23 February 2009

Be what may

I saw her on my way to the bakery the other day. She was as thin as rice paper. Even thinner. She looked pale and exhausted. It felt to me she even did not have strength enough to lift her feet as she walked. Her cheekbones looked like blade razors cutting through her transparent skin of parchment colour. She had on a beige body warmer and denim jeans. Her each leg looked thinner than a walking stick.
I am no stranger to fear. So I felt frightened. As I saw her, I scrunched up inside as if somebody was wringing my vitals. It took me a few moments to come back to my normal self. At the time, the girl was nowhere to be seen. She was gone. The wind was howling. I saw myself - my past self.

The girl I encountered reminded me of bodily pain and soul ordeal that I, too, experienced a handful of years back. Not that I forgot those or that I claim that she may be starving herself, it is just that I never saw anybody else who would astonishingly resemble me – that desperate me - as this thin girl in thick denim jeans did. (I am always three minutes away from bringing up my story over and over, you know.)

Unlike present me who was speeding up to the bakery, she was hastily withdrawing from the place, as if she suddenly found herself on a mine field. Three years before now, I did the same too. But today we bread and I speak the same language and look at each other without me running away from the first sight of it. That makes for a happy me. I wish I had as harmonious relationship with men in my life, because I haven’t got one as yet. I mean, is it normal to say to a man I want to go home when you are, actually, being kissed? I think it’s not. At least, I have bread in my life, so be what may.

Are you hungry, Dear Reader? Please, come on in, take a seat and help yourself. I’ve just made crostini with goat’s cheese and sage. (I'm sorry you don't see it in a photo.)

Normally, you use sage with meat, right? But it turns out that sage is a fine bedfellow (just like time) for mild- and aged goat’s cheese. You ask how I made it. Very simple. Monday-like. Toast a slice of bread you like, top it with aged goat’s cheese and sprinkle over it a touch of finely chopped sage leaves. You don’t want sage to overpower tangy aroma of cheese and earthy flavour of toasted bread, so use the herb light-handedly. You can also season your crostini with fresh-ground black pepper which nicely complements the goat’s cheese taste.

Now as we chew noisily on our crostini let me tell you a secret, or rather a beautiful memory I never want to forget: I was peacefully padding along a kitchen; fresh bread was being warmed up in an oven, filling the room with an exhilarating odour of toasted wheat and illusive grassy flavours; the dear man was in my embrace or I was in his. I did not run away. Neither from bread nor from the man. I want to remember it, be what may.

16 February 2009


I was going to write about onions. A whole post - can you imagine? But then I feared you might think me off the norm if I swoon extensively over onions alone, so I decided I shall start with onions and end with meat. My Dear Readers, I truly hope this post will find you well. I dare wish so. That said, let me begin…

I don’t know if there is any law that regulates sneezing in public places. Probably there is not. I wish there were one. Please let me explain. I understand that sneezing is a natural process (I myself have been there million times); but I hope you share my view that to be sneezed at is far from being exciting. It always happens with me: I stand, minding my own business, at a tram station; a weary cold-sufferer (a poor thing, I agree) appears in the setting, approaches me (not on purpose, of course), looking sad and all that; then he or she smiles at me and sneezes – also at me. You know the feeling, don’t you? Under such circumstances, a wish to hit a certain somebody arises, or at least a desire to say something educative, like, “Close your mouth, thank you very much”.

The downside of such incidents (and I don’t know how else to call these) is that, more frequently than I in fact need, I get, nay am given, a cold. A cold-domino effect, if you like. To prevent this, I tend to eat raw onions (rather regularly): both my grandmother and my mother used to give me onion galore back in my childhood when I showed the first symptoms of a nascent cold and such. (Fresh raw onion, thinly sliced or finely chopped (as well as fresh garlic) and eaten right away, still remains a timely natural remedy against common cold in Russia. Strangely, but I did not resist the wisdom of the grown-ups in my family, and took rather well to all things onion - raw onion, to be true to the letter.)

Well, onions are good, no doubt. But they smell – also no doubt. They are anti-social, these fiery beasts! And when you eat them uncooked, you get all onion-y and anti-social too, right?


What to do? Quite simple: cook them. (I like to re-invent the wheel every now and then, you understand.)

Needless to say, when cooked, onions lose most of their anti-bacterial properties; but I believe they gain as much too – a refined flavor, softer texture, delicate taste, especially when encapsulated in meat.

And here comes the meat! Red meat! Now, if you let me, a few words on my relationship with the ingredient (sounds rather maniacal, no?).

I have never been a vegetarian, nor have I been an avid meat-eater. Meat never repulsed me but I never craved for it. (Apart from the time, though, when I craved for everything, and yet bravely decided to have nothing instead; if you want, you can read about it here.) Recently, however, I got a feeling that meat is missing in my life, and, of course, on my plate. I miss its taste, its flavour. I even do not mind if smoke fumes from frying will be so much absorbed into my hair and clothes that neither shower nor perfume will help to disguise the aroma. I miss a cacophony of sizzling sounds since these are what you usually hear when you fry meat. These sounds are like jazz to me: hidden melody, lots of passion. And appetite. Besides, I do not want to hurt myself more than I already did. So this is how I decided I am going to eat meat (from local, organic producers, if you need to know). Again.

And thus I began with these tender, juicy, delicate meat patties (with onion). I made them. I love(d) them. I am proud of them.

