Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women
Broadleaf Books (June 28, 2022), 203 pages
Kindle edition $17.99, Amazon hardcover $22.61
In Salty, Alissa Wilkinson discusses the lives of women she admires and whom she would like to bring together for a hypothetical dinner party. And what a range of women she selects. She devotes each chapter to an individual woman and ends the chapter with a recipe that reflects that woman’s character.
Wilkinson includes two novelists in her dinner party. She writes about Laurie Colwin, whose novels describe ordinary, white, middle-class Americans who manage to mess up their lives. Her recipe is Lentil Soup and No-Knead Bread. But then she discusses Octavia Butler, an African American writer of speculative fiction who died in 2006, but whose work is experiencing something of a revival these days. Butler’s dish is Vegetarian Chili with Winter Squash because the alien race in her trilogy Lilith’s Brood is vegetarian.
The author gives ample attention to women involved in political struggle. She writes about Ella Baker, who was a civil rights activist in the South and the force behind the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was not one to spend time in the kitchen but loved sharing meals with people. Appropriately, her dish is Louisiana-Style Shrimp Salad. The political philosopher and anti-fascist activist Hannah Arendt was also not interested in cooking but loved her cocktail parties, where she could engage in extended conversation. Wilkinson assigns Arendt the Stiff Gibson, a form of martini.
Conversely, Wilkinson pays homage to women dedicated to food. She tells us about Edna Lewis, out of the ordinary because she was a Black woman who worked as a chef in New York City in the 1940s and then opened her own short-lived restaurant. She also published well-received cookbooks. Then there is Agnès Varda, who wrote about food and cooking in post-World War II Britain, where many desirable (even essential) ingredients were rationed or difficult (if not impossible) to find.
Of course, such a dinner party would not be complete without Alice B. Toklas. Her life partner Gertrude Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, as we all know, but Toklas wrote The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (yes, it was two words). As an expatriate with Stein in Paris, Toklas did the cooking on the cook’s day off, and had to deal with the shortages of wartime France.
Finally, Wilkinson pays tribute to Maya Angelou, whom she puts at the head the table for her hypothetical dinner party. Angelou, in addition to her other prolific output, wrote cookbooks. Who knew? I didn’t. And Angelou’s dish? Poached Pears in Port Wine.
Salty is delightful reading and pays well-deserved homage to nine strong and capable women.
I wrote about having to retire my old laptop computer and therefore having to say goodbye to the recipe software I loved so much, Living Cookbook.
The question, then, was what program to move to. There aren’t a lot of choices for recipe software, and most of them are subscription and cloud based. I have enough damn subscriptions as it is, and I’m not wild about storing my recipes in the cloud. It also appears that a lot of the programs are not actively maintained.
I finally decided on MasterCook. It has been around for a long time and they released an updated MasterCook 22 not long ago. Recently enough that the developer says they tested it on Windows 11. Of course the MasterCook folks would rather that you go with their web-based subscription version, but at least they offer a locally installed, one-time purchase version.
So there it is. I have MasterCook. It is not Living Cookbook, but it does the job. It certainly doesn’t have the flexible search capabilities I had in Living Cookbook. The user interface is rather old-fashioned and clunky. Something tells me that is intentional: a way to get you to subscribe to their more modern cloud-based version. Sometimes I will be in the middle of doing something and the program will simply close. Blip! Just like that.
I find it annoying that I cannot, apparently, do an “and” search. For example, if I search on “Italian” and “Stovetop,” I get all the Italian recipes and all the Stovetop recipes, not the recipes that are tagged both Italian and Stovetop. The program does offer multiple formats for printing recipes, but none of them are as clean and well-laid out as Living Cookbook’s format. But, hey, it’s what I’ve got.
So I work with what I have. I have access to all of my recipes and I can add new ones fairly easily. It will have to be sufficient.
I get my recipes from a variety of sources. There is the Food Network, from what few actual cooking shows that they have left. We subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and Food Network Magazine. I also follow a few recipe sites on my RSS news reader. (My RSS news reader allows me to follow my favorite web sites using a sort of inbox format. It is a technology that is on the decline, however, something that I have written about.)
