My requisite pass

I ducked into the bookstore on my way home from the library last week. I was looking for a title that a friend of mine had recommended. I assumed the position, my chin pointed at a slight angle towards my left shoulder, and walked along the bookcase as quickly as I could while still registering the names of the authors streaming by. Bellow. Chabon. Cheever. Clancy. Dickens. Didion. Other people were doing it, too, moving along the walls of books, chins askew, looking half ahead, and half to the side. There was a man who had wedged himself into a corner, doing his best to create some semblance of a lap on which he could balance an oversized volume. A grown woman crawled around on the floor while another crouch-hopped along, both inspecting the bottom shelves. Typical bookstore behavior. There were collisions between people who were not quite as adept as they imagined themselves to be at keeping one eye on the books and the other eye on the path ahead. One of those people was me.

Shopping for books is not like shopping for anything else. A bookstore browse is the slowest, most solitary browse I know. It’s not like shopping for clothing, where shirts and skirts are whisked from racks into dressing rooms, there's talking, noise, and the fit is known at once. Book browsers stand alone. Legs slightly spread, heads bent, lips apart, silent. Side by side in the non-fiction aisle, they’re worlds apart. I’ve never bought a car, but I wonder if it might be the kind of shopping that feels most like book browsing. You have to get inside, feel the thing moving beneath you, with you, carrying you. You have to test out the ride, hear the engine, feel its particular power.

I found my book. It was time for my requisite pass through the cookbook section. A woman on her knees was thumbing through a copy of The Silver Spoon, and wondering out loud to her friend if she should buy it. “The fruits of the forest crumble in there is great,” I offered. It’s Eli’s favorite crumble, in fact. I hadn’t made it in a while.

When I hear the word crumble, I usually think of a topping thick with oats, something coarse, maybe with clumps that crunch. This version, however, is crumble with an emphasis on crumb. The topping is butter rubbed into flour and sugar, and that’s all. It’s delicate, more like a sandy crust that fuses in a tight layer to the sugared fruit below. If you use a particularly wide-mouthed baking dish, like I did this time around, the crumb layer will be rather thin, and the fruit will bubble up and lap at its edges. I usually prefer to make this crumble in one of my deeper, narrower dishes so that I can mound the crumbs higher on top of the fruit, but so much time had passed since I last made it, that I had forgotten. It was good this way, too.

Fruits of the Forest Crumble
Adapted from The Silver Spoon

“Fruits of the forest” is just a frilly way of saying “whichever berries you have on hand” which, in my case, meant a few baggies of blueberries and raspberries packed away in the freezer. Use what you’ve got. The original recipe calls for all white flour, but I like to use a mix of white and whole wheat. Because I have a feeling that you might ask, I should tell you that I’m not sure why the recipe tells you to let the topping rest before baking. I went to my usual sources, and came up dry. Any thoughts? (Because I am a rabid directions follower, I always wait.)

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

For the fruit:
4-5 cups mixed berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries (if your berries are frozen, do not thaw)
½ cup brown sugar

Make the topping:
Sift the flours into a large bowl, and stir in the sugar. Cut the butter into half-inch cubes, and scatter into the bowl. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Let the topping stand in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator, for about 30 minutes.

Make the fruit and assemble the crumble:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Put the berries into a deep baking dish, add the brown sugar, and mix well. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, and bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings.

p.s. -- Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Here are a few recipes just under the wire:

Cranberry apple pandowdy
Dutch appeltaart
Tarte aux pommes
Pear tarte Tatin

Cranberry applesauce
Cranberry relish

Boozy Mulled Cider

And for the post-Thanksgiving flop on the couch:

