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“Pomegranate Soup” and “Rosewater and Soda Bread” by Marsha Mehran


Marsha Mehran escaped the Iranian revolution and the heroines of her stories have done the same.  I was drawn to this book and it’s sequel (unfortunately I read them the wrong way around) initially because of the culinary theme but found many other connections to the narrative.  Both stories are about three sisters and their sometimes opposite reactions to the same circumstances of life.




They run a little cafe together in a community in western Ireland, a place that I fell deeply in love with when we traveled through it a couple of springs ago.  Our most northern stop was Galway which is still south of County Mayo where the action takes place.


But wandering the streets of Galway and experiencing their commerce and culinary scene has allowed me to create what I think is a realistic mental picture of life for the sisters.  Here are a couple of my favourite excerpts from the first of the two novels.

Chapter 4, page 62


At only nine in the morning the kitchen was already pregnant to its capacity, every crevice and countertop overtaken by Marjan’s gourmet creations.  Marinating vegetables (torshis of mango, eggplant and the regular seven-spice variety), packed to the briny brims of five-gallon see-through canisters, sat on the kitchen island.  Large blue bowls filled with salads (angelica lentil, tomato, cucumber and mint, Persian fried chicken), dolmeh, and dips (cheese and walnut) yoghurt and cucumber, baba ganoush, and spicy hummus), which, along with feta, Stilton and cheddar cheese, were covered and stacked in the enormous glass-door refrigerator.  Opposite the refrigerator stood the colossal brick bread oven.  Baking away in its domed belly was the last of the sangak bread loaves, three feet long and counting, rising in golden crests and graced with scatterings of poppy and nigella seed.  The rest of the bread (paper-thin lavash) crusty barbari, slabs of sangak as well as the usual white sliced loaf) was already covered with comforting cheesecloth to keep the freshness in.  And simmering on the stove, under Marjan’s loving orders, was a small pot of white onion (not to be mistaken for the French variety, for this version boasts dried fenugreek leaves and pomegranate paste), the last pot of red lentil soup and a larger pt of abguhst.  An extravaganza of lamb, split peas, and potatoes, abguhst always reminded Marjan of early spring nights in Iran, when the cherry blossoms still shivered with late frosts and the piping samavors helped washed down the saffron and dried lime aftertaste with strong, black Darjeeling tea.


And then just further along on Page 64

So this was how love was supposed to feel, Layla thought, like the ecstatic cries of a pomegranate as it realizes the knife’s thrust, the caesarean labor of juicy seeds cut from her inner womb.  Like the gleeful laugh of oil as it corrupts the watery flour, the hot grease blending the batter to its will and creating a greater sweetness from the process-zulbia, the sugary fried fritters she loved so.  Falling in love was amazing.  Why hadn’t anyone ever told her so?

Kath’s quote: “And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.” –Exodus 28:33-34


Love-that is all.

Aftertaste (A Novel in Five Courses)-by Meredith Mileti


Just after giving birth to her precious Chloe, Mira finds that she has been deceived and deserted by her husband and she is pissed off!  No, I mean anger that I have apparently never experienced; anger that is so explosive it lands Mira in jail.  This is anger, as I have never known.  You see, I don’t get “anger”.  I do experience a full range of emotions and I do know what anger feels like, but I don’t “get” it.  Some people don’t get dark humour or pure joy (thinking, surely she can’t always be this happy), but I don’t get anger.  So I was intrigued by the beginning of Mileti’s story, but not in that “I can’t put this book down”, way.  The ball really started rolling for me in the second third of the book, as Mira starts to create relationships and begin rebuilding her life in an admirable way.  By the conclusion of the novel, I was completely smitten by all (most) of the characters but primarily rooting Mira along and she discovers her passion and her joy and that her anger has been washed away.  She even tries her hand at being a food writer, which I got a particular hoot over.  Here are a couple of my favourite excerpts:

Even from across the room, the smell makes me want to swoon.  Jake has made my favourite dish-his signature take on cassoulet, made with wild boar sausage braised in Barolo, cannellini beans, fennel, and sweet red peppers.  I can hear the hollow snap as he breaks the delicate crust of toasted bread, garlic and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  He fills a shallow bowl and places it reverently in front of me.

“It’s not exactly summer fare, but I know that it is your favorite.  I missed making it for you this winter.  It actually works nicely with you pizza recipe which has always been one of my favorites.  We make a pretty good team, don’t you think?” he says softly. “Go ahead, taste it.”

“Aren’t you going to join me?”