One of the recipe sites that I follow is The Recipe Critic. Alyssa Rivers offers recipes that are consistently both easy to make and tasty. Low calorie, not so much. But for my cooking preferences easy and tasty rank higher than low calorie.
For example, last Saturday I made her Creamy Tuscan Garlic Salmon. (A lot of Alyssa’s recipes start with “creamy.” You see what I mean about them not necessarily being low calorie.) It was not at all difficult to make and it was delicious. Terry loved it.
At a time when neither my television programs nor my magazines are offering recipes that I find terribly exciting, I am glad that Alyssa is there to keep things interesting.
Terry and I have had a specific kind of breakfast routine during the cooler months of the year. On Mondays we have blueberry pancakes and on Tuesdays we have oatmeal. Wednesdays through Fridays we eat cold cereal. For oatmeal days, Terry starts the oatmeal in the slow cooker on Monday night so it’s ready when we get up on Tuesday.
Terry was reading the Hints From Heloise column in the newspaper one day recently and came across a submission from a woman who frequently hosts overnight guests, for whom she wants to provide breakfast on their own schedule. She calls it her Crockpot Breakfast Apple Cobbler. Heloise reproduced the recipe as follows:
4 tart apples, peeled and chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup granola cereal
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low overnight. Serve with a little milk.
Terry thought that might be a nice alternative to oatmeal on a Tuesday. We rarely have granola on hand so we picked some up from the bulk bins at Sprouts, along with a couple of Granny Smith apples. She put everything together on a recent Monday night, leaving out the brown sugar as she felt the granola was sweet enough.
We were both delighted. We liked it so much that this Tuesday we used a different variety of granola and frozen peaches. Excellent as well.
A really nice breakfast-time change.
I love Indian food, as you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. Sadly, my options are limited these days. Our local Indian restaurant here in Hemet was short-lived, though Terry and I did all we could to support it. We could drive thirty minutes south to Temecula and go to an Indian restaurant there called Mantra, but their primary business is buffet, and such service is, as you well know, not currently allowed in California. (Besides, neither Terry nor I are comfortable with restaurant dining right now.) And then, to add insult to injury, some time back my favorite brand of frozen Indian lunches, Tandoor Oven, disappeared from the freezer cases of the two stores here that carried it.
So what’s left? Right. Fix it yourself.
I have a lot of Indian dishes in my recipe database, and multiple versions of some, such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken (two recipes that are hard to distinguish from each other). Last week I decided I had gone too long without Indian food and planned Butter Chicken for Friday. I chose a version that recently appeared in Food Network Magazine.
I didn’t follow the recipe exactly; I rarely do. The recipe called for sautéing an onion while adding some of the spices, but I can’t do that as Terry is allergic to onions. The recipe called for tomato, so I blanched and peeled a fresh one. I threw the tomato into our Dutch oven along with tomato paste (in the recipe), and a small can of tomato sauce (not in the recipe). I then added all the specified spices.
I had previously browned the chicken with the indicated spices. I cooked the tomato mixture down, threw it in the Vitamix, and put it back in the Dutch oven. I put the chicken back in and let it simmer for a while. At the last minute I added heavy cream and butter.
Meanwhile, I had been cooking a cup of Basmati rice on another burner.
The result? I was happy. Terry was pleased. If you can’t go out for Indian food you can certainly make it at home. It is a lot of work, but the finished product is well worth it.
Some months ago a food writer wrote, tongue only slightly in cheek, words to the effect of, “Shouldn’t you make use of that big bag of white beans you bought when there was nothing else on the shelf at the store?” I did and I should. Guilty as charged, your honor.
So when Terry showed me this recipe for winter white bean and Italian sausage soup and we had a cold, wet, rainy Monday in the forecast, I decided to make use of that stash.
You need to understand my relationship with dried beans. I have never been a soak-the-beans-overnight person. When I cook dried beans, which is almost always to make tostadas, I use my old, reliable stovetop pressure cooker. This time, however, I decided to be different. I took some of my white beans and soaked them for twenty-four hours. I then cooked them on the stove for another hour. Next, I drained the beans and added the ingredients specified in the recipe. Along with the canned tomatoes and basil I put in the sausage, which I cooked in a frying pan, and the broth, using vegetable rather than chicken, something I always do. In the aftermath of the Christmas rush, the grocery store was out of frozen spinach, so I used frozen peas and corn, which I had on hand.