Also, I am quite proud that I stood in a snake-like line at a butcher’s stall for good 30 (!!!) minutes at a farmer’s market last Saturday. To while away the time, I oogled sausages speckled with oozy fat, rosy meat cuts luring onlookers into joining the exponentially growing line. I watched dutch butchers packing the customers’ orders with unspoken care, patience and devotion: a nice elderly dutchman, with a warm glow in his eyes (he loves his meat, I think), patted gently the ground beef I ordered as if it were an infant’s bottom. I was moved.

Beef patties

1 pound ground beef
1 large piece of country-style or levain bread, crusts removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium potato, finely grated
1 small garlic clove, pressed
1 egg
½ tsp sea salt
fresh-ground black pepper
olive oil

(Yields about 15 medium-sized patties)

1. In a small bowl, combine bread with ½ cup water. Sed aside to soften, about 4-5 mins. Squeeze most of the water out of the bread.

2. In a large bowl, combine with your hands the meat, bread, garlic, onion and potato. Toss gently but thoroughly.

3. Make a well in the meat mixture and break the egg into it. Sprinkle salt and pepper over and gently toss to blend until the egg is fully incorporated. Don’t overwork the meat though, otherwise the meat patties will be dense.

4. Using your hands, form the meat mixture into meatballs. Give them a patty shape by flattening the meatballs slightly.

5. Heat a large heavy skillet (or a non-stick frying pan) over medium heat. To reach even browning and a pleasant crunchy crust, make sure the skillet is well heated. Add olive oil. Working in batches, fry the meat patties for 3-4 mins on eash side.

A few notes:

You can easily play with the recipe - it allows for various twist-and-turns so well. Soak bread in milk rather than in water, or even in beer - for deeper and more complex flavour! Use any other type of meat, or a combination. Also, you may want to add to the meat fresh hearbs such as flat-leaf parsley or chives. Potato and onion/garlic puree provide for the moistness and softness of the meat, so you should not skip those, I dare advise.

And a few visualities (my word) as a final touch for today:

Be well, My Reader! Be well.

8 February 2009


Before I proceed further, I'd like to say thank you to my dear friend Luke, a man of many curries, who has finally kept his promise as to provide me with a new photo camera! Thank you, Luke! And hello, my Dear Readers!

I like to be very well fed and as much educated too. Preferably, even desirably, at the same time. I wish I were explained, say, the theory of relativity over a plate of fragrant roasted potatoes and a juicy chunk of garlicky chicken (also roasted) – a bottle of the red would help the matters considerably , if at it - instead of being seated in a stale classroom, having to understand the understandable when hunger-stricken. I never did well on an empty stomach. Nah.

However, as time goes, things are improving - I expand the range of my general knowledge not only from books that I hold so dear, or at classes, but also when I munch on my meals, which I hold very dear too. For example, I did not half know who James Cagney is. In my own defense, this was before I set out to make the James Cagney eggs, of which none other than David Tanis, in his well-celebrated and loved by many (me included) book “A platter of figs and other recipes”, speaks humorously but briefly:

“[…] my childhood fave, a version of egg-in-the-hole we used to call eggs James Cagney (for long-forgotten reasons), where you cut out a circle in a slice of bread with a water glass, melt some butter in a pan, lay in the bread, break an egg into the hole, then fry the thing on both sides.” (p.148)

Needless to say, a) I wanted those eggs; b) I was left in a perplexed state of mind (a rather rummy condition, I must say) about the James Cagney’s affinity with said eggs. In other words, besides being hungry for food, I craved for new knowledge, which is doubly commendable (!).

First, I asked my trusty walking encyclopedia of all things American, that is my already well-known friend Luke (the man is getting so much publicity lately), about the two: the actor and the eggs.

“Who is James Cagney?”

“American actor. Oscar winner.”

“Did he love fried eggs?”

“Er….Um…..I really don’t know.”

I shamed the man for the lack of knowledge, and, therefore, had no option other than turn to Google, where I, alas, did not find the answer either. Hm.

Now I still remain absolutely foggy as to why James Cagney - not that I actually mind. Anyway, this is already so secondary in my priorities. I am fully occupied with eggs per se now. They entertain me, these luscious morsels. These little replications of sun on my plate. (I can be very imaginative at times.)

If you ask me, there is nothing more rewarding than a feeling of grand satisfaction from a very simple meal. This dish of the James Cagney eggs, for instance. To make it, you don’t need anything more than a piece of crackly bread with moist and chewy interior, an egg from a happy hen, and a drive to have fun, as the name alone suggests. (You even don’t want to care why the James Cagney, really.) A few leaves of fresh thyme will also be good. Just as good will be two or three gossamer shavings of aged parmesan over the top of the resulting dish, or any other cheese with a pronounced flavour you like. A handful of crispy leaves of ruccola, splashed with lemon juice and olive oil. Common and easy! But it was so good that, after I’d relished my portion, I sat still and fully content; and for a long moment I even did not think of any other meaning of my life than enjoy the simplicity in life and be grateful. So, as you see, I mean serious things here.

Heat the pan properly before adding butter (or olive oil) to it. When starts to release its nutty aroma, put the bread to it. Once you’ve crackled an egg open, and poured it into the hole in the bread, the runny egg white tends to escape from under the bread. Don’t get discouraged - as soon as the thing solidifies, it is easy to fold up ‘the edges’ with a spatula. When the white is fully set, turn the bread/egg over in the pan, withoug breaking the egg yolk (difficult, but practice makes perfect). Fry for 3-4 mins on both sides, seasoning with salt/pepper and any other spice combination. Do as you wish! And, more importantly, enjoy!

See you soon, My Dear Readers!