>Sweet & Sour Eggplant

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“Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain:
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie”
                                                                    ~¨Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1587
A quote Ronsard wrote to a lover, explaining that we shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to pick the beautiful flowers of today – a rather irresistable way to tell a girl that she shouldn’t waste another second before being with him.  But of course I appreciate the larger message of living for the beauty of today – when it’s put so simply, I feel stupid for not following this advice – why don’t we always just enjoy what’s great right now, right in front of us? 
I fear that the answer to this simple question will take at least my entire lifetime to answer, if I ever succeed in reaching a conclusion before I die.  I don’t understand the art of living, and while I am working hard at creating a satisfying and peaceful lifestyle for myself, I am constantly aggrandazing my problems and anxieties until they eat up any chance of happiness I may have had.  All the books, tapes, movies and lectures I’ve been exposed to have pointed to the same thing, something which I believe is true but am still unable to fully embrace – in order to sustain any realistic possibility of a content life, we need to let go of everything.  Just avoid the past and the future, which are entirely out of our hands, and be content with the simple pleasure of the present.
As hard as I try to live in this time frame referred to as the right now, I rarely succeed, because my mind immediately races in about 20 different directions – should I check my cell phone for that life-changing email I know I won’t be receiving, or what about that comment someone made to me this morning, what did he really mean by it?  Why does it even matter what he did mean by it? While none of these actions or thoughts matter on any conscious or subconscious level, I am utterly unable to resist allowing them into my mental state of mind, and thereby affecting my tension and anxiety level.  If one day I can control my thoughts to be geared almost uniquely toward this present moment, all with a smile on my face, I think I will have achieved enough for a lifetime – I won’t need much else to feel like a human at its basest level.
So that’s where I am in my life right now, and for some reason I need to share it.  I made this eggplant dish which I like because sometimes I don’t know how to eat eggplant (aside from my two favorite eggplant dishes, caponata and caviar d’aubergines – yummmm).  Please make it.  And if you do make it, PLEASE make a comment.  Even if you’re just reading this, make a comment! what do you think? Do you think it looks good, bad, appetizing, ugly?  I won’t be offended, and I’ll appreciate your opinion, whoever you are, so please keep that in mind.
Bon appétit, bonsoir, beaux rêves.  La vie n’est qu’un aigre-doux, n’est-ce pas?

Sweet & Sour Eggplant- Serves 1

1 small eggplant
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fresh ground ginger
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tbsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp plain yogurt (greek-style preferably)
1 handful sliced basil leaves

1.Wash and dry the eggplant.  Thinly slice it cross-wise and place slices in a colander. Sprinkle heavily with salt, place over the sink, and let sit for 20-30 minutes.  Dry slices with a paper towel, and roughly chop into 1-inch pieces.
2.Meanwhile,  mix remaining ingredients except the garlic in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust sauce according to your taste, adding more of whichever ingredient you choose.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add chopped garlic, and sautée until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4.Add eggplant chunks, and sautée until browned evenly, approx 6-7 minutes.
5.Reduce heat to medium-low, pour sauce over eggplant, and sautée to combine. Cook until sauce has been well saturated and thickened, about 5 minutes.
6. Put on a serving plate, top with yogurt, and sliced basil. Voilà

>Ratatouille

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My first dinner guest arrived in Paris last night! My aunt Elizabeth decided to spend the night in Paris (she was coming from her hometown of Brighton, England) and as soon as she told me she was coming, my mind started racing, trying to think of various dinner options to prepare for her.
Because my aunt is a vegetarian, my choices were thankfully narrowed down. I browsed through The New Moosewood Cookbook (by Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press, Berkely California; 1977), and as soon as I saw a recipe for ratatouille, I knew I had to make it. I also love the animated film with the same title, featuring a talking French rat, so I took it as fate and went out to buy my groceries.

When I arrived back home, groceries in hand, I dove in to work, dicing up the vegetables and hoping that the meal would come together nicely. And if the picture of the ratatouille doesn’t do it justice, I hope my words can. The silkiness of the eggplant combined with the mild spice of cumin and chili powder create a smoky sensation in your mouth, leaving a nice aftertaste that changes in heat and dimension as time goes on. It’s so good, I dreamed about it last night!

Serve it with a nice salad (I made mine with butter lettuce, basil, cherry tomatoes, and a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, chopped shallots, salt & pepper), and please, I beg of you, serve this dish with a fresh baguette; nothing tastes better than dipping a piece of bread in the sauce, finishing the meal off perfectly.

The dish requires a bit of prep work to cut the vegetables and herbs, but it comes together so easily and you only need one large skillet to make it. It’s so yummy, and if you’re making it for one person, even better – you’ll have leftovers which taste so good for lunch or dinner the next day.

Merci à tous, et je vous souhaite un très bon dîner !

To make the ratatouille, you’ll need olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, 2 medium onions, 1 small eggplant, salt, basil, thyme, 1 small zucchini, 1 bell pepper, 1 7-oz can tomato sauce, fresh parsley, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.

Chop up the garlic, onions, 1 1/2 tsp basil, and 1 1/2 tsp thyme, and cut the eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper into small cubes (try to make them around the same size so they cook at the same speed). Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the onion and garlic, and saute over medium heat until onions are slightly golden, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggplant, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, and cayenne to taste, and stir. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes ,stirring occasionally.

Add the zucchini, bell peppers, black pepper, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes more, or until the zucchini and bell pepper are tender.

You can serve it right away, or serve it cold – it’s delicious either way! I’ll be in Deauville for the next two days, and am hoping to get some new inspiration for French cooking. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!