Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.
~Marcel Proust

With steady overdoses of dissonance — the BP gulf cataclysm, insecure financial markets, Wall St avarice, rampant unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, endless wars, species depletion, global warming, political antagonism, and the like. Anxiety, animus, and acrimony all run amok, urged on by the madding crowd. Makes me apoplectic sometimes.

Little wonder the Scripps National Spelling Bee is such a welcome relief and maybe a cause for optimism. Youth, words, and a gathering of beautiful minds…and sometimes helicopter parents.

The Bee entails arduous vocab prep over countless hours and seemingly endless regional competitions. It is an honor born of toil to even be chosen for the national contest. There, contestants, oversized placards hanging from their necks, try not to fidget in their chairs as they await their turn. One by one, each is given a word with meticulous pronounciation, and if requested, the definition, origin and sentence use. Standing solo before the mike, contestants nervously form letters to spell that word, followed by either applause and ebullience or the knell of dashed hopes. There are so many pitfalls…an “a” used instead of an “e” or “i;” uttering a double consonant rather than a single one; forgetting a soft “c” after an “s;” confusing Greek with Latin or other etymologies. Each speller has their own quirks and rhythms, and the drama is palpable. Tense teens form words like revirescent, congener, laodicean, poilu, schadenfreude, effleurage, pfeffernuss, onomatopoeia, sesquipedalian, appoggiatura, guerdon, logorrhea, succedaneum, until a winner is crowned. This year, stromuhr (an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow), was le dernier mot, assiduously spelled by the champion, Anamika Veeramani.

This lamb tajine sounds the usual polyphony, but also has a nectarous tinge due to the bees’ honey, oranges, and cinnamon.

LAMB TAJINE WITH CURRANT COUSCOUS

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers (red & green), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 T sweet paprika
1 T turmeric
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground cardamom
1 t saffron threads
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 C chicken stock, barely simmering
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
2 oranges, freshly juiced
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 C honey
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 C prunes, pitted
2/3 C dried apricots

Sesame seeds
1/2 C blanched almonds, roasted
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Combine the chopped onion with the chopped jalapeños, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, saffron, ginger, bay leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil. In a large bowl or heavy ziploc bag, combine this marinade with the cubed lamb shoulder. Coat well and marinate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

In a heavy, large Dutch oven, sauté the lamb over medium high heat until browned, about 8 minutes or so. Add hot chicken stock, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Then, add onions, orange juice, chickpeas, honey, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, prunes, and apricots. Simmer until the lamb is very tender, about another 20-30 minutes. Remove lamb and spoon onto a mound of warm couscous in a shallow bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and garnish first with sesame seeds, then almonds and finally mint.

Couscous with Cumin, Coriander & Currants

1/2 T cumin seeds
1/2 T coriander seeds

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock

1/2 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained

In a dry heavy small skillet over medium heat add cumin and coriander seeds. Toast briefly until essences are released, about 2 mintes. Do not brown deeply or burn. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the roasted seeds. Set aside.

Heat stock in a small heavy saucepan to a low simmer. In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Then, add the couscous, cumin and coriander. Stir well to coat the couscous with the spices. Add the hot broth and stir with a fork to combine well. Cover and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Uncover, add the plumped currants and fluff again gently with a fork.

Advertisements