“Of course,” he says, raising his eyes to meet mine.  I watch as he fills his plate, picks up a bottle of wine and two glasses, and joins me at the table.  He pours us each a glass of red wine.  “Well?” he asks, his eyes focused, unblinking, on my face.

I spear a piece of meat, which yields easily to my fork, and raise it to my lips.  I take a deep breath and close my eyes.  I give Dr. D-P’s anthropologist one last desperate try, but all I can taste is Jake.  The flavours are at once complex and earthy.  I taste every ingredient: the thick slightly gamey taste of the boar; the subtle undercurrent of the fennel, which, when braised, releases a delicate licorice perfume; the gentle creaminess of the beans; the smoky heat of the roasted peppers; the harmonious balance of the wine.

It tastes like love.”

chapter 30, page 313

I also loved this thoughtful analysis, just slightly later (chapter 31, page 317):

The great gourmand, Auguste Escoffier, once said, “Good cooking is the essence to true happiness.”  Did he mean happiness is to be found in the act of cooking?  Or in the appreciation of the result?  If the former, it should follow that all good cooks are happy.  But most of us aren’t, at least the ones I’ve known.  Most of the cooks I know are looking for something.  The lucky ones, people like Boulie and Silvano, seem to have found it, while the rest of us soldier on, searching for love, or adulation, or affirmation, gathering scraps wherever we can find them.

Maybe what Escoffier meant was that true happiness is to be found in one’s ability to satisfy a basic human need so spectacularly.  Those of us content to take our happiness secondhand cook because what we want, what we crave, is to be needed.  Nurturers extraordinaire, brokers of comfort, we hope to turn the tables on our own needs by filling the stomachs and souls of the world.

In Mereith Mileti’s postscript, she adds:

I am not Mira.  I’m an untrained, albeit incredibly enthusiastic, home cook.  That said, I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things from my research and testing for this novel-Mira has been a fine teacher.  Please don’t hesitate to improvise and make the recipes your own, because cooking, at its best, is both an expression of self and a gift of love.

Kath’s quote: ” I’ve set the board: henceforth ’tis yours to eat.”-Dante

Heart Book

Love-that is all.



Angelina’s Bachelors-A Novel with Food written by Brian O’Reilly, Recipes by Virginia O’Reilly


I am entranced by symbols: a heart shaped stone reminds me that I am loved, turquoise fabrics, vases and pottery remind me of the solace that I find while sitting by the sea, branches and sticks teach me that I am a small part of a greater whole and the flowers in my garden, that we are all part of a continuum of life.  In the culinary fiction that I devour, when symbols are set in meals lovingly prepared, I am particularly satiated: like a convergence of all that I feel and am.

Angelina’s Bachelors in the first novel by Brian O’Reilly but foodies may already know him as the writer of “Dinner-Impossible“.  His wife is his recipe collaborator and together, they have created a lovely summer read.  Here is my favourite excerpt:

“You have my baccala?” asked Angelina.

“Baccala, that’s the salt fish, cause God’s word gives a flavour to the world.”

Each of the fishes traditionally had a special religious reason for being served at the feat, and Angelina ran through the checklist with Angelo as if reciting a liturgical call and response at mass.

“Clams and oysters?” asked Angelina.

“‘Cause God is your armour from trouble,” said Angelo.


“‘Cause God can reach out his arms and find you everywhere you go.”

“Got my eels?”

“‘Cause God’s Word goes so quick like a flash to your ears.” Big, white paper packets of wrapped fish landed on the counter with each benediction.

“The smelts?”

“Even the smallest will be the biggest when Kingdom comes.”

“And the flounder?”

Angelo looked at her and playfully tapped one eye.  “God’s eyes are always open.”

She reached over and shook his hand and put all of the packages into her basket.  “Thanks Angelo, merry Christmas!”

The old man blew her a couple of kisses as he looked for his next customer.  “Ciao, baby.  Buon Natale.”…page 179-180


Soon, things were heating up in the kitchen.  The first course was a variation on a French recipe that hand been around since Escoffier, Baccala Brandade.  Angelina created a silky forcemeat with milk, codfish, olive oil, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.  She squeezed in a couple of heads of slow roasted garlic a drizzle of lemon juice, and a shower of fresh parsley, then served it as a dip with sliced sour-dough and warmed pita-bread wedges, paired with glasses of bubbly Prosecco.


The second course had been a favourite of her mother’s-called Angels on Horseback-freshly shucked oysters, wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto, then broiled on slices of herb-buttered bread.  When the oysters cooked they curled up to resemble tiny angels’ wings.  Angelina accented the freshness of the oyster with a dab of anchovy paste and wasabi on each hors d’oeuvre.  She’d loved the Angels since she was a very little girl; they were a heavenly mouthful.


