I know, I know, I hear all six of you clamoring for a new blog post from WednesdayMissives! Miss me much? Even if my blog never goes viral (doesn’t that phrase make you kind of gag these days?), I’ll keep writing it for me and the six of you.
Can you believe how May has flown by? I’m grateful to the earth goddess for the continuing pleasant weather we’re having here in Tunis. Summer is nigh, and we are ripe for blistering heat – but, thankfully, the breezes still tickle, the nights still chill, the windows are still open, and the aircon has stayed mostly off. (I reserve a perimenopausal woman’s right to nighttime aircon support.)
The opposite of cooking and eating
What have y’all been doing for fitness? We’ve really run the gamut here:
- Fast walking up and down a hill near our house; or other long-ish walks, sometimes on the way to the market and/or bakery, to Sidi Bou Said, or to the one convenience store where they have Doritos
- Step classes without a step (Xtreme HipHop with Phil is my fave)
- The same classes with a step (I found one nearby a week ago – I am about 45% more red in the face at the end of a class!)
- Stretch classes (Body balance – they’re a mix of yoga, tai chi and pilates)
- A very easy dance solo from Merce Cunningham called “50 Looks”, painstakingly taught on Vimeo
- My own obstacle course in the house, including Bathtub Burpees, Bed-Bounce-and-Beyond, Kitchen Kicks, and the below photographed duck squats under the clothes dryer rack thingy out on the balcony.
I haven’t been 100% reliable with exercise. I started the quarantine well, as I’d been going to the gym every day up to that point for blistering, challenging, heart-speeding classes with the disarmingly adorable but diabolical Sabrine M-W-F, and calmer Aquagym classes with her husband Hossem on Tu-Th.
That’s Sabrine – we practice languages with each other while she pummels me with more reps, more weight, more height, more duration than I ever thought possible of myself. We also do “dance orientale” from time to time but I thankfully have NO pictures of myself in my crappy gym wardrobe trying to waggle my booty independently of my torso to share with you.
My workouts at home have never been as hard as under Sabrine’s shouted direction at the gym, but they got worse, looser, even non-existent for days at a time in late April. I tend to realllllly get down on myself when I do that. Which makes it harder to motivate, which spirals further, etc. But I picked back up again. It’s hard to stay motivated, and far nicer to depend on someone else to motivate you. But I keep plugging along.
Cooking and eating
I have to, to enable The Other Hobby. The crazed quarantine cooking has not stopped. It has gotten, perhaps, even more out of hand: I made actual bread.
As a former French colony, there’s lots of French influence in the food here, and in bread particularly. Bread at the grocery store – where we might buy a bag of Wonder Bread or (splurging) Pepperidge Farm, if we were back home – is Not. Good. Here. Everyone goes to the bakery and buys bakery baguettes and rounds.
During quarantine, a trip to the boulangerie has been one of our regular outings. We walk about a mile to our preferred bakery, passing five other bakeries on the way. They all have well-spaced lines down the block but I can’t understand it – our bakery is so much better. Anyway.
The people working at “our” bakery are busy and terse and pressured with a line all the time, but they pump out the bread. You might see forty baguettes walking out in five minutes while you wait to go in.
There are also cakes and croissants and other delights – we particularly like the fondants au chocolat which are little soufflé-shaped cakes that you take home and nuke for a minute to get the molten chocolate inside you know you need. Like a brownie on drugs. Really good drugs.
(Oooh! I got distracted there. This was a story about making my first loaf of bread.)
Long story short (too late!), sandwich bread, as I know and love it, is non-existent here. I was reading about grilled cheese sandwiches and I knew I couldn’t have one because… sandwich bread, so I looked it up online and found a recipe. Not bad at all, whether for breakfast toast or the aforementioned grilled cheese, with ham and tomato. (I didn’t take a pic of the finished product because I burned it a little bit. Boo.)
