Rachel Bennett

Lunch with Dionysus has moved!

In Food on December 19, 2015 at 10:53

Lunch with Dionysus returns! After taking a hiatus (during which I was busy making a human) I am ready for 2016 with a stew of fresh stories, recipes, and a sleek new domain.

Please visit my new website lunchwithdionysus.com for lots of scrumptious new content.

Baby Taste Buds

In Food on January 16, 2014 at 22:57


A few days ago I had the pleasure of cooking a meal for a beautiful brand new family. Josh and Rhonda welcomed their little boy into the world just before Christmas. Although Lucas quickly established himself as an easy-going baby, he has one small foible. He is fussy about onions and garlic. The moment his mamma partakes of any dish containing these aromatics, he becomes vociferous in his discontent.

I thought of this as I stirred pale slivers of leek into shimmering oil. How strange is is that a newborn baby can taste so much through his mother’s milk. What else could his new taste buds detect? First it must be that proverbial sweetness, warm and plump, coating the palate like crème brûlée. Then perhaps a flicker of bitterness from the hearty greens of mom’s dinner last night, a creamy soupçon of a morning avocado, and the umami-ripe depth of a lunchtime tomato soup.

Of course it was only his mama and papa who ate my risotto, but I like to think that little Lucas got a vicarious taste of smoked salmon laced with lemon and herbs. And just the faintest whisper of white vermouth.

Smoked salmon risotto with lemon and vermouth

Serves 4-6

Hot smoked salmon works beautifully in this risotto, rich and woodsy against bright lemon. White vermouth replaces the usual wine, suffusing a panoply of herbal flavors into the dish.

1 large leek, white and pale green part only
olive oil to coat pan
2.5 cups risotto rice
½ cup white vermouth
5 cups vegetable or fish stock
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 lemon, grated zest and some juice
8 oz hot smoked salmon, flaked
coarse salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, shaved (optional)

Heat the stock in a saucepan and then keep warm over a low heat on a back burner. Wash and finely chop the leek. Heat a large skillet over a medium-low heat and coat with olive oil. Sweat the leek until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Add the vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add half the parsley, and a little stock. Stir until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in the lemon zest and a splash more stock. Continue stirring, adding liquid as it is absorbed, until rice is almost ready but still has a bite to it, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Continue gently stirring until rice is tender. Season to taste with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with remaining parsley and shaved parmesan if desired.

Bread, honey, and a troubled heart

In Food on January 5, 2014 at 20:54


After the excesses of Christmas, January brings a welcome return to simple food. For myself this manifests as a renewed interest in hearty soups, good whole grain bread, and mounds of winter greens dripping in olive oil and redolent of garlic. It is the sort of food that is consummately nourishing, restorative meals to bolster body against those interminable winter nights and assuage all manner of melancholy.

For myself there are many such foods that provide a kind of existential succor, but only one reigns supreme. When the day lies heavy on my heart, I reach for a loaf whole grain bread, a thick slab of butter, and a pot of golden honey.

This morning I awoke to the gravity of life pressing down relentlessly against my chest. I slumped out of bed and into the kitchen. I could think of nothing else to do so I put on an apron and pulled out the flour. Several hours later I hoisted three loaves of bread from the oven. For a moment I forgot my woes, closing my eyes and inhaling the scent of September wheat fields, listening for the crackle of crust as it cooled. I cut a slice, carved off some cold butter to cover it, and drizzled the whole with honey.

On this occasion, the honey was particularly ambrosial. Given to us by our wonderful neighbors, Don and Jane, it came from their own bee hives at Firstlight Farm. It was raw and thick with the taste of wildflowers and sun-warmed caramel, a hint of wax clinging ever so slightly to the teeth. It was, I reflected, a perfect honey for hot toddies, a cure for the cold, and a sweet, enveloping balm for the troubled heart.

For a moment I am six years old and a booming voice is heading my way. “When I was One, I had just begun. When I was Two, I was nearly new.” Mum is bustling about in the kitchen, dogs panting by her feet, ever hopeful. The rhyme is drawing nearer to me. “When I was Three I was hardly me. When I was Four, I was not much more.” My brother Willie bounds through the kitchen chasing a zooming tennis ball that narrowly misses the window.  “When I was Five, I was just alive.”  Dad is beside me now, eyebrows moving in rhythm to the words, his rumbling voice louder and victorious as he finishes the rhyme: “Now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever, So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”

I am no longer six and there are pains not even bread and honey can dissolve. But I must eat, and they are at least a blanket against the bleakness.