Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Expecting Lysander

Oh, the garden. 
It was only a few days after I spoke of a dystopian world here that the sudden storm came up, the wind blew like hellions, the temperature dropped 20 degrees in five minutes, and I, picking peas in my garden, looked askance at the flailing trees and told myself to get into the house. Now! I dashed and darted, with an eye on the maple and even the writhing Royalty crab, and got there, and while I was closing windows upstairs – where I paused to watch half-inch hail rattle on the tin roof of the porch – a third of a very large maple blew down onto my tomatoes, the basil, and a decades-old perennial garden.
Dystopian indeed. Picking through the rubble later, I was demoralized, close to tears, rendered suddenly without energy. But when I heard about the losses of a couple of vendors at the Farmers’ Market I felt a little ashamed of myself.  That hail sliced up Alchemy Garden’s beautiful lettuce so that the first Saturday after the storm their booth looked pretty bare. By last Saturday, however, their lettuce was again beautiful. Farmers roll with Mother Nature’s punches.
On Sunday I was looking forward to a visit from dear friends who would be escorting the infamous Lysander child, who must be five years old by now, if not in college! Could that be possible?

Because of the spiraling inferno of heat I’d made cold dishes – beets in a vinaigrette (beets first cooked in the cool of a morning), raw zucchini salad, cucumbers in sour cream, and grilled corn cut from the cob. And I grilled fat tomato slices and even some mozzarella in order to make the toasted quinoa salad, the idea for which I’d borrowed from Chef Donald of Roots the Restaurant. And when they got here -- that would be Cary, Dana, and Lysander --  I would grill some chicken for the non-vegetarians among us.
And there were red raspberries from Saturday’s farmers’ market with which I thought Lysander and I might make some ice cream if there was time.

Oh, but it’s summer – of course there would be time.
I have a new tool that I’ve used to slice the beets, julienne the zucchini, make a carefully tiny shred of some garlic cloves, and even to cut the corn off the cob. It makes an attractive job of slicing cucumbers, too, and would do awesomely if you had a finger that needed to go. It’s called a Benriner mandolin, and it’s a little cheap plastic job (well, $19 from Amazon) with a flat blade for simply slicing, and three interchangeable julienne blades for a tiny shred to a fat ¼ inch, julienne. It even shreds cheese, it’s so sharp and thin. And dangerous! But if you’re a careful sort and not accident prone it is a fun plaything.
Lysander, chewing on his drumstick, first asked me what the stick was that was sticking out of his chicken, and then informed me that “most people take the sticks out of their meat before eating it.” He also wondered what kind of animal this could come from: “It must be a very small animal because its bones are teeny,” said Lysander. This child needs some farm visits!
Lysander’s mother is a vegetarian so I hope she was pleased with the selection of vegetable dishes Sunday evening, especially the toasted quinoa salad. Lysander was not very interested in the vegetables. "He likes cucumbers and he likes sour cream, but not all mixed up together," his mother told me.When we tried the beets – and they were a shock – his expression asked “WHAT is this vile stuff?” It made me wonder what this little family ate for dinner every night if not vegetables. "Perhaps some bread," said his father, looking worried. We found some bread and butter and that seemed to fill Lysander up. 
But Lysander was very bright at the mention of raspberry ice cream.
“I kind of made it for boys who have eaten all their vegetables,” said downer I, for at the last minute I HAD made one pint in my small Donvier, thinking that we would need to make another.
But the ice cream – and who could actually withhold ice cream from a boy so viscerally disgusted by vegetables – was a great hit. After everyone was served, with extra berries and a drizzle of heavy cream over the top, Lysander was allowed to keep his arm crooked around what was left as he spooned up his own serving. Every once in a while he peeked into the container and a big, blissful smile spread over his pretty little face.
There must be a recipe here someplace, don’t you think? Well, not much of one. I striped the cucumber skin off with just the flat blade of the mandolin, and then sliced them rather thinly and tossed them with salt and let them drain in a colander. I dressed them with sour cream into which I folded some lemon juice, chopped dill and garlic, and ground pepper. The residual salt on the cucumbers was enough. 
The raw zucchini salad is a real eye opener. I dressed it with vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar (from Gordon’s Pond in Shrewsbury), shaken with a very garlicky olive oil, seasoned with  just salt and pepper.  That very garlicky olive oil? I made it by rubbing a clove of fresh garlic (flooding the Farmers’ Market these days) over a rough surface like a garlic grater, or pounded in a pestle, and left to macerate in a good olive oil. Dressed with this, the raw julienned zucchini turns into silk. Instead of balsamic vinegar you could use plain rice vinegar with a slight drizzle of maple syrup.  Then I’d add some thinly sliced onion rings to the mixture.
I’m still refining the toasted quinoa salad, but in a nutshell it involves toasting the raw grain in a cast iron skillet over a medium heat until it’s golden and giving off a toasty smell, and then adding 2 parts boiling water to 1 part quinoa, covering, and simmering until tender, about 15 minutes. Cool, and then dress with the vinaigrette we made for the zucchini salad, and toss with grilled tomatoes and mozzarella.
To grill the tomatoes, cut in inch thick slices and grill over a hot fire, turning once. Then cut them into bites. To grill mozzarella, cut into ½ inch slices and put them on a very hot griddle. As soon as the edges melt – not more than a minute – turn them over briefly and then remove to a cutting board. Use a rigid straight-edged spatula to handle the melting, sticky mozz. Cut into cubes and toss into the salad.
For inspiration you might order the Toasted Quinoa Salad at Roots the Restaurant. Remind Chef Don that mimicry is the sincerest form of compliment.
I have just finished reading Iris Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood, in which one character reflects, “Was there in the end nothing but breakage, liberty from obsession and nothing enduring of the spirit?” In the dystopian mood I have been in for awhile that plaintive query slammed into my heart. But now I realize there are absences in that book – an absence of children and, perhaps not coincidentally, of hope!
All this weekend, of course, I was getting my Lysander fix. And in our meandering conversations full of wit and whimsy I didn’t at all mind when he slipped and called me “Grammy!”


Anonymous said...

Okay, am I the only person who sees happiness in a fallen tree? Less trees equals more sun, more sun equals happier garden! But I am sorry nonetheless.

Good luck changing that child's culinary preferences. Even my precious little darling hates beets AND RAW TOMATOES sacre bleu!

sharon parquette nimtz said...

Yes, well, I have 2/3 of that tree left, which I intend to take down this fall, as soon as I've harvested the leaves. Yes to sun! Just as soon it hadn't wrecked my garden, though.

I don't think any kid likes beets, really -- I certainly never ate them until the last few years! But tomatoes? Always loved them. Albeit, we put sugar on them when I was a kid.