Here we are again, starting yet another gift-giving season, but thinking it over I find that I have been the happy and grateful recipient of many toothsome gifts all summer and fall, all year, in fact, and I want to talk about some of them. Yes, I realize this is a dangerous subject. Someone is sure to come up to me just slightly irate to say, “So you didn’t consider my gift of genuine Amazonian sperm oil important enough to write about, huh? See if I ever save you a bit of exoticism again!” But I’ll persevere. When was the last time you know me to flinch from confrontation? Canola oil, anyone?
I began to think about this when I was roasting vegetables for Thanksgiving and to that end went through my fridge and pulled out all the root vegetables I could find. There was a very large and beautiful Gilfeather turnip I’d bought at the Middlebury Co-op the week before, a month old rutabaga that I’d bought from Paul Horton’s Foggy Meadow Farm at one of September’s outdoor Farmers’ Markets, and way at the bottom of the crisper a bag of 3 or 4 gigantic parsnips that Paul had given me last spring. They had grown hairy in the intervening months, but were, if anything, and with a little trimming, better than freshly harvested ones. Too, I hauled out a bag of funnily shaped carrots that Paul had sorted into a bag for me last summer as he said, “Here, take these, Sharon. They don’t sell well.” Paul is a very generous person, and I think that’s not all due to the fact that he loves to see his name in print! Of course I'm only kidding about that. Paul is a humble man, though rightfully prideful in his work.
Sally Beckwith, Paul’s partner, has been generous (in absentia) to us all these last couple of weeks at the Winter Farmers’ Market – she’s been making Crispy Kale Chips for sampling at the booth and they’ve been the talk of the town. She even provides recipe cards:
Crispy Kale ChipsTear a bunch of kale ruffles into a large bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt, maybe sliced garlic if you like. Keeping a light hand, toss so the kale is coated with the oil and salt. Spread the kale on a cookie sheet and bake in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes. Fluff the kale to distribute the crispier edges with the damper center, return to the oven and bake 20 minutes more. They should be quite dry. Pile into a bowl for appetizers and your guests will rave. I’ve made these twice now and they are the first times I’ve bought kale without a good amount of foreboding.
***Many of us were incredibly disheartened that the Kilpatrick boys had decided not to attend the Winter Market this year. I almost cried to see their big space taken up with other vendors, however excellent they might be. For the Kilpatricks could, these last two years, be counted on not only to have the widest variety of root vegetables all winter, but also spinach and other greens, and early spring vegetables, too. So that when I walked into the big indoor space a couple of weeks ago and stopped to talk to Greg Cox at Boardman Hill for a bit, then turned and caught a glimpse of a great spread of vegetables, and looked up to see one of the regular Kilpatrick vendors, I screamed! I really did. I screamed and then I slavered all over her with thanks and questions about how it had come about, and more thanks. I excitedly bought a bunch of stuff from her to show my appreciation and, perhaps to send me off to slaver on someone else, she stuffed two bags of spinach into my bag as thanks for my thanks.
A few nights later I became hungry for creamed spinach, and I served it with a poached egg on top and some good toast. What a lovely, simple, satisfying little supper:
Creamed SpinachTake a pound of cleaned spinach, stems and all, and put it into a saucepan in which you have brought a little water to boil, maybe an inch. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt – you can add more later, if needed – cover, and cook until wilted, maybe only 3 minutes. Drain well, take handfuls of it, squeeze gently to get most of the rest of the water out, put on a cutting board and chop coarsely.
In a sauté pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When it is melted, sprinkle in some flour – try 2 tablespoons. Stir, stir, stir, and when it is golden drizzle in a cup to 1 ½ cups whole milk or half and half, stirring all the while, and cook and stir until thickened. Add in the spinach. Add a scraping of nutmeg, to taste. Turn the heat to very low and partially cover while you poach an egg or two, toast some bread, grate some parmesan. Serve by spooning the spinach into a serving dish, nestle a poached egg on top, sprinkle with parmesan and serve with the buttered toast.
***One of the most unique gifts I’ve received was from a neighbor with whom I exchanged some of the tarragon, that happens to’ve survived almost 30 years in my garden under less than optimal conditions, for some of the mammoth dill that grows in her garden, and has year after year. After the trade-off she whipped out a little jar of clear golden jelly. Dandelion! Now who woulda thunk? It is such an oddity that I have not opened it, nor tasted it, but kept it displayed prominently for that slight jolt it gives me each time my eye lights upon it.
More gifts! Annabelle thrust a head of radicchio into my hands straight from her garden, saying, “I knew I’d discover who this belongs to when I saw her. It is you!” Chris showed up on my doorstep one night with a bunch of beets straight from HIS garden, saying, “You wrote about the last sweetness in the garden, and here it is.” Julie handed me a pint of golden honey from the first season of Mark’s bees, and we opened it and dipped fingers into it. Sticky sweetness to our wrists. Bees: One of the wonders of our world. Skiing Fool (he emails a wonderfully scurrilous ski report starting when the snow flies) showed up one Saturday afternoon: “I missed you at the Farmers’ Market but I wanted to give you some of my grape jelly.” He’d made a most marvelous jelly from the grapes that twine up the pergola in his back yard. Somehow he’d left the velvety little skins in the otherwise clear jel and they hit the tongue most softly. And then there’s Janet , who gave me two quarts of lard she’d rendered a couple of years ago and sealed in a boiling water bath. I was just about to beg Monty for some fatback to render my own. Lard is a necessity in my life, but I won’t buy it from the supermarket – it’s full of trash that allows it to sit on a shelf far from the refrigerator case.
***Sometimes you have to look for your gift, search it out, as I did with these little Whole Wheat Walnut Cookies. I found them on October 3rd.
You remember October 3rd! It was drizzly and cold and while we drove to West Haven it began to rain. Oh. Lovely! We were going to a wedding that was being held in the third meadow back of beyond, a half mile walk from the parking area, no house in sight. But once we got there, in the dining tent, I hadn’t seen so many trays of lasagna since the old hippy dippy days. And mac salads, and potato salads, and sauerkraut, and lovely little individual lobster quiches, and at the very end a platter of little rounded cookies, made with whole wheat flour, walnuts, and five spice powder. They were tremendous. I spent much of the rest of the time trying to find out who made them.
Finally I found Leah, who had made them from a recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book, one that I cooked out of with wonderful results back in the ‘70s. But they were in a newer edition, and so I had to haunt Leah again until she most graciously gave me the recipe:
Whole Wheat Walnut CookiesHeat the oven to 350 degrees
Reserve ¼ cup of the flour and combine all ingredients in the order listed
• 1 cup softened butter
• 2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
• 1/3 cup brown sugar (or rapidura)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (optional)
• 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
• powdered sugar (or rapidura) for dusting
As you mix the ingredients, add reserved flour as needed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Form and roll into spheres about the size of walnuts. Place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Dust with powdered sugar.
These are sandy, like shortbread, not too sweet, absolutely delectable, and so fast and easy to make.
It turned out to be a lovely day for a wedding. And the sun came out just as the bride said “I Do!”
***So! To all of you now I say thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks. Thank you. Merci. Gracias. Really: Thanks!