Tuesday, May 26, 2015

showers of flowers

Well, not flowers, exactly, but the leaves of flowers, because if you let them go long enough they will make flowers, as most beings in the wild will do, on their own, or in couples at least. But wait, I’m really talking about herbs – grasses and plants that are still in their baby stages just now, beginning their push toward flowering and procreation.
But really?  I’m talking about flavor, and the insanely simple but intense pleasure of walking out into the garden in the late afternoon to gather an assortment of whatever is coming up right now to shower over your supper. In this yard that would be spiky chives (some with fat purple buds already) and flat-leaved garlic chives, the rough leaves of lemon balm, purple budlets of mint, spears of Egyptian (Walking) onion thickened in the middle with their incipient babies, that when cut into unfurl into new onion shoots (how amazing).
And then you need to put your little collection down somewhere and get your garden knife in order to dig out a spear of green (immature) garlic, and gather everything up again and go on to pluck a sprig of lovage, pinch off some tarragon, then don’t forget some soft oregano leaves. Oops, back to the other side of the garden where you forgot the sour sorrel (pick off those seed-heads while you’re there), the cilantro just coming up, a feathery dill... (We would not be having those babies so early, nor be forming those seed-heads if not for that week of heavenly hot weather we had a few back.)
Whoa, that is quite the little salad you have there and you haven’t even got to the lettuce. Or the spinach. Or the baby chard or kale; nor need you get to these larger, more traditional leaves – keep just the explosively flavorful ones, put them into cold water to crisp and stay fresh for supper in half an hour or so, and then just separate them into separate leaves.
I have been saying for a while now that I’m really tired of cooking. Shhhh, I would say – don’t tell my readers. But it was true. Everything was old – I think I even mentioned here how tired I was of root vegetables and hunks of meat.
But now it’s spring nigh unto summer and we don’t have to like cooking, we could subsist on each successive seasonal food with no or just the tiniest bit of preparation AND a shower of garden herbs. The little bunch of broccoli raab I bought  from... who... at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday? I simply steamed it and then tossed it in a bit of good olive oil I’d heated with half a stalk of my green garlic and some hot pepper flakes. We ate that with a small slab of Alaskan salmon I’d gotten from the Co-op and grilled and showered with the herbs. Oh, and there were small grilled/baked potatoes from Heleba’s, too.
Lunch had been a slice of grained and seeded sourdough from the French baker next to Radical Roots at the Farmers’ Market, slathered with the pricey butter from the new Jersey Girls vendor, made at their farm in Chester, and some of their Quark, a simple farm cheese, drizzled with local raw honey from my friend, Julie, and coarsely ground pepper.  That last from Penzeys. Even that benefitted from the shower of power herbs and provided a phenomenal gustatory satisfaction.
That bread. That butter. Those tiny green things. So simple, so good!
Now I’m contemplating doing justice to the bunch of sturdy, red-veined beet greens with the tiny beets still attached. Steaming, of course. Quark does seem to enter here as well, and coarse pepper, too. Oh my yum. But I can’t forget the first sugar snap peas I got from Radical Roots, either. Perhaps they will be eaten raw along with another slice of that bread and butter. And a strew of herbs.
See? Not really cooking, just fiddling, working with the cleanest and most local of foods using the simplest of techniques.
This is the perfect time of year.
Oh, a recipe? Only if you insist – a suggestion recipe

Hot Rice to Awaken the Flavors
in Chicken Salad

Make some rice. For plain white rice bring 2 cups of water to the boil, salt it – 1 teaspoon, stir in 1 cup of rice, turn the heat to low, cover, barely simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. At the end of the 20 minutes either serve, or take off the cover, cover the pan with a towel, put the cover back on. That will absorb the extra moisture and keep the rice hot.
For the chicken salad: To 2 cups of diced chicken, add half a dozen coarsely chopped black Moroccan oil-cured olives. Then add the following in small dice: 1 tablespoon preserved lemon (you may use fresh lemon zest and a bit of juice), 3 French Breakfast radishes (or any radish), a couple of cornichon, and, say, 3 tablespoons onion. Add chopped tarragon and lovage, with maybe some dill; then mix it all up with, say, ½ cup olive oil and 2 or 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. After the flavors have time to mingle, serve it over the hot rice.
But wait! That’s not all: Over all, sprinkle chopped cilantro and lemon balm and rings of Egyptian onion. The heat of the rice wakes up the many tastes in this little dinner so that every bite is a study in contrasts and comfort. Drizzle with a little more olive oil over the top; course grinds of salt and pepper, too.

You will, of course, not go out and buy herbs but use the ones that grow in your own garden. Perhaps you’ll even have some basil starts. I haven’t mentioned basil because I don’t have any yet.

