Archive for March, 2010

Overheard at Barnes and Noble

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The first thing I noticed at my local Barnes and Noble on Friday evening was the large booth advertising the BN digital book. As I made my way around the display–truly it almost blocked the way to the escalators that lead to the fiction section–I had the recurring conversation in my head as the to future of the book. Will there be stores stocked with such an abundance of books of all kinds in ten years or even five years?

Once downstairs and leafing through a table of the current crop of fiction, I heard a young woman, 20-something, remark to her friend, “When I’m old and tired, I’m going to come and buy a book to read, every other day.”

I loved that she loves to read.  And, I heard her joy of the experience of simply being around all these printed books. If the digital book does become the future standard of reading, I hope libraries and bookstores survive for readers to jostle together, simply reveling in books.

Easy Red Wine Sauce for Vegetarians or Not

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I cooked for a vegetarian friend today. As I thought through my favorite recipes, I kept having to remember: no chicken broth, no sausage, no ham. I eat and enjoy meat, but even more, I rely on those ingredients to add the extra dimension of flavor that vegetarian food may lack. It’s unami, the fifth flavor, the flavor of broth, meat, and salts. Think grilled and sauteed meats, olives, Worcestershire sauce, miso, tamari, mushrooms.

White Bean and Vegetable Stew in Red Wine Sauce, adapted from wonderful vegetarian cookbook author Deborah Madison, solves the challenge with a red wine sauce that I can’t wait to make again with a meat dish.  My concern was unfounded that a red wine sauce would discolor the white beans. The sauce enhances both the flavor and appearance of the beans and veggies.

After the beans and veggies are cooked, brown a couple tablespoons butter and add chopped shallots or green onions. Stir in red wine and reduce the mixture by about 2/3’s.

Let it simmer 10 or more minutes until the mixture reduces to  about 1/4 cup total.

When the sauce has reduced, fold it into the beans and veggies.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with hot, cooked rice alongside a green salad.

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

by Deborah Madison, Broadway Books, 1997

4 cups cooked cannellini, Great Northern, or white Aztec beans

1 medium sweet potato, pared and cut in 1½-inch cubes

5 carrots, cut in 2-inch lengths

2 large or 3 medium leeks, cut in ½-inch rounds

2 to 3 stalks celery, cut in 2-inch lengths

6 tablespoons butter

3 shallots or 6 green onions, chopped

1 cup dry red wine

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Hot cooked rice

Chopped parsley

In 3-quart saucepan, place sweet potato, carrots, leeks, and celery. Place beans on top. Add water to cover about ¾’s vegetables and beans. Cook until vegetables and beans are tender, about 25 minutes. Drain excess liquid and reserve. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt half the butter with shallots or green onions. Cook over medium heat about 3 minutes. Watch carefully and let butter brown. Stir in wine and simmer until only ¼-cup remains and the pan is nearly dry.

Stir into beans and vegetables.  Stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper.  Simmer about 5 minutes. Cut remaining butter into small pieces and gently stir into beans. Let cook a few minutes. Stir in a few more tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid.

Serve stew with cooked rice and chopped parsley.  Makes 6 dinner-sized servings.

“My Antonia” Onstage

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I was a teenager in a prairie town when I first read Willa Cather’s My Antonia — accent on the first ‘A.’ I’d read the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books and identified mightily with them. But, My Antonia was a revelation. I suppose I was beginning to know there was a big world beyond my little town. This wasn’t a kids’ book. Here was a story about the immigrant life and the promise of something more. For Antonia, the promise lies in the prairie.  For Jim, the narrator, it’s in cities and universities.

Cather wrote My Antonia and her other novels about prairie life long after she moved east from the Nebraska prairie. This and others of her novels mined her memories of the prairie, its harsh beauty, and, most importantly, the people.

Last week, I experienced a world premier stage production of My Antonia at the Illusion Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, showing through March 20, 2010. If you’re in or near Minneapolis, I highly recommend the show.

The stage was simple and the adaptation faithful to Cather’s book. Allison Moore captures the essence of the characters and the actors are just right in each part.

I left the theater refreshed, again connected to my own span of prairie memories and reminded of what we make from our memories. More about Cather and the food in My Antonia, soon.