Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homestead Eating: Dandelion Cookies!!

I suppose that for the most part, dandelion season is done.  most of the sunny-yellow-flowers-producing plants in my yard are now clouds of delicately ephemeral and amazingly tenacious parachuted seeds.

but its never too late to brag, right?

Dandelion cookies = delicious
they're even better with milk

Step 1: find dandelions that do not grow by exhaust-emitting-monsters frequented roadways nor are ever treated with pesticides and the like.  plant poison = people poison

Step 2: gather a bunch of dandelion flower heads.

Step 3: chop off the green bits, so that you have a half cup (or more!! I like more!) of fluffy yellow and white petals and petal-fuzz

Step 3: mix together the following:
really soft butter (and oil to make up the difference) - 1/2 cup
raw honey - 1/2 cup
2 eggs
1tspoon vanilla
1 cup flour (I used white)
1 cup rolled oats
your dandelion petals

Step 4: drop by spoonfulls onto a cookie sheet and cook in oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes

Step 5: Eat!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Beauty in small blooms

You know how i got things planted rather late this year?  Well, we've got blooms now!  Squash, daisies, peas, calendula, nasturtiums out the wazoo!  And more than that, I've got smiles, love, joy, mosquito bites, and long days blossoming...

What's blooming in your life?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thankful Thursdays: A Gratitude Meditation

Today I am grateful for my students, for seeing learning and listening on the faces of others.
I am grateful for sister souls who share my path.

I am grateful for ripening berries.

I am grateful for steady work and constant inspiration.

I am grateful for home and for a patient husky.
I am grateful for chanting.
I am grateful for risks.
I am grateful for love.

Thank you Beloved.

*Thankful Thursdays are my weekly gratitude practice.  They follow the gratitude meditation which ends my Thursday night Kripalu Yoga class.  A gratitude practice, positive thinking, an abundance mindset.  All of these are practices which increase vitality, invite positive transformation, and allow happiness and fulfillment to exist in the here and now rather than in the someday-when.
(Always cross-posted to my teaching blog)

A Baby orchard!

Last fall, we planted 5 baby trees - 2 pears and 3 varieties of apples - all grafted onto Siberian crabapple rootsock.  We planted late in the fall, on the reccomendation of the local orchardist, and crossed our fingers and said our prayers that the wee tree-life would make it through the winter.

We are pleased to announce that one of the pears and 2 of the apples came back healthy and happy!
The others are still growing below the graft, so we may cultivate some Siberian crabapple as well...

The pear needs a pair to cross pollinate, so this fall we will be getting at least one more baby tree.  But there's a whole area, downslope and towards the northeast of of the garden that we're considering turning into an orchard - more trees and also some berries: huckleberry, service berry, high bush blueberry.
For these kinds of plans, the sooner started the better, as the trees take 5-7 years to bear and the bushes about 5 as well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slaughter Day at Snowbasin: Meat birds

(* this post contains unapologetic description of the killing and the gutting of a chicken.  If this is not your cup of tea, I will not blame you for skipping this post*)

Our super high-tech setup :-)

Dealing death is a sacred undertaking.  The taking of life. We, as a culture, like to focus on only the birth and growth aspects of the circle of life, conveniently ignoring the darker truths of the waning, dying, decomposing half of that circle.  But each death presages rebirth in the symbolism of the circle.  Whether or not you believe in personal reincarnation; any physicist will tell you that the atoms and molecules that make up one life form, upon its death are re-cycled – through digestion or decomposition – into the physical structure of another life form.  Cerridwen, the keeper of the threshold, the cauldron of death and rebirth.  Kali, who dances ecstatic on the bodies of the dead, vanquishes demons and wears a necklace of skulls and a belt of bones.  Shiva, lord of fire and destruction (as well as of yoga and meditation).  All three are manifestations of this archetypal energy, which is so often ignored and demonized in our society today.

Creating life from life: this is a process that our bodies do for us, every single day.  Whether we take in plant life or animal life, it is the transmission of vital energy from one life form to another that sustains us.  I eat meat.  I did not for a long time, in fact (barring one bite of hamburger fed to my unsuspecting 3 year old self by an unscrupulous uncle) I had not eaten red meat before I moved to Alaska.  I did grow up eating fish and fowl.  And then, in high school, I went vegetarian.  Now I eat, relish and savor meats of all kinds (though I believe firmly in eating local, organic, or game meats) and am likely beginning to border on fanatic about bone broths.  There are many reasons for this choice, and I'm sure that I will devote a post to the complexities of the ethical and logistical choices involved.  But this post is shaping up to be lengthy as it is, and I begin to digress. 

