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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Viva la pissaladiere!

A long time ago I worked at a major national magazine. I don’t want to mention its name, but it’s a synonym for “humans.” It was owned by a big corporate entity. I won’t mention its name either, but it rhymes with “crime stink.”

I hated working there. It was big, corporate, ridiculously WASPy, and predominantly male at a time when magazine publishing was already overrun by women. No one said what they meant. They all seemed to use a language they learned at prep school or at college “in Connecticut,” as they would say. It took me months to figure out they meant Yale, and not Wesleyan or Fairfield.

But a few good things did come out of my mostly miserable five years there. I made more money than I would have made anywhere else. I learned that there were still people in the world – the New York City publishing world! – who were anti-Semitic. And, most importantly, I met my dear friend Bryce. Of course, Bryce didn’t actually work at Crime Stink, since he wasn’t a wealthy twit who went to college “in Connecticut.” He was the account guy at our ad agency, and I was his client. That meant he was supposed to toady to me and take me out for fancy dinners and tell me I was always right. But he wasn’t very good at his job, I guess, because I don’t remember any toadying or fancy dining or complimenting. He did, however, recover my sofas (brilliantly!), because he wanted to practice his recently acquired reupholstering skills, and he danced with me at corporate parties (those Crime Stink guys did not acquire any dancing skills in prep school), and he made me laugh with killer imitations of the Connecticut lockjaw with which my colleagues spoke.


But most relevantly (I have a point here, I promise), he went to cooking class with me. Once a week, for several months, he would tell the folks at his agency he was going to see the client and I would tell my people at “Humans” that I was going to the agency and we would sneak off to a little cooking school downtown for a Provençal cooking class, where we learned to make yummy things like tapenade, ratatouille, tarte au citron, and killer aioli. And wonderful pissaladiere, the Provençal onion tart that makes ordinary pizza look pale.

Pissaladiere is believed to have been introduced to Provence by Roman cooks way back in the fourteenth century. The name probably comes from the Latin “piscis” (fish), which became “pissalat” via “peis salat” (“salted fish” in the dialect spoken in Nice). Traditionally, the dough is thicker than classic pizza dough, but you can make it with whatever works for you: your own pizza dough, store-bought pizza dough, or pâte brisée. The traditional topping is caramelized onions, olives, and anchovies, although I sometimes add garlic and crumblings of chevre to the mix. You can certainly personalize yours, but try the original at least once. It really is something perfect, and perfectly delicious.

If you use purchased pizza dough, this is a very easy dish to make. But it does take about an hour for the onions to cook down. You need to stir occasionally, but not more than a few times during that hour, so you don’t need to pay close attention.

Your favorite pizza dough or purchased dough
2 lb. thinly sliced onions
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme, or both
salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
about 16 pitted black olives
about 10 anchovy filets
  1. Cook the onions with the olive oil and herbs for about 45 minutes, covered, then without the cover for about 10-15 minutes more, so they can dry out a bit. (You can make this the day before and keep covered and chilled.) I like to add a few whole peeled garlic cloves to the mix as well.
  2. Stretch the dough to fit whatever pan you’re using. The traditional shape is a rectangle about the size of a baking sheet but you can use a pizza pan if you prefer.
  3. Spread the onions over the stretched dough; make a design of the anchovies and olives. If you’re adding some crumbled cheese, now’s the time.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.
  5. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Viva la meatloaf!

Who doesn't have a bad memory of their mother's meatloaf? A gray, lumpy, tasteless mass cruelly seasoned with (a) Lipton Onion Soup Mix (my mom); or (b) an “exotic” combination or soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, and/or bottled barbecue sauce; or (c) if you were lucky, drowned in ketchup. 

Who doesn't have a bad memory of their mother's meatloaf? My kids (she said boastfully)!

I admit that for years (maybe decades) my meatloaf wasn’t much better than my mom's. I tried adding bacon (isn’t everything better with bacon?), tomato paste and zingy mustard, lots of sautéed onions and garlic, many different spices (meatloaf with chili powder? meatloaf with za’atar? meatloaf with ras el hanout? been there, disliked them all) but nothing was very good.

Until I found this recipe. It’s from a 2009 issue of Gourmet (oh Gourmet! how I miss you!) (and this does not do the trick) and it straddles the line between meatloaf and pâté and pleases lovers of both. The secret ingredient (and, trust me, keep it secret) is liver, which gives the dish a complexity and depth that ordinary meatloaf can only dream of. And, I promise, it does not taste like liver. My liver-phobic husband had no idea what it was that made this meatloaf so special, but he loved it. The other secret ingredients (you can reveal these) are chopped prunes and pistachios. And the last brilliant notion is the recipe does not use ground beef, not one speck. The combination of ground pork and veal makes for a much tastier, richer end result.

