Impletata, or, Dracula and the Fear of the “Other”

I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,” and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call “impletata.”

                          -from Chapter 1 of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Jonathan Harker’s Journal, kept in shorthand

This year, before reading the first chapter of Dracula, I asked my students to think about whether or not they like Jonathan Harker as a person.  It turns out, not very many of them did.  They thought he acts too superior.  Harker is the worst kind of tourist, the kind of tourist who describes both the mountain landscape and the humans who live in it as “picturesque.”  Also, he’s always collecting recipes for his absent fiance, Mina, to cook for him in his memoranda, which rubs some of the girls the wrong way.

Jonathan Harker is British, and Count Dracula is Romanian.  Harker is a representative of one of the most successful colonial empires at the height of its power, and Count Dracula is based off of the Romanian folk hero, Vlad Tepes, a fierce Wallachian fighter who struggled to stave off the threat of Turkish invaders as they tried to assimilate Transylvania into the Ottoman Empire.  Long before Bram Stoker actually demonized him, the West was already vilifying Vlad Tepes.  We call him Vlad the Impaler because he stuck human bodies on stakes and allowed gravity to slowly kill them.  The Romanians call him a hero because those bodies belonged to Ottoman Turks.

1499 German Woodcut depicting Vlad’s impaled victims.

Gothic literature typically wrestles with the idea of power– who has it, who wants it, and the power hidden within vulnerability.  On one hand, Dracula has power.  He is a predator who can control nature, live forever, and come into women’s bedrooms at night to slowly suck them dry.  On the other hand, Dracula has no power.  He is an outsider, and he isn’t just attacking Jonathan Harker, he is attacking the British empire and invading London.  And he fails.

From the Cuisine of Hungry by George Lang.

But, it’s hard to completely condemn Jonathan Harker, possibly because I am too much like him.  I go to other countries and get excited about the food.  I conscientiously try to not be the worst kind of tourist- the invading, condescending, dehumanizing kind of tourist, but I have no idea how successful I am at the end of the day.  I crawl around the globe like a fly on an orange, and my world is enlarged and my mind is opened to the diversity of this strange and beautiful world, but I am never really sure what kind of effect I have on the places that I’m whirling through.  Maybe a good effect, maybe no effect, maybe a bad effect.

“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” Caprichio #5 by Goya. From Leonard Wolf’s Annotated Dracula.

 

I don’t think Jonathan Harker was trying to be horrible as he marched East, but the clarifying passage of time has revealed him to be so.   Sometimes I wonder what the passage of time will reveal about my own generation’s globetrotting shenanigans.  My wonderings don’t mean I’m not going to travel the world- I’m taking a troop a students to Japan in March.  But my wonderings do mean that I’m going to be thinking, thinking about the implications of my actions and the effect that I have on the world around me as I move through it.  And I’m going to teach my students to think.  Which was always the goal all along, after all.

Also, whatever recipes I stumble along in my travels, I will make myself.  In the meantime, I’m going to attempt Jonathan’s impletata and give poor Mina a break.  Unlike paprika hendl, impletata is not a real name for a dish.  Bram Stoker was a researcher who took advantage of the British Library, not a tourist, so most of his sources are pretty transparent, and, as I learned from Colonel Mustard, most of his facts came from The Land Beyond the Forest by E. Gerard.  But no one really knows what Stoker was talking about with “impletata.”  Colonel Mustard has his interpretation, and Leonard Wolf, the Transylvanian annotator of the best edition of Dracula ever, decided it was possibly “patlagele impulute,” and gives a recipe for that.  After googling forcemeat, and discovering that it is a mixture of ground meat and vegetables, I just decided to take it from there and give myself a little freedom.  So the following is my recipe for impletata, inspired by Harker, Stoker, Mustard, Wolf, and Romania, but created by me.

