Discover more from read, eat, repeat (with emily fiffer)
Saturated Fat + Silent Nights
Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Zest + Pimentón Butter + Journal of A Solitude
Journal of A Solitude by May Sarton, pub. 1973
Buy: Bookshop.org, your local bookshop or used copies online
Fiercely independent women / women desperate to escape the trappings of gender are a running theme here at RER. So far we’ve followed Jamaica up mountains; Mrs. Bridge down a rabbit hole of self-scrutiny; Polly into the arms of another man. And now, we travel to Nelson, New Hampshire, to bask in the brilliant mind of poet and novelist May Sarton.
The journal (replete with dates, weather reports, the works) covers a full year in Sarton’s life as she attempts to write poems; plants and tends to her garden; receives guests; cares for her parrot, Punch, and goes head to head with a local raccoon; and zigzags wildly between emotional highs and lows. In fits, she both relishes in and fights the solitude she has chosen (she lived alone, never married and dated women most of her life). She requires solitude in order to create, but too much of it and she spirals; yearns for visits from friends but is easily aggravated by people. A delicate balance.
I love living through the eyes of an artist: You get to see first-hand the immense effort required to jot down a few useable sentences; you feel the pull of their work above all else – friends, family, household tasks; you witness the darkness many creative people contend with (at one point in the book Sarton yearns for her depression to return so she can use it as fuel for her writing). Similar touchpoints include Anne Truitt, Annie Ernaux and Anaïs Nin, to name a few.
One of the joys of this journal is reading about the garden (is this another theme? I recently finished Derek Jarmon’s Pharmacopoeia and loved it as well). Sarton is fiercely connected to the natural world: She cuts flowers to brighten up her ‘cosy room’; spends hours pulling up weeds and potting bulbs; receives plants for her birthday from various friends and neighbors. Why is it so satisfying to read about someone digging her hands into the earth?! You can tell she needs this release, as her inner monologue runs nonstop. Flowers are solace, another form of poetry. By the time the journal ended I was legitimately sad; I’d read through ten years in the life of May Sarton if I could.
Pairs well with: warm milk, fever dreams, posies, furrowed brows
Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Zest + Pimentón Butter
This recipe is designed to get you to eat as much of this butter as possible. I make it for practically every dinner party, as it’s excellent smeared on crisp radishes and craggy bread (two of my go-to snacks to distract guests while I cook). Never had I ever thought to serve it on grilled vegetables, though, before a meal at The River Cafe in London: a plateful of fat white asparagus with a literal ice cream scoop-sized ball of anchovy butter melting creamily among the spears. Transcendent. (Speaking of indulgence, The River Cafe’s prices are absurd … but it might’ve been worth it for this butter experience?) This recipe couldn’t be simpler, so I’ll once again humbly request you use the good stuff (notes on that below). If you’re butter averse, you can always sub Anchovy Magic, but tbh watching butter melt atop freshly grilled veg is a life experience no one should miss.
A few notes:
If possible, I suggest buying butter from a farmer’s market vendor (I know, I know, but it makes a HUGE difference — plus you’re supporting local farms). If that’s not an option, organic unsalted from the grocer is just fine (Straus and Clover are good choices).
Sweet smoked paprika, aka pimentón dulce, is a pantry staple that’ll make you a happier cook. It’s gently sweet and smoky and will add an unexpected boost to so many dishes (vinaigrettes; marinated grilled fish and veg). My favorite brand is Chiquilin, and not just because the tin is fucking adorable.
This recipe is supposed to feel over the top with the butter quantity, but you can always save any extra covered in the fridge, where it’ll keep for a week. Or do what I do and double the recipe.
Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Zest + Pimentón Butter
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) good butter, softened
Zest from 1 lemon, divided
½ teaspoon pimentón dulce
1 bunch asparagus
Prep the butter: In a small bowl, add the butter, half of the lemon zest, pimentón and a big pinch of Maldon. Stir very well to incorporate (a fork works well here). Taste! It should be smoky and zesty with a perfect bite of salt.
Prep the asparagus to grill: Cut and compost the woody ends off the bottoms of the spears, toss the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and Maldon. Heat your grill to around 400F and grill til done. (You can also roast at 425F for about 15 mins, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.)
To serve: Plate the asparagus while they’re still warm. Gather the butter into a nice hearty scoop (if you can quenelle this would be a good place to use that life skill) and dollop it on top of the asparagus. Add the rest of the lemon zest and season with Maldon.