I’ve written the recipe exactly as Gourmet published it, with my notes
in parentheses. One nice thing: It’s better made a day ahead and brought to room temp before serving. The flavors meld nicely and the loaf holds together better. And, the next day, cold (or reheated) in a sandwich with lettuce, mustard, and a dab of mayo on crusty bread...you'll think you died and went to Paris.

Courtesy of (please come back to us!) Gourmet

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (if I don’t have fresh, I use panko)
1/2 cup whole milk (it won’t matter much if you use skim)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chicken livers, separated into lobes, trimmed, and rinsed
3/4 pound ground veal
3/4 pound ground pork (since ground meat normally comes in units of 1 pound, unless you’re buying from a butcher, I reserve a quarter pound of each along with the extra half-pound of liver and freeze it for future meatloaf)
1/4 cup chopped prunes
1/4 cup shelled pistachios (these are great if you toast them lightly before using)
2 tsp thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (for serving, not necessary)

  • Preheat oven to 475°F with rack in middle.
  • Soak bread crumbs in milk in a small bowl.
  • Cook onion, garlic, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper in oil in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly.
  • Purée livers in a blender or food processor, then transfer to a large bowl. Add pork, veal, prunes, pistachios, thyme, eggs, bread-crumb mixture, onion mixture, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and gently mix with your hands until just combined.
  • Transfer meatloaf mixture to an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch glass loaf pan and bake, covered with foil, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 165°F, 50 to 55 minutes. (Put your loaf pan on a larger pan to I remove the foil for the last 10 minutes so the loaf gets a bit of a crust.)
  • Let rest 5 minutes. Cover top of meatloaf with parsley before slicing. Serve with Dijon mustard and cornichons.

Note: You can use a metal loaf pan; the meatloaf will take about 15 minutes longer to cook.

Please return to us!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Norway, ho!

I wrote a couple of posts ago that I have two different cooking groups (remember, it was here, about Bulgarian night, and I included the recipe for that delicious rose water and pistachio pound cake.

That was group A (hosts choose theme and provide the beverages, guests bring the food). This week it was group B’s turn. In that group (which we fondly and hilariously call Dinners of the World, Unite! or DOTWU!), we have all the countries in the world on little slips of paper in a bowl. Each member gets to pick three (there was panic at the idea of picking one and being stuck with someplace like the Marshall Islands) and then makes a dinner for the group featuring the cuisine of that land.

We’ve had some amazing meals from Sri Lanka, Belgium, Spain, Djibouti, Albania, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Italy and the Bahamas. And then there was Norway.

I’ve always believed that the traditional food of any country has something to offer. No matter how perverse a cuisine has become (Olive Garden Fried Lasagna, anyone?), if you go back to its roots, you’ll usually find fresh vegetables, interesting cooking methods, tasty spices and herbs.

The Norwegian flag
At least I used to think that, until I picked Norway. In Norway, the winters are long. Like 10 months of the year long. There’s not much of a growing season, so there aren’t a whole lot of fresh vegetables or fruits. Or herbs. Most traditional dishes feature dill and parsley, salt and pepper. And maybe cardamom. There are loads of sheep, so traditionally the Norwegians ate mutton. And fish. Lots of fish. But the things they learned to do with fish, well, they should be illegal. Fish pudding. Fish balls. Lutefisk, which is made from whitefish (usually cod) that is dried, then soaked in lye until it reaches a gelatinous texture. I don’t know about you, but “gelatinous” is one of those words I don’t like applied to anything I’m about to eat. Lutefisk, according to one source, “has an extremely strong, pungent odor.” In other words, it stinks. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Enjoying a Sweet Tooth

I don’t exactly have a love/hate relationship with the oeuvre of Ian McEwan. I have what you might call a love/not-like-all-that-much relationship with it. I adore Atonement, which is probably one of my favorite novels of all time. I love On Chesil Beach and I greatly like The Cement Garden and all of his short stories. Saturday and Solar would go a little further down the list, and I don’t like Enduring Love or Amsterdam at all.

With those last two, I felt played with. Manipulated. Now, I don’t mind being manipulated at all, in fact, some of my favorite artists are master manipulators, e.g., Alfred Hitchcock. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being manipulated. I’d rather remain completely unconscious of the strings being pulled. And sometimes, McEwan’s strings are a little too obvious, and despite his always precise and beautiful prose and his intricately developed characters and plots, I resent feeling the author's presence--and I want to cut those strings.

