(blowing off) steam and baguettes

Let me begin by saying that this is not the baguette of my dreams. If I had found a recipe for the baguette of my dreams you would know about it. Do I have your phone number? You would have been called. Are we internet friends? You would have seen pictures. I would not have even bothered to write this because you would need to know immediately.

This is not the best baguette in the world, but hey, if you have some goat cheese and nutella that you desperately need to get rid of, it will definitely help you out. Plus, I think this recipe has a pretty good ‘effort : taste’ ratio. It comes together relatively quickly and relatively simply and dang that’s a lot of adverbs.

So here we go…

Mix together 1/2 cup warm water with 2 tbsp honey and 2 tbsp active dry yeast. Let this proof until foamy. (5 minutes)

While that is proofing, mix together 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 2 tsp salt.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir. If you are doing this by hand (and in the age of dough hooks, bless you for that) it is important to use a good spoon. Solid. I like to judge the effectiveness of a dough making spoon by how well it would smack someone in the behind if they were in my kitchen bugging me.

(And if I’m making bread, why are you in my kitchen? You should know that if I’m kneading dough into submission, it is to blow off steam. I am not only making bread, I am simultaneously, in my brain, drafting an abstract; restructuring all of my reading lists; coming up with questions for an author who is featuring prominently in a) my dissertation and b) a roundtable at the Salon du Livre this weekend in Montreal; trying to define Glissant’s “Relation” in a way that makes a modicum of sense but doesn’t oversimplify [impossible]; talking myself out of [into...out of...into] a new pair of casual boots [they are truly adorable]; and wishing that French theorists were even vaguely comprehensible. Making bread is the only healthy way I know of to deal with stress and if you are still making bread with a dough hook I highly recommend that you get down with kneading by hand.)

Umm…anyway…

Add 1 cup lukewarm water, a little bit at a time, until you have a shaggy dough ball. Then turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. As I’ve said before, oil your hands slightly when you’re kneading to keep the dough from sticking to them.

Then drop the dough ball into an oiled bowl, roll around to make sure it is covered, and drape a dish towel over the bowl and leave in a warm-ish spot for 25-30 minutes.

Turn the dough out back onto your floured surface, and divide in two halves. Now, the baguette shaping. This will probably take you several tries to get the hang of and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you look up some videos on the youtube. Basically, you take a half and shape it into a flat rectangle. Then you fold the top half over and crease the two ends together, and squeeze as much air out of the whole thing as you can.

Do this several times until you have the desired length of baguette, and then I actually give it a good ol’fashioned play-doh snake roll or two just to get out the finger prints. Lay on  parchment sheet covered baking pan, seam down. Slice with a few shallow diagonal marks, cover with a dish towel and let rise for 25-30 minutes again.

Now comes the fun.

Put one oven rack on the very bottom, one in the middle. Place a metal pan (like a cake pan) half-full of water on the bottom and then preheat the oven to 450 F.

When you uncover the baguettes , grab a couple of ice cubes from the freezer. Simultaneously place your baguettes on the middle rack and throw the ice cubes into the hot water. Close the oven quick!!! This will create steam and make a crispy crust.

(Full disclosure – that’s what it’s supposed to do. This worked for me fairly well, but it didn’t magically make French boulangerie crust.)

Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown on the top and sides.

Ingredients Recap:

1/2 cup warm water

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp active dry yeast (about two packages minus a tsp)

3 1/2 cups flour (plus more as needed and for flouring board)

2 tsp salt

1 cup lukewarm water

this week in root vegetables…

I decided to trial run a local CSA this week. (Okay, technically it’s not a CSA but rather a local collection of rooftop farmers and producers of other culinary goods here in Montreal. More of an online store, which gives you the advantage of trying it out commitment free, instead of paying for a whole season up front. I probably won’t order from them again, but it might be the perfect option for some.) For those not familiar, CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” and is just about the coolest system ever devised. Each week, whatever veggies happen to be in season will be packed up into a box by one of your local farms, and brought to a place vaguely near your doorstep for pick up. They are wonderful and great and I’m using Montreal’s Equiterre website to figure out which one I will commit to for the coming season.

