Tag Archives: Fiction

The Sambar in the Garden


I grew up adoring, like so many little girls, The Secret Garden. No matter that I killed plants by merely glancing at them, or that my mother was alive and well just up the stairs (hi mom!); there’s something about that story that just feels possible. All children know that grownups keep secrets and behave entirely irrationally. Why couldn’t there be a hidden paradise, just beyond the boundary you are allowed to wander? Kamala Nair feels the same way. In The Girl in the Garden, she spins the classic tale into a modern story for grownups. Rakhee Singh is an unhappy Minnesotan daughter of Indian immigrants. When her mother whisks her suddenly off to the mysterious ancestral home in India, Rakhee is culture-shocked. Giant spiders, spotty electricity, and bathing in a bucket aren’t exactly par for the course in Minnesota. But as she explores the lush jungle around the crumbling mansion, Rakhee finds both her confidence and the key to unlocking her Mother’s hidden past. Naturally, the food descriptions have had me in a curry fit since I picked the book up. On her eleventh birthday, Rakhee requests her favorite lentil stew, sambar, for dinner. Please note that this will be a beautiful dish for you- mine is quite ugly because I had to substitute the stiff green lentils for the soft, supple red ones. I also use hibiscus instead of the traditional tamarind in this dish as a tribute to the flowers in Rakhee’s garden. Find at any Latin grocer, or substitute pomegranate juice for a similar flavor.

The Sambar in the Garden

2 Tb dried hibiscus flowers
3 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
8 new potatoes, chopped
3/4 cup RED lentils (dal)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1 Tb mustard seed
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp cayenne (less if you’re wimpy)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seed

In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of oil and sauté all the vegetables until softened- about 10 minutes. While those are going, bring your water to a boil in a separate saucepan. Remove it from the heat and toss in the hibiscus. Let that steep while the veggies finish up. Grind the coconut and the spices together, either in a mortar and pestle or an old coffee grinder. Feeling lazy? Just replace the spice blend with 1 1/2 Tb of curry powder and toss the coconut in as-is. Sauté one minute longer, add the lentils, and the hibiscus water (flowers and all! They’re yummy.) Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the lentils are disintegrating into a mushy purée. If you’d like, you can mash your veggies as well with a potato masher.

Serves 4-6. Add rice or naan and a side of mango for a full meal.

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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Clementine’s Last Supper

“Losing Clementine” is a marvelous debut from Ashley Ream. Clementine Pritchard is a successful artist in LA. She has a cat, an assistant, an ex-husband who would do anything for her, and oh yeah, a death wish. Fed up with a lifetime of mental illness, Clementine has decided to go off her meds, spend a month getting her affairs in order, and then kill herself. Here’s the thing, though, watching her burn bridges is usually pretty funny. Clementine is outspoken, sharp-tongued, and clever. By the end of the book, you still don’t know if she’ll go through with it, but you hope not. The night before the deed is to be done, Clementine takes herself out for a last, glorious meal. Along with an expensive bottle of French red, she savors a salmon tart with lemon cream and tops her meal off with a dark chocolate and sea salt pudding.

Clementine’s Last Supper
Salmon Tart
1 1/8 cups flour
1 tsp salt
Zest of one lemon
1 stick cold butter, cubed
1/3 cup cold water
Combine in a food processor, then wrap in Saran wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

1/2 onion, slivered
2 eggs
1/3 block cream cheese
Salt and pepper
Mix well. Divide pie dough into 6 pieces. Roll each into a small circle and fit into the cups of a large muffin tin. Add filling and bake for 25 minutes at 350.

8 oz good wild salmon
Juice of one lemon
1 Tb tarragon
Creme fraiche
If your salmon comes in a vacuum sealed package, use it! Otherwise grab a large ziplock bag and put the salmon inside without sealing it. Put a large pan in your sink and attach a thermometer. Add hot water: you want 115 degrees or a little warmer. Dip your ziplock into the hot water and let air rush out. Press the rest out and seal the bag. Drop it in the hot water and let it sous vide for 25 minutes. You may need to top up your water a few times to keep it at temperature. Afterwards, break up the fish and mix it with the lemon juice and tarragon. Season to taste, then pile it on the tarts. Top with creme fraiche and lemon zest if desired.

