I just came across a bookmark when I was looking for a title on one of our bookshelves and it brought me back a few months to a different city and different weather.
Midwinter last, Claudia and I were in NYC for a weekend celebrating my aging process. There is something about growing up in NYC that stays in one’s DNA, so it’s important that I get a dose of the city every few months the weather notwithstanding. So that trip we found ourselves in Union Square on a cold and misty Saturday looking for a place to warm up and like some sort of cosmic magnet, the flagship BARNES AND NOBLE drew us across the street.
Many bemoan, myself included, the demise of the independent booksellers. There have been a few bookstores in the past that hold a special place in me. There was a store on upper Lexington Ave that specialized in mysteries and thrillers. It was family run and when you entered the store you were guided through the sections by the affable owner who quizzed you on your taste and interests. Here I was introduced to Robert Wilson, Joseph Kanon and Ruiz Zafon. That store is long gone now. The Sonoma Book Store in California gave Claud and I many pleasant afternoons while waiting for our laundry to dry next door. That store also is no more. Book Book on Bleecker Street was a mandatory stop before we went next door into Di Palos Italian Grocery. I believe it’s a clothing store now. Last night Claudia reminded me that in the late 1980s there was a used paperback book store on Elm Street where Dancing Lion is now. I can think back on past visits to these houses of words and remember the scenes and characters from the books purchased there and the hours just spent meandering the isles.
When Claudia and I entered the gigantic B&N space on 15th Street we were taken aback. We had not been inside for over a decade and forgot its Cathedral-like dimensions. Four city block size floors and a sub-basement. Aromas of paper and coffee lifted my head and the kaleidoscope of book jacket colors stopped me just a few steps into the store. We had no agenda which is a prerequisite for visiting a bookstore, so we started at the top and worked our way down. If someone went there for a specific title and it was not there, I would be hard-pressed to believe it. Claud was in the cookbook section that covered a wall 7 feet high and 20 feet long. I know now that the world does not need another cookbook. I walked away with an Icelandic noir suspense novel, The Darkness Knows by Indridason which is on my bedstead and brought the trip back to mind.
Once back on the street we reminisced about those aforementioned bookstores and are glad that there are still a few around. In NYC there is the Strand which is attempting to be classified as a historic site as it should be. Locally there is The Bookery in Manchester, Gibsons in Concord, The Book and Bar in Portsmouth and of course there is the Public Library that has entered the 21st century with free online services (HOOPLA, KANOPY and CLOUD LIBRARY) that all readers should know about. Where ever you get your books go there often.
Both Claudia and I have discovered and have become addicted to audiobooks. I overcame my prejudice and when there is not a bound package of words in front of me I have someone telling me a story when I am on my bike trainer or walking the neighborhood. Once again the Public Library has come through with free services and a vast inventory. (FYI the first free and non-closed membership public library was in Peterborough, NH.)
I was for a time a tutor in the Adult Literacy program at Manchester’s Public Library. As my student, who by age was my contemporary, sat surrounded by words that he could not process, I could see he was frustrated, apprehensive and fearful. He must have felt like a starving man outside a food store with no way to get in. There are many maladies and unfortunate circumstances that a person may find oneself in but the inability to read must be one of the most sorrowful.
So go buy a book, take it home, pour a glass of something and mentally travel. Meet people you never would have encountered and go places that you always wanted to see. Now that you let me ramble on let’s talk food.
This is a personal favorite because I use a *Turkish Baharat mixture. It is a mixture of spices that can be used as an addition to a recipe or as a rub for beef, chicken or pork so keep it handy.
TURKISH BAHARAT SPICE MIX
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix all in a bowl and store in a cool space
*If using whole spices and not ground, toast until the seeds pop then grind.
SULTAN’S PILAF (serves 4)
1 cup of washed long-grain Basmati rice
1 heaping tablespoon turmeric
1 hot green chili or jalapeño
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1/4 cup pistachios
6 dried figs
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parley
1 tablespoon Baharat
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
In a large pot of salted water add the turmeric and bring to a rolling boil (the turmeric will foam, don’t worry) add the rice and cook like pasta until soft. Drain and set aside.
Dice the vegetables and sauté using half of the olive oil and set aside,
Chop the fresh herbs and set aside. Chop the pistachios (or grind). Slice the dried figs into small circles removing the small hard stem.
Toss all the ingredients along with the Baharat into the rice. Add the remaining olive oil and vinegar. To reheat melt the butter in a saucepan, add the pilaf and toss. Re-season with salt and pepper if needed. Let me know how it turns out.