Are you still there, dear readers? I hope I haven’t lost you all. It’s been awhile since I’ve written. Perhaps you have been wondering where I’ve been. Did I fall off a cliff? Was I in an accident? Or have I just given up on blogging entirely?
In fact, I am right here and have been all along, crazy-busy with my latest endeavor–changing my career and going back to school yet again.
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer. The older I got, the more my passion for putting pen to paper grew. I wrote every chance I got and spent years in school honing my craft. I never gave much thought to how I would actually make a living. I worked in offices, retail stores, restaurants. For ten years I was a freelance makeup artist and after that I taught English to international students. I always had a job, but never felt that I had a career. I always thought writing would be my career sooner rather than later. I’ve gotten tired of waiting.
When I lost my last job, I buckled down to the business of writing. I had some success and thought about seriously giving it all I had, this time not letting life get in the way as I’d always done.
Then I realized something. As much as I love writing, I can’t do it all day. As appealing as it sometimes seems to sit at the computer 24/7 in your pajamas, working from home is not for me. I love to write and cook, and take pictures or paint them. I am drawn to all kinds of artistic and intellectual pursuits. Yet as much as I value alone time, I long to be around people, especially in a capacity where I can help and empower them.
So after much thought and careful research I went back to university to become a certified career counselor. The studying has been intense, especially with my also having to work to pay the bills, but I think I have made the right decision. I’m going to see how it goes but I’m even thinking of doing more graduate work in the future, either in executive coaching, or training and leadership. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about my future.
In the meantime, I’m not giving up on food. Or cooking. Having less time on my hands has meant less time spent in the kitchen, but I’m not ready to eat anything but quality food. This is where Paula Wolfert’s wonderful book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen comes in. Many of Paula’s recipes don’t require a lot of time to prepare, but they do require time to cook–slowly in the oven or a in a pot on the stove.
Since I have been spending a lot of time hunched over the books, it has been easy to assemble a gratin or a stew and sit back, letting the flavors meld, creating that heady fragrance you smell wafting from Southern European kitchens. And all the leftovers make life a lot simpler.
This dish is French in origin, referred to as a soup in the book, yet it’s thick enough to hold a fork straight up. As with gratins, the golden bubbling cheese on top makes it deliciously tempting yet the dish also gives you a healthy dose of greens. I like to used kale, but you might want to try sorrel, chard, arugula or parsley, or any combination thereof. Be sure to choose a good quality bread–preferably French baguette or maybe some Italian ciabatta. Slow cooking will make it soft and give the dish enough heft to make a full meal.
Panade of Leeks and Mixed Greens with Gruyere Cheese
adapted from Paula Wolfert
3 large leeks (white and light green parts only)
1 red onion, chopped
8 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of day-old, chewy bread such as French baguette
1 1/2 pounds mixed leafy greens
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly ground pepper
3 cups whole milk, heated to simmering
1/2 pound Cantal or Gruyere cheese
1.) Measure the leeks, onion and garlic to make sure you have about 1 quart.
2.) In a 7 or 8 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Slowly stew the leeks, onion, and garlic for ten minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook for 5 more minutes. Meanwhile, preheat over to 250F.
3.) Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. You should have about 2 quarts. Spread the cubes in one layer on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until just golden. Let cool and store until ready to use.
4.) Add the greens to the pot, cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Uncover and boil away excess liquid. Allow to cool. Add the lemon juice, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Correct salt.
5.) About 2 1/2 hours before serving, oil a deep 3-quart casserole, preferably earthenware. Place one-third of the bread cubes in the dish, top with half the greens and repeat, ending with the bread cubes and patting lightly to make an even topping. Gradually pour the hot milk down the insides and over the top of the panade so everything is moist. If necessary, add half a cup of water. Cover with grated cheese and a sheet of foil.
6.) Bake in a preheated 250F oven for 1 3/4 hours. Raise the oven temperature to 400F, uncover, and bake for 20 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to relax for about ten minutes before serving