Grow some herbs and make some green showers of your own. Lovage, cilantro, arugula, dill, tarragon, lemon balm, sorrel, basil, parsley, mint, thyme... the list never ends. Mix and match. And when the flowers come on? Eat them, too. And then plant some more. It’s all good! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Oh, the exquisite, primal beginnings of this perfect time when suddenly the garden takes pattern, given form by clumps of daff and tulips, and the hostas strengthen into shape and the royalty crab takes on a burgundy shade scattering tiny cups of flowers; and the whistle and shriek and chirp and squeegee of birds, and the chilly edge to the morning warmth, and the faint perfume of fecundity on your breath. All birth and beginnings.
And that holy trinity of morels, ramps, and fiddleheads, about which I’ve written so often over the years that I no longer worry that I crib from myself – my old readers will read as if anew and my young ones won’t have read the original.
This reminds me of the first time I succeeded in finding fiddleheads. My daughter Zoe was tiny, about two years old, and I had strung a blanket over the piano bench for her to play tent in while I snatched five minutes here and there to read a book. She may have had a friend over for a while with whom to play house. It was drizzling and dreary, and finally, going stir-crazy, we put on our boots and slickers and went out into the woods anyway.
(Many years later, approximately 25, she wrote a song with these lyrics,
“Hike up your bootstraps, Little Dove
cause we’re going on a walk today.
Buckle up your yellow slicker,
cause we’re gonna walk a long, long way.” 
I like to think that the baby memory stuck and transformed itself into something she could mindfully remember.)
Once outside we found that the rain was soft and the watery light filtered the landscape into gentle secrecy, making it gorgeous for us.
I had only read about fiddleheads before that and had the amateur’s healthy fear of poisoning ourselves by eating the wrong... fern for gawd’s sake. Still, in desperation, I munched and tasted, until I realized that the copper-sheathed curlicues barely unfurling from the mother corm were obviously the edible ones. And we picked...
Picking fiddleheads is mesmerizing, prying the coppery curls up and snapping them off until your bag is full and it is time to go. Oh, just one more, and one more...
There were years in between when the slightest intimation of foraging anything was enough to elicit the cry “Motherrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” but inevitably came the day when she showed up late to my house because she’d stopped to pick some fiddleheads on the way. All by her ownself. And last week she and her person, Jesse, himself a fisher and avid forager, showed up with fiddleheads AND ramps, and Jesse made a fiddlehead salad for Sundays at 5 at the beach, and this is how he did it. I think.
Fiddlehead Salad
Make a vinaigrette by shaking together in a small jar 2 smashed and peeled cloves of garlic, the juice and zest of 1 lime, and 1/3 to ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add ½ teaspoon of sea salt. Maybe some pepper. Put the lid on and shake it up.
Wash about a quart of fiddleheads repeatedly under a hose sprayer outside in the sunshine until the copper husks have completely disappeared (they will clog up a sink quicker’n scat). Bring a pot of water to the boil, salt it adequately with a fistful of salt and when it is boiling dump in the fiddleheads and bring them back to the boil and cook them for only a minute or two. Strain them and plunge into cold water, and then drain.
Slice 3 ramps, both bulb and green leaves, and warm in some olive oil over low heat for a few minutes until slightly softened. Add to the fiddleheads in a big bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette – to taste – and eat’em up. (I think he squeezed half a lemon over this finished salad.)
Jesse says, “I like simple food, simple preparations, where you can taste the real food itself.”
You could, no doubt, boil up some pasta, particularly orecchiette, the little ears, and toss them in with the fiddles, and that would, no doubt, be even better.
Or, you could make one of the more delicious foods you will ever eat, a
Fiddlehead and Ramp Quiche
Make a single 9 inch crust – I gave a recipe in the 4/14 column – and line a pie plate with it.
The formula for any kind of custard is 1 egg +1 yolk + 1 cup whole milk or mixture of milk and half and half. I used unpasteurized whole milk, and it was very creamy. I also added an extra yolk to help with that extra 1/2 cup of milk. The finished quiche had that wonderful custard that separates into soft rectangles of goodness. That has a lot to do with the egg/milk quality plus the regulation of temperature.
Bring the oven to 450°
  • 1 dozen ramps OR 1 large shallot or 1 dozen scallions + 2 cloves of garlic
  • butter and olive oil
  • 2 ½ cups cleaned fiddleheads
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (or more)
  • ¾ cup sliced spicy sausage, or crumbled bulk, cooked rare
  • 1 large egg + 2 yolks
  • 1 ½ cups creamy milk
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • grating of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a sauté pan, over low heat, sauté the ramps or scallions and garlic in butter and olive oil until limp and slightly golden. Add a little water or white wine if they’re browning too fast and aren’t getting soft fast enough. Remove from heat and let cool a bit.
When the pot of water is boiling dump in the fiddleheads, partially cover, bring back to the boil and boil for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and spray with cold water. Shake the colander to get any excess water off, then let drain over the sink until ready to use.
Whisk the eggs together so they are well combined but not frothy, then whisk in the milk, salt, and nutmeg.
Scatter the cheese over the bottom of the pie crust, spread the ramps or onion mixture evenly over the cheese, scatter the sausage and then the fiddleheads over that, then pour over the milk/egg mixture.
Bake at 450° for 10 minutes; then turn the oven down to 325° and bake for another 20 minutes to half an hour. A silver knife will slide in and out cleanly when done.

Primavera. What does it really mean? Well, just spring in some romance languages. But it has shades of primate and primacy and certainly primitive. Primitive and romantic, as in a blanket in a meadow, as in crouching along tearing sweets from the wild soil. 

Friday, May 01, 2015


Patience, readers, long overdue realization that i need to do some work on this blog so... i'm in the process. Under construction... Thanks...