Impletata

  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • The leaves of 10 or so sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup of Hungarian paprika
  • A few tablespoons of pinenuts
  • feta for crumbling, Bulgarian if you can find it
  • Several tablespoons of olive oil
  • A couple of pats of butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and slice the eggplant in half and brush the sides in olive oil.  Salt and pepper the eggplant flesh, and place face down on a baking sheet.  Bake until done, about 20 minutes or so depending on the size of the eggplant.  Meanwhile, saute the onions in half butter, half olive oil.  Add the garlic, saute a little longer.  Then add the ground beef, and cook until the meat is browned.  Add the tomatoes, thyme, paprika, and cook until the liquid from the tomatoes has reduced and thickened.  When the eggplants are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them cool.  Cut out the flesh from the eggplant halves with a paring knife, chop up the flesh and add it, along with the spinach and pinenuts to the beef mixture.  Fill the four empty eggplant shells with the beef mixture and sprinkle a good amount of feta over the top.  Cook in the 400 degree oven for ten minutes or so.  Remove the shells from the oven, let them cool, and them serve.

 

Chinese Red Beans: The Sweet

The week before she died, [my mother] called me, full of pride, full of life: “Auntie Lin cooked red bean soup for Joy Luck.  I’m going to cook black sesame-seed soup.” “Don’t show off,” I said.  “It’s not showoff.” She said the two soups were almost the same, chabudwo.  Or maybe she said butong, not the same thing at all.  It was one of those Chinese expressions that means the better half of mixed intentions.  I can never remember things I didn’t understand in the first place.

-from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

 

The problem of translation, the problem of being wedged between two different cultures, the problem of processing an unexpected death, the problem of that colon after the word life.  I teach punctuation just as I teach The Joy Luck Club, and one of the purposes is as a gate between the general (life) and the specific (cooking black sesame soup or a red bean soup).  Cooking and eating are examples of enjoying life.  Of course, they are.

 

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Red kidney beans on the left, azuki beans on the right.

 

Both red bean soup and black sesame soup are eaten as dessert soups, or tang shu.  Tang shu is a concept that doesn’t translate very easily into most American foodscapes.  Melted ice cream is about as close as I’ve come to a dessert soup over the course of my American upbringing.  I’ve eaten many a kidney bean in my life, but I’ve eaten them as a savory dish.  Which doesn’t translate very well into Chinese foodscapes.  As my erstwhile Chinese roommate said, when she saw that savory red bean recipe, “Red beans are such a big part of Chinese dessert (if that’s a thing), I will always naturally associate them with sweet.”

So here is my sweet red bean soup recipe- simple and not really mine at all.

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Dried mandarin peels.

Red Bean Soup

  • 2 cups of Chinese red beans, also known as azuki beans
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 8 cups of water
  • a handful of dried mandarin peels*

Bring the beans, sugar, water and mandarin peels to a boil.  Lower the temperature and simmer until tender, about 3 hours.  Pour milk over it before you eat.  Chinese cereal, as Winnie would say.

 

*You can buy dried tangerine peels online, but it seemed easier and less wasteful to save and dry my own in sunlight.  I used the peels from 3 mandarins.  Also, this step is optional.

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Red bean soup.

 

 

 

Dear Springroll

A guest post by Megan Deng. 

I.  The Vietnamese Lady

Me: That night, my father came home from his first day in MD Anderson Cancer Center. The first few words he blurted out were “what a kind lady!” I stared at him with bewilderment, his face flashing with a huge smile. “Why don’t we sit down and listen to your father’s amazing first day?” said my mother, laying out plates of delicious colors on the dinner table.

It turned out that the kind lady was a Vietnamese colleague in her fifties. “Her name is Terry,” my dad said, “she was the first person that smiled at me.”  I learned that my father was shocked at first, but who would refuse a warm welcome from his new colleague? So he smiled back. Terry was the most sophisticated researcher in the whole epidemiology department. She introduced my father to different co-workers, taught him the rules of collecting data and led him through every big, small and hidden room in the labyrinth of the epidemiology floor.

“My first day without the help of Terry would be too tragic to imagine.” Dad said.

“I wish I could meet this Vietnamese Lady, Dad” I replied, thinking how lucky my father was.

Very soon, my wish came true. Today, the Vietnamese lady is standing in the front door, holding a mysterious basket.

