Tag Archives: Claudia Roden

Have You Met Ms. Jones?

25 Oct

I was supposed to meet Judith Jones last night.

Empire State Building

It was dark and blustering as I trotted up the slick sidewalks of Fifth Avenue, ducking and weaving around tourists and construction sheds. It was only four blocks, and I covered them in an odd half run, half trot, holding my breath the whole time, checking my watch every few strides. I turned the corner onto 19th Street and my hope faded. I could tell that the event was over. I checked my watch again, 8:01pm. I had missed her.

I burst into the store and asked the proprietor, “Is she still here?” “No,” he said, “the event ended at 8.” “But it’s only just 8:01 now,” I pleaded. “I’m sorry, but you missed her, you should have gotten here earlier,” he snapped peevishly. “I couldn’t,” I blubbered, “work.” “Well, I’ve got a few signed books left I’d be happy to sell you,” he added in a kinder tone. “No, thank you, that’s not the point. I wanted to meet her.” And then I turned and walked away, thoroughly depressed.

Empire State Building

It’d been a truly cruddy day, and meeting Judith Jones was the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew I had a two hour window, I knew she was only four blocks away, and yet all the servers of creation kept me from her. Sometimes I hate computers.

So, who is this woman that I hold in such high regard? Judith Jones was (and still is) an editor at Alfred Knopf. As a young woman living in Paris she found and helped get published The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. She brought us Julia Child as an author and TV personality. She’s also worked with James Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Lidia Bastianich, Marcella Hazan, Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham, Joan Nathan and many, many others.

Empire State Building

But most importantly to me she discovered and edited two of my favorite cookbooks of all time: Roy Andries de Groot‘s Feasts For All Seasons and Claudia Roden‘s A Book Of Middle Eastern Food. I discovered all this a few months ago after I took a galley of Ms. Jones’ memoir, The Tenth Muse, that had been sent to someone in my office and set aside to be thrown out with the trash. The girly lavender cover threw me off, but I decided to take a closer look and there on the back was this quote:

Food is one of the greatest gifts of life… You should derive enormous pleasure from making it, eating it, enjoying it with family, and it should be honored.

Each chapter was a revelation, how she made her choices, the women she met, the lessons she learned. The Boy quickly grew tired of me coming home, bursting through the door and starting our conversation with, “Do you know what else Judith Jones did?” Finally he suggested I contact Knopf’s press office to let them know that I really wanted to meet Ms. Jones, to sit down with her and talk to her. I did, and all I got back was a terse email inviting me to the reading she did last night. But alas, I missed it.

Empire State Building

As I sit here typing at my desk, next to my bookshelf, I’m scanning the titles. So many of the cookbooks I love and trust were published by Knopf. Did she have a hand in all of them? Could one woman have shaped the way I cook so anonymously? It’s a delicious question, and one I’m afraid I’ll never get to ask.

When I finally made it home last night I was exhausted and famished, but too tired to cook. I tore off a hunk of focaccia and poured myself a glass of good red wine. I sat and munched and thought. Ms. Jones still cooks dinner for herself every night and all I could manage was a hunk of bread. It’s humbling and inspiring.

My Books

If I had had the energy I would have loved to have eaten my favorite quick and easy dinner last night. I didn’t have the energy then, but I’d love to give you the recipe now. The slaw (known around here as slawpy) is made a day in advance and goes much faster if you have a “chou chef” to help with the prep (the Boy’s term, not mine!).

Slawpy

All that is required upon arriving home is the caramelizing of onions and garlic and boiling the pierogis. It’s fast, healthy and delicious.

Pierogies with Caramelized Purple & Yellow Onions

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, if you’ve got the time to make it.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Fluffy Dilly Slaw.

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The Survivor

4 Oct

Do you remember way back in the balmy month of May, with much excitement, I announced the planting of my little fire escape container garden?

Happier Times

There were tomatoes and radishes and herbs and peppers and even strawberries, all tucked neatly into little containers, basking happily in the dappled Brooklyn sun.

Well, I hate to say it, but it’s been a dramatic summer and there were few survivors.