The one downside to a CSA program, however, is that you have little to no say about what shows up in that magical box of veggies. Give you three guesses what I got this week…

A few gorgeous tomatoes, some fresh rainbow chard, a few tufts of sprouts, and – you guessed it – a metric s&*t ton of root veggies. Thing about root veggies, they’re great. Around August, after crunching on rabbit food and picking various berry seeds out of my teeth for a couple of months, I actually start craving them. But there are a limited number of options available in terms of cooking them. Just type  ‘rutabaga’, ‘turnip’, or ‘sunchoke’ into your browser and you will find seventeen different pages devoted to growing these, but almost no information on how, once grown, to make them interesting. They can be roasted or boiled. They can be mashed or puréed. They make fantastic soup, often accompanied by the word “hearty”. They can be livened up with a few spices here and there. (I find that most of them go amazingly well with sage and cracked pepper). But let’s face it, no one gets excited about rutabaga.

I can’t even spell it consistently…

So after dragging the back-breaking load of tubers home, and spreading the contents upon my counter, it became immediately apparent that this week would require some special reinforcements of creative culinary invention…

The rutabaga and chard ended up in a lentil stew, and I wouldn’t be writing about it except that I must tell you how amazing rutabaga can be as a potato replacement. It has about eighteen thousand times more flavor, and it was stunning with the rosemary and thyme I seasoned with. That’s right. Stunning. I just used that word in reference to rutabaga and lentils.

Next, I had to figure out what to do with the sunchoke, which seemed like a seriously un-fun task after reading this article.

Ya. For serious.

But I decided to attempt it because, after sorting through the recipes for sunchoke purée on top of something I didn’t want to make, I found a lot of recipes for chips. Apparently the sunchoke had a moment as the low-card potato chip alternative. I’ve been wanting to try out this green tahini dip so I thought this would be a good occasion.

On to the Japanese turnips… [Y'all is naming vegetables after countries racist?] In expectation of Easter dinner with friends, I decided to turn this into a light, brothy meal with the addition of soft-boiled eggs.

So, if you were wondering what to do with all of YOUR root veggies, BOOM! You’re welcome.

 

self-imposed leisure reading

Okay, I did it.

I wrote a dissertation prospectus and passed the defense, which means that in order to be crowned DOCTOR, I have but one tiny, little, no-big-deal hoop to jump through called ‘writing a dissertation’…

I also survived the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in New York City. (ACLANYC2014) These are some things I learned…

1) Edouard Glissant is very popular among pretty much everyone right now.

2) Apparently Glissant’s writing has nothing to do with the Caribbean.

3) All the men who study his theoretical work are frustrated Deleuzians.

That sounds a little harsh, because I did hear some AMAZING papers that made me very psyched to see this body of writing, that I care about SO MUCH, becoming popular. (Okay, to be fair, I got really psyched about it after I had my requisite former indie-kick reflex of whininess that something obscure and cool I used to surprise people with is now mainstream. But whatever, Glissant’s work is so wonderful and everyone should read it. So there.) But it was a wee bit discouraging to hear one or two concepts picked up, taken out of context, and used for a project that is completely unrelated to Glissant’s whole oeuvre. What was more frustrating was to hear people say that taking his words and concepts completely out of context and plugging them in somewhere else was something that he “would have wanted”…I mean, the man has been dead for, like, two seconds. Assuming to know the intellectual wishes of the recently deceased strikes me as being…well…tacky…too soon…

4) Nollywood is a thing.

5) Adichie is much more interesting than I thought she was

6) Judith Butler is not a gracious guest. She introduced her talk “Capital/Punishment” by saying, “I’m not sure why I’ve been asked to speak about this topic. But here is what I have to say…” Dang, JB, are we bothering you? And where are the cats? I don’t understand a thing you’re saying…

7) All food in New York is better than any food anywhere else. Fact.

I also made it from Montreal to Atlanta to New York to Montreal without throwing up or having a panic attack, even when I went through customs and finally fessed up to living with my Canadian husband. They passed me right on through.

So I am now on a much-needed break, before I start writing this dang dissertation. And what did I do? HIT THE LIBRARY!!!

Wait, what?

Yes, I’m hitting the library. The fiction stacks. The fun stuff. The goods. I have to get in a week of everything I just dang feel like reading before it’s back to the history and criticism and theory and random anthropological studies and folktales and novels that seem to be glaring at me, daring me to understand what’s going on…an open book, you see, is also a closed book…

So I ravenously wandered around the English language fiction section at the BANQ (then ravenously wandered up and down St-Denis for some food and discovered that there is banh mi place literally steps away from the library…) and went home with my hands full:

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys because, as a major Jane Eyre fan and a postcolonial literature scholar, I’ve been meaning to read it for ages.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maughm because this dude cracks me up and because The Magician was batshitcrazy and I want more.

