And, of course, attending the Farmers’ Market. Last Saturday provided that gorgeous haul you see above:
Two cheeses (bottom left), Mettowee, from Consider Bardwell – a fresh goat cheese from the first batch of the summer – and a pepper-clad Camembrie from Blue Ledge Farm, both highly, highly desirable. Let's keep going counter-clockwise: There's Radical Roots' artichokes (I lucked out) 4 of them; the remains of a cut kohlrabi that Paul's interns were sampling to Foggy Meadow's customers – sweet and crunchy; then Alchemy Garden's iceberg lettuce – sweet and juicy and crunchy. Then – you can’t see anything but its shine – a black/purple eggplant from Dutchess Farms; Chioggia beet greens that Paul slipped into my basket; and a bulb of fennel and a tomato – the first of the season – from Dutchess Farms. Not shown are thin French green beans from Foggy Meadow, a chicken from Sunset Farm, and a big loaf of multi-grain bread from Connick’s Sandwich Shop booth. And the scattering of green peppers? All from MY new garden. So flavorful, especially the Hungarian Wax.
Am I crazy, or what? How were two people to eat this plethora before next week's Farmers' Market? And not even two – who knew when Leo would return from the canoe retreat!
Well, I made a pretty admirable beginning, if I do say so myself, with thin sliced bread slathered with bits of the little button of Mettowee. While I sat on the porch reading – you can guess can’t you, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – with one eye and watching that naughty, saucy little squirrel avoiding my trap with the other. And the sun pouring down, and the sounds of my tomatoes turning red. And the basil yipping in the dooryard.
(I always take a great deal of satisfaction when I include that timely last phrase in my July columns, since the first time I wrote it maybe 20 years ago my editor deleted it, saying, “Basil doesn’t yip. Avoid hyperbole.”
Now I ask you – where would I be without hyperbole?
Now, of course, I have a wonderful editor who says, “It’s a column. You can say what you want to... within reason.”
It reminds me of a piece I did on a fishing resort a few years ago in which I wrote about a ghost, and also wrote that I fled screaming back to my cabin. The editor balked at the screaming. “Did you really scream?” he asked. No, I said. “Well don’t say you did,” he said, “avoid hyperbole.” Wellahhh, I said, very hesitantly, what about the ghost? He didn’t mind the ghost.)
I was not hungry after that for a long time, until, in fact, dusk obliterated Kalle Blomkvist (my editor made me omit Lisbeth’s middle name for him) on the page and I began thinking about that eggplant sliced thin and fried crisp. Mmm. Oh yeah. One nice thing about being alone is that you cook – and eat – when you’re hungry, not when somebody else is, or at some other arbitrary time.
Into the kitchen, Pandora playing Phillip Glass, sliced that firm little eggplant thin, sprinkled the slices with Wondra (do they still sell that stuff? My canister of it must be 15 years old if a day, used only for a bit of crispness at times such as these), when I heard footsteps on the deck and Leo arrived home, just in time, trailing a little duct-taped-together-canoe behind him.
I made a salad of slices of kohlrabi, mango, Hungarian wax pepper, and tomato sprinkled with sea salt, coarsely ground pepper, and chopped parsley and cilantro, then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then I fried the eggplant slices in a little lard and butter.
Leo was happy. What luck that I should be cooking my little heart’s delight just when he walked in the door.
The eggplant was über eggplant, sooooooo much eggplant taste. It reminded me of an anecdote a friend told me about her mother’s husband who could not eat eggplant anymore, so her mother – both of these people are Italian to the core – substituted zucchini in the Parmesan and “They. could. not. tell the difference.”
Let me tell you right now that zucchini could in no way have taken on the characteristics of THIS eggplant, so fresh and firm and, well, über in pure taste!
And the salad, too, was utterly delicious.
It’s hot. I need an appetizer. I don’t want to turn the stove on. I have shrimp that I have steamed during the cool hours. I decide to pickle it, and to that end I pull out Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking: Recipes and ruminations from Charleston... It’s one of my favorite books about a fascinating food area that is home to, among many other shining food items and traditions, the shrimp trade. This is his take on pickling shrimp.
(I adapted a bit – halved his recipe and added the peppers:)
John Martin Taylor (aka Hoppin' John) writes: "Throughout summer and fall, huge bowls of pickled shrimp grace the food tables at cocktail parties. I like to keep a jar in the refrigerator. The true Lowcountry shrimp salad is composed of pickled shrimp atop a bed of fresh lettuce, with no pasta or mayonnaise in sight...”
• about 1/3 cup of thinly sliced onion
• 1 Hungarian wax pepper, thinly sliced
• 1 bay leaf
• ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
• 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• the juice and zest of 1 lemon
• 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
• 2 garlic cloves, minced.
• 1 pound cooked shrimp, peeled, tails intact
Combine all the ingredients and pour over the shrimp in a quart glass jar with a lid. Store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before serving. [mine steeped for 6 hours and it was very good] Keeps for up to 2 weeks.
I was struck by the pertinacity of this thought from one of my favorite books and writers to our local food culture of today:
Good cooking is the result of a balance struck between frugality and liberality...[i]t is born out in communities where the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons. Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature's provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself. When Providence supplies the means, the preparation and the sharing of food takes on a sacred aspect. The fact that every crop is of short duration promotes a spirit of making the best of it while it lasts and conserving part of it for future use. It also leads to periods of fasting and feasting... Patience Gray in the introduction to Honey from a Weed (New York: Harper & Row, 1986)There is a wonderful essay by Corby Kummer about Gray here, and if you scroll down you will read Gray on Weeds.
And, just to make things perfect, and just like his predecessors the little red squirrel could not resist the peanuts in the no-exit birdhouse and, as soon as he flips into the hole, I’m there stuffing a sock in it, and off we go to the woods to make him a new home.