Tuesday, November 24, 2015

numinous sproots

little Dakity brings her 3 year old Irish Jack Russell intensity to the sere woods of this autumn

This sere stick season leads up to my favorite holiday, at least in part because Thanksgiving has been the only one devoid of the threat of gifting, that horrendous word for shopping until dropping. But more than that it is the gathering aspect of it, of family and friends, in the kitchens and around the tables, and I won’t mention the television and game aspect, although that’s part of it too, or it was. People still do gather, right? And cook? And feast?
Well that’s the thing – gardening is about done so it’s time to think of feasting, at least until the light starts coming back again. For now, I’m still picking sorrel and mint and swiss chard and kale, and the occasional dig yields crisp Jerusalem artichokes. But the onerous fall chores are pretty much done. The leaves are ground up and in the compost along with Ruth Ann’s and Rob’s sheep poop and the occasional rodent that has given new meaning to Dakity’s days. Exhilarated, she backs out of her hole at my call, ears alert, paws muddy. Marc has made trellises for me that will give new life to the Nimtz roses when the ground warms up next June. Fingers crossed. The garlic is planted and maybe I even have time to get some spring bulbs in before the ground freezes.
But all is not well in the world. Zoe sat right here the other day and asked me if I didn’t sense a certain element of doomsday in the air. And of course there is, what with Paris hysteria, the ignoring of other even more severe tragedies, the Big Lies certain politicians propagate to a massively gullible populace, and its mood of selfishness and NIMBYism. Isis. Trump. Ben Carson. Syria. Refugees. The world is insane. But it always has been and we always, with some halts, keep on going.
I responded that I was glad she was above DC, which is kind of like I’m glad she is above the Mason-Dixon line, or maybe the target area. Somehow it seems like going north would be safer than going south when it becomes necessary to get up from the supper table and move on up or down the highway. Because, I mean, fewer of us would head toward even more cold.
Or maybe what I really mean is that things get simpler the colder it gets. Heat brings all kinds of complications. I mean, self-rising flour? Something slightly indecent sounding about that, isn’t there? Self-rising, indeed! Too lazy to put some baking powder or soda into the bowl with the flour, are you? Then get on down south, Dear. Make some of those biscuits out of that lily-white, silken-soft, self-rising flour. Be sure to put on your frilly apron while you’re at it.
Funny, isn’t it, how when faced with doomsday the mind can just so easily swing back to food. ‘What are we going to find to eat,’ is the sentiment, because one does need to eat, doesn’t one. And someone needs to be figuring that out, the other way is hunger, pure, unsolicited starvation. How do you think we’ve survived all these years if not because someone took it upon themselves to think about feeding everybody. Pilar comes to mind, in the cave, in the mountains of ... Spain, wasn’t it? We cook on a heated rock or stone if need be. Because isn’t it much pleasanter to cook a meal than build a bomb; to sustain by life rather than by death?
In light of troubles in the world, and especially at this time of year you wonder about your own gluttony – the extravagance of being able to think about what specialities you are going to contribute to the Thanksgiving table, whether Jasmine will really find the good kind of oysters (I have been shocked at the sudden awfulness of those I used to buy in little pull-top cans at grocery store fish departments), if Nathan will get the consistency of the dressing right – when there are so many people in the world who are hungry, who die of hunger, or who are addicted to fast food, or who have no kitchen. No bowl. No chance.
Nevertheless, we go on, we incorporate changes, we help where we can. It is not the first year I haven’t done Thanksgiving in my kitchen, no, not at all, but it is the first time my daughter and her partner, Jesse, are doing it for the family, in their own house! Jesse’s baking a ham, a Wallingford Locker one, of course, and he’s preparing squash and mashed potatoes.  Zoe will make her traditional scalloped oysters (these are ordered from Green Mountain Fresh, which guarantees they will be the good ones). Me, I’m bringing the Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart with crème fraiche, a lovely Brussels sprouts casserole, and... whatever else seems to need to be done. Zoe will make another pie, maybe apple, and maybe P2 will bring the requisite green bean casserole. It will be delicious. There will be mountainous leftovers. We will eat for a week.
The idea for those Brussels Sprouts in béchamel came from a recipe Ruth Reichl tweeted recently. It was a cauliflower casserole that I adapted to Brussels sprouts because that’s what I had. Next day Carol Tashie posted a similar recipe on her Radical Roots Facebook Page. Of course I used Radical Roots Brussels Sprouts. The ham trimmings came from a Plew Farm smoked jowl that I keep in the freezer and shave off what I need. It was sweet creamy Larson’s unpasturized milk that I used, and though Ruth called for a different kind of cheese, the raclette I’d gotten at Ooh La La bakery was perfect. The hard cheese was a Champlain Valley Tomme from Bridport Creamery. Everything available at the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market.  Last minute shoppers note that there’ll be one more market before Thanksgiving on Wednesday from 3 to 6 at the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center. Remember that who controls the food supply controls the people. Buy local!

Ruth called her recipe Cauliflower a la Joe Beef. I think hers is the slightly easier one and why mess with perfection.  Nevertheless I’m calling mine,
Radical Brussels Sproots
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
To make the sauce, combine 1 1/2 cups of milk with a bay leaf, a chopped clove of garlic, 1/4 cup ham or prosciutto trimmings and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
Make a béchamel by melting 3 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooking, whisking, for a minute or so. Slowly add the milk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue until it’s thick, then stir in a quarter cup of grated raclette and a quarter cup of grated hard cheese. Add salt and pepper and keep warm.

Salt a large pot of water, bring it to a boil and toss in a pound or so of trimmed Brussels Sprouts. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain.

Toss the sprouts with the cheese sauce, pour it into a casserole dish and scatter a mixture of grated cheese and bread crumbs over the top. Bake for about 20 minutes until bubbling and golden.
I have to say every beautiful step of making and eating this dish is totally satisfying. Leo and I had it for supper last week. With just a tiny green salad and homemade bread. Absolutely numinous.  
Numinous is a puzzling word, having nothing to do with numbers but denoting, for some reason, the spiritual. It comes from the Latin word  nūmen, which means ‘nod’, in a divine way I guess, and it might be what you feel when you are surrounded by trees and the mysteries of wildlife and the workings of your own legs as you climb a path through them. I think that’s what keeps you going in stressful and tragic times. We continue to use our bodies, to bring new souls into the world, and to eat. It’s what we do. Have a wonderful and numinous Thanksgiving!


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