Archive for May, 2012

Asparagus Hummus

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

My mother loved to tell a story about her introduction to olives.

Her mother brought a jar of the things home from the grocery store. Little Janice asked what they were.

“Olives,” said her mother. “Try one and see whether you like it.”

Janice tried one. She wasn’t sure. So she tried another. She still wasn’t sure. She kept trying. After a few minutes she still wasn’t officially sure that she liked olives. But she had eaten the whole jar.

That’s more or less the way I felt about this hummus. As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, I LOVE asparagus. If it were in season year round, I believe I would eat it every day. Now that it is in season I work on new ways to try it every day.

The other day I looked at some hummus and looked at some asparagus spears and thought, “Let’s put these together.”

I tasted the resulting concoction. I wasn’t sure what I thought. It was a lovely green. (It would have been even prettier if I had saved some pieces of asparagus to decorate the top!) It didn’t taste quite as asparagus-y as I had expected, however.

So I sampled it again. Like my mother before me, I was soon very full and out of my test food.

In the end I decided I’d publish the recipe. If you want more asparagus flavor, add more asparagus, or cut back on the tahini and water.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably eat the whole thing as it is….

Green Hummus


1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into small pieces (about 2 cups)
2 large cloves garlic
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup sesame tahini
2 tablespoons water
lemon juice to taste (I used about 1-1/2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more oil as needed
1 teaspoon salt


Boil the asparagus pieces until just barely soft. Drain and rinse with cool water and/or ice. Set aside.

In a food processor puree the chickpeas and tahini briefly; then add the asparagus, water, and lemon juice and puree again.

Add the oil and salt and puree briefly. Taste to adjust seasonings; then refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour. Stir in a dab of additional oil just before serving.

Serve with pita chips. Makes about 2 cups.

Domestic Hitchcock: Shadow of a Doubt

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Please donate!

This post takes part in the third annual film-preservation blogathon For the Love of Film, hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod.

This year’s blogathon is devoted to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Funds raised will help the National Film Preservation Foundation stream an early film on which Hitchcock worked, The White Shadow, on the internet for several months—and record a new score for this silent film. Please click on the photo above to donate to this worthy cause. Films are perishable, and they need our help!

Now, on to MY Hitchcock contribution……

Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, and Patricia Collinge in "Shadow of a Doubt"

As a food writer I often find it difficult to write about films, particularly films like those of Hitchcock, in which action and suspense are key. The characters have little time for cooking and eating. So for this essay I turn to Hitchcock’s most domestic motion picture—some might say his ONLY domestic motion picture—Shadow of a Doubt.

Released in 1943, Shadow of a Doubt has long been one of my favorite Hitchcock films in large part because it is domestic. The house in which most of the action is set is almost a character in the story. Viewers get to know its hallways, doorways, and rooms. And many plot points are worked out at the dinner table.

Since Shadow is a Hitchcock film the domesticity it explores is dark. It is domesticity nonetheless, however, and the picture features sympathetic and complex female characters.

Indeed, the film is primarily experienced through one of those characters, Young Charlie (Teresa Wright). A recent high-school graduate who still lives with her family in an old-fashioned home in Santa Rosa, California, Charlie is restless.

She finds family life tedious and is particularly concerned with that life’s effect on her mother Emma, who seems to spend her days going from one dispiriting household task to another. Charlie senses that she and her mother are trapped. “All I’m waiting for now is a miracle,” she tells her kindly but weak father Joe (Henry Travers).

The miracle comes almost immediately in the form of a prospective visit from her mother’s brother Charlie (the handsome, velvet-voiced Joseph Cotten), after whom young Charlie was named. The namesake feels a special kinship with her uncle, a far-off glamorous figure who sends wonderful presents but rarely shows his face in Santa Rosa.

The family gathers around Uncle Charlie at the dinner table.

Charlie believes she has a psychic bond with Uncle Charlie, a bond Hitchcock famously emphasized from the start of the picture by introducing both Charlies in the same position—lying on a bed looking despondent.