The third course was grilled Marinated Unagi, or fresh water eel, over Arborio Rice Patties.  Angelina marinated the eels all day and flash-grilled them just before serving them on rice-patties laced with Asiago cheese.

This was followed by a Caesar salad topped with hot. batter-dipped, deep-friend smelts.  Angelina’s father used to crunch his way through the small, silvery fish like French fries.  Tonight, Angelina arranged them artfully around mounds of Caesar salad on each plate and ushered them out the door.


For the fifth course, Angelina prepared a big pot of her Mediterranean Clam Soup the night before, a lighter version of Manhattan clam chowder.  The last two courses were Parmesan-Stuffed Poached Calamari over Linguine in Red Sauce, and the piece de résistance, Broiled Flounder with a Coriander Reduction.

The atmosphere was like backstage at the dinner rush at a good restaurant. p186-187


Their fest reminded me of the endless little plates of fish that we enjoyed at La Barcaccia in Monterosso, Italy for our last lunch in Cinque Terre.  The courses are pictured above.

Kath’s quote: “Oh, better no doubt is a dinner of herbs,
When season’d with love, which no rancour disturbs
And sweeten’d by all that is sweetest in life
Than turbot, bisque, ortolans, eaten in strife!-
Edward Bulwer-Lytton


Love-that is all.

Heat by Bill Buford


I am not really sure why  a writer for the New York Times would give up hours upon hours of time with his family, at his own expense and want to volunteer in the kitchen of a number of stressful, hectic kitchens, with no apparent motive except to see if his culinary skills could stand up in a professional kitchen, but that is the premise of Bill Bulford’s “Heat”.  His sub-title states “{An amateur’s adventure as Kitchen slave. Line cook. Pasta-maker and apprentice to a Dante-quoting Butcher in Tuscany}”  The fascinating Mario Batali is a central figure in this recounting.  Perhaps you admire Mario’s accomplishments on Food TV and in the culinary world.  You may not after you read “Heat”, unless you are intrigued by the Chef Gordon Ramsay type and then I say read on.

I was impressed by Bulford’s ability to take a complicated recipe from a professional kitchen and describe the process with directions and imagery that I could clearly understand.  In this first excerpt, he does just that:

My advice: ignore the Babbo cookbook and begin roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of the onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil.  Hot oil accelerates the cooking process and the moment that everything gets soft you pour it away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking.  This is Stage One-and you are left with the familiar buttery mush-but you’ve already added two things you’d never see in Italy: butter (seafood with butter-or any other dairy ingredient-verges on culinary blaspheme), and pancetta, because, according to Mario, pork and shellfish are an eternal combination found in many other places: in Portugal, in ameijoas na cataplana (clams and ham) or in Spain, in paella (chorizo and scallops); or in the United States, in the Italian American clams casino, even though none of these places happen to be in Italy.  (“Italians,” Mario says won’t mess with their fish. There are restaurants who won’t use lemon because they think it’s excessive.)

In Stage Two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy pan and fill it with big handfuls of clams and put it on the highest flame possible.  The objective is to cook them fast-they’ll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion.  At six minutes and thirty seconds, use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan-all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give  the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl again to ensure the pasta is evenly covered by the sauce.  If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour off some it.  You then let the thing cook for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash it with olive oil and sprinkle it with parsley: dinner.

Earlier, he describes the nugget that I am always on the search for: the mysterious connection between food and love.

Making food seemed to be something that everybody needed to do: not for the restaurant, but for the kitchen.  Here was the family meal, of course-bountifully served around four in the afternoon-but the food was almost always being made by someone at some time all day long.  The practice seemed to illustrate a principle I was always hearing referred to as “cooking with love.” A dish was a failure because it hadn’t been cooked with love. A dish was a success because the love was so obvious.  If you’re cooking with love, every plate is a unique event-you never allow yourself to forget that a person is waiting to eat it: your food, made with your hands, arranged with your fingers, tasted with your tongue.

If this is also a fascination of yours, you will enjoy “Heat”, but make sure that you read it after your dinner or you will be scouring your pantry for a can of clams and and pulling out your saute pans.

Kath’s quote: “Spaghetti is love.” Mario Batali

spaghetti heart

Love-that is all.