Cooking creativity brainstorm
I met my friend Jane when she was the social butterfly of our circle at Colorado College. Even today, she is still keeping me connected. Last month, she introduced me to Celia Brooks, chef and cookbook author, who went to CC at the same time as us (but who I never met). Celia is hosting “Menu Inspiration” sessions that are free (donation possible but not required). They’re not cooking sessions, but rather cooking creativity brainstorms, aided by Celia’s experience and her nine (!) cookbooks. You prepare by checking out your pantry and identifying some orphaned items, get some friends together, get on the call with her, maybe pour a wee dram of something, and voilà: a 60-90 minute chat about recipes, techniques, combinations…
I asked Ali, Shane and Sarah if they’d join me. We prepped Celia with pantry photos and all got on Zoom at the prescribed time.
Celia is a vegetarian chef so the recipes went that-a-way, which aligns with good values for eating, justice and environmental stewardship, and also complements my extant nervy anxiety about cooking – or just handling – meat. Of course, we can add chicken or fish or beef to what we learned, but it was also good to have our minds expanded about more veg recipes than ever before.
I wanted to know what to do with tahini. Tahini is sesame paste and it’s often used in making hummus. I couldn’t find it but our wonderful driver Ibrahim came across some, and bought me two big tins. So, apart from painting my apartment in humus, what else could I do with it, I wondered? I’d also bought some bulgur, which is wheat that you make into a rice-like carbo thing.
This spinach-bulgur dish was good because of the lemony tahini sauce that went all over it – but I’ll have to work on the dish a bit. It’s pretty dense! I’ve also made a rockin’ hummus, falafel, and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip) with my tahini.
Other recent recipes:
The last one there, the pasta with a sauce made of fresh tomatoes and the caramelized artichokes from Celia’s recipe, was hands-down Ramon’s favorite. Absolutely yummy.
The Zeppole pictured above are small Italian doughnuts fried in olive oil. Not a new recipe – this is one that Kyna, Tony and I made for a holiday one time (can’t remember which holiday!) but I’ve been thinking about these delightful little puffs ever since. At the end you roll them in cinnamon sugar into which you have stirred actually beans from a vanilla pod. Might be my favorite of the bunch, but I do so hate to choose sides. (Typical Libra)
I also made chocolate chip cookies using frozen-and-chopped dark chocolate bars, since we don’t have the prepared chocolate chips here. NO NUTS. That’s right, you heathens. I know you want to ruin perfectly good cookies with walnuts or pecans or what-have-you, or even whatnot, but YOU WILL NOT screw up my creation. It is wrong, and it will not stand.
(Apologies to Mom. She loved a good nut, anytime, anywhere, but especially in sweets. I have never gotten the taste for that. I guess that’s what it’s like to have that cilantro-tasting-like-soap gene – decisively unappealing.)
Last night I made Raspberry Cobbler from the Chez Panisse recipe – I think it must have come from the cookbook author Samin Nosrat, who was a chef at Chez Panisse as I understand it. She also wrote the marvelous book that got this whole cooking mania started for me: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Anyway, I made the cobbler raspberry though the recipe is for blueberry; we’re done with bluebs already this season. You sugar and flour the fruit, set it aside to steep, then make some dough.
The dough makes these little flat biscuits that you set on top of the berry slurry, bake it up, and the berries burble and boil around the dough, and then you put cream on it and then you wish you’d never been born because it’s so freaking delicious and you know you can’t have it every day all day breakfast lunch and dinner almost a James Joyce-ian stream of consciousness good wowser what is happening to my tongue i am now spoilt for all future cobblers which were okay but never like this never like this never like this. OH MY GOODNESS.
This is quite literally all that is left, as I ate half the pan myself over the course of yesterday evening and allowed Ramon a nominal portion, because I am a good and generous partner.
(Sure, it’s entirely possible I’m gaining weight. But worse things could happen. Did you see the workout photos above? I’m counteracting.)
Here’s the updated recipe map, with new recipes in purple. A slight trend toward the Mediterranean, rather than a real strong migration to other parts of the world, but it’s a start.
Repeater recipes were the peanut noodles, quiche, banana bread and new, improved hummus (*Now with tahini!*). The others I plan to make again soon are the savory pancakes, pretzels, chicken stock and baked pasta casserole. Those are all real stars.