, but which really marks the beginning of summer. And we’ve had such an awful spring that anything welcoming warm weather is so very welcome. (I do believe it snowed last week. Just sayin’.) Since today was about as perfect as a day can be, with blue skies, bright sun, and temperatures that stayed within in the comfortable range – as opposed to the blast-furnace range we often get in July – we thought that nothing would be better than to take the bikes out for the first real ride of the season.

We chose Port Credit as our destination. It’s a good ride, but not too far, and has the advantage of being in a separate city, so we can now proudly crow that we’ve biked from one city to another and back. Never mind that it’s only 20km each way. We’ll still crow.

Here are some photos from the ride.

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Humber Bay Bridge along the Martin Goodman Trail

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Ready to start riding

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Humber Bay Bridge

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We call this Jetsons City

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Along Lake Ontario

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At Humber Bay

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Beautiful blossoms. A-chooo!

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It’s really not that tough a ride!

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Near the Port Credit Yacht Club

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Port Credit

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Swans and Geese

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Port Credit

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Port Credit

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Toronto City skyline from New Toronto

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How we get around!

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Humber Bay Bridge

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L’Chayim! Mango-Rose water Daquiris, thanks to my son.

Blueberry Pie in a Lemon-Poppy Seed Crust

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Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. My daughter is a bit of an artist and loves playing with her various colours of modelling clay. One thing she loves is making me food – exquisite miniature interpretations of whatever I can dream up. The other day she had grabbed the yellow, black and purple, and asked what she should make. She looked at the yellow and black and decided to do something with poppy seeds and lemon, and the purple just cried out to become ersatz blueberries. And, in that instant, I was struck by the desire to experiment with a lemon and poppy seed crust, which would (of course) be home to a blueberry pie.

I based the crust on my friend Michal’s amazing short crust pastry (recipe for a smaller quantity of the pastry dough here), but with a healthy dose of lemon rind and some lemon juice, and the filling is pretty much stolen from the Perfect Blueberry Pie Filling I found on Food.com. I tinkered with it slightly, because I do that, but it’s probably amazing made exactly according to the recipe.

The results – yummy! The tang of the crust perfectly offsets the sweet and luscious berry filling, which is a temptation in its own right, and should be approached slowly, and with a spoon and no witnesses. Enjoy this with a cup of tea or coffee, and a good friend or two. Or alone, in a dark room. With no witnesses. I won’t tell that you ate the whole thing.

Blueberry Pie in a Lemon-Poppy Seed Crust

The crust:

  • 200 g cold butter
  • 100 g icing sugar
  • 300 g flour
  • 1 egg
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 TBSP poppy seeds
  1. Combine the butter, flour and icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process it briefly until it reaches a course meal texture. If you don’t have a food processor, cut the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives.
  2. Add the egg, lemon juice, zest and seeds. Continue processing until you have a smooth dough.
  3. Chill for at least half an hour, since it will be too soft to work with as is.
  4. Roll 2/3 of this dough to make the bottom crust for the pie and press into a pie dish. Prebake at 350 for 15 minutes, using a blind (a bunch of dried beans works perfectly) to stop the bottom from puffing up and bubbling.
  5. Fill, add the top crust (using the remaining dough), and bake as directed below.

The filling:

  • 4 cups blueberries (frozen work fine)
  • 3cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP cornstarch
  • 3TBSP cold water
  • 1 tsp lemon zest or extract
  • 2 TBSP butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 cups of the berries along with the sugar for about 5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is very liquidy.
  3. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water, and when it’s completely mixed, pour into the saucepan with the hot berry mixture. Stir thoroughly, and keep stirring until the mixture comes to a full boil and thickens.
  4. Let cool slightly, then add the rest of the berries, along with the butter. If using fresh berries, you can let the mixture cool till warm, but add the butter to the thick sauce while it’s hot.
  5. Let cool to room temperature before adding to pie crust. Add the top crust in a lattice or whatever decorative top suits your fancy. Brush the top crust with a beaten egg or a thin honey/water mixture, and sprinkle with a touch of granulated sugar and some more poppy seeds.
  6. Place in a preheated oven at 400F, but reduce heat immediately to 375F. Bake about 40 minutes, checking part-way though to see if the crust edge is browning too quickly. If so, protect it with some strips of aluminium foil. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Bell Peppers in Chickpea Flour

