Friday, September 23, 2011

how Anne Rice helped me make spanakopita

I'll tell you what - I don't care if it makes me a geek - I like Anne Rice.  I like her books, I like her storyline, I even like her personal life (what I know of it).  I love how descriptive she is and how she has helped me to broaden my vocabulary and taught me the names of two of my all-time favorite bands (which may also tag me as a dork: Savage Garden and Evanescence).  There are times when I read her words through the eyes of a grammar snob and think of how absolutely horrendous her writing is from a technical standpoint, but she isn't teaching English class, she is trying to paint pictures with words, which she accomplishes flawlessly.

Like many people, I imagine, I was introduced to Anne Rice in 1994 when Interview with the Vampire took up movie screens across the country and discussions between bigger geeks than I took up basements and Denny's all around the country, arguing about how much better the book was than the movie.  The book?  I was a teenager in 1994 and although I had always had a love for reading, I had such limited free time that when the option was to read a book or watch a movie based on that book, the movie won every time.  It wasn't until a few years later, when I discovered "the book" in my college library, of all places, that I grew to truly love Anne Rice.

I read "the book" and finally understood two things.  First, I understood why people who read the book before seeing the movie were almost universally disappointed in it - there was a great deal more detail in the book which elucidates parts of the story that don't quite connect in the movie (or would have connected better).  Also, the actors appeared miscast when compared with the images she creates for them in the book - although I will maintain with my dying breath that no one could have pulled off Lestat the way Tom Cruise did, Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt should have swapped parts, at least in terms of the physical descriptions she provided.  However, she paints a stronger picture of Louis's character than what Brad Pitt portrays with his beautiful pout and I regret to say this, but he didn't do the character justice.  Nevertheless, this is not a book review - I'm actually going somewhere with all this.  The second thing I learned was why so many of my friends loved reading her books, which resulted in me working my way through the magnificently interwoven Vampire Chronicles, and then discovering her one-offs, like Violin and Cry to Heaven.

That leads to my second time reading through The Witching Hour, part one of a trilogy of books about the Mayfair Witches (supposedly).  I read through it several years ago but discovered at the end that it was part of a series.  The series was 20 years old, so I had considerable trouble locating the other two books.  Just this summer, I came into possession of both, so I'm starting over.  I'm nearly through this book, but it took a while.  I thought I could get through it in the week between jobs, but it is 1,043 pages long.  To give you an idea, that is about half the length of the Bible.

Here is the connection: how do you get people to read a book that is over one thousand pages long?  By using small print and reaaaaallllly thin paper so it looks like a normal-sized novel from the outside.  This is how Anne Rice helped me make Spanakopita from The Accidental Vegan.  Finally.

The most daunting thing about spanakopita (and baklava and tiropita, etc) is working with phyllo dough.  I think it's kind of deceptive to actually use the word dough because there is no human way to get dough rolled that thin.  How thin?  Probably a middle ground between the thinness of the rice paper used to print older Bibles and the paper Anne Rice uses to make her books seem surmountable.  I will admit, I was surprised at how easy it was to work with the phyllo sheets after getting myself so worked up about them.

I've determined that the reason they didn't freak me out is because I've spent weeks now turning fragile, super-thin pages in this never-ending saga of three hundred years and thirteen (spooky!) generations of witches.  As such, I was not too concerned about tearing these fragile sheets of "dough," rather, I just carefully pulled them apart and gently laid them atop one another.  It was great fun "painting" each one down with my bowlful of oil.

The recipe makes 12 squares and we each had three.  It was a fun and tasty dinner and we each gave up on trying to eat like civilized people (with a fork) within minutes of the flaky top exploding all over our plates.  I was a little concerned about the filling, since I kind of felt like I should have used the tofeta marinade from Vegan on the Cheap, but I had already used my Tofu Xpress to squish all the liquid out of both the spinach and the tofu, so I didn't feel like investing even more time to let the tofu marinate and then have to press it again.  Fortunately, the spices from the spinach-garlic mixture penetrated the tofu during the baking process - which smelled absolutely divine, by the way - and resulted in a tasty, almost-feta flavor and texture.

Mister was thrilled with his little Greek wife making spanakopita for the first time (I was just pleased as punch that it wasn't awful) and we both enjoy it from time to time.  Although this certainly will not regularly enter any kind of dinner rotation, it's good to know it's not that difficult to make.  I will probably give it another go in a couple of months and introduce my family to the glory of Greek finger foods at Thanksgiving.


  1. I love how you tied Anne Rice and spanakopita together! I'm also a huge fan of hers and I plan on checking out the Witching Hour. <3

  2. I used to watch my Grandmother, who was from Beirut, make phyllo dough. Loosely translated from Armenian she would say you had to roll it as thin as an angel's breath :)

  3. Corrie - I hope you enjoy the book! It really draws you in, so make sure you have the second one ready as you come to the end!

    Vegan Version - thank you for sharing! That's beautiful, and I must say, your grandmother is far more impressive than most people. I hear of the difficulty in using pre-made phyllo sheets, but to actually MAKE them? Amazing.

  4. my mother used to make a very similar recipe, infact i grew up thinking that the tofu ricotta was the only ricotta there was and when i tried actual ricotta I was not impressed. these look yummy and made me all nostalgic.