“Chào bạn!” she greeted us with Vietnamese, “ready to taste the traditional Vietnamese spring rolls?”

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II. Taste of Home

Terry: It has been two months since I got to know Yang, our new researching scientist from China. Several weeks ago, I invited Yang’s whole family to my neighborhood’s outdoor swimming pool and that was when I met the mother and the daughter, a perfect family. The daughter was faster than a dolphin, together with her athletic father, travelling through the sparkling blue. The mother, on the other hand, was the most patient swimming coach in the world. She gently took both of my hands and led me into the unknown of dark blue. That was when my legs found the rhythm of splashing water, as fast as the shifting ray of the sun.

The mother’s hand gradually slipped away. I was floating freely on the Pacific Ocean, towards my homeland, Vietnam. On the shining horizon, Yang and his daughter waved at me and applauded. I laughed and laughed as I approached. That was when I decided to make spring rolls again, for the happy Chinese family I so admired.

Smiling at the memory, I place another spring roll into the daughter’s plate, using chopsticks. I can see how much she enjoys the food. She is grinning at me with mint leaves on both hands and oil shining like lip balm. In an instant, I saw myself eating spring rolls back in Vietnam.

I was 8 when my mother taught me how to make traditional spring rolls. “You have to pick the freshest mint leaves to wrap around the spring rolls.” My mother said as if that was the most important thing in the world. I was born in the middle of the Vietnamese war. The outside world was my worst nightmare and I only felt safe with my steaming spring rolls. They were the taste of my mother’s protection, the taste of my sweet, sweet home.

One day, my mother went out to the far end of the village, hoping to collect the freshest mint leaves. I knew she would come back with empty hands. With so many airstrikes, none of the mint leaves could survive. So I stood at the front door, holding the last few bunches of fresh mint leaves, waiting to comfort her when she came back with disappointment.

She never came back.

I woke up the next day, leaning against the cold wall. The mint leaves in my hand had withered away. That year, my aunt took me to the United States with other Vietnamese refugees, leaving my spring rolls behind.

Me: Somehow, the satisfying smile of Terry reminds me of my grandma when she made Chinese spring rolls on the night of Spring Festival. I always liked to watch her mixing the stuffing for the rolls. There were sweet ones made of mashed red beans and salty ones made of agaric, cabbage and meat slices.

On the dinner table, I would be the first one to taste the spring roll and every time I exclaimed with compliments. My grandma would laugh with triumph, saying “eat more, eat more” and the dinner then began.

“I miss you grandma.”  I whisper as our whole family is immersing in the taste of spring rolls, the taste of our Chinese home.

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III. Buddha in the Rain

Terry: Several months ago, a destructive flooding added another chapter to Houston’s long history of storms. My usual parking spot was robbed by a huge puddle and I was forced to park in an unusual place. When I came back from work, the car was towed. The torrent of rain started to pour all over again. I stood helpless in the slot, feeling my face smudged with makeup, rain,and desperate hot tears. I pulled my collar higher as wind blew across the desolate parking lot.

“Do you need any help?” A voice came behind me causing me to turn. It was a gentleman in his thirties. I mumbled that my car was towed. “Let me drive you to that place where your car is located.” He said and led me into his car.

As I paid for the ransom, I turned around to thank the gentle man but he had already disappeared in the dusky summer storm. Buddha, why did you help me without leaving me the chance to express my gratitude? I thought.

The Buddha must had heard me because the next day I saw him. The gentle man, right there across from my office table. I felt a smile broke across my face. He seemed to be shocked by my sudden attention and after several seconds, smiled back. He didn’t recognize me, I thought.

“What’s your name?” I grabbed the perfect chance.

“Call me Yang.” He replied.

I decided not to remind him of yesterday.

I don’t thank people with words. I thank people with real act.

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IV. New Family

Me: Tonight, I start to feel hopeful with myfuture lifein the United States. The laughter, like wind chimes in an old French townlet, fills our little apartment. I like the harmony between mint leaves and spring rolls just like the harmony between my family and Terry. Maybe it’s time for our Vietnamese friend to join our family in this foreign land across from the Pacific Ocean.