I spent last Saturday processing meat birds at Snowbasin.  My dear friends over at Maple&Me have taken their little hillside homestead to the raising-animals-for-food level this year (and while its not a competition, I sometimes can't help envying them the sheer determination which has found them raising livestock in a small forest clearing while I with my lush would-be pastures have yet to invite such an endeavor to fully manifest), and raised 31 Cornish cross chickens, 3 Swedish blue ducks, and 10 mallards.  Between us, our freezers now hold 31 chickens and 3 Swedish ducks.  The mallards still have some growing to do! 

Processing 34 birds is no light undertaking.  In fact, it is heavier work than the word "processing" suggests.  Though the four of us definitely got an assembly line of tasks going, there was little mechanical or superficial about it as 'processing' suggests.  Each bird in turn, we killed by slitting the jugular vein or cutting off the head. I know we each held deep gratitude in our hearts for their passing lives, and often a "thank you, chicken" was heard before the knife cut. Then we left the bird body hanging over the blood bucket, collecting the blood that drained out, until the last muscle and nerve spasms quieted.  It was awe-ing to see the basis of the proverb "like a chicken with its head cut off" in real time.  To watch the intelligence and deeply embodied life energy of the body spend itself in the moments after death, made me realize, over and over again with each bird, just how much wisdom really does reside in the body.  The neural networks, the webs of neurological communication woven into the very flesh of our bodies!  The expression of the life force, of universal energy, of god-energy that is within us!  Not only in our mind's governing direction of thought, but within the tissues: the bones, the blood, the muscles, the nerves!  When the wild flapping of wings and the smaller death twitches were quiet and the blood finished draining out through the open neck into the bucket, the chicken was dunked into nearly boiling water for 10 seconds, lifted out and dunked again for a single second.  The next step was plucking feathers, which we did with a combination of patient and tedious hand plucking, and the mechanical chicken plucker rented for the occasion. 

This is when the body would arrive to me.  For the majority of the slaughter day, I manned the gutting station.  I took my turn now and then at plucking, killing and dunking, but the vast majority of my day was spent among intestines and with my hand inside the body cavity of a bird.  I have new appreciation for the word visceral.  The viscera are the internal organs, particularly the intestines, in a word: the guts.  When we have a 'visceral' reaction to something, it is a reaction that comes from the gut.  And we also frequently have a visceral reaction to encountering the viscera.  New and fascinating research shows that the gut is home to a 'second brain,' to a whole network of neural webs that guides our mood, thoughts, and decision making alongside the brain within our skulls.  When we have a 'gut feeling' about something, it is literally the neural working of the gut, which responds and processes information and both reacts to an effects the hormonal matrix going on at any given time. The heart also has a surprising percentage of neural cells, cells we might call brain cells except for the fact they are a part of the organ we call the heart.  This sheds a whole new light on the idea of mind-body awareness, mind-body modalitites of healing, and mind-body psychotherapy.  It was truly an honor to get so intimate with the guts.  Beautiful and fascinating, if a little macabre. 

To gut a chicken, first cut off the head if it is still attached.  Then insert sharp knife into the knee joint.  Once the main knee tendon is sliced – I believe this would be the ACL in a human – the joint is easy to twist and break the foot off from the end of the drumstick.  Place feet and head in the foot-and-head-bucket for Maple's later use as bait on the trap line.  Then, at the neck end, slice into the skin to uncover the crop and the throat.  Gently detatch the crop from the surrounding fascia that anchors it to neck and trachea and skin using a combination of gentle knife work and patient fingers.  Leaving a tail to the input and the output tubes of the crop, reserve the crop for Maple to blow up into ornamental balls like so:

Clean and inflate crops and hang to dry.

Then detach the trachea from the strong fascia connecting it to the muscles of the neck.  Chicken tracheas are so very cool looking.  Maple saved and dried a few of them too, just because they're really really neat, but unfortunately we've yet to have brilliant idea for their use.

