Almost exactly 20 years ago, a boss gave me a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I am very proud of that book because it has never been opened. Not even a page. For all I know, it has an inscription that reads “For the young man who exemplifies each of these habits….blah, blah, blah.” But I doubt it; somehow I think eschewing self-help books is not one of the habits. My former boss must have read the book, however, as he avoided actually serving jail time and sped through the bankruptcy proceedings like a pro. (Not all my former bosses have been this lucky.)
Anyway, I have enough habits of my own, none of which will ever be in a book (unless it’s a book about highly peculiar people). One of those habits involves my choice of summer reading, which consists entirely of a winter’s worth of unread Vanity Fair magazines (burned ceremoniously at the end of the season in – you guessed it – The Bonfire of the Vanity Fairs) and cheap paperback novels.
And I mean cheap. The ones I pick tend to look like they’ve been read a million times, left out in the rain at least twice and used, on occasion, to prop up a sagging cottage deck. Those are the kinds of books that can stand up to the rigours of hammock life or endure a trip to the swim raft with nothing but a ziplock bag between their battered pages and the Deep.
I’ve also developed a habit of building our cottage menus around the theme of the book. There may not be a single highly effective person who does this, but we’ve had some pretty good cottage meals that we might not otherwise have tried (although, I don’t recommend very long books – the summer I read Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet my family started to complain of curry fatigue. Novels set in medieval prisons are also a challenge).
This summer’s first book is a Nazi spy thriller, which might have led to a season of schnitzel and wursts (or worse), except that the book is set in Argentina and that means barbecued – grass fed and pampas grown – beef. We’re a little short of pampas around here, but as luck would have it, I happen to have a freezer full of excellent grass-fed beef. Now, I’m just waiting for my mail-order gaucho outfit and I am all set.
No table in Argentina would be ready for dinner (which people don’t even start thinking about until 9 pm, according to my novel) without a bowl of chimichurri, the tangy, spicy green sauce for which there are as many recipes as there are Argentinians. At its most basic it is made from flat-leaf parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar, oil and a little chili but feel free to experiment. Some people even add tomatoes to make a red version of the sauce.
Here’s my version. Be careful, it can be habit forming.
1 small bunch flat leaf-parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 of a red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves or, 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf, ground into very fine flakes
1/2 teaspoon hot chili flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 cup water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients except oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until fairly smooth, season with salt and pepper and taste. Transfer to a bowl and pour olive oil over top. Let stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes but up to two hours. Stir and serve spooned over barbecued beef.
Note: leftover chimichurri sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days. It makes an excellent marinade for chicken.
I like the idea of theming food around a book. Some are too easy. Under the Tuscan Sun. Larry’s Party. But I just re-read Pollyanna and no food is coming to mind. Lime cordial?
Agreed; some books are tougher than others. Science fiction is pretty much out. I think my favourite summer – in terms of food – was the one when I read Gone with the Wind.
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