Terry: As I collected the freshest mint leaves in my little garden before coming to Yang’s home, I thought about my mother. “Ma, I am ready to make spring rolls again.” I said with a handful of shining mint leaves, imagining that my mother is picking mint leaves next to me, smiling.

“Why?” she would ask, “You haven’t made those rolls ever since leaving Vietnam!”

“Because,” I turned, “I found a newfamily, Ma”

As I drove towards Yang’s apartment, with a basket full of spring rolls and mint leaves, the sun set the sky on fire with red, orange and purple flames.

Then, gold spread across the horizon.

Just like the color of my dear springrolls.

 

V.  The Recipe

Total Time: 50 minutes

End Products: 7 spring rolls

Ingredients:

  • Several cups of fresh mint leaves
  • 14 round rice wrapper sheet
  • A big bowl of black agaric (soaked in water for a whole night and cooked in water)
  • One to two shrimps per roll (depending on the size of the shrimp), cooked, peeled and sliced
  • Two onions sliced
  • Three carrots sliced
  • 3 bowls of sliced chicken leg/chest cooked OR 3 bowls of sliced pork cooked
  • 2 cups of cooked rice noodles
  • Several little plates of rice vinegar/soy sauce
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 spoons of sugar
  • 1 big bowl of water

Steps:

  • First, use a bowl of warm water to soften the rice wrapper sheet for 1 min. Two sheets is more preferably for they protect the rolls from breaking. Lay the soft sheets on a clean piece of table cloth.
  • Then, at the top of the two piling sheets, horizontally lay 20% chicken/pork, 40% shrimps. Above them, lay 40% carrots, black agaric and white noodle. Remember to leave space around the pile to the edge of the wrapper.
  • For the mints, you can choose to stuff them inside the rolls or wrap them around the rolls after cooking the rolls.
  • To wrap the roll, fold the left side of the wrapper first, covering half of the pile. Fold the right side and meet the left side in the middle, above the pile. Finally, get out the wrapper at the bottom of the pile and push the pile across the whole wrapper until it’s a roll.

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  • In the sauce pan, add rice vinegar, water and sugar. Heat the sauce until the sugar dissolves. You can add sliced onions in the sauce if you like.
  • If making of sauce is inconvenient, just use soy sauce.
  • Now enjoy the delicacy with your friends and family.

 

About the Author:

Megan Deng was born in Shanghai, China in 2000. She arrived in the United States in the summer of 2015 and is currently studying in Bellaire High School in Houston, Texas. She writes little poems and reads all kinds of books and novels in her spare time. Her passion for genetics and playing various kinds of sports with her family are other components of her life.

Artichokes, the Military Vegetable Continuation

Because life is a strange and wonderful thing, I found myself back in Rome for a training during artichoke season six months after figuring out that artichoke season exists.

 

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Here they are, all “dressed up like warrior[s], standing at attention.” (Pablo Neruda)

I ordered Carciofi alla Guidia, or Jewish-style artichokes, at Giggetto in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world.

 

While we were eating, an elderly gentleman came in with an acoustic guitar and crooned to us Dean Martin songs, “Volare” and “That’s Amore.”  It’s not that Michelangelo’s muscular deities of the Sistine Chapel and Bernini’s ability to carve movement into marble aren’t testaments to human creation and achievement and commitment.  It’s just that the artichoke recipes of Rome are as beautiful a contribution to the human culture.  At least as beautiful of a contribution.  Maybe even more beautiful.  As Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari wrote, “What is the glory of Dante compared to spaghetti?”

 

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“Scale by scale we strip off the delicacy and eat…” Carciofi alla Guidia: better than Bernini. Probably.

 

I also ordered Carciofi alla Romana in the very, very pink Edoardo II.  I can also recommend the Gnocchi alla Casa.  Because it was delicious.

 

 

 

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The “peaceful green mush of the artichoke’s green heart.” Carciofi alla Romana: better than Michelangelo. Most likely.

For more historical information about the Campagna where the artichokes are grown, I recommend this article published in the New York Times in 1983 by the late Paul Hofmann.

