Well, I had a very spiritual book picked out for this week, and I definitely plan to write about it soon. But . . . have you heard the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”? (I think that’s a koan, but I’m not sure.) So there I was at the library a few days ago, looking at the new books display at the top of the stairs as I always do, and here was this one. I love books about chefs. (Although I found Blood, Bones and Butter to be supremely put-down-able.) The organic part doesn’t interest me all that much, I’m not too sorry to say, but I was intrigued by the author because we used to live right outside Washington D.C. and I’d heard of her restaurant there. Not that we ever went–it’s pretty pricey. But I thought it might be fun to read at least some of it. Well, I was hooked right away. It says that she has a “with” author, so I guess Nora herself can’t take all the credit for the beautiful vivid writing, but it’s really a great read.
And here’s the thing: even though Pouillon grew up in Austria, that bastion of beautiful pastry shops where everything is served mit Schlag (with cream), she talks very little about eating any kind of sweets. Instead, there are intense descriptions of vegetables, meat and fish. Of salads. Of olive oil. Of good bread. The more I read the more I realized what a bounty there is of non-sweet food, that I’m really not missing out by deciding not to eat desserts, candy or much in the way of added sugar any more. When we think that everything has to have sugar in it we miss out on the real flavors of what we eat because we’ve masked them with sweetness. When I think of the many years I drank coffee with three heaping teaspoons of sugar in it! (And the even more embarrassing use of flavored non-dairy creamer, but let’s just draw a veil over that one.) Now I love the strong bitter taste of my morning mugful.There’s a great deal more to this book than the food, though. Growing up in Austria during and after World War II gives Pouillon a fascinating perspective on that era and country; her experiences with her rather disastrous marriage and subsequent partnership, both business and romantic, with a man who proved unfaithful are described unsparingly. I have to admit that I did a lot of skipping as I got into the final chapters where she describes making Restaurant Nora into the first certified-organic restaurant in the country. (Organic carpet?) And then goes into all of the efforts she’s making to clean up our food supply. Well, more power to her. But I’m much more interested in reading about how she and her sisters traveled around with their mother in a VW Bug and ate fish they caught themselves from the ocean. Or how she worked 15-hour days when she was first getting the restaurant up and going. (When did she ever do laundry? That isn’t clear.)
I thought I’d end this post with a picture of my own food, something I made for lunch this week that fits in well with the idea of eating real food with real flavor. It’s so delicious that I can hardly stand thinking about it. The dressing has some sugar in the form of maple syrup in it, but not much, way less than commercial dressing would have, and the salad did have a pear in it, but eating your fruit whole isn’t a problem, as there’s only so much you can eat at one time. Just in case you can’t identify all the elements, it has the pear, and the dressing (recipe given below), and the lettuce, and also walnuts and blue cheese, oh most delicious of cheeses. Not that horrible chalky sour pre-crumbled stuff, though. I buy Costco’s big half-rounds, cut it into smaller chunks and put them into individual baggies, and freeze all but one. I then use up each chunk before taking out another one. It’s embarrassing for me to admit that before I started doing this I wasted a lot of this wonderful food, as it would go bad before I could use it all up. (Wonder how you can tell that blue cheese has spoiled when it’s moldy to begin with? America’s Test Kitchen says that it’s gone bad when it turns yellow on the outside. I would also say that when it grows a whole new layer of fuzz you’d better throw it out.)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 T. maple syrup
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
Whisk vigorously or use a blender. Dressing will need to be re-shaken after sitting for awhile, but it stays emulsified for awhile because of the mustard. Very, very simple and delicious. It would be good in a salad with other types of fruit, too, notably apples.