Words and eating are two of my great loves, and this post is the first in a series of recipes inspired by words. This post is devoted to one of my favorite series of books as a kid, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
The series of thirteen novels starts off as a stylistic but straightforward story. Violet (14), Klaus (12), and Sonny (infant) Baudelaire are orphaned when their parents die in a fire and they are sent to live with the villainous Count Olaf, who lusts after their fortune. Their life is consumed by survival, which means outwitting Olaf constantly. But the body count starts to pile up as the books go along, and the Baudelaire children find themselves stealing and committing arson and lying to survive. And because they are intelligent and kind and well read, they are always questioning whether their need to survive justifies their actions, or if their actions label them as villains.
The real joy is Snicket’s omniscient, verbose, and futile narration. He is a character in the story, one that features prominently off-page. And there is prose such as this:
Deciding on the right thing to do in a situation is a bit like deciding on the right thing to wear to a party. It is easy to decide on what is wrong to wear to a party, such as deep-sea diving equipment or a pair of large pillows, but deciding what is right is much trickier. It might seem right to wear a navy blue suit, for instance, but when you arrive there could be several other people wearing the same thing, and you could end up being handcuffed due to a case of mistaken identity. It might seem right to wear your favorite pair of shoes, but there could be a sudden flood at the party, and your shoes would be ruined. And it might seem right to wear a suit of armor to the party, but there could be several other people wearing the same thing, and you could end up being caught in a flood due to a case of mistaken identity, and find yourself drifting out to sea wishing that you were wearing deep–sea diving equipment after all. The truth is that you can never be sure if you have decided on the right thing until the party is over, and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind, which is why the world is filled with people doing terrible things and wearing ugly clothing, and so few volunteers who are able to stop them.
-The Slippery Slope, Lemony Snicket
I’ve been thinking about the right thing to do and villainy recently. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame is in the news today for reportedly dying in a hospice. I have never had any personal interaction with Westboro or him, but the thought of them fills my mouth with bile. It’s difficult to know the right thing to do, as Snicket says, but I don’t think it’s to hate. He’s already been the source of so much hatred, and I don’t want to add onto it. But the tug, the desire to hate him is there. I have to struggle against it. It’s a small but important battle of emotion over decision that shapes the way I live.
In turmoil such as this we turn to our anchors. We grasp onto the things that ground us. For the Baudelaires, these were each other, books, and food. I understand that. Those are my anchors too.
“But what are you going to make for a False Spring dinner?” Violet asked.
Sunny gave her sister a smile, and walked over to the trunk of the car. Violet and Quigley heard her rummaging around among the remaining groceries, but stayed put so Olaf or any of his associates wouldn’t spot them. When Sunny returned, she had a triumphant smile on her face, and the frozen hunk of spinach, the large bag of mushrooms, the can of water chestnuts, and the enormous eggplant in her arms. “False spring rolls!” she said, which meant something like, “An assortment of vegetables wrapped in spinach leaves, prepared in honor of False Spring.”
-The Slippery Slope, Lemony Snicket
Sunny prepared false spring rolls for the False Spring, the thaw in winter that happens before the freeze resumes. The spring rolls below are false, because they are inauthentic. And they were made in our own false spring, during the week when the thaw began. I sit in my apartment tonight with snow blowing around the building and a winter storm watch in effect. So it goes.
I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I do know a few things help. Read good books. Avoid the red heat of hate. Eat good food with the people you love.
False Spring Rolls
You can adapt the filling however you like. I like this combination, with the substance from the rice and the vinegary heat from the pickled carrots paired with the crunch of the cabbage and the creaminess of the avocado. However you choose to fill it, don’t overfill, and wrap it as tightly as you can manage.
Spring roll wrappers
Cold, cooked rice
Shredded red cabbage
Pickled carrots (recipe below)
Fill a wide, shallow dish such as a cake pan or a pie tin with cold water. Soak a rice paper wrapper in the water for ten seconds. The paper will not have seemed to absorb much water at this point, but it will keep on softening. Place on a cutting board.
To the right of the center, with about an inch to the edge, add a line of rice. Add a small sprinkle of the red cabbage, a few slices of pickled carrots, and a sliver or two of avocado. Make sure to keep all of the ingredients in an orderly line, and keep the pile of filling from touching either the top or the bottom of the wrapper.
Fold the bottom of the rice paper up and the top of the rice paper down. Now fold the remaining inch of paper over the filling and tuck the filling under the paper. Roll the filling tucked under for the rest of the paper, keeping it as tight as you can manage. Repeat as many times as necessary.
Serve with tamari, or a dipping sauce of your choice.
adapted from The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley
This recipe was originally written for half a pound of carrots and I scaled it up slightly. I used some beautiful purple and yellow carrots along with the standard orange to make these pickles. The color of the purple carrots faded, but the taste is outstanding. The original recipe called for the whole quantity of vinegar to be champagne vinegar. I instead went with a combination of apple cider and red wine vinegar. I imagine it would be delicious with any number of vinegars. The amount of red pepper flakes is enough to make my mouth tingle, but not enough to distract with heat. That’s to my liking, but adjust to your preferred heat level.
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
¾ pounds carrots, cut into two-inch long matchsticks
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Combine the salt and the carrots in a large bowl and toss. Let them mingle together for an hour. Rinse and drain the carrots well, then transfer to a canning jar.
In a small saucepan combine the vinegars, honey, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil, stirring often. Turn off the heat and pour over the carrots. Let the carrots in vinegar stay out, uncovered, until the mixture has come to room temperature, and then cover and place in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors marry. They should keep for a month in the refrigerator.