08 October 2009

Writer's Block and Margaret's Eggplant

Every time I sit down at the computer in the last month, it seems I can't figure out what on earth I want to tell you. It probably doesn't help that I've been home approximately 6 of the last 30 days, traveling for work and pleasure, packing and unpacking suitcases. But that's not the excuse, really. Words come into my head on the airplane or often while I'm driving, but as soon as I go to put them on paper (or laptop, more likely), they vanish as quickly as they came. I carry a Rhodia notebook everywhere, but it seems to collect random phone numbers and half-thought-out sentences more than anything else.

I am sad to hear of Gourmet closing, and frustrated with the lack of strategy in the Afghan war, and I've even been doing a decent amount of cooking in the few days when I have a chance. We had a dinner party with whole grilled rockfish and raspberry souffles with peach creme anglaise (ooh, how wonderful they were), and I made chocolate chip cookies to take on the road with me. But when it comes to writing and sharing with you all, well I'll admit I'm coming up empty.

I sold my mom's house a few weeks ago, and have a sudden feeling of homelessness. The house is mainly cleaned out, but I left mom's recipe cabinet for last. Everyone says how hard it must be to clean out mom's house, but frankly a lot of the stuff in there is just stuff to me. I'm not as attached to objects as some people. But the recipe cabinet is a different story.

My mother clipped every Sunday NYTimes recipe since about 1975. I'm not kidding. I went through every single one- great stuff from the times of Craig Cliaborne and Patricia Wells. And that's all on top of the other clippings, the Times and the Post, and Gourmet, my grandmother's recipe box, and at least 30 recipes for pulled pork barbeque. My mother was a great cook, but after I left home she didn't cook much,with just herself to feed. But she kept clipping, and she'd always say that when she retired she'd make every single one of them. Going through them, it made me terribly sad that she never got the chance.

We went to Baltimore last weekend, to harvest grapes at a vineyard and stroll around the Walters and eat excellent Afghan food at the Helmand. We stayed with a friend Margaret, who is an excellent cook. When my mom was staying with her, she would often make this fried eggplant dish- they loved it so much the two of them would eat a whole eggplant in one sitting. I totally understand, this stuff is addictive. I made the recipe, simple pan-fried panko-crusted eggplant, for my last dinner party, and 3 whole eggplants were devoured in minutes. You could add some plain yogurt as an accoutrement, but this dish can really stand alone.

I don't know if this writer's block will continue, or what all do with that big stack of mom's recipe, or how much longer I'll feel that accute stab of orphanhood on a daily basis. But I know I'll keep cooking, because it's as intrinsic to me as sleeping and breathing, and I hope I'll figure out how to share that here as well.

Margaret's Eggplant

peanut or canola oil, for frying
2 eggplant, about 3" to 4" inches in diameter at the widest point
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbl of water
panko for crusting

1. Slice the eggplant very thinly and spread on paper towels. Sprinkle throroughly with salt on both sides, then leave eggplant to drain for 20-30 minutes. Press the eggplant well on both sides to absorb moisture and brush off any excess salt.
2. Meanwhile, place the beaten egg mixture in one wide bowl and the pank in another shallow bowl or plate.
3. In your widest skillet or pan, heat about 1" of oil, enough for shallow frying, until shimmering.
4. Dip the eggplant slices in egg, then in panko to coat. Add the eggplant slices to the pan a few at a time (do not overcrowd) and fry until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain. It will take several batches and you will probably have to replenish the oil in the pan.
5. Serve immediately.


Kate said...

Oooh, we're moving into our house in Baltimore in a week. Afghan food is something we've been meaning to try, so this just made the list of places to try soon! Any other recommendations for non-traditional restaurants? :)

It's odd how some things can be harder than others. My grandmama fell and nearly died almost 3 weeks ago. She's still ill, and moved in with my parents. My parents are selling her house and the hardest thing for my mom? Turning off the phone. She was brought home to that house, had that number her whole childhood, and called it at least once a day since then. She nearly couldn't do it, but cleaning out the rest has been relatively easy for her.

GretchenJoanna said...

This looks delectable! The plate, of course, is perfect for displaying the eggplant. The yogurt is the perfect decoration and will taste good, too! Mmm mmm...

rachel said...

thank you for sharing this nice tribute to your mom. you unblocked yourself right there by writing all this. :)

Elise Bauer said...

Hi Mercedes, I wanted to alert you to a guy that is ripping off your work. Check out http://themidnightgrill.blogspot.com/2009/10/orange-blossom-ice-cream.html and other recipes on his site that he's taken from you. You can file a complaint with Blogger by going to http://www.google.com/support/blogger/bin/request.py?contact_type=blogger_dmca_infringment.

Also you might want to review this article: http://foodblogalliance.com/2008/08/how-to-deal-with-copyright-theft.php.

AB said...

Glad you've added another post, and hope the block wears off - I look forward to your posts, it's a lovely blog.

Hadn't heard of panko before (I'm British and not yet seen it there), but apparently it's just breadcrumbs. Any idea if that works as well by grating Arab bread? I love fried aubergine, usually do it Syrian style with lemon juice and crushed garlic or with just yoghurt, but the panko variation sounds good.

We live just round the corner from Souq al-Jum'aa, by the way, where I shall be heading for my aubergines / bread / yoghurt! And ironically (and sadly) your blog posts are on a site which is banned here (although circumventable, hence my comment).

Looking forward to your next post...


P.S. I liked your post on the Journalists Club. Had you heard that it was completely refurbished during Ramadan? - seems that it's now looking a little different!

Anonymous said...

looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

I too am saddened by Gourmet magazine folding. I still fondly remember the English trifle I made from that magazine that had liquour and mandarin oranges in it. It was such a hit at the Christmas dinner for my husband's lodge at the time. Saddly the recipe was lost when we moved.

I would love to have your recipe for the raspberry souffle' with peach cream anglaise. Please share.

I am wondering if the restaurant Helmand is owned by the same family that owns the Helmand restaurant in the Boston area? We have always wanted to try it.

It is always hard to lose someone close to you. I hope that you find joy in cooking the recipes that your Mom left you. I enjoy cooking the recipes that my grandmother left me, though it took a few years after she died for me to want to cook her favorites rather than just read them. It would be nice for you to share with us the recipes that remind you of your Mom.-chris-

Taste of Beirut said...

What a great post and lovely photo! I have never used panko with eggplants but it is a great idea.

Kate said...

Wanted to say that we went to Helmand tonight and it was the best dinner we've had since moving back to the US! We had no clue what we were ordering and ended up loving everything we tried. And found out that it's not terribly far from our new house....yay!

Maria said...

I just want to compliment you and thank you for your blog. You are a great food photographer and all of your recipes look delicious! I especially love that you have so many innovative and yummy looking homemade ice cream recipes. I love to make homemade ice cream so I really appreciate it!

sabah said...

Nice blog, I just love it.

Carrie said...

I just want you to know that of all my sources for recipes on the internet and elsewhere, your recipes have produced the finest results. Thank you.

Orit said...

Just made this recipe and it was the single most fabulous eggplant I have ever had. The Panko is terrific. It's my new go-to way of cooking. Thanks.

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