Some time ago I discovered Orangette, a blog full of the stuff I love: stories about food and life. To my delight it turned out that the writer, Molly Wizenberg, had also written a book with a title that makes me want to grab a cuppa, curl up on the sofa and read, read, read until the cows come home - in the evening of course; unfortunately I never have time for such decadence during the day.
A Homemade Life is both a cookbook and a memoir, and to my mind that is the perfect combination. At the beginning of the book Molly** tells us:
"That's why this book is called A Homemade Life. Because, in a sense, that's what we're building - you, me, all of us who like to stir and whisk - in the kitchen and at the table. In the simple acts of cooking and eating, we are creating and continuing the stories that are our lives." (p.6)
Molly is a candid writer, not afraid to bear all. We read about her heartbreaks, her future husband (whom she met through her blog!) and the life and death of her beloved father, to whom the book is dedicated. All of life's highs and lows are of course soothed through cooking and eating - food made from scratch to nourish both stomach and soul. But please don't get the idea that this book is sentimental in any way; Molly's wit and self-deprecating humour keep A Homemade Life from ever becoming sappy or too soppy.
I particularly like Molly's outspokenness. Take her opinion of 'secret recipes,' for example. She feels the whole idea of it is quite ridiculous. All recipes, after all, are derived from other recipes; they never just appear fully and perfectly formed by themselves - besides which, recipes are made to be shared and altered, and are hence dynamic by nature. And that's just the way it should be. Amen to that.
Needless to say, I have ordered her second book Delancey: a man, a woman, a restaurant, a marriage and can't wait for it to arrive.
**Convention tells us to use a writer's last name, but in this case I feel that would sound unnaturally formal
In celebration of A Homemade Life I wanted to cook something from it. Normally I would choose to bake something (if there are indeed cooks and bakers, I am definitely a baker by nature) but since I had a lot of veg lying around waiting to be used, I thought I would choose to cook. What better way to use all that veg, I thought, than to make Ratatouille. As you may know by now, I always adapt recipes to suit my own taste or, in this case, the contents of my store cupboard. I made it last night and although my children initially eyed the mound of veg with suspicion, they agreed in the end that it was, well, quite nice. Thankfully I can live with quite nice. Especially since M and I thought it was delish. Please forgive me for not taking any photos of the result. To be honest, I was so hungry I just couldn't bring myself to run upstairs to find my camera, which I now regret.
What follows is a combination of two recipes: Molly's and mine. As ratatouille is quite a bit of work - what with all the cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing and seeding - I like to make a big batch so we can eat some the next day too, when the flavours have had time to melt together and the whole thing is tastier than ever. Like Molly, I prefer to roast the aubergine in the oven first as I fear that just cooking them would leave them too rubbery.
adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
2 aubergines/eggplants, sliced into rounds
2 courgettes/zucchinis, sliced into half-moons
2 bunches of scallions, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tins of whole peeled tomatoes, drained in a colander
1 teaspoon salt
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
- preheat the oven 200 degrees Celsius
- first, get all the cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing and seeding done
- line two oven trays with baking paper; place aubergine slices on both trays and, with a pastry brush, coat each slice on both sides with a little oil
- place trays in the oven; bake each side for 10-15 minutes then set aside
- while the aubergine is in the oven, take a deep skillet, add two tablespoons of olive oil and cook the courgette for about 10 minutes until soft; remove from pan and set aside
- add more oil to the pan if necessary, cook the spring onion for about 3 minutes, then add the bell peppers and garlic and cook until the bell peppers are soft
- add tomatoes, salt, thyme and bay leaves and stir thoroughly to combine; then add the aubergines and courgettes, stirring well to combine;
- check seasoning
- finally, let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes on low heat
- serve with a chunk of bread, potatoes or on its own
- yields about 6 servings
And.... don't forget to check out what everyone else is reading over at The Year in Books...