But I’m happy to report that his latest, Sweet Tooth, is definitely on the love-it end of the yeah/meh spectrum. It’s one of those books that you don’t want to say too much about, because there is a literally gasp-inducing (I gasped. out loud. really.) twist that I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone.

The basic plot is pretty simple: beautiful Serena Frome (“rhymes with plume” she tells us on the first page) narrates her tale, set in the early seventies. She’s a brilliant Cambridge math (or “maths” as they say in Britain) grad, who has been recruited by the British intelligence service, MI5. There, because of her compulsive speed-reading of novels, she is chosen to run an undercover operation, code-named “Sweet Tooth,”  designed to manipulate the cultural mood by funding writers whose politics MI5 believes to be desirable. In the midst of the Cold War, that means anti-Soviet.

The book delivers on so many levels: the plot fascinates, Serena is—seemingly—an honest and entertaining narrator. There is mystery, romance, betrayal, comedy (I did laugh out loud several times), literary analysis (I’ve never read a book that mentioned so many other books), even tragedy. As many reviewers have said, it’s a novel about novels—about writing them and reading them and what they mean to us in every sense.

And, because one of the things I love about McEwan is his compassion, it’s a novel about love, and the hope it brings us, and forgiveness, and humanity. How can you not love a book that loves books and loves love so very much? I can’t. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Join the club

I have not one, but two cooking groups. If something is fun once, it’s fun twice, right? The groups each have eight people, but other than that they function quite differently. 

In group A, the hosts choose a theme (usually a country, or region) and provide the space and the drinks while the guests bring all the food. In group B, the host picks the name of a country at random and makes a meal (usually quite an impressive feast) from the cuisine of that country.

In group A, we’ve done Scandinavia, India, fish (dessert was interesting), and favorite childhood foods. In group B, we’ve visited Belgium, Albania, Italy, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Bahamas, Nicaragua, and Djibouti. And we’re soon heading to Norway.

Both are a lot of fun, and even educational. I hosted Djibouti night and I think I can safely say that before I picked Djibouti out of the hat I didn't know one thing about it. I wasn't even sure what continent it's on. I'm not exactly an expert now, but at least I know it's in Africa. I can even pick it out on a map. And I can tell you what the capital is (Djibouti--yes, it's the city so nice they named it twice), and a bit about its history, culture, and cuisine.

Where Djibouti is. Who knew?
Group A recently had a Bulgarian evening, which was interesting and delicious. I made dessert: a phyllo pastry with a pumpkin walnut filling and this cake, made with rose water and pistachios. I was a bit hesitant about the cake, since rose water has always been one of my least favorite ingredients. It smells like the moisturizing cream my mother used to slather on—not something I’d ever want to eat. But the scent was barely noticeable, and the taste was a wonderful combination of salty nuts, tangy cardamom, and sweet pound cake. And I learned that Bulgaria is famous for its rose crop, grown for culinary and medicinal purposes as well as the fresh-flower and perfume industries. Who knew? The cake was easy to make, and, I’m told, keeps well. Since pretty much every bite was consumed that night, I didn’t get to test that theory.

Rose Water Pistachio Pound Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large room-temperature eggs
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole-milk plain yogurt
2 teaspoons rose water
1 cup shelled, chopped roasted, salted pistachios (divided)
Rose Water Icing
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
3/4 teaspoon rose water (reduce this amount if you have a rose water aversion)
1 drop red food coloring

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one (9x5-inch) loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cardamom, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, butter, yogurt, and rose water. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes (1 minute if using a stand mixer). Gently stir in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.
  3. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Turn right side up and place on rack to cool completely.

To make the icing: When cake has cooled, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, butter, rose water, and food coloring until blended and smooth. Spread over top of cooled cake, letting it drip down sides. Sprinkle with the remaining pistachios. 

Storing/freezing: Store the iced cake at room temp, loosely wrapped in foil, for up to 1 week. To freeze, wrap the cooled, un-iced cake in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze for up to 6 months. Let thaw at room temp for 4-6 hours before icing and serving.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Suicide is anything but painless

I wrote an email recently to a friend about a sad event in her family. She had told me that this sorrow was bringing up memories and emotions about a past sorrow. I wrote, “All sadness reverberates in future sadness.” She wrote back, “Truer words were never spoken.”

Joan Wickersham knows the truth of that statement. In her memoir, “The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order,” she tries to make logical what can never be ordered: the sudden, shocking death of her father at his own hand. And she tries, valiantly, to understand both what drove him to this awful act and what impact it has had on her life and the lives of her loved ones.

Of course, in the final analysis, we can never really know what drives a man to end his life. Much like we can never truly know what is in another’s heart. But our job, as humans, is to make order out of chaos, and so we try to find sense, to find meaning, to help us live with what seems unendurable.