Besan Bell Peppers

Sometimes we find a recipe that calls us again and again, one we never tire of. One that, every time we make it, everybody smiles and hurries to the table. One that we can double, and still not have enough. I will admit to not having been a fan of bell peppers before I found this recipe. But something about the popped mustard seeds and the roasted chickpea flour and the cilantro (yes!) turns these veggies into something special, and I have come to really enjoy them now, even without this lovely treatment.

The original recipe, from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, called for green bell peppers, and yes, this recipe is lovely with them. But I love the colours of the red, yellow and orange versions, and prefer the taste, and when I can I use a combination of these sunnier versions. If you can find purple peppers, try that too. The more colourful, the prettier! I’ve also increased the amount of cilantro, because… cilantro! If you aren’t a fan of this fragrant herb, try it anyway. The flavour is not overpowering, but it does bring out the other tastes.

Peppers, chopped

All chopped and ready for the frying pan.

Bell Peppers in Chickpea Flour

  • ⅓ cup chickpea flour (besan)
  • 3 large bell peppers, your choice of colour(s)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground asafetida
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, finely minced
  • 1/16 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/3 cup water

1. Sift the chickpea flour if necessary. Dry-roast it in a small heavy pan over medium heat, until it smells roasted and turns a few shades darker. Set aside.

2. Core and seed the peppers, and dice into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces.

3. In a medium non-stick pan, heat the oil over medium  heat. When it is hot, add the asafetida and, a second later, the cayenne pepper. Stir once, then add the mustard seeds. Listen carefully, because in a moment they will start to pop. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, toss in the diced peppers. Stir and sauté them over a medium-high for about 5 minutes or until they are just cooked. Now turn heat back down to medium and put in the salt, the black pepper, and the roasted chickpea flour. Stir a few times. Gradually add the water, stirring gently and scraping off all the chickpea flour that clings to the bottom of the pan. Add the cilantro, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom. Turn down the heat if the chickpea flour seems to be catching. Remove from the heat and let sit a minute before stirring once again.

Enjoy with rice, other Indian dishes, chutney, etc, or just grab a spoon and head for the closest room with a door where no one will disturb you as you devour the contents of the pan.

Chickpea flour

Roast the chickpea flour until it’s just a shade or two darker than it was raw, and begins to smell roasted.

Book Review: On Oakham Mount

The Internet is a strange and wonderful place. Yes, it’s a place for raving and ranting and spewing political slogans, as well as opinions not necessarily one’s own. But it can also be a place that can bring strangers together in ways we can not imagine. My husband has long since stopped rolling his eyes (I think!) when I talk about old friends I’ve never met before, or when I pick up and fly off to visit strangers from a chat group. (Smooches, January moms. You know who you are!)

One such wonderful connection occurred several months ago on a literature group, when I offered to read and comment on the first draft of someone’s story. I knew nothing of the author or of her tale, but I thought it might be an interesting way to get some insight into the creative process, while doing what little I could to help move a book from a dream to reality. As I sent my comments to the author, Sophia Meredith, I came to know her a bit, and over the course of many back-and-forths over her book and life in general, I discovered that she was as charming as her novel. If I may be so bold as to claim her as a friend, my life is richer for it.

Well, we are all a bit richer today, because that first novel has just been published! (Yes, you may all cheer wildly now.) Behind this beautiful cover is a lovely story, a re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, starting with a What If.

So, without further ado, and with the caveat this this isn’t completely unbiased due to the above, here is my review of On Oakham Mount, by Sophia Meredith.