Charlie is even happier when she sees the effect the news of her uncle’s imminent arrival has on her mother Emma (Patricia Collinge). Emma’s voice lifts and her face lights up as she speaks of her long-ago childhood with Uncle Charlie, the spoiled baby of her family.

Uncle Charlie’s arrival is all that Young Charlie and Emma have hoped for. He brings laughter to the house and showers his relatives with gifts. Almost immediately, however, Charlie begins to wonder about her uncle. He has isolated moments of scary violence. He is trying to hide something. And the gorgeous emerald ring he gives her is inscribed with the initials of a dead woman.

Young Charlie begins to feel uncomfortable with Uncle Charlie. Papa Joe looks on at right.

Hitchcock brought in Thornton Wilder to work on the screenplay for Shadow. The film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, an attractive, medium-sized town, and the director believed that the playwright of Our Town could add a certain authenticity to this story of America’s heartland.

He did—as did the brilliant cast. Shadow of a Doubt both celebrates and critiques small-town life—and middle-class American life in general.

Like Uncle Charlie, the town of Santa Rosa is beautiful yet contains dark corners.

Like Uncle Charlie, Young Charlie and her mother Emma love the idea of home but long for something more stimulating and ultimately more dangerous.

At the end of the film Young Charlie’s future appears almost as bleak as it does at the beginning. She has survived attempts on her life. Yet she appears doomed to marry the stolid MacDonald Carey and recreate her mother’s humdrum housewifery.

As for Uncle Charlie, he feels forced by fate/fear/insanity to try to kill Young Charlie, whom he really does love.

Perhaps the saddest of the three is Emma. Young Charlie’s mother is devastated when she learns near the end of the picture that her brother plans to leave Santa Rosa, although she is fortunately unaware that he is leaving because he will be arrested or killed if he stays.

“But I can’t bear it if you go, Charles,” she says in near despair. She adds to her guests but most of all to herself, “We were so close growing up, and then Charles went away, and I got married, and you know how it is. You sort of forget you’re you. You’re your husband’s wife……”

Her tearful speech underlines the film’s unsettling portrait of domesticity. Domestic life, Hitchcock and Thornton Wilder tell us, is full of longings, regrets, and even danger. (Young Charlie barely survives two attempts on her life that use the house and its contents as weapons.)

And yet, as Young Charlie learns, Americans in the 1940s, particularly American women, don’t have a lot of other options.

The little cow sprinkles are meant to evoke black-and-white film--and to hide my icing errors!

Emma’s Butterscotch Pound Cake with Maple Icing

Emma and Charlie prepare several meals in Shadow of a Doubt. The food to which the most detail is devoted is a cake Emma demonstrates making for two men who pretend to be conducting a survey about typical American families. They are in reality detectives hard on the trail of Uncle Charlie, whom they suspect of being a serial killer.

She informs the pair that this maple cake is a favorite of her brother Charles. Viewers don’t get to see the entire baking process, but Emma makes it clear that the instructions include creaming butter and sugar and then adding eggs.

I hope her cake would have tasted something like this dense, rich pound cake with a maple topping. It’s enough to make almost anyone—maybe even Hitchcock—feel more positive about domesticity.


for the cake:

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour

for the icing:

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons maple syrup
confectioner’s sugar as needed


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a mixer cream the butter. Add the brown sugar, and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Beat in the baking powder and salt.

On a low speed, blend in the flour until it is incorporated. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto the rack and let it cool completely before making your icing.

Whip the butter for the icing until fluffy; then beat in the maple syrup and sugar. You will need enough sugar to make the icing spreadable but not enough to make it too sweet; start with 1 cup and then add a little at a time as needed.

Serves 8 to 10.

Emma gets ready to bake her cake.

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A Meal without Plastic

Friday, May 4th, 2012

This past Sunday my church’s confirmation class helped lead the worship service. The kids reported on their research project this semester. They have been studying a depressing but worthy topic—the proliferation of non-biodegradable plastic in our world and our lives.

To fit in with this theme, our minister Cara asked church members to participate in a pot-luck luncheon for which we were to prepare foods that had never touched plastic. I am always up for a challenge—but I have to admit that this invitation was a bit more of a challenge than I expected!

