Tuesday, April 13, 2010

how sweet the green spring

How sweet it is, when you have not “had time to cook” in what seems like months, that you are nevertheless certain to make the time to walk into the Farmers’ Market and pick up a dozen eggs all speckled brown perfection in their carton, and some yellow-veined green chard fresh from the field and certainly some spinach; and when you exclaim, as you dig out your last change for a box of blue and yellow and orange carrots, “Oh, I need potatoes, too, but I’m cleaned out,” the farmer says “we have TONS of potatoes. I’m going to give you some” and she dumps a little peck of them in with the carrots. Because that’s just how sweet it is, you remind yourself, when you are among friends and good, earthy food!

And still sweet when you tear yourself away from the conversations and music at the Market and they follow you through the Co-op and out upon the sidewalk, and then you go home to a garden full of sorrel and Egyptian onions, and garlic sprouting greenly up, and nubbins of rhubarb looking like a jigsaw puzzle all brilliant red and black and green – all growing up out of the ground, and it is 82 degrees in Rutland on April third.

Well, that’s pretty sweet, and you must appreciate it NOW, because beautiful weather isn’t free, you know. You’re going to pay for it later...

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately – a life full of hit-the-ground-running mindset interspersed with moments of recognition of what’s really important, as well as the occasional opportunity to really enjoy it.
In that Saturday afternoon lull that I speak of, I decide to make a cup of tea. I open the dishwasher because there are no clean cups hanging under the cupboard. There in that malodorous machine the state of my life is made apparent. The upper level proliferates in dirty glasses and cups and grungy plastic containers and the lower one in forks and soup spoons, and all the tablespoons I own because I use them each day for my dog’s yogurt (he still gets HIS supper), and knives that we use for butter and peanut butter on morning toast. All that while the plate rack remains woefully empty. Not too many sit-down meals have gone on in this house for some time now. Quick short-order is about it.

So I decide to make a quiche. Because I have these lovely fresh ingredients, and because the tools involved in making and eating it will fill up the empty spaces in the dishwasher so it can be guiltlessly run.

But I chide myself for those thoughts – the making of a quiche is a pleasant enough thing in itself; and the eating of it no less so. Especially when you have not been cooking anything with any like degree of preparation time and planning in recent history.

In that recent history I have met many people who do not have time to cook for themselves, let alone their families, and very little inclination, anyway, because they don’t perhaps KNOW how to cook, at least something the thought of which whets their appetite. KFC anyone? Whenever I find myself in these circumstance I think of the young working families who have children at home, whose lives are hectic and short on time. What happens when they need a meal?

I count myself lucky that I can decide to make a quiche and then simply MAKE it, because I know how to do it without having to look up a recipe that calls for so much Swiss chard and so much this and that. I know to prepare the single crust from a cup of flour, some butter or lard, some salt, and enough ice water to bring it together. I know to shred the cheese and put half of it over the crust, prepare the chard and onions, and the formula for the custard. And to put it into a really HOT oven in order to cook the bottom crust and then to turn the heat down so that the custard doesn’t curdle. I wish I could teach the whole world to cook, to take advantage of real food.

Another blessed evening I am again lucky. I have the time and the garden that I can walk out into and pick a stem of lovage and some chives and take them in and drop them on some Trader Joe’s green beans steaming over a pot of simmering water. Whenever I find a TJs I stock up on olive oil and those great frozen green beans – they are small, like French green beans, les haricots vert, I believe, zydeco for short, and tender and flavorful.

And here is my yearly reminder that lovage is a plant that everyone should have in their garden. Its beauty is not in its appearance, which is large and raw and straggly, but in the flavors of tarragon and celery that it adds to soups and vegetables, even potato salad.

Along with the green beans, which will be dropped into a warm bowl and dressed with butter, salt and pepper before we eat them, I have chicken wings from the Farmers’ Market, that I’ve given a long, SLOW roast with garlic and jalapeno, and the first arugula from a booth at the Farmers’ Market – Singing Cedars, I think.
On the plate the arugula, green beans and chicken wings are all dressed with separate drops of a really good sherry vinegar and some shards of gorgonzola that has aged quite magnificently in the cheese drawer in my fridge for at least two months. What a plate full of different and entirely melodious tastes – a rare treat these days!

After supper I wander through the gardens, the yard, around the house on the corner lot that wants to be a farm, through all the plots, at least three times, noticing and planning, and gathering different specimens of the daffodils that grow there. I wonder what I am doing filling this spring up with so much unspringlike work, that hit-the-ground-running attitude, and then I take the daffs into the house and plop them into a little cream pitcher my grandmother gave me, and then I take a picture of them. One of them is prettier than the others, with a bright orange ruffling out of the center. Bah, I say, I’ll bet that beauty is not the best smelling one. I sniff each of them, from the plainest to the flashiest.

Hah. I was wrong. The prettiest DOES smell the sweetest.

Sometimes that’s just the way it is!

Slow-Roasted Chicken Wings
As some of you know, I buy locally grown, pastured meats, and that includes chicken. Until lately, when the McMurrys at Sunset Farm found a way to sell chicken parts, a meal of chicken wings was a thing of the past. These wings are large and meaty. Find Jeff or Cathy at the Rutland Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Preheat the oven to 425°

Smear a large shallow pan –a rimmed pizza pan works well – with butter. Take 3 pounds of chicken wings, dry them with paper towels if necessary, lock the wing tip over the drumstick, place each on the pan, sunny side up, grind salt and pepper over them, sprinkle with finely chopped jalapeno and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until golden and crispy.

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