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! 

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