Mary Shelley: Kale and Fried Egg Tartine

Mary Shelley - Kale and Fried Egg Tartine

With the polar vortex hitting New York and my Californian disregard for warm coats, it was bound to happen: I am sick. Not sick enough to be devastating, but just sick enough to be achy, whiny, and wishing for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup at all times. Instead of indulging myself, though, I took a cue from Mary Shelley, pulled on my pajamas, and made kale.

It’s tempting to think of kale as a marvel of modern marketing, engineered by the savvy people of Whole Foods to make us eat our vegetables. But the leafy green was one of the most common types of produce in Europe before it was outpaced by cabbage around 1600, and its popularity continued into the 18th century. For Shelley, kale wasn’t a trend, something to be massaged or blended into drinks. It wasn’t “healthy.” It was comforting.

Mary was the resident caregiver in her literary family; her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, wasn’t so good at looking after himself. “He could have lived on bread alone without repining,” his biographer Richard Henry Stoddard wrote. “Vegetables, and especially salads … were acceptable.” Mary was the one who made sure her husband was fed, not that he noticed much. She “used to send him something to eat into the room where he habitually studied; but the plate frequently remained untouched for hours upon a bookshelf, and at the end of the day he might be heard asking, ‘Mary, have I dined?'”

Food has long been our chosen way of providing for those we love; when I was in college, my mom’s “care packages” were 5% socks, 95% cookies (a ratio I heartily approved of). Mary Shelley’s letters show just how far back the tradition goes. When her aunt Everina fell ill, Mary, far away in Rome, dispatched a friend to put together a care package of her own: “jelly, oranges, spongecakes and her favourite kale.” Kale became a frequent gift, an all-purpose treatment for what ails you.

A new batch of Shelley’s letters was recently discovered from when she herself was ill, with a brain tumor that would kill her a few years later. Percy was gone by then, as was Everina. The only person Mary had left to care for was herself, hopefully with her friends around her and some kale on the stove, cooking to heal the soul.

Kale and Fried Egg Tartine Recipe

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10 Life Lessons from Writers & Chefs (and a Giveaway)

Paper and Salt 2nd Birthday

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” —Anaïs Nin

I never was much for resolutions; the self-analysis and self-critique we go through every day seemed like enough to keep me busy for a lifetime. Two years ago, though, I made my first serious attempt at a larger, grander goal: starting this blog. It’s been a joy to write and research ever since, and has introduced me to people around the world who love reading and eating too (often at the same time; maybe even while reading this post).

Needless to say, I’ve become a fan of resolutions, and who better to borrow from than famous writers and chefs themselves? So here are 10 pearls of wisdom from my literary and culinary idols that I’m trying to adopt in 2014. See if you can guess who originally wrote them—the answers are below.

  1. Get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
  2. Plan ahead. Plan carefully and shop in advance for what you need. Planning saves money, as well as time and steps.
  3. When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.
  4. Try never get drunk outside yr own house [sic]
  5. Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
  6. Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power.
  7. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!
  8. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  9. Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.
  10. If time, so fleeting, must like humans die, let it be filled with good food and good talk, and then embalmed in the perfumes of conviviality.

Did you guess who said it?: 1) Susan Sontag, 2) James Beard, 3) Ernest Hemingway, 4) Jack Kerouac, 5) John Steinbeck, 6) Charles Dickens, 7) Julia Child, 8) Henry Miller, 9) Hunter S. Thompson, 10) M.F.K. Fisher

cuisinart

To jump-start that conviviality, I’m celebrating Paper & Salt’s birthday with our annual giveaway: Cuisinart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven (5 quart, in white). 

Trust me, you will want it. For one thing, it’s the perfect vessel for this (which, given the cold, would be a good dinner right about now, no?).

There are ways to enter the giveaway (and yes, you can enter twice):

1) Comment on this post
2) Sign up for the Paper & Salt newsletter (everyone already on the list will be automatically entered to win!)

Giveaway closes on Monday, January 20. The winner will be announced in the next post and in the January newsletter. Apologies to those abroad, but only U.S. residents are eligible to win.

Good luck! Stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming next week; or, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Henry David Thoreau: Hazelnut Raisin Bread

Henry David Thoreau - Hazelnut Raisin Bread

With every new year, I find myself going back to bread. It’s the opposite of what we’re “supposed” to do in January; I should be telling you about a new energizing juice cleanse. But if we diet to restore the body, we bake to restore the spirit, cultivating the qualities we wish to embody throughout the year: the determination to begin, the self-assuredness to knead the dough, the resourcefulness to change course if it goes awry, the patience as it rises, the patience as it cooks, the patience as it cools. 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Henry David Thoreau wrote about his two years on Walden Pond. He wasn’t referring to bread specifically, but baking requires a calmness, a deliberateness of the mind. No wonder it was one of the writer’s preferred ways to spend a day. As he wrote in Walden, “I like best the bread which I have baked, the garment which I have made, the shelter which I have constructed, the fuel which I have gathered.”

Thoreau’s tiny cabin was an early version of America’s Test Kitchen: The writer ran hundreds of little experiments on his bread recipe, borrowing local Native American techniques and even going back to Roman times for tips. Hoping to save on the cost of yeast, he dug up Cato the Elder’s unleavened recipe: “Put the meal into the trough, add water gradually, and knead it thoroughly. When you have kneaded it well, mould it, and bake it under a cover.” Bread hasn’t changed much since (although our instructions are decidedly longer).

Although Thoreau baked year-round, it was in the dark New England winters when he gave it special care. “In cold weather it was no little amusement to bake several small loaves … tending and turning them.” Baking helped counteract the mental freeze that came with the cold. “Our thoughts and sentiments answer to the revolution of the seasons,” he wrote in his journal. “Now I am ice, now I am sorrel.” We can’t be sorrel—vivacious and fresh—the whole year. But we can be warm, calm, comforting. We can be bread.

Almost as if anticipating the current assault on carbs, Thoreau’s passionate defense of his favorite food resonates today as it did in that small cabin. “Bread may not always nourish us; but it always does us good, it even takes stiffness out of our joints, and makes us supple and buoyant, when we knew not what ailed us, to recognize any generosity in man or Nature, to share any unmixed and heroic joy.”

Hazelnut Raisin Bread Recipe thoreau images 2

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