Monday, October 21, 2013

"Sisterland" and All the Lands Where We've Lived

I've spent the last week reading Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland.  What a great book!

I first started hearing about it in the summer, but of course, the library had a waiting list a mile long.  That's how I came to read American Wife.  I doubt that I'd have ever picked up that book otherwise.  I'd have read the plot summary on the jacket, thought about Laura Bush, and shrugged.  But we were going on our summer sailing trip with my sister's family, and I needed something to read, so I invited the book along.  I was surprised at how compelling it was, given that the bones of the story, which is Laura Bush's story, were so familiar.

I'm impressed with Sittenfeld's ability to get inside her character's heads, to make them multi-dimensional, and that I'm drawn to them even when they're less than admirable.  But we expect that of our authors, after all.  What impresses me more is her ability to capture so much in just a few details.

Here's an example:  "Our first year out of college, we hosted Thanksgiving in Chicago for our friends, who were mostly other Mizzou graduates, and I felt a particular kind of twenty-two-year-old's pride in the fact that, unlike at Thanksgivings of my youth, we used fresh rather than frozen spinach for the casserole and real whipped cream instead of cans of Reddi-wip.  (Also around this time, one ordinary week-night after making dinner, I heard myself say to Ben, 'I'm going to compost the rest of the bok choy'--there was a little yard with a compost bin behind our building--and pretty much everything I was smug about then was encapsulated in that single sentence.  I thought--foolishly, obnoxiously--that I'd left my former self behind.)" (p. 146).

Those few sentences capture so perfectly what I call the self-righteousness of the late adolescent, the one I call my inner 19 year old. 

I may read the book again at some point.  It's got some surprises at the end that I won't ruin--the kind of surprises that make me want to read it again to see what Sittenfeld might have planted in terms of foreshadowing.

The depiction of the cooking took me back to various points of my life.  I've spent time in the past  weeks cooking for various groups of people.  It's getting hard for me to remember who is eating what, so I usually cook vegetarian food as the default option--although one friend with a kidney condition has just been told to avoid dairy, and I am not a vegan chef.  Of course, she has to avoid a lot of vegetables too, so the safest route is just to serve what we ordinarily would and let her decide how to proceed.

My go-to cookbooks for delicious vegetarian food are written by Mollie Katzen, books that have been on my shelf since high school.  I've written about her before, most notably in this blog post.  I've recently discovered that her recipes can be simplified further.  For example, in the recipe that I'll post below, I bought a broccoli salad mix and shredded carrots from the grocery store, rather than get out the food processor, shred, and clean the equipment.  My inner 19 year old would not approve.  Present-life Kristin is simply looking for simple ways to get more vegetables into her life.

This recipe works well for brunch, for dinner, for a snack that has heft.  Enjoy!

Savory Vegetable Cheesecake

From Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook

Before you start, note how long the creation takes to bake and cool (75 minutes)

3 C. coarsely grated zucchini (grated broccoli salad mix worked well)

3 T. butter

1C. minced onion

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

Pinch salt

1 C. grated carrot

3 T. flour

1 tsp. of both basil and oregano

¼ C. minced parsley

1 T. fresh lemon juice

3 C. ricotta cheese (non-fat, reduced fat, regular, or a combo all work fine)

1 C. grated mozzarella cheese (cheddar works well too)

4 large eggs

work load reducer: mix everything together without the draining and cooking—I don’t like raw onions in this method, so I use dried flakes; with the work load reducer option, I beat the eggs and cheeses together with the herbs, stir in everything else, and dump it in the pan--works just as well

Original recipe instructions
Set the grated zucchini in a colander over a sink or bowl. Salt lightly and let stand 15 minutes. Squeeze out all excess moisture.

In a large skillet, sauté the onions in butter with pinch of salt. After several minutes, add garlic, carrots, zucchini, flour and herbs. Keep stirring and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and lemon.

Beat together cheeses and eggs in a very large bowl. Add the sautéed veggies and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put into a greased pan (9x13 works well, as does a 10” springform pan. Bake uncovered at 375 for ½ hour. Then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door, and leave the cake in there for an additional 15 minutes. Let cool 10-15 minutes more.

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