Wickersham does that with what, at first, seems like an odd format: The book is structured as an index, each chapter headed by titles like, “Suicide: Readings in the Literature of,” and, “Suicide: Glimpses of His Character Relevant To.” Before I began the book I worried that this would be a distancing gimmick. But it’s not. It’s the perfect structure for an attempt to make comprehensible what is incomprehensible. You cannot frame a suicide in conventional linear form, because it is not a conventional act. You can’t make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense.

The structure also reflects the way in which one lives through something like a suicide—there is a constant, unending attempt to understand, to take all the little threads and hints and tie them up into something intelligible. An attempt, unfortunately, that never succeeds, and never stops.

I gravitated towards Wickersham’s memoir for two reasons: One, I met her recently at a reading and was struck by her warmth and intelligence. She has what my birth mother used to call, “A good face,” by which she meant a face that shows a combination of wisdom and compassion. I was impressed by everything Wickersham said and every word she read. But I was also drawn to “The Suicide Index,” because my brother committed suicide many years ago, when he was 22. I am still recognizing the ways in which it has affected my life.

Wickersham writes, “I was beginning to see that there was never going to be a straightforward sentence: He did it because… It was all going to be fragments, a snarl. All these bits would keep coming, and that’s all they would ever be, bits. Nobody knew the whole of it. It was as if one person was saying, ‘Well, I know he had matches, but I didn’t think he’d ever light them,’ and someone else was saying, ‘I knew he lived in a house made of paper, but I didn’t know he had matches.’”

Everything is different after a suicide. The whole picture changes, like the click of a kaleidoscope. “My father’s death made a permanent shift in how we saw the world, in what we were certain of and what we were aware of not knowing,” she writes. “Suicide destroys memory…When you kill yourself, you’re killing every memory everyone has of you. You’re taking yourself away permanently and removing all traces that you were ever here in the first place, wiping away every fingerprint you ever left on anything.”

There is humor in the book too, like when the author and her mother have lunch together about a week after her father dies and the waitress asks if she had a good Valentine’s Day. “Didn’t he give you what you wanted?” the waitress asks, and her mother shrugs and says, “Not exactly.”

And suicide, most painfully, is, as Wickersham writes, “an accusation. It’s a violent, public declaration of loneliness. It’s a repudiation of connection. It says, ‘You weren’t enough to keep me here.’ It sets up unresolvable dilemmas of culpability and fault: were we to blame for being insufficient, or was he to blame for finding us so? Someone had been weighed and found wanting, but who?”

“The Suicide Index” is dark, gripping, and profoundly sad. It is a love letter to her father and a howl of heartache and rage. Wickersham has “a good face.” She also has a very good book.

Monday, March 11, 2013

For a great go-to chicken, go to Provençe

Picnic in Provençe 

You know how everyone has a go-to company recipe? Or they should? Something you make when you can’t think of something to make? 

A good to-go recipe should have a good input/output ratio, meaning the amount of work you put into it should be far less than the amount of ooohs and aaaahs you get when serving it. It should be the kind of recipe that makes people say, “I can’t believe something this good is this easy.”

Olive-picking in Provençe
My go-to company recipe is roast chicken. Well-made roast chicken with a little olive oil massaged into the skin and plenty of herbs scattered on top, is a fine thing. Roast chicken with lots of fresh rosemary and chopped garlic mixed with softened butter and slid under the skin is an even more wonderful thing. But this roast chicken dish is a sublime thing. Your house will smell of Provençe, of licorice-y fennel and sweet garlic, of rosemary and thyme and wine. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the traffic on the Boulevard des Anglais.

Pussycat in Provençe

In addition to the excellent input/output ratio, this recipe meets my other criteria for a good go-to recipe: it’s eminently flexible. No tomatoes? Leave them out! No Niçoise olives?Try a different kind—or leave them out, too! The only requirements: the fennel, plenty of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and the herbs. Oh, and the chicken. Everything else is entirely optional. I’ve mentioned several alternative ideas in parenthesis in the recipe.

Panorama in Provençe
When pickin’ a chicken: While most chefs recommend brining for a moister bird, I just buy kosher chicken, which has already been salted and, to me at least, ends up moister and more flavorful. If you don’t have access to kosher chicken (what, you don’t live in Noo Yawk?), do try brining. The difference, particularly in the white meat, will be noticeable.