As far as recipes go, I have broken my own tender green heart trying to cook Carciofi alla Guidia more than once, but if you want to rally yourself to try and fry a few in your kitchen, Joan Nathan adapts the recipe to American artichokes in her recipe.  For my kitchen, I plan on experimenting with Carciofi alla Romana, and I’m going to slightly adapt Stevie Parle’s recipe from Real Cooking, Near and Far.

 

Carciofi alla Romana

  • 5-6 artichokes
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife, with the peels removed
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

Trim the stalk of your artichokes, scrape out the choke, and snip off the pokies on the flower end.To boil your artichokes, Parle recommends putting them in a pot that will  “hold your artichokes snugly with their stalks in the air so they won’t topple over.”  I’m going to allow myself some leeway on this, as I don’t think I own such a pot.  After you’ve settled your artichokes in as best you can, add the parsley, mint, garlic, white wine, and olive oil.  Add enough water to the pot “to reach just below where the heart turns to the stalk.”  Steam on medium heat for about 20 minutes, being careful to replenish the water if it all evaporates before then.  When the hearts are soft, take the lid off and increase the heat so that the artichokes begin to brown.  Serve and eat.

A Week of Salad Days

I agree with Saadi of Shiraz when he wrote, “A theorist without practice is a tree without fruit.”  In my last post, I revealed my salad composition theory, and in this post I will put it into practice.

There are three dimensions to a good salad:  substance, ruffage, and flavorings; the salad dressing being an all-important subcategory of flavorings.

Here is a list of foods to be utilized in each category:

 

SUBSTANCE

beans; yogurt; chopped leftover steak, chicken, fish, or turkey from last nights dinner; avocado; nuts; tuna; cheese; grains such as farro, rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, or injera; shrimp; roasted vegetables such as turnips, carrots, beets, fennel root, pumpkin, winter squash, brussel sprouts

RUFFAGE

Boston lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, arugula, parsley, Romaine lettuce, watercress, red leaf lettuce, endive, chicory, green leaf lettuce, fresh herbs of any kind, green onion, tomato, carrot, cucumber, green apple, berries

FLAVORINGS

sundried tomatoes, capers, olives, fresh herbs of any kind, sliced jalapeno, cracked red pepper, soy sauce

Makings of a Salad Dressing:  any kind of oil and any kind of vinegar or citrus.  My favorites oils are olive oil and sesame oil.  My favorite vinegars are red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar.  My favorite citrus at this moment is lemon.

 

Here was my week of salad days.

 

 

 

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Substance: farro & cannelloni beans

Ruffage: red leaf lettuce & mint

Flavorings: sundried tomatoes, red wine vinegar, malt vinegar, olive oil, salt, & pepper

 

 

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Substance: farro, cannelloni beans, pecans, & bulgur wheat

Ruffage: fennel root, celery, carrot, & parsley

Flavorings: thyme, olive oil, coconut vinegar, salt, & pepper

 

A brief salad intermission where I eat leftover pork verde chili for lunch…

 

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Substance:  avocado & pistachios

Ruffage: red leaf lettuce, the rest of the Thai basil and mung bean shoots from a takeout Vietnamese Pho, flat leaf parsley, mint, remnants of a fennel stalk, mint, thyme, & blackberries

Flavorings:  red chili flakes, lime, soy sauce, & sesame seed oil

 

 

 

Paprika Hendl, or, Dracula and the Morality of Hunger

As an English teacher, I read many books over and over again in my classroom.  I find that I can categorize all the literature I teach in my classroom into these groupings:

  1. The literature that breaks down and reveals itself as paper-thin trash after a few readings.*
  2. The literature that unfolds layer after layer of richness with each reading.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the good ones, one of those books of such complexity that I learn new things each time I encounter the text.  Just one example of this is the way Bram Stoker writes about food.  Take this little gem from the first few pages of Jonathan Harker’s journal:

We left in pretty good time, and  came after nightfall to Klausenburgh.  Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale.  I have for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up in some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.)  I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.

