Echoes and Mementos

Thoughts and pictures about cooking, eating, reading, writing, and living.

Month: January, 2012

Nanni’s Pea Soup

My grandmother’s pea soup takes two minutes of work to make. While the soup simmers for an hour and a half, read a book, watch a show, take a walk. A pot of the stuff costs $3 or $4. Best of all, she does not soak the peas beforehand.

Serves 2 (as a main)

2 cups   Dried split green peas

8 cups   Water

3            Bay leaves

1            Garlic clove, peeled

1 tsp      Salt


1) Rinse peas in a colander. Dump them into a large pot. Add water, garlic, and bay leaves. Set heat to medium-high and cover the pot.

2) When the soup starts to bubble, uncover the pot. Tinker with the heat so that the soup is cooking at a strong simmer, just below a full boil.

3) Let the soup simmer for an hour and a half. Stir when the mood strikes.

4) The peas should be mostly dissolved in the water; the soup should be thick and viscous. Remove bay leaves. Add salt and a few grindings of pepper. Stir. Eat.

When Normal Time Becomes Dinner Time

Below, you will see Shadow sulking. He has a tough life. He sleeps for 16 hours a day, he sees no colors, and his underbite scares off the lady dogs. He also wants his dinner. Dogs feel no feeling of fullness, or so I have heard. Ten minutes after he has eaten breakfast, Shadow, now asleep, springs to four legs and runs to the kitchen at the sound of me slicing an apple or twisting open peanut butter. Nine hours later, he sees his next meal:

Sounds and Mr. Nabokov

The other day, a snowy Saturday, I sat in my unheated but warm apartment and read stories. Among the stories were “The Wood-Sprite,” “Russian Spoken Here,” and “Sounds,” each by Vladimir Nabokov. As the wood-sprite opened the door, the cold air blew in, and a runny candle flame tilted, I felt a familiar hot prickly feeling. I knew the feeling wasn’t from my thermal socks or the neighbors’ heat leaking in on all sides because I had felt the strange feeling before, and so has any writer who has read Mr. Nabokov. The feeling is jealousy.

Mr. Nabokov grew up speaking English, French, and Russian. His love was butterflies. According to his memoir, he was a synesthetic to whom “b” appeared red, “c” light blue. What an advantage! While reading “Sounds,” I wondered what colors shone through the clatter.

Here’s a snippet:

“The drainpipe rattled and choked. You were playing Bach. The piano had raised its lacquered wing, under the wing lay a lyre, and little hammers were rippling across the strings. The brocade rug, crumpling into coarse folds, had slid partway off the piano’s tail, dropping an opened opus onto the floor. Every now and then, through the frenzy of the fugue, your ring would clink on the keys as, incessantly, magnificently, the June shower slashed the windowpanes.”

Orange? Blue? I can see only the gray day, the black piano, the ivory keys. The sounds, though, are rich. We hear sounds given to us directly by Nabokov (the choking drainpipe, the slashing rain). We can hear the piano’s sound even though Nabokov uses no sonic language to describe its music (no choking, no slashing). And along with the sounds playing in the picture created by Nabokov’s words, we can hear the song of his language: his famous sound repetitions (“opened opus” and “frenzy of the fugue”), the varied rhythm of his line, and the harsh “k” sounds to go with the patter of rain on glass.

How does the story sound and feel when overlaid with colors?

Fennel Salad with Apple + Black Pepper

Pepper brings this winter salad to life; I twisted my grinder 15 times. That’s probably too many, and you will need less of the spice should you omit the parsley. Use good olive oil. Eat with something funky, like Chinese.

Serves 2

1        Fennel bulb

2/3   Apple, cut into matchsticks or thin wedges

3       Sprigs parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped (optional)

Pinch of salt

2       Tablespoons olive oil

1/4   Lemon

Black pepper

1) Remove the fennel bulb’s stalks and fibrous base. Half the bulb lengthwise from top to bottom. Cut each of the halves crosswise into thin, c-shaped ribbons. Put these into a large bowl.

2) Add apple, parsley, salt, and olive oil. Toss.

3) Squeeze lemon over the bowl. Toss.

4) Grate pepper over the salad. Toss well. Taste. If desired, add more pepper and toss again. Eat.

Sunrise over the Hudson