The New Moon’s Arms and The Salt Roads by Haitian-Canadian, Toronto based sci-fi writer Nalo Hopkinson because my very dear friend passed her dissertation defense this week, which means that she’d better be constructing the book proposal RIGHT NOW, and she’s going to need a sounding board.

The Hungry Tide by Amitov Ghosh because I heard approx six people mention this text in relation to the fascinating new genre of criticism called, “The Blue Humanities”…or, as I prefer to call it, “Water n’ Stuff”…

Okay, HERE I GO!!!

“whatever, in my heart it’s a tropical paradise right now”…3 songs for the meteorologically frustrated…

You know that feeling, that leap in your heart when it’s finally spring?

Yeah, we all love that. This is not about that.

This is about that other feeling when, even though you were so sure, even though it couldn’t possibly be winter for any longer, even though you’ve already packed up your boots and sweaters and sent your coats to the cleaners and de-plastic-ed the windows…even after all that, it snows in mid-April. That feeling.

I found myself last night trying, one more time, to appreciate the band Vampire Weekend. About once a year since they became a thing, I throw it on my iPod and see what happens… Usually it doesn’t work, but FINALLY, this song, that was EVERYWHERE for awhile but completely unappreciated by yours truly, magically became kind of awesome. It must have been the April snow showers, and the grumpiness of feeling that I would never be warm again, walking to the indoor lap pool, covered in eighteen thousand layers of fleece…

Walking home, still covered in eighteen thousand layers of fleece, but considerably less grumpy, I realized that “whatever, in my heart it’s a tropical paradise right now” is perhaps an indie music staple. Perfect for those couple of weeks when you know, in your heart of hearts, that contrary to all surrounding evidence, you will be wearing sandals again some day.

So here you go. Three songs for the meteorologically frustrated…

I’ve already included a live version, which is cute but not quite as great as the album version so…voilà!

There is also this CLASSIC…

And then, of course, will all remember the Outback Steak commercial that went along with this one…

College…flashback…

this week in food: don’t show me another butternut squash, I’m ready for spring…

Hi there! As you’ve noticed, I have not been posting lately. I’ve been busy with my new friend, Writing a Dissertation.

Maybe you’re here to find cookie recipes.

As I go along, with this little internet salon of mine, I fluctuate between thinking that I should stop writing recipes, or stop writing book reviews. (Sometimes I think I should stop writing both but I kind of like it and I’ve gotten this far so hey, let’s just keep doing this thing…) I’ve decided to try compiling both. I spend my life cooking and reading and writing. That is what I do. (I also go on long walks and take in the odd concert and knit with friends and drink varyingly copious amounts of tea, coffee, wine… I promise to write about those if I have anything interesting to say…)

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I’ve noticed, of late, that there is not exactly a dearth of recipes, and sites devoted to them, here on the internet. This has led me to the conclusion that, frankly, there is zero point in coming up with my own. I’d rather write a few silly things, tell you what I’m up to (’cause my loved ones live very far away and I like to think they check in every once in a while), and steer you toward some of the other folks out there in the world. I’m not an inventor of food. I don’t create cuisine. I am a frazzled dissertator who scours the internet for the perfect combination of pie recipes because it is distracting, and then takes great pleasure in kneading the perfect ball of dough because it is relaxing.

I do not love photography. I take pictures because no one reads anything without an attached image anymore. It is necessity, and not love that creates these images. (I’m being very honest today.) I have friends whose love for digital imagery drives hours’ worth of sweat-spewing work. I don’t have that. I will, however, sweat for words. I have spent most of my life sweating for words. And I will sweat for pie. So that is what you have here…

Sweat and pie… Delicious…

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In the meantime, I want to say a word about butternut squash.  That word is: Squash, you are starting to smother me.  I know, it’s still freezing outside and it’s still wintry mixing and I’m still wearing sweaters and boots. And you have been doing such a good job of keeping me warm, with your cuddly soups and comforting casseroles. But this beautiful thing we had going in the fall and winter is just not working for me anymore and I think it’s time we say goodbye. It was fun while it lasted and maybe if  get chilly and I miss you we can do this again some time. It’s not you, it’s me. I have too much on my plate right now to spend ten minutes peeling you and half an hour baking you.

So actually, it is you…

As a last hurrah, I made this butternut squash salad with farro and chick peas. It was incredible. It was totally worth one last nightmare peel session. Do…not…leave out…the pepitas…this is important. TEXTURE. It’s all about the texture. You have the gummy barley (I made it with barley because what the heck is farro anyway?) and the squashy…squash…and the creamy feta mixing with the oils and then bam! crunch! pepita!