Excerpts from Heat, Bill Buford, Doubleday Canada, ISBN-13: 978-0-385-66256-7

“Out of the Kitchen-Adventures of a Food Writer” by Jeannette Ferrary


I am having a hard time paring down my favourite excerpts from this recent read, but I think that I may finally have them. In my life, I have always retained an empathetic quality. Some may even say it is a curse, as I get so engaged with the characters in the non-fiction and indeed, the fiction that I consume or the movies or TV shows that I watch, that I sometimes have a difficult time turning off “their” lives and returning to my own. Ask D about the incident after we watched the movie “Sophie’s Choice” together….  Stories that really engage me, cause me to reflect about similar incidents in my own life and the more similar the circumstances, the more enthralled I become. Some writers have an exception power to enrapture me and so it was when I read this work by Jeannette Ferrary “Out of the Kitchen”.   The first excerpt one is from her Prologue-yes, I was smitten by her words that quickly.

There must have been something way back somewhere, there must have been seeds that eventually flowed into a passion for food, its history and meanings and unending pleasures; the joy of growing and preparing and sharing food with friends, of seeing it as a heritage and comfort and love.
There must have been something.
That’s what this book is all about.

For Jeannette it was this book and for me it is Food Musings. I created this blog for reasons very different from the place that I am at now, three years later. I use this space to explore myself and my complicated association with food.*

It’s miserable when you are three and your’re trying to save face and you don’t know how to manipulate the situation. “Are you hungry?” To be honest, I can’t say with absolute certainty this was the exact moment that I understood the significance of this question. But it was definitely around this time that I learned the power f food, especially with respect to mothers. If you’re hungry, they (mothers) have t say “O.K. Come on upstairs and have your lunch now.” They might even say it will be the red soup with the square carrots and alphabet noodles in it, but don’t expect miracles. If you hobble into the kitchen, they will also notice your scraped knees and put Mercurochrome on them and cover them with new white Band-aids. In other words, if you say you’re hungry they have to pay attention. New little baby brothers notwithstanding.

When I was three, my Mom and Dad had twins and I love my brother and sister with all my heart. Thank heavens my independence was fostered back then, because it has held me in good stead ever since. But, there were some traumatic times, that I remember still. Since I was a rambunctious toddler who had a hard time respecting quiet nap time for the “babies”, my Mom would lock the backdoor behind me when I was playing in the yard. The system actually worked well, because when I was ready to come back into the house, I would ring the door bell which had a single chime, instead of bursting in on the quiet scene. The only trouble was, I was not quite tall enough to reach the bell and so I had to hold the door knob and stretch way over to the opposite side to cover the length. One day, a gust of wind made the door swing open and me with it and threw me down the back cement stairs. The fall, broke the skin under my chin and the bleeding was profuse (at least in my young mind). I still have the scar to this day and I live in a home that notoriously never locks their doors. I am sure that my mother soothed me with food as I have done with my own children. J1 says that is how he developed his love for sour cream and chive chips, because he could choose a package from the vending machine as his reward for paying attention in Saturday swimming lessons.

Maybe because she never felt too comfortable speaking English, we never talked much, a bit about school or how my brothers were doing. Her message was in the brown canvas bag and on the mahogany dining room table, in the Wedgwood bowl and all over the kitchen. It said I love you, you’re too skinny, come back soon. It said I can never do enough for you, it said this is my heritage, this is your heritage; remembering this food will some day change your life. It will be your music, And your song.

I was said to have resembled my little Polish Grandma. In fact, she would call me her little “Payak” (which was her maiden name) because I reminded her of her own sisters. She too struggled with her English, having immigrated to the “new country” with her two young sons, a year after her husband, leaving behind the grave of another baby son in the “old country”. When she couldn’t retrieve an English word, she would say “How, call dis ting”? I can hear it now, even though she has been gone almost 25 years. Our common language was her prune dumplings with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon, and her potato soup, and her poppy seed roll. I can taste her fried chicken, in my memory-so fresh, that we had fed those chickens that very morning with “scraps” from our breakfast. She would slice a big piece of her homemade bread and then spear it with a long fork. Next, she would open the side of her wood stove, that was lit every morning, except for the hottest summer days when she would begrudgingly cook on her electric stove in the porch. We would take turns toasting our own bread slice over the coals. Perhaps this is the reason why crostini holds magical power for me to this day.

This is my very long and convoluted way of saying-I loved this book!  I can recommend “Out of the Kitchen” for many personal reasons. The book may also be your cuppa tea, that is, if you are a believer in the equation food=love.

Kath’s quote: “When shall we live if not now?” ― M.F.K. Fisher (one Jeannette Ferrary’s dear friends).


Love-that is all.

*PS. And yes, I use the space too, to make a small income. I do not have a pension and only a small cache of RSPs so I am trying to create a place that will sustain me as I creep ever closer to “retirement” (another birthday is tomorrow).

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