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Adding spice with tapenade

October 30, 2012


I’ve never been in a church where I’ve known so many people. Seriously, it was over half the congregation. It was like a College of Arts and Sciences faculty meeting but with more amens and less action items. The only real task at hand this first blustery, autumn day of the season was a wedding.

Friends marrying friends — how awesome is that? I think a local wedding in which over half of the attendees are from Starkville either says that we are all a bunch of cynical networkers, glad-handing and back-stabbing our way to the top (and the bride and groom felt obligated to invite their colleagues) or it is a testament to the warm, enveloping arms of the Venn diagram of their Starkville circles of friends. So many friends!

As someone that arrived in Mississippi from the left coast knowing no one, with nothing but my dog and a bunch of lecture notes on the rise of modern science, I often look about for confirmation that this move wasn’t a reckless choice. The couple has found a genuine home here.

I have too.

Can we talk about them a little bit more? They truly are perfect, both independently and in relation to each other. They have equal and opposite pets (Hi Boz!  Hi Doctor!). The bride can diagnose, following a careful phrenological reading of the various lumps on your skull, say, the likelihood that you will commit a crime (for me: High! But it would be a victimless, hapless and error-filled venture, more of a caper than a crime). 

The groom can give a 25-minute exposition on the various official Scrabble dictionaries, complete with the benefits and drawbacks of each. He apologized to me for this afterwards (and then warned that this is the only way I’d learn to never ask him about Scrabble ever again).  No two academics have made me laugh harder.  Friends marrying friends! Together they form an autocatalytic system of wordy sarcasm.

I want to bottle them up and save them for a future when the backlash against hipsters is complete and irony and sarcasm have been eliminated from American culture. This is actually a pet theory and concern of mine. 

We are only becoming more baffled by irony and frowny at sarcasm. What if, in the future, we are only earnest? It would be such a loss. Like when Europe forgot how to read during the Middle Ages (yes, that’s probably an overstatement but you should feel free to repeat it to Medieval historians just to see them half choke).

Should we put together a sarcasm time capsule for future civilizations? What should we include? David Spade? Contemptuously-toned compliments? A t-shirt that reads “I survived a nuclear winter, alien invasion, and went through all the trouble of digging up this time capsule and all I got was this stupid t-shirt?"

What about food? Is there a sarcastic vegetable? Something briny, probably. 

Well here’s a recipe for the spicing up the most earnest of all foods — root vegetables.

I invented this when in a pinch earlier this month. I tried to feed my Dad steamed carrots over brown rice and he gave me a withering I-know-you’re-a-vegetarian-but-I-used-to-be-a-butcher-and-you-expect-me-to-eat-this? look. Olive tapenade makes everything better (ask Peyton Manning).

It’s the new bacon. 

The tapenade recipe below can be made a day or two in advance if you like, though that adds the risk that you may very well eat it all on crackers. I include directions here for a mix of root vegetables — carrots, parsnips, and squash — but you can use just one if you like, whatever you have on hand. And, actually, the vegetables can be roasted in advance as well. 

Just warm them up before tossing with the tapenade. Also, this recipe is entirely vegan so you now have no excuse for not accommodating them. My boss’ wife would add that you never have an excuse for not accommodating vegans, an attitude I’m quite appreciative of.

But first, let us all raise our glasses and appreciate the wonderful couple, earnestly in love, navigating the world with wit and irony. Congratulations, Shalyn and Matt!
Earnest Root Vegetables
Tossed with Sarcastic Olive Tapenade

The Vegetables
2 lb. root vegetables (I like carrots, parsnips, and butternut squash the best), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds or cubes, you should have about 3 cups
2 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until you can pierce all the way through them with a fork, 25-35 minutes. 
While the vegetables are roasting, make the tapenade:
The Tapenade
1 1/2 cup pitted olives, kalamata or green or both a handful of sundried tomatoes, say, five
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup parsley
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed, lightly toasted in a dry pan if you like (on stove over high heat for 10 seconds tops, until the seeds start to become fragrant)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
2 Tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts as a garnish

Throw the olives, tomatoes, garlic parsley, cumin, chili, and olive oil together in a food processor or blender and blend until a chunky consistency. You don’t want a paste. Adjust the olive oil and pepper to taste.
When the vegetables are done, toss them with the tapenade and pine nuts.  Serve over rice or with shaped pasta (tossed with 1/2 cup pasta water). Enjoy!
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at

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