To go with the salad (on Day 2) I sauteed some tofu and smothered it with MY NEW FAVORITE DRESSING IN THE WORLD. This gal has taken my favorite lazy/busy (luzy?) culinary concept (lentils and rice with whatever the heck veggies you have lying around covered in some kind of sauce) and done wonders. My hat is off to her for the use of graceful simplicity and ginger.

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Finally, I scrambled up the usual curried cauliflower-potato combo. I have been making this in the wonderful cast iron that I we got for a wedding gift. Cast iron is incredible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is the coolest thing in my our house. My aunt and uncle gave us a few pieces and every time I use them, I get sort of temporally flabbergasted by the fact that they will remain in working order for the rest of my life and pretty far beyond that. There is no better symbolism in a wedding present.

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I’ve made this many times and it has been amazing many times. Smother in yogurt if it’s too spicy. Or even if its not. Basically any time you have to pour some water into the pan and scrape the bottom of it, you’re going to have a lot of flavor. (It’s called deglazing and it’s the bomb. French people do it. They call it déglaçage…honh honh honhhh…)

this week in books: histoire du Sénégal

This week was largely devoted to brushing up on my Senegalese history. I’m revising an article – crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s (as well as changing most of my which’s to that’s…good lord did I not go to middle school?) and I realized that while the literary premises were sound, the paper was really lacking context. (And by “I realized” I mean “my adviser – the fiercest editor I’ve ever met – suggested that I needed to put all the literary pish-posh into some kind of cohesive historical framework”…) So I went about kicking myself for the thousandth time since I began working on my ‘dissertation project’ proper for having wasted my intellectual youth coming up with clever ideas instead of cracking open a dang history book, and then I hit the library.

Full disclosure: this is not polished thinking…this is the product of skimming a few books before doing more substantive work…if you are a historian (*cough cough* – I know you guys) let me know what’s wrong here and what I need to do to fix it because I’m just wading through books and trying to figure it all out…

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I found a few sources that were particularly good. I FINALLY got around to reading  Mamadou Diouf’s L’Histoire du Sénégal: le modèle islamo-wolof et ses péripheries (2001) which is, of course, a fantastic source. Diouf is the dude, as far as I can tell. The dude who knows the stuff.

The most helpful part of this book for me, since I am working on cities, was the brief section related to the establishment of the Quatre Communes in 1848. It’s really important for Diouf to concentrate on this because a big part of his project is looking at the center/periphery model. I think we’re quite accustomed to thinking of colonized spaces in Subsaharan Africa as métropole/vast washes of undeveloped space with a trading post or two. In significant ways, however, Saint-Louis in particular, and the other three cities of the Quatre Communes (Dakar, Rufisque, Gorée) will be as important, if not more, than Paris (or Nantes or Bordeaux). Not forever, but certainly in the 19th century.

So, in case you were curious, the Quatre Communes were the major four cities in Senegal during the 19th century, the majorest one being Saint-Louis (not Dakar, as you might think). According to Diouf, a distinct population is developing here that is removed from both the ‘traditions autochtones sénégambiennes’ as well as the dictates of the ‘mission civilatrice’ (135). These four cities are inhabited by “originaires’ – people who inhabited these spaces before France, mostly comprised of an Islamo-Wolof population, as well as French colonists and traders. The demographics are the French, the increasingly powerful population of mulâtres that I will talk more about, freed slaves and servants.

Here’s the thing, everyone living in these cities falls under the category of French citizen, while everyone in the intérieur is going to fall into the category of French subject. This is important. These originaires are going to be the roots of the future class of évolués who will take over power from the French after independence in 1960.

These places are pretty well urbanized. I would argue that, if you think real hard about what French cities looked like in the 19th century, they are probably not too far off from a Saint-Louis. Remember, France is in the middle of various bloody revolutions that distract from the building of proper infrastructure. There are no sidewalks or plumbing. Live chickens are being sold at the market. People are rampantly dying from disease. The Industrial Revolution is only just beginning. We’re not exactly in “tradition vs. modernity” here yet. Time has not split.

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Right now I’m still going through Jean-Pierre Biondi’s Saint-Louis du Sénégal: mémoires d’un métissage (1987) and I’m not sure how sound it is academically (there are no citations…is this something historians get away with that I don’t know about? y’all are a rebellious bunch), but I’m intrigued by the premise that the singular aspect that made this town thrive was its ability to adapt in the form of métissage. Off the top of my head, I’m not totally sure how people are translating this term, so I’m going to leave it in the French because it gets real tricky real fast in the English.

