May 23, 2010

I’ve been on a big reading kick of late.  It seems a bit counterintuitive that, as an English teacher & writer, I’d ever go “off” of reading, but the truth is that I often fail to make time for pleasure reading, just like everyone else.

One of the things that’s most important to me in my job as a teacher or more generally, an authority figure in the eyes of teenagers, is being rigorous with myself when it comes to hypocrisy.  I do my dead-level best never to ask of my students what I won’t follow through on myself: coming on time to class, showing up prepared, telling the truth, and being respectful.

There’s a lot of harping among adults these days about how “kids these days” don’t read anymore and their brains are all going to rot and the world is going to hell in a hand basket, etc.  But I wonder how many of those adults make time regularly in their daily lives to read.  You want kids to read more?  Let them see you closing your computer screen & picking up a book.

I’m lucky that my English department colleagues at school feel equally passionate about the importance of reading for pleasure; two years ago we instituted BYOB (that’s “Bring Your Own Book,” don’t worry) days across all grade levels.  It’s a regular expectation in my curriculum that I devote whole class periods, every 4-6 weeks, to pleasure reading.  And I have to sit down and read too—no grading or emailing.

Last time I had a BYOB day in my classroom, my principal, dean of students, history colleague, and both PE coaches came to join my students. I can lecture my kids about how reading will improve their vocabularies, writing abilities, & build their sense of empathy.  But the best argument of all for getting them to read more is to sit down and do it with them.  [a few suggested titles here]


Sometimes the books I read influence the foods I eat, as when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me crave smoked salmon, rye bread, & pickles to no end.  I’m currently listening to the audio book of The Elegance of the Hedgehog on my ipod, & the perfect pronunciations of lovely French words has me craving lovely French food with fancy names, like this classic, composed salad.

I love this salad for a weekend lunch, with a bottle of white wine, a nice baguette, & good butter.  If the idea of anchovy paste freaks you out, PLEASE reconsider.  Anchovy paste is the ultimate secret weapon; it adds incredible flavor that people can never quite pinpoint.  Been hearing all about “umami,” the fifth taste?  Well, anchovy paste is chock full of umami.  You only need a little bit—I dare you to try!

Best of all, anchovy paste comes in a nice toothpaste-like tube which you can seal up & keep in the fridge for future use.  I use it in my marinara sauce, tossed with roasted broccoli, and to make this compound butter, which is amazing smeared on steaks & grilled salmon.

for the dressing:

1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine or Champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional, but adds amazing flavor)
salt & freshly ground pepper
a handful of chopped, fresh herbs—your choice!
-basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, and/or tarragon

Whisk the ingredients together—I like to do this in my Pyrex measuring cup, which makes it easier to pour over the salad.

salad components:

2 cans good-quality tuna, drained

-If you want to splurge, buy fresh tuna steaks and grill or sauté them with olive oil, salt & pepper, just a few minutes on each side.  Slice to serve; the tuna should be rare in the middle.

1 lb. new potatoes, scrubbed

-Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to be pierced with a fork.  Allow to cool, then quarter.  Season with a little salt & pepper.

½ lb. haricots verts or green beans

-Trim the ends, then halve the beans.  Blanch the beans: steam them until bright green, then plunge them into ice-cold water to set the color.

½ red onion, thinly sliced

12 cherry tomatoes, halved or 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled & halved

½ cup good-quality black olives

2 T capers, for garnish

1 head lettuce + 1 bunch arugula (for flavor; omit if you can’t find arugula or don’t care for its peppery “bite”)

Compose all of the ingredients on a large platter, using the greenery as a starting point.  I like the serve the salad with a pair of tongs, four bowls, & the measuring cup of dressing out together so everyone can assemble their own perfect salad.


  1. This post rocks it on so many levels: let me tell you the ways. 😀

    First off, you have posted about the importance of D.E.A.R. time (drop everything and read time), you’ve mentioned a couple of books on my to-read list, because they sounded so wonderful, and given me a page with a bunch more recommendations (so many books, so little time…). AND you have used “umami” and Salad Niçoise all in one post. I am so impressed!

    I always order Salad Niçoise in Parisian cafés as I know it is likely to be gluten-free. Also, I have *really* learned to love the “umami” of anchovy paste – it does add a certain delicious something to foods. The Salad Niçoise I have eaten have often also been topped with thinly sliced anchovies on the top. They are very tasty, in my opinion, and I never thought I would like them. Turns out, I do!

    Thank you so much for posting your version of the salad here. I am going to try to make this myself very soon.

    Good luck finishing off the rest of the school year!!

    Comment by Karin (an alien parisienne) — May 23, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  2. I agree – great combination, good food, books, and Time to Read!! Teen dd & I think an afternoon get-together combining all would be something enjoyable we’ll try this summer with her friends. *I* need to make more time to curl up and read too, with no shortage of options. Thanks for adding to our lists :-). Love the refreshing & enticing looking photos too. What a lovely wrap up to the weekend, thanks again!

    Comment by Analog Girl — May 24, 2010 @ 4:17 am

  3. You are so right about reading. I think that in this country, at least where I live, adults don’t read much. I still think they read more in France. I worked in a large corporation here in Georgia and in my department of about 300, we were two only reading books during breaks or lunches. So many independent book stores had to close unfortunately. I love your salade niçoise and I’ll try to find the anchovy paste in a tube (but frankly I’d rather be in Nice right now eating it rather than here!)

    Comment by Vagabonde — May 24, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

  4. My favorite part about my train commute every morning is that I get to read for roughly an hour to 90 minutes a day. Right now I’m tackling a non-fiction history work called Five Points about the most notorious slum in NYC (a neighborhood that now basically is nonexistant, swallowed up by Chinatown)
    I also love Salade Nicoise (can’t make the funny C) — unfortunately tuna water freaks me out so bad that I have to either order it in restaurants or shell out for tuna steaks. BUT, this way it feels like a splurge. 🙂
    Also, didn’t mention it before, but I love the redesign! Congrats!

    Comment by Joh (Pretty Girls Use Knives) — May 26, 2010 @ 2:14 am

  5. I’ve reading “Elegance of the Hedgehog” right now too. Ironically I made a French pear almond tart today, without even thinking of the connection. Your salade nicoise is beautiful. It’s one that I rely on often especially when the weather warms.

    Comment by Ciaochowlinda — May 29, 2010 @ 12:55 am

  6. yay reading!

    Karin–your comments always make my day. thank you, thank you.

    Analog Girl–I always love to suggest books, and please let me know when/if you try some, what you think!

    Vagabonde–I, too, bemoan the closing of independent booksellers. I’m still loyal to one in my hometown and always try to drop lots of cash when I’m there!

    Joh–I’ve only recently gotten “into” nonfiction, so I’ll have to add this one to my list! & thank you, it’s great to get feedback on the redesign.

    Ciaochowlinda–I love that the book influenced you without being noticed! and a pear almond tart sounds like heaven. is the recipe on your blog?

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — June 3, 2010 @ 3:36 am

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