Kettle corn and a movie


I made it for lunch

I have two pink slabs of salmon in the fridge, and a bowl of baby Brussels sprouts, rinsed and dried, on the counter. Eli will be home soon from the climbing gym. He’ll turn on the shower and undress while the water warms, and I’ll slide the sprouts into the oven that’s been heating since the call that he was – that he will be – on his way home. I’ll wait until the pipes are silent and I hear the scrape of the shower curtain, and then I will heat the oil and lift the salmon into the pan. Unless Eli is very hungry. If he is very hungry, he will probably go right for a handful of dried apricots, which he won’t have realized that I have moved from the table by the sofa, where he left them last night, back to the pantry. He’ll figure it out. He’ll walk from the table by the sofa to the pantry, which is actually a deep closet off of the room that we call his office, which is actually a room off of the kitchen that’s supposed to be a dining room. Eli’s desk is in there, the one he built in a woodshop in Seattle, and my grandmother’s piano, and a wooden buffet, and a red chair. (Our table, the almost-square one that we bought up on the North Shore where we were married, is in the living room, between the windows and the fireplace. “We do our eating in the living,” I never say, but I think it sometimes, and I like the way it sounds, unspoken.) Eli will find his apricots and join me in the kitchen, and skip the shower until after we’ve eaten. He’ll tell me something that will make me laugh, something small that, right now, an hour or so before he says it, I can’t wait to hear.

The salmon is in the fridge, and the sprouts are rinsed and dried. I’ll get the call; I’ll heat the oven. But first, I’ll sit and write – I’ve sat and I’ve written – for a few quiet minutes, about the salmon, and the sprouts, the apricots and the shower, and now, about egg salad, too, the egg salad that I made last month, and then promptly forgot, until I picked up a roll of film on Sunday, a pack of slides, actually, and found this frame, tucked between the Wish Tree at the MoMA and a blurry pan of anchovies:

I saw that egg salad, remembered it, and made it for lunch on Monday. I made it for lunch on Tuesday, and I would have again on Wednesday, and maybe even again today, but enough was probably enough. Egg salad haters everywhere will tell you that there is a lot to hate about egg salad and, if they’re referring to egg salad about which there is, in fact, everything to hate, egg salad haters everywhere will be right. But I don’t care to discuss it. It would only ruin your appetite, and mine, and undermine the egg salad that I do care to discuss, an egg salad about which there is precisely nothing to hate and, more precisely, very much to love.

The sauce is Hellmann’s mayonnaise – it really must be Hellman’s – and a fat dab of Dijon mustard, which for me, means Grey Poupon. It’s a vinegary, briny egg salad. The vinegar’s in with the mustard, the brine, on the skins of the capers that I shake into my palm. I let the liquid drain between my fingers, and tip my hand; the capers drop, and scatter when they hit the chopped egg. Into the bowl: A grind of black pepper. Into the bowl: A tuft of fresh dill. Into the bowl: A pinch of flaked sea salt that, against the twinge of vinegar and brine, is unexpectedly sharp. Next time, I’ll do without.

I guide a stack of water crackers from a plastic sleeve and bury them into the salad at the side of the bowl. I sit at the almost-square table in the living room on Monday, and on Tuesday, in the red chair in the dining room (that room off the kitchen with no table, a desk, and a piano). I rest my feet on the radiator that isn’t too hot.

I am very hungry.

Egg Salad with Capers and Dill

Here is the hard boiling technique that I use to get yellow yolks (cooked through, but not dry), tender whites, and shells that peel right off: Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with about an inch of water. Heat to the barest simmer. There shouldn’t be bubbles. You don’t want your eggs knocking around in there. It is important to keep the temperature of the eggs relatively low as they cook. Also, for easier peeling, use older eggs. Harold McGee can tell you why. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and, with a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked eggs directly from the pot into the cold water.

I take my time and use a very sharp knife when chopping my eggs so that the pieces are fairly uniform in size.

2 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 Tbsp Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon)
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
1 heaped tsp capers
Ground black pepper, to taste
A pinch of flaked sea salt (optional; taste before adding)

Mix the mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl. Gently fold in the chopped egg with a spatula. Top with the capers, dill, black pepper and, if using, salt.

Serves one, for lunch.
Serves two, for a snack.