Most importantly, this  book discusses the rise and fall of a powerful class of mulâtres (again, untranslatable) who essentially controlled the town. Not French traders, not African warlords, but in point of fact, it was mostly the children of white French traders and their Wolof concubines who ran the town until the arrival of Faidherbe in the 1850′s. This is mainly due to the legal status that they were, in fact, granted. It was perfectly acceptable for French traders/settlers to “marry” a local gal and, upon leaving, to give her a fair amount of the profit/property accrued during his stay in Saint-Louis, which would then pass on to any children. (Which is still not exactly just compensation for, you know, forced concubinage but that’s not really at issue right here right now…) This isn’t far off from the situation of the legendary ‘octoroon’ character of New Orleans (à la George Cable) except that these signares would become exceedingly influential due to their accruing of funds and then their participation in local trade.

I’ve mentioned that this had to do with their right to seize their French ‘husband’s’ property when he made his merry way back to France, and the right of their children to inherit, but what is the status of these relationships? In fact, because it was seen by the French to be absolutely detrimental and impossible for men to have their delicate French wives tagging along to the colonies with them, these ‘marriages à la mode du pays - concubinage – were entirely (by law, probably not my the fledgling Saint-Louisian Catholic Church and less so by any of the Muslim/Wolof population) accepted. Biondi also puts some emphasis on the fact that these ‘marriages’ were made not between French citizens and, say, daughters of the local (African) ruling class, but rather between French citizens and female slaves. What this indicates is that for these signares, throughout several generations, you have a powerful class of women emerging out of a position of complete subjection. This IS NOT to romanticize the situation. What is important is that this particular space, Saint-Louis, seemed outside of any hierarchical dualisms that were guiding, well, the rest of the world, in this one specific case. It is not ideal, and this class of métissage is not to be commended or condemned. They were slave-holding and exploitative individuals to the same extent the French were. It’s more a representation of this crazy anything-goes urban space of Saint Louis in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

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All right, this final book, Jean-Pierre Dozon’s Saint-Louis du Sénégal : palimpseste d’une ville (2012) I can’t spend that much time on here (remember when I said that I was working on an article? Yeah, that’s still happening…) but out of these three texts, it absolutely has the most interesting premise. In his intro, Dozon calls Saint-Louis a kind of “hyperville” and by this he means a place of extraordinary qualities – emPHAsis on EXTRAordinary – in the same sense we would say EXTRAterrestrial. He gets there by mentioning the very buzz-word-y ‘lieu de mémoire’ – a concept developed by Pierre Nora and others which essentially implies that objects/places have overlapping layers of meaning, developed throughout time, that become a charged space where memory continues to live. EmPHAsis on presentness instead of pastness of memory, right?

For Dozon, the whole of Saint-Louis would best be examined as a space of overlapping temporalities, overlapping collective memories, overlapping populations, traditions, religions, artistic practices, economic systems, political infrastructures, etc etc etc… This renders it a space that is not France and not Africa and certainly not just a ‘hybrid’ combination of both but something truly à part.

I like this. I think it’s groovy. And if you ever actually go to Saint-Louis this is EXACTLY what it feels like. You are truly in a different time and I do not mean that in the study abroad, urban safari, “Africa is so ‘traditional’” sense. Where you are is both no-where and now-here, and you have a hard time figuring out whose historical trajectory you’re standing in the middle of. People will tell you – it’s Saint-Louis’s.

because it was there…

Hi, how are you today? I’m fine, you know, surviving the sudden blizzard, rocking some Boubacar Traoré, and…oh yeah…wait…not fine at all – eating puréed lentils!!!

Why, you ask?

Gentle reader, (is that phrase trademarked? can I use that?) because I lost my mind for about five minutes and decided that lentil soup was fine, but puréed lentil soup would be better. That it would be creamy and soupy and wintery and delightful.

It is freaking baby food, gentle reader. Baby food.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, I have the recipe for you! But the rest of us will be over here, eating a hot, steaming plate of ANYTHING BUT THAT.

So what inspired this moment of madness? Why did I take a perfectly decent pot full of lentils and turn it into a green slushy? Because I had made a smoothie that morning, and the immersion blender was sitting RIGHT THERE on the counter. I seized it without thinking and before I knew it, green baby food.

The reason I’m bringing this up – and I have a reason besides the useful advice that should accompany every culinary pitfall – is that I’m sitting here, eating my lentils, writing a conference paper for what seems like the fourth time, and I have a suspicion that whatever regrettable moment of thoughtless overconfidence ruined the soup project is also at the heart of why I seem to be still…writing…this paper…

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