Saturday, May 28, 2005


What a great birthday I had. I feel very spoiled, and not in a how-old-is-that-milk? kind of way.

The dinners at the Lebanese restaurant that I asked the s.o. to take me to turned out to be somewhat ordinary, but the restaurant won me over with its extensive Middle Eastern pastry counter. I can see us stopping in before a trip to the nearby Goodwill store and ordering a Turkish coffee and a little bar cookie made of farina and pistachios. Good to know about.

My new River Cottage DVD, a gift from the s.o., has not arrived yet (curses!). But my Cook on the Wild Side book, ordered in March and dispatched on its official release date in mid-April, finally deigned to show up. Yes, it really does take more than a month for parcel-post packages to arrive via boat. It lends new poignancy to the plight of our ancestors, who could not avail themselves of Air Mail. Anyhow, I'm not sure how useful the book will be on a day-to-day basis ("Bunny a la Runny Honey"?), but it's quite amusing and eye-opening. And, y'know, I'm a completist.

My mother sent me several really nice things from her recent trip to New Zealand: divine woolly socks, a tube of Rotorua mud mask (whose box was amusingly mangled by the Baggage Check people), and a gorgeous Maori whale-tail pendant made of carved jade. She also checked my Amazon wish list and sent me something off of it, a book called The Glorious Foods of Greece that Jo* had recommended to me.

The Greek cookbook has already educated us and improved our lives. That sounds like a grandiose statement, but here's why:

(1) There's always something "missing" from an American spanakopita, isn't there? A little something-something that you can't put your finger on? Well, if this author is to be believed (and I think she is), the Greeks don't just use spinach in their pies. They make use of a vast array of wild herbs as well. The specifics vary by region, but in certain areas they are especially fond of sorrel, purslane, and nettles. It's all very Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In addition to the wild greens, the recipes are likely to include a combination of chard, spinach, parsley, green onions, etc. In other words, they aren't as one-dimensional as we have interpreted them.

(2) There's another way to prepare greens for a pie besides boiling them. Apparently the traditional method is to chop them coarsely, salt them, and then knead/rub/pound them in a colander or sieve until they soften and their thick green juice trickles out.** I imagine this was devised as a way to substitute elbow grease for expensive firewood. Being a little work-averse, I used my KitchenAid mixer, with the paddle attachment, to do the pounding. Then I pressed the greens in a colander and gave them a final squeeze with my hands before putting them into the pie. It worked perfectly.

(3) The s.o. has never liked spanakopita. That pains me, because I make a pretty good one if I do say so myself. But thanks to this book, we have arrived at a happy compromise. It turns out not all Greek pies are made with phyllo. Last night I cooked an Epirote recipe called "Mixed Greens Pie with a Cornmeal Crust" that was for all intents and purposes a cross between spanakopita and polenta. It was a hit with both of us. Harmony reigns.

I also made a Peloponnese stew of lamb breast (the cheapest cut in the market--simultaneously fatty and tough) with onions and garlic in a vinegary sauce. The recipe called for goat, but I didn't have any of that on hand.*** The liquid part of the stew was a bit much for us, being both sinus-clearing and oddly sweet, but it certainly made for meltingly tender meat!

So anyway, I think I'll have some leftover greens pie for lunch. Life is good.

The River Cottage DVD has just arrived! Woo!

* And no, Jo, I haven't forgotten about that meme! I'll get to it soon, I promise. It looks fun.

** Chlorophyll shooters, anyone?

*** Although we might soon. A friend of ours, a Pakistani market owner in town, has a herd of meat goats**** and recently learned the proper Muslim way to slaughter a goat. We are hoping to buy one from him and split it with a friend.

**** I really wish you could all hear him tell the story about getting a Great Pyrenees dog to herd the goats. The story takes about 20 minutes to tell and the upshot is that his goats are being herded just fine, but he has still never laid a hand on the dog. It will have nothing to do with him. It's hilarious.