I am by no means the first reader of Dracula who became hungry for paprika hendl.  Others have tread this ground before me, the best of these being this guy.  As Mr. Tasunka Witko pointed out back in 2010, the word “hendl” is not Romanian.  It’s the Austro-Bavarian word for chicken.  The German language was brought to Dracula’s backyard by the Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century.

 

Leonard Wolf gives an account of a recipe for Paprika Hendl in his Annotated Dracula:

Well then, reader, if ever you travel in Hungary, and want a dinner or supper quickly, never mind the variety of dishes your host names, but fix at once on paprika hendl.  Two minutes afterwards, you will hear signs of a revolution in the basse cur; the cocks and hens are in alarm; one or two of the largest, and probably oldest member of their unfortunate little community, are seized their necks wrung, and while yet fluttering, immersed in boiling water.  Their coats and skins come off at once; a few unmentionable preparatory operations are rapidly despatched- probably under the traveler’s immediate observation- the wretches are cut into pieces, thrown into a pot, with water, butter, flour, cream, and an inordinate quantity of red pepper,or paprika, and, very shortly after, a number of bits of fowl are seen swimming in a dish of hot greasy gravy, quite delightful to think of.

 

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Here is my rendition.  This recipe fed six people happily.

 

 

Paprika Hendl

 

You will need:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 or so chicken thighs or legs
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 9 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 3/4 cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 4-5 tablespoons of butter
  • a few tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • An entire 24 ounce container of full-fat sour cream
  • salt
  • black pepper

Butcher the chicken. **  Keep the skin on.  Place the butchered chicken and the chicken thighs in a stock pot, and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower the temperature on the stove to medium-low.  You want the liquid to be simmering.  Remove the white foam and scum from the top of the stock periodically as it escapes from the chicken.  Simmer until the chicken is done, about 1.5-2 hours.

Meanwhile, juice your tomatoes, carrots, and celery.  If you have a jalapeno or two laying around, throw it on in.  If you aren’t blessed with a juicer, you can substitute 6 cups of V8 or canned tomato juice.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the stock.  Reserve the stock for another delicious day, and heat up the peanut oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Brown the skin of the chicken on medium-high heat.  Set the chicken aside.

To make the sauce, add the butter to Dutch oven and saute the diced onions on medium heat until they begin to carmelize.  Lower the heat to medium low, and add the crushed garlic.  After 2-4 minutes, add ALL OF THE PAPRIKA and stir for 60 seconds or so.  Stir in the tomato juice, and bring the heat back up to medium high.  Put the chicken back in the pot, and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Stir the flour into ALL OF THE SOUR CREAM.  Remove the chicken from the pot, remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the sour cream.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and put the chicken back in the pot.  Serve with crusty bread, roasted or mashed potatoes, or spaetzle.  Also, an Oregon Pinot Noir wouldn’t go amiss.

 


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This is a delicious recipe, and if you poke around on google for a little while, you find other Dracula readers singing its praises.  Every once in a while, one of them will speculate about the reason for the existence of the recipe in the book.  For example, one of  Mr. Tasunka Witko’s commentators said, “…it would be interesting to know where that little excerpt came from and how it ended up in the book…”

Allow me, gentlemen.

I’m pretty sure that Bram Stoker unearthed the recipe during one of his marathon sessions researching at the British Museum.  Incidentally, the doors of the British Library are still open to today’s writers and searchers.  As for how it ended up in the book?  Well, Bram Stoker put it there.  Facts and details don’t just drift down from the heavens and insert themselves into text.  An author needs to consciously place these details into the text that he is crafting.  A more interesting question is this:  Why did Bram Stoker feel the need to include recipes in Dracula?

 

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Important, I think, is the fact that paprika hendl is bright red.  Blood red, in fact.  Also important is Stoker’s bizarre use of the word “thirsty” in the text.  According to the syntax, it is the chicken that is thirsty.  However, it seems that Jonathan means that eating the chicken made him thirsty.  All this happens before Dracula is introduced to the reader.  Stoker is drawing a parallel here between Jonathan and Dracula.  They are both carnivorous.***  Both Jonathan and Dracula consume once alive flesh to maintain their own existences.   As I’ve reread Dracula with my students this year, I’ve been trying to figure out what Stoker’s endgame is.  Is he saying that there is some kind of invisible line that separates ethical consumption like Jonathan’s from unethical consumption like Dracula’s?  Or is he saying that there is no such thing as ethical consumption?  Is Harker the same as Dracula?  The description of the chicken slaughter cited by Leonard Wolf above is at least as violent as Dracula’s most intense bloodsucking episodes.

