Fading Book Stores and a Soup to Bring Comfort
As if the world isn’t full of enough problems, I just received notice that two of my favorite independent bookstores are closing. In this world of online and discount book buying, Kindles, and chain stores, it’s apparently not easy to keep an independent book store alive and thriving.
Immediately I curse myself for all the times I’ve ever ordered a book from Amazon or went to Barnes and Noble simply because I knew the book I wanted would be in stock — or discounted. Or because I was just too lazy to drive into town, and I wanted the “luxury” of having the book delivered to my door. Sound familiar?
I am a cookbook author and I often send people to Amazon or Barnes and Noble because I don’t know which stores actually stock my books. It’s a damn shame. The independent bookstore crisis seems to mimic, in some small way, the whole Occupy Wall Street crisis—the 99 percent begging to have a voice, to be given a chance when it comes up against the power of big banks and big money.
So I am making a vow. I will shop at independent books as much as possible, even if it means going out of my way and paying a bit more. It’s worth it to me in the end to know that there are still book stores out there where I can browse for an hour, or an entire afternoon, reading through new and old books and learning about authors I never knew. I don’t want a computer-generated list of book suggestions coming to me through my computer. I want to spend more time talking to the devoted shopkeeper of an independent bookstore who has read these books—often met the author-- and can truly recommend something great. I want more human-to-human book connection and less time “talking” to my computer. I want to look at book covers and feel the gorgeous quality of the paper. I want to go to readings at independent bookstores and hear authors talk about writing and the state of the world. This cannot be reproduced in a computer or chain store.
How about you? Are you willing to spend more time and money at independent bookstores? Think about it. If we’re not careful the very existence of bookstores may soon become something of the past.
One of the book stores, River Run in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which serves the Seacoast area, is trying a last ditch effort to stay alive. They are looking for support —financial and otherwise — to move out of their high-end real estate smack in the middle of downtown Portsmouth to a lower-rent side street. Check out their Website and do what you can do to keep a wonderful community-minded book store alive!
Here’s a recipe from my new cookbook, Notes from a Maine Kitchen, which I hope you will check out at Down East Books or ask for at an independent bookstore.
Leek, Potato, and Sharp Cheddar Cheese Soup with Chive-Walnut-Cheddar Swirl
Leeks and potatoes are good companions, and here they are joined by the sharpness of cheddar. This is pure comfort food, smooth, rich, and bursting with flavor. The Chive-Walnut-Cheddar Swirl is added to the soup at the table, highlighting the smooth white soup with a gorgeous green color and a cheesy, herby, nutty flavor and texture. This soup makes a great first course for any holiday feast, or can be served as a meal on its own with crusty bread and a mixed green salad. Be sure to choose a really distinctive, very sharp cheddar for this soup.
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds leeks, washed, end trimmed and all green sections discarded, whites only, cut lengthwise and then into thin slices
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste
7 cups chicken or vegetable stock, homemade or a good, organic variety of canned or boxed
3/4 to 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
For the chive-walnut-cheddar swirl:
1 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/3 cup walnut halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Prepare the soup: in a large soup pot heat the oil over low heat. Add the leeks, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring them to coat with the leeks and oil, for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock, raise the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are perfectly tender and the broth is flavorful.
Let the soup cool slightly. Using a hand held immersion blender, or transferring the soup to a blender or food processor, puree the soup until completely smooth. Place the soup back into the pot (if using a food processor or blender) and sprinkle in the cheese. Heat over low heat and taste for seasoning.
Make the swirl: in the container of a food processor pulse the chives and walnuts until well chopped. Add salt and pepper and the oil and process until well blended; the mixture will be thick and chunky. Add the cheese and pulse several times to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. The swirl can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate.
To serve, place the soup in a serving bowl and swirl in a generous teaspoon or two of the chive-walnut-cheddar swirl. Serve hot.
Serves 6 to 12.
Recipe Contest: Truffle Hounds
What do Oregon truffles have to do with Maine? Well, not a whole lot except that there is a very cool contest that cooks from all over the country can enter and win cash, prizes and some great opportunities.
Never heard of an Oregon truffle? You thought they only grew in Europe and sold for exorbitant prices? Nope. Turns out black and white truffles grow in the northwest, specifically around Eugene, Oregon. Maybe you have a recipe using wild Maine mushrooms or another wild food that you think would translate well to truffles? Enter your recipe. What do you have to lose?
Visit Oregon Truffel Festival for details.