First there was summer’s refusal to get started. The plants wanted heat, but there wasn’t any. Then there was the tornado which uprooted a few and harmed many. Then there was the rain that kept beating my seedlings into pulp. And finally, there were the squirrels; those dumb, stupid baby squirrels who feel that my planters are the perfect place to hide all their bounty that I am positive they will never remember.

Tomatoes? Gone. The radishes and herbs? KOed by the weather. The strawberries managed to give me two really cute berries, and that was all. They were then hit by the double header of tornado and squirrels. As you can see, it wasn’t only this guy who had a rough summer of farming in Brooklyn!

Strawberries

But you’ll notice I haven’t said a thing about the peppers. Well, that’s because they survived! I feared for them. They were the hardest hit by the tornado. All six plants were torqued out by the wind into a very neat spiral and had many broken leaves and stems. So I gently gathered them up and tied them together and hoped that would be enough. It was. They kept growing, but wouldn’t flower.

Then we started making cheese. One of the recipes noted that leftover whey makes great plant food. So after our first cheesemaking foray I let the whey cool and then fed the peppers. I could almost hear them cheering! The next morning they looked so perky and happy, and then just a day or two later the first blossom bloomed. And then another day or two later, we had our first pepper, a Portugese hot.

Portugese Hot Pepper

This weekend, with prospects for at least another half-dozen peppers, the Boy and I decided it was time to harvest our first Brooklyn-grown produce. But it needed a proper end.

I recently bought Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, the follow up, decades in the making, to her first book, and possibly my favorite cook book of all time. It has many of the same recipes as the book from the ’70s, updated and adapted for the modern home cook, plus hundreds of new ones. In one meal Ms. Roden made me think of this book as essential. She is genius.*

Portugese Hot Pepper

Over a year ago the Boy had printed out a recipe for Shakshuka from the Times and brought it home to me. When he does this, I know he really wants to try whatever it is, and that it’s probably something I might not be so fond of. Something about that recipe rubbed me the wrong way. It was so fussy and long and complicated. I kept hiding it and hoping he’d forget about it. But no.

I had said I wanted to make something with tomatoes. Shakshuka he said! I whimpered something about not being in the mood. I wanted a place to properly use my one pepper. Shakshuka he said! I mumbled something about it being too complicated. I wanted to coddle the beautiful free range eggs I’d picked up earlier in the week. Shakshuka he said! I murmured something about the pepper getting lost in all those flavors.

And then, finally, we were at the greenmarket, my patience was wearing very, very thin and there, at one of the stands were the world’s largest bell peppers and I agreed. Shakshouka I sighed.

Shakshouka

Something was niggling at the back of my head. Hadn’t I seen a recipe in The New Book for shakshouka that looked really simple and clean and easy? Yes, I had. And so, this is where our brave little pepper ended his life, in a warm, molten, silky, sweet and spicy tangle of tomatoes and eggs. A fitting end? Incredibly so.

I paired the shakshouka with a Tunisian salad, supposed to be served cold, of mashed potatoes, shatta and capers that I served warm, and pomegranate and curry lamb sausages.

The tiniest whisper of spice from the sausage melded perfectly with the rest of the meal. Both dishes, though intensely flavorful and at least a little spicy, were devoid of any high seasoning. The light cinnamon aroma was the element that transformed the disparate elements and elevated them into a meal. It was delightful.

Shakshouka, Mashed Potatoes with Capers & Pomegranate/Curry Lamb Sausages

And so we sat and munched and oohed and aahed and discussed next years garden. First, I’ll start the seedlings inside. Second, I’m going to make sure my plants and dirt come from organic sources. Third, I will buy containers that are too high for squirrels to clamber into. Fourth, chicken wire will go over everything. Fifth, pray to god there are no more tornadoes!

*As an aside, did everyone read the profile the New Yorker did on Ms. Roden in the food issue? They’ve only got an abstract, a sidebar and some recipes online now, so it’s worth trying to track it down. It made me, even more, want to fly to London and hang out with her. I cannot wait for her volume on Spain to be published!

Head below the jump for the recipes for Claudia Roden’s Shakshouka and Slatit Batata Marfusa.

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