Chocolate Salty Pudding
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups whole milk
Zest and juice of one orange
6 oz unsweetened dark chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp orange blossom water
Sea salt
Mix the first four ingredients in a saucepan. Cook them very slowly together until the mixture thickens; it took me about 20 minutes. When it’s thick, add the chocolate and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir it constantly. Remove it from the heat and add the vanilla and orange water. Serve in small bowls, sprinkled with sea salt and topped with whipped cream.

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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Snow Child Elk

“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey has been described as something Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez might collaborate on, but that couldn’t be the case. This book describes the tangibility of cold as though it were a character itself: neither of those authors could describe the Alaskan wilderness in such starkly beautiful terms. Are you familiar with the Russian fairy tale of the old couple who build a snowchild that comes to life? Mabel is, which is why when the tiny blonde forest creature starts appearing alongside the snowstorms outside the cabin she shares with her husband Jack, she is inclined to blame depression. After all, her childlessness drove her to seek this life of solitude and work in frontier Alaska to begin with.
The battle to survive is as strong as the battle for clarity in the puzzle of the child; fear of hunger drives Jack and Mabel every day to work harder and longer. The only way to survive the heartless winter will be in killing a moose to supplement the meager takings from the summer garden. Mabel might make a meal like this to eat while she works on a drawing of the elusive snow child…

Don’t have juniper berries? Use a shot of gin. Pregnant? Avoid either!
I like the smoked salt because I think it evokes the wood burning cookstove Mabel would have used, but you don’t have to seek that out.
Elk Steak with Wild Mushrooms
8 oz elk sirloin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary
1 Tb smoked salt
1 Tb cracked pepper
4 juniper berries, crushed and chopped
2 Tb butter, divided
1/2 lb mixed mushrooms
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 Tb wine, white or red
Lingonberry jam

30 minutes before cooking, remove the elk from your fridge. Mix the next 5 ingredients and rub them on the steak. Let it sit half an hour. In the meantime, wash and coarsely chop the mushrooms.
In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat. When it’s hot, sear the elk for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and let it rest on the cutting board. Turn the heat down to medium and add the second tablespoon of butter to the pan. Toss in the mushrooms and thyme. Sauté for 4-5 minutes before adding the wine. Once it cooks off, slice the steak. Serve with the mushrooms and a healthy dollop of lingonberry jam.

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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Stirfry of Ding Village


Dream of Ding Village is an awful story. Yan Lianke, the author, was censored by the Chinese government for it. What’s so awful? It’s based on true events that they would prefer not be publicized. In order to retrieve the amounts of blood being used by the big city blood banks, some intrepid members of government decided that the poor villages ought to be paid to sell blood. They swiftly accepted the offer and grew prosperous, right up until the frequent use of dirty needles set off an AIDS epidemic of unthinkable proportion.
In Hunan province, Ding Village is one of these. The Ding family sums up the whole situation: one son, dead of AIDS, the other preying on the dying to move his career forward even as his own son is murdered in revenge. The patriarch sets up a quarantine center for the victims in a school. Even amidst certain death, hysteria, and extreme poverty, life goes on. Lovers meet and marry, jealousies arise, and money and power are at the center of it all.
In the school, the fading patients still look forward to communal meals. With the lack of money comes often a lack of meat, so this may be something Ding Village would have eaten…
Stirfry for Ding Village
1/2 lb oyster mushrooms
1 sliced green bell pepper
1/2 lb (1 bunch) spicy greens
3 cloves sliced garlic
2 Tb black bean sauce
1-2 Tb soy

Heat a wok or heavy large skillet over medium high heat, and add a splash of cooking oil. When it spits at you, toss in the mushrooms and bell pepper. After stirfrying 1-3 minutes, the mushrooms should start to look cooked and the pepper will be losing some of its snap. Add the garlic and greens, stirring briefly before adding the black bean sauce and soy. Turn off the heat and let the steam finish wilting the greens.

Serves 2.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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