I decided to make a quiche since I had leeks from my farm share in Virginia. They had arrived in a cardboard box, and I had by chance chosen to carry them north to Massachusetts in a paper bag! I had garlic in the house from last year’s Massachusetts farm share; fortunately, the house had been cool enough in my absence to keep it fresh.

I used eggs from neighbors’ chickens. And I asked Paula at the meat counter of our general store, Avery’s, to cut me some cheddar from the big wheel in the back of the store and wrap it in paper instead of the customary plastic. If this tactic failed, I was prepared to go to B.J.’s Wholesale Club, which sells Cabot Cheddar in wax-covered bricks. Luckily, Paula came through for me.

I ran into a couple of snags in my ingredients. When I realized that my salt poured through a plastic spout, I scrounged around until I found a half-dead (i.e., very wet) salt container that poured through cardboard.

And I was dismayed when I realized that my Crisco tub had a plastic lid that could have touched the stuff on the inside. Fortunately, a search through the cupboards uncovered a lone, foil-wrapped Crisco stick for my pie crust.

(I realized later that I could have made the pie crust with butter, but at the time I was fixated on Crisco for some reason.)

Pepper was out. My grinder is wooden, but the peppercorns inside came originally in plastic. Most of my spices are in plastic containers. Happily, I found a glass jar that held a whole nutmeg, some of which I could grate into the custard using my handy (stainless steel, thank goodness!) Microplane.

The real plastic revelation came not with the ingredients but with my cooking utensils. I hadn’t realized how much plastic I use on a daily basis.

I reached for my nonstick sauté pan, only to realize that its coating was probably some form of plastic. Out came the cast-iron skillet.

My usual silicone spatula needed to be replaced by a wooden spoon. I had to eschew my plastic dry measuring cups. It took me a long time to find the metal ones hiding on the bottom of a shelf.

I forced myself to remember to use a wooden cutting board, not a plastic one. And just in time I realized that I couldn’t roll the piecrust out on my usual plastic mat.

The quiche was a hit. I am out of leeks but will make it again very soon substituting our regions’s famous local asparagus, which is starting to come into season.

The whole exercise did educate me about the pervasiveness of plastic in my life. I will try hard to minimize the number of plastic bags and bottles I use. I won’t give up my plastic utensils, however. After all, they are already IN this world; it serves the environment to use them!

Other contributions to the feast included a lamb stew made with meat from the farm of my friends Erwin and Linda Reynolds, applesauce cake, homemade bread, and something yummy with rhubarb. (I’m on the trail of that recipe, never fear!)

I hope the kids felt proud of their Sunday in the spotlight. They certainly taught me a lot.

Here's the stew Cara made from local lamb.

Non-Plastic Quiche


2 large (or three medium or four small) farm-fresh leeks
3 large (or four medium or six small) cloves of garlic that have never touched plastic
a splash of extra-virgin olive oil in a bottle that has no plastic, plus a bit more if needed
four eggs that went from chickens to cardboard to you
1/2 cup cream (from a container with no plastic)
a pinch of salt (watch for plastic spouts!)
a little freshly grated nutmeg that has not touched plastic
6 ounces (more or less) sharp cheddar cheese that was not wrapped in plastic, grated
1 8-inch pie shell prepared with ingredients that have not touched plastic


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Clean the leeks, and remove the root ends and most of the green stalks. Cut the leeks into quarters lengthwise, and clean them again; then chop the quarters into 1/2-inch pieces.

Cut the garlic cloves into thin strips.

Heat a stainless-steel or cast-iron pan and add a splash of oil. Heat the oil until it shimmers; then sauté the leek and garlic pieces until the leeks start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a little more oil if necessary as the vegetables cook. Remove from heat.

In a non-plastic bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and nutmeg.

Place the pie shell in a pie pan. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the sautéed vegetables; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and top with the remaining cheese.

Place the tart (or quiche or whatever you want to call it!) on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden—but the leeks peeking out are not burning!

Serves 6.

Some participants in the meal opted to bring canned goods...

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