Regardless, the effect of this parallel on the reader is that the sharp delineation between what makes a villain and what makes a hero begins to dissolve and become blurry around the edges. As Dracula becomes more understandable, Jonathan becomes more villainous.  And we become more villainous, too.  We kill what we eat.

Something to think about as you enjoy your delicious paprika hendl.  Personally, I’m more comfortable embracing Dracula as a kindred spirit than becoming a vegetarian.  But that’s just me.  Because I, too, am a predator.

 

 

 

*Don’t ever ask me about John Steinbeck unless you feel like being the victim of an overly-emotional rant.  No one should carry around within herself the amount of vitriolic contempt that I feel for The Pearl.  And my hatred grows with every reading.

** Fun fact: the word “butcher” can refer to slaughtering an animal, as Leonard Wolf points out above.  It can also refer to chopping the chicken into manageably eatable parts.  Here’s a photo-tutorial if you need some help.

***They are also both remarkably pushy to the ladies in their lives and afterlives.  Mem. make your own damn chicken, Jonathan.

On the Little Prince, the Importance of Rites, and Greek Yogurt Chicken

The trick to teaching literature is to teach literature that teaches you.  The Little Prince has been teaching me about life for an amount of time that can be measured in decades.  Recently, it’s been teaching me about rites. I’ve been thinking about and wondering about the importance of rites at least since last January.  Here’s what St. Exupery has to say about rites:

 

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

  fox

That’s the bit that triggered all the deep thinking.  At this moment in the thinking, I recognize rites as a part of the structure of relationships between people over time.  And by structure, I mean the supporting beams, the bones, the reinforced concrete.  Rites can be the structure for relationship between two people, the relationship of one person with herself, or the relationships of a whole community of people.  And food has always been a very important rite, particularly of the communal variety.

 

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Two of my personal rites: drinking coffee every morning of life, and growing and killing a tomato plant every summer.

 

So, we’ve been eating Thursday dinners.  People come, someone cooks the main dish, everyone else brings wine or dessert or a side dish, and everyone eats together.  I start looking forward to Thursday dinners as soon as I know what food will be made.  This is what I made for the last Thursday dinner.  It was delicious.  Next Thursday, someone is cooking Shepherd’s Pie.  Thursday is a wonderful day for me!

 

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Chicken with Yogurt

Kotopoulo Giaourtava

adapted froma recipe in Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast, sliced into thin 1/2 inch strips
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 cups hard Mizithra cheese, grated
  • About 1 cup of chopped fresh mint
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups Greek yogurt
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the oil over med-high heat in a ceramic-covered dutch oven if you have one, or a cast iron dutch oven.  We’re going from the stove top to the oven here.

Cook the chicken in small batches in the oil on high heat until it turns lightly golden.   Reduce the heat, add green onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and stir in both cheeses, the mint, and season with salt and pepper.  In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt with the three eggs.  Stir the yogurt and egg mixture into the chicken mixture.  Bake the chicken mixture uncovered for about 30, until the top turns golden.

 

Note #1:  Mizithra cheese is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that reminds me of Honduran queso fresco.  If you can’t find it, or if you have an aversion to sheep’s milk, you can substitute a hardened aged Italian cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.

Note #2:  If you don’t have a stove top to the oven type pot, use a frying pan, and transfer everything into a casserole dish when it’s time to bake.

Note#3:  Next time I make this, I will probably substitute boneless thighs for two reasons.  They are cheaper, and I think thighs will resist the tendency of the chicken breasts to turn dry.

Note #4:  You can see why this is a great dish to bring to a potluck-type affair.  It is delicious, and it meets the two big requirements of communal food:  it all fits in one pot, and it is slightly indulgent.