Discover more from read, eat, repeat (with emily fiffer)
A Case for Blanching + Memorable Mothers
Cooked Spring Veg Salad + Fierce Attachments
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick, pub. 1987
Buy: used copies online or at your local bookshop
It’s fitting that I finished Fierce Attachments – a memoir about mothers and daughters by one of our foremost feminist thinkers – on Mother’s Day. This reading experience enveloped me whole, not just because I’m a daughter with my own mother (hi, Mom!) but because I’m a Jew, and this book is nothing if not steeped in idiosyncrasies and cultural tonalities. Jews – especially older generations – speak musically, invoking Yiddish and figures of speech that just don’t exist anywhere else; it’s oddly comforting to be immersed in it.
Fierce Attachments takes place between two worlds: The tenement building in the Bronx where Gornick grows up amid a sea of immigrants and her Communist parents, and the present day (1980s New York), where Gornick and her mother, now in her late 70s-early 80s, walk block upon city block, fighting and loving in equal measure. The blend of humor and darkness is just so Jewish, for lack of a better description. Gornick’s childhood is defined, and restrained, by her mother’s emotional waves – from ardent love and loyalty to deep grief and depression. They hurl cruelties at each other yet need each other intensely, a cycle that starts in Gornick’s youth and continues throughout her life.
What a beautiful thing it is to trace the relationship with one’s mother through one’s adulthood. Gradually, both women soften, yet traces of tension and rage remain, and Gornick’s mother thankfully never loses her sense of humor. It’s a deeply human portrait of coming to terms with who you are, and accepting the people who share your DNA.
It’s also the story of Gornick’s life: The tenement is a lively, vibrant, sometimes bleak place to grow up (she was born just before WWII). Neighbors scream at their kids from windows; Gornick’s mother gossips about her friends’ deteriorating marriages; everyone knows everything about everybody. It’s wartime, and women feel both unbound and invigorated. Gornick eventually moves out of the tenement, attends college, marries, divorces and begins her life as an intellectual. Few women in those days had the opportunity to get a college education and parlay it into a professional life; most watched their dreams dissipate in the face of inevitable wifely duties. Gornick fights for her work and her sense of freedom, choosing a life of professionalism and autonomy in lieu of the fantasy of femininity. Bearing witness to her growth of mind and spirit feels like a gift, and a reminder of the women who risked alienation and judgment to live less conventionally. By the time Fierce Attachments was published, Gornick had already written several renowned feminist-leaning books and articles and was greatly respected. The best part? She’s still alive (she’s 87 and audacious as ever); I’m thinking of writing her a letter to tell her how deeply this book touched me. Won’t you join me?
Pairs well with: tzimmes, smacks on the back of the head, city lights, the silent treatment
I threw an Italian-themed dinner party the other week and riffed on a recipe that was so delicious it caught me off guard. What I’m publishing today is more of a technique than a recipe, and designed to use whatever veg you have on hand; I’m hoping you add it to your repertoire like I have. At its essence it’s just blanched spring vegetables, but you don’t stop there. You toss the cooked veg in olive oil, vinegar and salt, then turn everything onto a bed of peppery greens, douse the lot with pesto and add a bevy of picked herbs. Brilliant! I truly can’t believe I’d never made a salad comprised entirely of blanched vegetables before a few weeks ago, and now I’m obsessed. I have Jeremy Lee, one of my favorite British chefs / authors of one of the most delightful cookbooks you’ll ever get your hands on, to thank for this one. (PSA: Buy Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many!) The first time I made the salad I went full-on spring: favas, English peas, snap peas, new potatoes, turnips, asparagus, carrots. As you can see in the photo above, the second time around I just used what I had in my crisper — not a single green veg of note! No matter; it was just as delicious, if a bit pallid. There truly aren’t any hard and fast rules here. Serve it with the fennel frond pesto from a few months back, or DIY another pesto using what you have (the one pictured has arugula, parsley, almonds, lemon, garlic and evoo).
(Not) Jeremy Lee’s Blanched Veg Salad
A small handful each of veg (ideas above), amounting to roughly 4 cups
Vinegar (red wine, Champagne and Moscatel would all work well here)
2 handfuls arugula
Juice from 1 lemon
1 small handful mint leaves
1 small handful parsley leaves
Pesto, to serve (about ½ cup should do it!)
Blanch the veg individually (potatoes first, then asparagus, and so on) in water that’s salted like the sea. I don’t even change the blanching water! No need for an ice bath, either; just use your intuition and be sure to pull the veg when they’re just barely done so they don’t get mushy as they cool (holler in the comments if you want a blanching tutorial). Using a slotted spoon or tongs, move the cooked veg to a baking sheet to cool. When everything is cooked, drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil, about a tablespoon of vinegar and a sprinkle of Maldon over the veg and mix carefully with your hands. Pile the arugula on a serving plate and dress lightly with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and Maldon. Carefully arrange the veg on top of the arugula and spoon the pesto over everything. Add the herbs, season again with Maldon and serve.