The result was a very tasty and hearty dinner (to which I added garlic bread), on a cold, rainy winter evening on which Tasha kept going out into the back yard and getting herself wet. (She loves Terry toweling her off.)
A small measure of comfort and pleasure in difficult and unsettling times.
Rachael Ray’s premise for her 30 Minute Meals episode “Steak Out, Italian Style” is that if you are tempted to go out for a steak dinner you can just as easily make a great one at home. This episode tells you how.
Now I am not a big steak fan, you probably know that. But this dinner looked absolutely delicious, and I knew it was right up Terry’s alley. After I watched the DVR’d episode I brought it up via On Demand and showed it to Terry. She agreed that it looked great. I decided to make a go of it on Saturday.
It addition to rosemary steak, the meal includes Marsala mushrooms and waffle fries with Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Terry told me it was a “killer dinner,” and I have to say I was very pleased with the result. But a 30 minute meal? It definitely was not.
Now I did inadvertently leave out a couple of things. I forgot the wine for the mushrooms. (Yes, I forgot the wine in Marsala mushrooms.) And I was supposed to put crumbled bacon on top of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Totally spaced on that. But in reality neither were missed at all.
The comment at the beginning of the recipe on the web page says you should eat this in front of the television. Absolutely no way. This is a meal to be eaten with your significant other at the dining room table by candlelight, your faithful canine sitting on the floor nearby.
That’s what we did. It was marvelous.
I believe the first place I saw instructions for making a slow cooker whole chicken was in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. They were, after all, interested in interested in selling their giblet-free whole chickens. It said, in essence, put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. That was pretty much it.
I have done this a few times, and I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. That was, however, our dinner yesterday.
The closest Trader Joe’s is a half hour away in the very congested town of Temecula. (I don’t know how you get from one block to the next in Temecula without getting bogged down in complete gridlock. Somehow, though, you eventually get to where you’re going.) Fortunately, however, our local Sprouts here in Hemet sells giblet-less small organic chickens, and that’s what I bought.
Shortly after eleven in the morning yesterday I put together a slightly modified mixture of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Blend and rubbed it on the chicken. I put the chicken in the slow cooker and set it to low, so it was in the crock pot before eleven thirty. I then left it alone.
Around twenty to seven in the evening I put a rice mix on the stove and at seven o’clock I checked the internal temperature of the chicken. It was well above the required 165° for chicken. I put everything on the table.
It was a delicious dinner. The Jamaican jerk seasoning was great. And there was enough left over to seal up and freeze for two more dinners.
Sometimes a simple approach produces great results.
I continue my quest to try plant-based alternatives to meats. Sprouts Farmers Market market recently added a couple of LightLife products in addition to their Beyond Meat line. I bought a package of their Ground product and used it to make chili. I sautéed it with chili con carne seasoning and then added crushed tomatoes, black beans, and tomato sauce. I seasoned it with cumin, coriander, garlic, freshly ground pepper, and minced onion.
It was good. Really good. I’ve made a similar chili with Morningstar Grillers Crumbles and this was far superior.
The food industry is making great strides in this realm. I anxiously await the arrival of the Impossible Burger at Burger King here in Southern California.
Generally when I cook I pull out a recipe – usually from my Living Cookbook database. I may not follow the recipe exactly, I generally don’t follow the recipe exactly, but I have it there. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like selecting a recipe and I don’t feel like shopping for ingredients.
I was in that kind of mood last week. Add to that the fact that I’m still supposed to be avoiding red meat and I ended up doing some vegetarian improvisation. On Thursday I made my own macaroni and cheese. I cooked the shells, threw them in a casserole dish along with two remaining slices of pepper jack, added shredded cheddar, and topped it all with panko drizzled with garlic butter. I baked it for fifteen minutes. It turned out well.
For Friday dinner, we had some spinach and mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used before they went bad. I cooked a cup brown rice, threw in the spinach along with mushrooms which I had sliced, added to that shredded cheddar and there was dinner.
Not elegant or fancy, but nutritious, easy, and inexpensive. As the tagline from the old Smooth Jazz TV program (I hate smooth jazz!) used to say, “Life is like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”