What if… what if Elizabeth Bennet were forced to marry Mr. Collins, and Mr. Darcy discovered her crying over her fate before he left for London? What if he, too, had a fate he wished to escape, and found in Miss Bennet a kindred spirit? And what if the two set aside their preconceived notions to really talk? But sometimes, things do not always turn out the way we plan! In this beautiful re imagining of an old favourite tale, Ms. Meredith weaves a complex story, full of interesting and fully-developed characters and a charming plot. The familiar inhabitants of Miss Austen’s original tale are all there, and they are true to their original selves, but with the greater familiarity that this story allows us, we come to know them differently, and indeed, some surprise us most exceedingly! Ms. Meredith’s language is graceful and elegant, evoking Jane Austen’s own lovely style, and the story unfolds naturally and unhurriedly. This is a book to savour and enjoy.

On Oakham Mount is available as an e-book on Amazon and Goodreads, and will soon be available in paperback.

Provençal Vegetable Galettes

Veggies

With Purim on the way, and with Pie Day recently passed, I cannot help but think of filled foods. Hamantashen are filled, pies are filled, even my coffee cup is filled. (Okay, the last one doesn’t really count, but hey, it’s coffee!)

Savoury hamantashen seem to be a “thing” these days, and while I don’t think much of the idea – savoury stuff in pastry is a pie, regardless of the shape – I do like the thought of something yummy in a tender or crispy crust. And what better to put into a delicious crust than mouth-watering roast vegetables and cheese?

These individual galettes, or free-form tarts, are inspired by a recipe from the June 2014 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine. I have played with the recipe and changed it a fair bit, for better or for worse, and this is what I came up with.

You can roast your vegetables earlier in the day, to get that part out of the way, and really, it takes just a few minutes to chop everything up. The crust is a quick and easy pastry with a bit of corn meal in it for a rustic texture, and the Asiago cheese ties it all together with a Mediterranean note. You will likely have some roasted vegetables left over once you’ve filled the crusts. If you wish, make a bit more pastry and a couple more tarts. If you decide to disappear with the bowl and a spoon, I won’t tell anyone where you went.

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Provençal Vegetable Galettes

Vegetables

  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini
  • 1 medium Japanese eggplant
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp salt
  • About ½ cup grated Asiago cheese

Pastry

  • ½ cup corn meal
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose or pastry flour
  • ½ cup cold butter, in chunks
  • 3-4 TBSP water

1.Preheat the oven to 400F

2.Chop the tomatoes in half, then quarter each half. Spread them on a baking sheet and toss with 1 TBSP olive oil.

3. Dice the rest of the vegetables (onion, zucchini, pepper, eggplant and fennel) into smallish pieces, about 1 cm to a side. No need to be exact. In a large bowl, mix the vegetables, garlic, 3 TBSP olive oil, and herbs until well-combined. Spread over a cookie sheet in a single layer. You may need a second sheet for this.

Place the trays of vegetables and tomatoes into the hot oven and let roast for 30 minutes, stirring part-way through. Remove the mixed vegetables. The tomatoes may need a few more minutes. Combine everything in a bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper if desired.

4. Turn oven down to 375F. Make the pastry by cutting the butter, corn meal and flour together in a bowl or food processor. Add just enough water to form a pliable dough. Let rest for a few minutes, then divide the dough into four equal balls.

5. Roll out each ball between sheets of wax paper until you have a rough circle about 6 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Rustic is acceptable here, desired even. Place about 2 TBSP of the grated cheese in the centre of each circle, then put about ½ cup of the mixed vegetables on the cheese. Fold the edges of the pastry around the vegetables in pleats – 6 to 8 pleats should complete the tartlet. Sprinkle a bit more cheese on top, and brush with an egg wash if desired.

Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes, until crust is golden.

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Pastry with cheese

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Adding the vegetables

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Folding the edges up