Perfect chicken from Provençe

Roast Chicken Provençal
Adapted from a cooking magazine recipe from many years ago

Serves: 4
8 large shallots (or onions)
6 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered (or canned, or none at all)
¼ cup dry white wine (optional, but good)
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts (or canned, or jarred)
1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, cut lengthwise into eighths
1 garlic head, cloves separated, unpeeled
2/3 cup brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise (or another type, or leave them out)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (no substitutes here, make it fresh!)
2 TB chopped fresh rosemary or 2 tsp dried, crumbled
2 TB chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried, crumbled
1 cup chicken broth (can be eliminated, in which case add a bit more wine)
1 4-pound chicken
1.     Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°.
2.     Place first 5 ingredients into a large roasting pan. Pour lemon juice and oil over, moistening evenly. Sprinkle with herbs and season with salt and pepper.
3.     Pour ¾ cup chicken broth into pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan. Roast 1 hour, basting with pan juices occasionally.
4.     Increase oven temperature to 450° and roast until chicken is brown and crisp and juices run clear when thigh is pierced with knife, basting frequently, about 20 minutes longer.
5.     Transfer chicken to a platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots, artichokes, fennel, olives, and all but 6 garlic cloves to the platter with the chicken. Cover to keep warm. Discard skin from the 6 reserved garlic cloves and place in processor; add contents of roasting pan and process until smooth. Thin with remaining broth if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer sauce to a serving bowl. Serve with chicken. (Note: I make this dish often just for family and don’t bother making the sauce, serving the roasted vegetables alongside the chicken with a little sauce drizzled over.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I must have seen the 1943 Hollywood film of Jane Eyre at a very impressionable age. Because when I re-read the book recently, for the first time in many, many years, it was Orson Welle’s booming baritone I heard in every line Mr. Rochester uttered. It was Joan Fontaine’s sweet, imploring face I saw, her beautiful eyes that looked out at me.

But remembering the film made me realize that Hollywood (and London, since they’ve done several Janes as well) has gotten the book terribly, terribly wrong. The tagline for the movie I remember so well is, in the hilariously overwrought tradition of great old movies, “A love story every woman would die a thousand deaths to live!” ! indeed. 

But the book isn’t a love story. It’s a bildungsroman, a coming of age story. Wikipedia says, “Bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience.” If that isn’t Jane’s story, nothing is. The book was originally entitled, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, published in 1847 under Charlotte Bronte’s pen name, Currer Bell. It’s written in the first person, as we follow Jane from her tragic, orphaned childhood, through her schooling, her work, and her quest for independence and love.

Jane is plain—she tells us so repeatedly—plain and small and Quaker-like. But she is also passionate, and intelligent, and has a measure of self-respect that allows her to maintain her strength despite the cruel treatment of those around her, starting in childhood when she is forced to live with her cold, unkind Aunt Reed and spoiled cousins.

Through all of Jane’s adventures, she is searching for a moral code and an independent life. The thing that makes the story so gripping is that Jane is not a weak, fluttery female. She is a true proto-feminist. Listen as she expresses her discontent with her quiet life and her passion for experience:

“It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

Substitute “making dinner and doing the wash” for the puddings and stockings and you’ve got The Feminine Mystique one entire century earlier.

No, Jane is no weakling. When she is abused, she objects. When she sees wrong, she speaks up for right. When action must be taken, she moves. She does not meekly assert her unworthiness, her smallness, her uselessness. When it appears that Mr. Rochester, who she admits (she is also honest) to love, is courting the wealthy and beautiful Miss Ingram, she doesn’t, like you’d think a clichéd Victorian heroine would, insist that of course a powerful, rich man like Rochester would want a beautiful, rich wife. No, she compares herself to Miss Ingram, and it is the wealthy beauty who comes up short:

“I was not jealous: or very rarely; the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word. Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling. Pardon the seeming paradox; I mean what I say. She was very showy, but she was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature: nothing bloomed spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness. She was not good; she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own. She advocated a high tone of sentiment; but she did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity; tenderness and truth were not in her.”

This is not a spurned and catty woman talking. This is an honest appraisal of a woman who knows her own capabilities and qualities and compares them to another woman she has intelligently studied. For a delightful change, it is the other woman who is lacking. Bridget Jones should have read Jane Eyre.

Jane is a marvelous heroine, and I was more than contented to spend many hours in her company. Now all we need is a movie version that does her proud. I think I’ll check in on the 2011 version with Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender (sigh) as Rochester and the 1996 one with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt (sigh again) as Rochester (and Anna Pacquin as young Jane). Although I doubt anyone can replace my first love, Orson Welles (sigh and sigh some more). Viva Jane!
Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester in the 1943 film.
William Hurt as Mr. Rochester in the 1996 film. 
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in the 2011 film.

Look, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) as Mr. Rochester in the BBC version!