Welcome, 2016, from my perch on the love seat in my sun room, where I lay, knee elevated and iced, following an ill-considered evening body circuit class at my neighborhood gym.
This isn’t a case of overzealous New Year’s resolution implementation. In fact, my resolutions, such that they are, are to 1) make peace with and enjoy the aging process; 2) try to eat whole foods and exercise every day; 3) not make a big deal about it if I don’t.
My current injury is the result of mixing things up a bit. Formerly a dedicated early morning exerciser, I’ve been having trouble bouncing out of bed at 5:30, as I did last year, to attend chilly and dark outdoor boot camp, or 6:00, as I’ve been doing this year, to swim at our grimy neighborhood pool. Frustrated at not “catching the worm” these first few days back at school and work, I decided to sleep in and give evening exercise a try.
Sleep has been eluding me. At the risk of oversharing, but in keeping with the truthful spirit and subject of this blog, I’ll confess that night sweats are keeping me awake. In a funny sort of role reversal, my “chill” husband and I remain temperature incompatible, only these nights he’s the one snuggled up under blankets and I’m the one who has thrown them off, as if sleeping in a tropical paradise.
When insomnia strikes, I know some say you should get out of bed and be productive, but the looming 6:00 a.m. alarm is a deterrent. Instead, I prefer reading. And in deference to the aforementioned chill husband, I read on my Kindle so I don’t wake him up.
This fall I happily read my way through the four books that comprise Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Stories. Once I had finished them, I was at a loss for what to read next. Though the Kindle was full of tantalizing possibilities, I just couldn’t commit to any one of them. Instead, I indulged in my favorite dorky night time habit — trolling the Kindle daily deals for a $1.99 book that would catch my fancy. I found it in former New York Times food writer Mimi Sheraton’s massive compendium, 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.
Want to cure your insomnia? Try reading about baked calves’ brains with seasoned bread crumbs, apparently an Italian delicacy, or Ezra Tull’s gizzard soup (inspired by Hungarian bechinalt). Did you know the Swiss have cookies named for ladies’ thighs (one wonders how this was received by the wife of the chef who created them) or that schmaltz (rendered poultry fat) used to be highly desirable? As desirable as wild pistachio tree sap, as a matter of fact.
The 1,000 page tome is arranged geographically, starting with Europe (broken down by language groups). Next comes a transition section called “Jewish.” I read that section in early December and was inspired to bake my own bialys (Mimi Sheraton, who has a taste for interesting book projects, is also the author of The Bialy Eaters, and you can find her recipe for bialys at saveur.com).
Each sleepless night I bounced between disgust, boredom, fascination, and inspiration, as I made my way through the world of food. It won’t surprise you to know that the Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern section is one of my favorites in the book. It was there I discovered Ash-e-Anar, Persian Pomegranate soup. How had I overlooked that recipe in my copy of Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen? Two nights before Christmas, as the wind and rain howled and hammered outside, four soothing, tangy bowls of this unctuous delight graced our dinner table.
I can’t say for sure, but I imagine I slept like a baby that night.
Last night I was awakened at 3 am, not by night sweats, but by the pain in my knee. I knew I should ice and elevate it and take some more Ibuprofen, but my cat had just settled on top of me and I feared I would not be able to get down or back up our stairs.
So I turned to that guy with whom I made vows 20 years ago and whispered his name. He was snuggled up under the covers in a deep, untroubled sleep, but he instantly awoke and uncomplainingly went downstairs. He returned with Ibuprofen, water, an ice pack, a towel, and pillows, then got back into bed and instantly fell back asleep. Must be nice.
As for me, I’m up to the Caribbean now. While I waited for the drugs to kick in, I read about callaloo, a spicy dish of stewed greens that apparently has the power to induce any man who eats it to propose to the woman who prepared it.
I believe in the power of food. I lured my man with mangoes. And tonight, I’ll soothe my throbbing knee and tired soul with Persian Pomegranate Soup. Later, if I can’t sleep, I have conch fritters and pina coladas to look forward to.
At the start of the new year, the Kindle Daily Deals were particularly good. I scored Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, two books I’ve been longing to read. I took a break from my nighttime culinary roaming to read Elizabeth Alexander’s beautiful, poignant memoir of marriage, friendship, and loss. The Light of the World features a few recipes from Ficre Ghebreyeus, Alexander’s Eritrean husband, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 50. Realizing that she and her children must leave the home they’d shared with Ficre, Alexander turns to a recipe for comfort. Though Ficre is no longer there, she can make his spicy red lentil and tomato curry and retain a part of him, wherever she goes.
Ash-E-Anar (Pomegranate Soup) from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
3 T grapeseed oil ( I often use olive oil)
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c split peas
1 t ground turmeric
2 t ground cumin
8 cups vegetable stock or water (I’ve used chicken stock)
1/2 c pomegranate molasses
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 c thick Greek yogurt
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground lamb (I’ve used ground turkey and ground pork)
2 T minced flat-leaf parsley
2 T minced mint
2 t sea salt
To make soup, heat oil in a large pot and cook onion for 10 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add garlic, split peas, turmeric, cumin and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours, until legumes are tender and soup is slightly thick.
To make meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, then form into walnut-sized balls.
When split peas are tender, add pomegranate molasses to the pot, then drop in meatballs and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, till they are cooked through.
Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls garnished with pomegranate seeds and yogurt.
Follow recipe, omitting meatballs. Along with split peas, add 1/2 c lentils, 1/2 dried mung beans, 1/2 c pearled barley, and 1 large bee, peeled and diced. Use 12 cups stock or water. When beans and barley are tender, add pomegranate molasses and 1 bunch chopped cilantro.
For a change of pace try The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva. I have never been a fan of thrillers, murder stories, detective novels, but accidently got hooked and am in Kindle heaven. It’s a spy murder thriller about, and between, the Vatican and Israel. You’ll like it. The sweats will cease, the knee won’t. Keep cooking.