Monday, October 19, 2015
It started with Toffee Bars, or at least that is how I remember it. I found Jess's blog, Sweet Amandine, by accident, following a link that led me to a link that led me to a link, etc. I liked it immediately. I liked the clean, welcoming design, and Jess's warm voice. I liked how she seemed to understand that food is not only meant to nourish but also meant to evoke memories and feelings and stories. I liked the food. (How could I not? Pluot Cake, Olive Oil Citrus Cake, Lemon Curd Squares with Rosemary- and those are just (some of) the desserts). So, in a move quite unlike myself, I screwed my courage to the sticking place- because I am introverted and socially anxious even in the virtual world- and I commented on one of her blog posts. Jess was warm and welcoming, as she is, but it was the Toffee Bars (or Toffee Squares, as Jess has it) that really did it.
It's hard to describe what Toffee Bars mean to me. I have no memory of the first time I ate them, because always, as long as I can remember,it has been, Mrs. Anis has Toffee Bars. Mrs. Anis is my surrogate grandmother. She has fed me and loved me since I was born and she always- may she live and be well- always has Toffee Bars. Toffee Bars is also one of the first things I learned to bake by myself as a child because they are easy and require not so very many ingredients. To me, they are a part of myself-my child self and adult self and the self that is loved and cared for- all of that is in a Toffee Bar. So, imagine my surprise when they showed up on Jess's blog- the very exact recipe- the one I have, the one scrawled on a browning notecard in my mother's hand. Imagine my surprise to find that to her they were also love and care and chosen family. Something slotted into place.
Jess and I communicated on her blog and via email for a couple of years. We found other things in common- academics, that one street in Jerusalem we both lived off of, though not at the same time. She became someone I could talk to about food, obviously, but also life, academics, words, things that mattered. She became a friend. Eventually though, we fell out of touch, because, life; and I have fallen out of touch with more friends than I care to admit.
Then Stir came out.
It's a little bit weird to read a book by a friend whom you've never met; to come to know her again by her own words, and Jess is, by far, one of the best wielders of words I know. Her words choice is so accurate, so onpoint, it is a wonder to read. Like Jess, Stir is warm, personable, and honest. It is in turns both joyful and heartbreaking. It is a book about how to keep on when everything changes and how food can get us there. It is about Jess, and her family and her friends, and her kitchen. It's a wonderful book and I'm very, very glad Jess wrote it. I hope you will read it.
Jess, thank you for Stir. xo
Much as I loved all the food in Stir, and despite the fact that it will probably change the way I make pastry and the way I make challah, the recipe I have to share with you is not from Stir but from Jess's blog, Sweet Amandine. I make a lot of recipes from Sweet Amandine, but this is the one I make the most. It is THE soup. It is the soup that has turned many a fennel hater into a fennel lover. It is the soup that my family now makes every Passover when we've gotten sick of eating and all we want is soup and salad and maybe some matzoh and butter. It is the soup I make when summer slips into fall. It is carrots and fennel, roasted until they go brown and lovely and sweet. It is the genius of a spoon of tomato paste turning dark around a layer of oil-slicked onions and all the depth and complexity it lends. I love this soup.
Make this soup and think of it as a teaser. Then go out and buy Stir (or take it out of your local library if you have one). Treasures await.
Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup
Very lightly adapted from Jessica Fechtor on Sweet Amandine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds carrots (about 8 medium carrots)
1 bulb fennel
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground (or if your me, roughly smashed with a knife on your cutting board)
4-5 cups water or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat your oven to 450 F. Peel and chop the carrots into 1/4 inch rounds. Trim the fennel and then cut into 1/2 inch wedges. Toss the carrots and fennel with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread on a baking tray and roast for about a half an hour until the vegetables are tender and golden at the edges and smell delicious.
2. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil oven medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions and the fennel and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir.
3. By now, the carrot and fennel should be ready. Add them to the pot with the onion. Stir and then pour in 4 cups of water or broth. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and carefully! blend using an immersion blender,adding more water or broth to thin it a bit if the soup seems to thick. Reheat, and serve.