Radish & arugula salad. Here let us feast.

When the landlady at the first apartment I lived in with my sister in Chicago told us she was selling the old grey stone and it was time for us to move on, I was excited about the prospect of something new and different. That is, until I discovered what moving really meant. For me, it turned out to be primarily about books. Once they were out in the open for all the world to see, it seemed I might qualify as a true hoarder.

Even I was astonished at what I had amassed, thinking that if only I had space enough, bookshelves enough, the books would seem nothing more than a substantial, and quite normal, library. When one pursues literature as a course of study, both undergraduate and grad, the book-mania is to be understood.

I wasn’t sure where to begin on the purge—an expertise I’ve now become quite adept at—and the first round was woefully sparse. I dropped my first bags off at the Salvation Army with the dramatic sense that a part of me was now gone.

Perhaps it was the fact that the move we made was only a few blocks away, on the same street no less, that gave me the sense that I wasn’t moving that many books. Or anticipating the beautiful bookshelves built specially in the new condo to house both of our collections—my sister too is a book hound. In fact, she predated and eventually inspired me in the love of a good book, as she spent hours as a little kid reading The Count of Monte Christo or an endless supply of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books.

Once we landed in the new place and got all of the heavy lifting out of the way, it was time for the much-anticipated moment of filling the bookshelves. We decided to lay them all out in stacks on the floor, to see what was what, and that was when it became painfully, hysterically obvious that we could house only a fraction of what was there. And if we wanted to keep the rest, it was going to involve the price tag of the largest storage unit available at the Lock-Up.

All I can say is that time does heal, because between those first deeply-felt couple of bags given away before the move and now, I had acquired more of a tough-guy approach to my things. Thank the good Lord for the double-bagged, handled Treasure Island grocery bags. No fewer than twenty of those bad boys, each carrying 20 to 30 books, processed out of the condo that day.

What I found most fascinating about the book amputation was that not a single cookbook was sent packing. In Chicago, it was with those cookbooks that I had continued the apprenticeship begun at home in the kitchens of my mother and Sittos and aunts. This schooling was woefully missing from my life in the city. The books helped me perfect the dishes I’d always known, but more importantly they opened my mind to new Lebanese recipes. Without them I might never have known tahini sauce or radish salad or za’atar-olive oil dip.

Up north here in my little writing room, I finally bought a bookshelf to play host to the stacks that were accumulating all over the house. Nothing like having the family return for the summer to get a girl to rein it in. The books are all cookbooks and many of them have traveled with me from Michigan to Chicago to San Francisco and back to Michigan. A moveable feast. What serendipity then that a spectacular new book should arrive quite literally as I was writing this post, a first edition of M.F.K. Fisher’s Here Let Us Feast. It came from Rebecca, one of my culinary school dear ones who is a tremendous collector of good books. For her, it’s building a kind of culinary history. For me, the books are not only a feast to be had wherever you are, but also like what my nephew’s blankie (or, more accurately, “blank”) is to him: a comfort, one of those things that softens the day with their familiarity, their closeness, their sense of home.

Radish and Arugula Salad
This salad is especially delicious with grilled meats, like lamb shish kebab.

3 cups baby arugula
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, garlic powder

Mix the arugula, radishes, and onion in a salad bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over top. Pour the olive oil over all. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toss gently. Feast. Then have a little more.

Find a PDF of this recipe here.

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5 Responses to Radish & arugula salad. Here let us feast.

  1. Diane Nassir says:

    Maureen, your words resonate whether about family or the culling out of book treasures–true art–you make my heart feel. I am making tabooleh today–going into the city to get my cracked wheat–can’t wait for the aromas, which you evoke so beautifully. Your recipes exist on many levels, intellectually, artistically, physiologically, and, as important, emotionally. Blessings for a beautiful day.

  2. Tom says:

    The first book I owned was given to me when I was about 3 or 4. It was a book of poetry for children and I memorized many of the selections, the first being Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Where Go the Boats?” I still have that book somewhere in the piles or on one of the bulging book shelves in our home. I still have the poem in my now less reliable memory. And most important I hold within me the love for words and sentences, phrases and exclamations, paragraphs and big thick stories ready to be explored. I am so grateful to whoever gave me that first book (my parents couldn’t recall what relative or friend was my benefactor) that opened my life to the wonder of words elegantly expressed. And I still cherish Donald Hall’s “Life Work” which you bestowed upon me, Maureen, a number of years back. So thanks for the great memories this morning’s story stirred in me. Books as feasts, indeed.

  3. Janet Moore says:

    Because I have just recently moved up north, close to you, I feel exactly as you about ditching all my treasures. I too have an enormous collection of cookbooks. And, might add, I see my cookbook on the shelf in your photo. Yea for me and you.
    As I read Diane’s post, makes me think “I need to go outside and pick Mint (nana) and Grape Leaves. I have an abundance of both up here. If you want some…just let me know Maureen. I will bring them to you.
    Thanks for the inspiration of going back through some of my favorite books and refreshing my mind with new recipes.

  4. The purging of the books, a necessary maintenance task for an uncluttered life. I remember as a college student moving in to a small bedroom off of the living room of a house I had rented with friends. Our habits at that time were wonderfully bohemian and the living room, right outside my door, was the center of activity, all hours of the day and night. When it was time for me to catch 40 winks I found the French doors to my bedroom were not much of a privacy barrier. One early, sleep-deprived morning I tripped over my large box of paperbacks, accumulated from my prior years of undergrad courses, and inspiration struck. I grabbed my handy roll of duct tape and affixed them into the windows of the French doors providing shade and sound insulation. And conversational topics for visitors in the living room.

  5. Patrice says:

    Great post for book lovers-and arugula lovers.

    Looking at the books you keep should be a recommended spiritual practice. More than the books you’ve read, the books with which you can’t bear to part reveal where your treasure is, and thus where you heart is.

 

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