Ronnie Paul: New Year of cooking, writing in Nevada City
I’ve noticed the art of writing on paper is becoming as extinct as the brontosaurus.
Why bother with snailmail when texting and e-mail offer immediate gratification?
I do receive an occasional handwritten thank-you note or postcard from Paris, but generally my mailbox holds only impersonal AARP updates, Lands’ End catalogs and bank statements for a daughter who moved out years ago.
The immediate gratification that electronics offers isn’t my only gripe.
I don’t advocate using carrier pigeons, but I do miss my childhood anticipation as I ran to the mailbox for a pen pal’s letter from Austria or the latest Seventeen magazine.
In my hippie travel days, foreign American Express offices served as mail collection outposts — and the exuberant crowds of backpacking travelers waiting to pick up mail were like troubadours telling their adventures.
Those were the days of writing on aerograms, thin blue airmail sheets that folded up like origami birds.
I perfected handwriting so minuscule; my letters could hold as much news as the New York Times.
I recently found a few letters from those days.
Reading my tiny scrawl nudged my senses so I could smell the street souvlaki sold in Athens and taste the British fish and chips rolled in greasy newspaper.
This year, I resolve to handwrite a few letters and cook dishes I’ve never before attempted.
Please at least try the recipes of my New Year’s pledge.
Red Pepper-Leek Soufflé
I’ve always freaked at the thought of baking soufflés, but my New Year’s pledge prompted me to try making one.
Surprise! It was much easier than I thought.
1 pound leeks
3 tablespoons butter
1 large red pepper, cut in thin strips
4 tablespoons flour
1½ cups heated milk
5 eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
1 packed cup grated Swiss cheese
2 scallions, cut in thin Os
A few shakes of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Chop off the tough green ends of the leeks, slice them in half length-wise, and wash well. Cut the leeks in thin Os.
Over a low flame, sauté the leeks in butter for 20 minutes. Add the red pepper and continue to sauté for 10 minutes more.
Add the flour and stir until the veggies thicken.
Stirring constantly, slowly add the heated milk to the veggies until well-blended. This takes about 8-10 minutes.
Put the veggies in a bowl, and stir in the egg yolks. Let this cool a bit.
Add the cheese, scallions, nutmeg and salt and pepper to the veggie mixture.
Finally, beat the egg whites until stiff, and carefully fold them into the mixture until incorporated.
Butter a 2-quart high-sided baking or souffle dish.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes until golden. To ensure even baking, I turned the soufflé once, dispelling the notion that soufflés should not be disturbed.
Serve this fairly immediately.
New Year’s Salad
Start the New Year with this simple yet elegant salad.
This would be a fantastic complement to your first-ever soufflé.
4 ounces Romaine leaves, torn
3 ounces mixed greens
1 Satsuma mandarin, sectioned
1/2 cup cucumbers sliced in half-moons
1/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons blood orange olive oil (Using fruit-infused olive oil is a terrific way to pizzazz up salad dressings)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon horseradish
1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcester
Salt and pepper
Mix together the salad ingredients, and toss with the dressing.
How much easier does salad-making get?
Ronnie Paul is a freelance writer in Nevada City.
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