I admit, I'm a sucker for a good debut novel, and I'm especially partial to those that keep me guessing. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is both of those with the added benefits of a love triangle, some fantasy, and description of Canadian landscapes.
If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don't, they never were. We can all agree on the wisdom of this quote, but what if the person leaving was eighty years old? What if the person was in the early stages of dementia? What if the person was making a trip from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Ocean on foot?
This somewhat bizarre journey is the crux of the novel; an old woman leaving her farm to walk to "the water," as she calls it, leaving her husband behind with a stack of recipe cards so that he can prepare the meals that she has served him over the course of their long marriage. As the journey continues the reader is transported from present day to the 1930s and 40s, and back again. The element of fantasy and suspended reality is kept throughout the book.
For me, the most fascinating part was the glimpses into farm life and the beginning of World War II, as seen through the eyes of children and adolescents. My own grandfather was a wheat farmer in Saskatchewan, who lived through the devastation that the drought in the 30s would have wrought. Imagine a world where dust blew through the air constantly, where crops failed, where people had large families and did not expect to maintain those large families into adulthood.
"Growing up, Otto had fourteen brothers and sisters...This was when the flu came and wouldn't go, and the soil was even dryer than usual, and the banks had all turned inside out, and all the farmers' wives were losing more children than they were keeping...for every five pregnancies, three babies, and for every three babies, one child."
Can you even imagine?
This was a world where children were sent off to relatives' homes because their parents didn't have resources to keep them, where pregnant girls were sent away "to an aunt's" and would return later, alone and deflated. This was a world in which tiny skeletons were buried in the back of convents and disfigurement due to farming accidents were a part of life.
And the dust kept blowing and blowing.
We all know what brought hope and employment to the people after the Great Depression, and that was war. War, with all its terrible implications, ironically enough breathed life into young Canadian men as they waved goodbye to their families on the trains that ferried them to "the water." And so we see that Etta's journey on foot is the same journey that Otto made by train, so many decades ago.
As Otto goes overseas to fight, Etta - a teacher at a one-room school - takes on employment at a munitions factory and becomes close with Otto's good friend Russell. This friendship continues throughout the decades, and on the surface, it seems that Russell alone is concerned about Etta's walking tour of Canada. He will take a journey of his own, but the three of them remain connected.
This book often suspends reality, in a charming and fairytale-like way. There are many twists and turns, along with glorious descriptions of the Prairies with the enormous skies, the Canadian Shield with its rock and forests, and finally, the ocean. The writing is beautiful and wrenching, and will leave you feeling emotional and satisfied.
This recipe was born from two very different dining experiences, in two very different places.
Last year my husband and I were in Las Vegas, celebrating a friend's 50th birthday with three other couples. The guys were out doing manly things (car racing) while us ladies hung out by the pool. We ventured inside to grab some lunch and I had the most incredible arugula and quinoa salad, with slices of sundried tomatoes. I thought about that salad incessantly for months after and tried to recreate the dressing, without huge success.
Then, last December our family was in Disney World, and at our resort was a cafeteria in which a salad could be custom prepared to your own specifications. Oh! It was an amazing salad. So many different kinds of lettuce and vegetables, along with beans, tofu cubes, nuts, and seeds were involved in my huge salad. That would be incredible enough, but it was topped off with the most delicious dressing. On my third or fourth day of salads, I found out it was a Cobb dressing. I had never had a Cobb salad in my life, and I probably won't ever have a Cobb salad in my life, but that dressing. That dressing though.
And so this salad was born. I topped it off with roasted chickpeas, because of course I did. It's a protein-rich bowl of power, and it makes me think happily of those two wonderful vacations when I eat it.
Chewie would like this Power Bowl too, I'm sure.
Prepare quinoa according to package directions; allow to cool. MAKE AHEAD: prepare quinoa the night before, or use leftover quinoa.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss chickpeas in 1 tablespoon olive oil; arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
Whisk together dressing ingredients.
Pour dressing over cooled quinoa; add sundried tomatoes and toss to coat.
Just before serving, add arugula and chickpeas. Enjoy!
NOTE: Keep arugula and chickpeas separate until ready to serve.
If there's one thing I've learned in life, it is that people have strong feelings about potato salad. Here's the thing: I have never liked potato salad. I do not like boiled potatoes, and COLD boiled potatoes are even worse. It doesn't matter what kind of dressing is used or what else is in the salad, I have a very strong aversion to it. This has caused much angst for the people in my life who do like potato salad, and who want to convert me. I've learned the hard way that quietly avoiding the potato salad at a barbeque or family gathering can cause much offense, especially when people claim that their potato salad has "World's Best" as the title.
So it was with much surprise that I discovered, at a friend's potluck lunch, how much I love this salad. A friend brought this salad and I gamely thought I would give it a try. I like roasted potatoes, I thought, taking a small amount. I took one bite and had to restrain myself from grabbing the serving bowl and running away with it. It's THAT good.
Instead of eating it all at the potluck, I went home and recreated it, adding roasted cauliflower and dried dill, and it was fabulous. It's a big recipe so it's great for a party, but it also keeps for a couple of days in the fridge, if you're looking for a good lunch idea. If you're a potato salad hater, I feel you. But I urge you to try this, because it might just blow your mind and forever alter your perception of potato salad. It sure did for me.
1 bunch green onion, chopped
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss potatoes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil; arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 35 minutes, or until skins are crispy and browned.
Toss asparagus pieces in 1 tablespoon of oil and cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons of oil. Arrange on two separate baking sheets, in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool. MAKE-AHEAD: roast the vegetables a day in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the dressing, place avocado, dill, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss cooled vegetables in the avocado dressing. Stir in chopped green onion.
NOTE: This makes a very large recipe. Feel free to halve it, but it also keeps well in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Adapted from Oh She Glows