Then turn the chicken around so that it is lying on its back and the butt is facing you.  At the end of the breast bone (where the solar plexus is on a human), pull the skin away from the body gently, so that the knife has a bit of clearance so as not to puncture the guts.  Make an incision here and cut all the way down to the vent.  The vent is the all purpose excretory organ for a chicken, used both for laying eggs and for pooping.  Do chickens pee?  I don't know.  I tend to think that the near-diarrhea consistency of their poop means that they eliminate excess liquid that way instead?  Cut just to the vent, with out puncturing the gut tube that connects it to the intestines.  Then cut a circle – very carefully again to avoid punctures – around the vent.  We actually found it easiest to just cut through (and off) the whole tail – which tended to be very very dirty and lacking in much meat – instead of cutting the vent out of the tail.  Once the vent is free, you essentially have a fully connected system from input at trachea to output at vent that is only connected to the meat-body by fascia.  And so, if you are careful, the entirely of the guts will come out as one fascinating mass.  More often mine came out as two fascinating messes; there is a distinct and function layer of fascia dividing the lower and upper internal organs.  So more often than not, I would get the guts and gizzard in one handful, and then after a bit of finger work getting through the fascia, the heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, and trachea would come out. 

Only a couple of times did I puncture intestinal walls, leading to charming shit oozing out.  They took the birds off food 24 hours in advance, but we're thinking next year 36 or even 48 would be better.  The couple of birds whose entrails were actually empty were a much easier gutting experience logistically.  But we'll see, because we found that the birds, denied of food, started to fill their crops, gizzards, and intestines with dirt instead!

We kept aside a bunch of the livers and a bunch of the hearts:  I plan on making pate with the one, and something fabulous with the other.  The gall bladder is attached to the liver and a BRIGHT GREEN in color.  So crazy cool.  From my recent delving into the organ-meridian theory of traditional Chinese medicine, I know that the gall bladder aids in processing and detoxifying anything the liver is not equipped to deal with – specifically, the bile that the spleen produces allows the body to break down and assimilate fats.  (if I'm remembering correctly.  Probably I should re-do my homework on all of this before i post it on the interwebs where anyone will be able to see it forever)  I carefully removed this from the livers before setting the liver aside for pate. 

The rest of the guts went into the gut bucket, which very quickly became heaven for the zillions of large black flies that apparated when gut bucket appeared.  It was really pretty gross.  The flies and the smell from that bucket round abouts hour 9. 

But for the most part I was totally entranced by the insides of these birds.  I'll admit that by the last two, I was so tired and on that kind of autopilot that just wants the job at hand to be done and over with, that I did not maintain pure awe for them.  Until then however, I marveled.  I found lymph nodes and figured out what they were.  I gained this entirely new appreciation for fascia in general, for the beauty and economy and streamlined brilliant grace of our organs.  Lungs are fascinating.  When deflated in death, they are these squishy pinkish white blobs, and so small, they easily get lost among everything else.  Because of course, the lungs' job is to expand, to hold air, and to transmogrify the gas into a form in which it can enter the bloodstream without causing immediate aneurisms. 
I got this whole new appreciation for what my yoga anatomy teacher means when she says that in shoulderstand, we are giving our internal organs this massage and this rich experience of gravity in new ways.  Inversions yo.  Hips over head.  Bad ass. 

And it is all wrapped in fascia.  All of it.  And then that is wrapped in fascia and its all wrapped together in fascia.  I've been on a fascia kick recently, both in my teaching, my studying, and my practicing of the body.  And holy of holies, getting so supremely hands on with it was amazing.  Elucidating.  Enlightening even.  That same yoga anatomy teacher had the opportunity to work on human cadavers and spoke in awe of what she learned ...  I begin to see exactly what she meant.  Chickens are amazing, and amazing similar – on the very insides – to us.  I gained this whole new level of appreciation why for so many centuries, the butchers were better surgeouns than the physicians.  I know I'd rather have a man who knows a knife and knows muscle, fascia, blood, and guts intimately cut me open or sew me back together than one who knows treatises by Galen, some herbcraft, and which of the four humours is ascendant in my body. 

The eviscerated carcass was then put in a bathtub to cool.

Then we cleaned up the gutting station, flipped the door-on-sawhorses that was our table over.  Bleached the clean side, washed knives and cut up the carcasses, bagging breasts, drumsticks and wings for the freezer.  Some birds we left whole to roast, and all the other rib-spine-breastbone carcasses we froze in batches to make stock.  It was amazing finally seeing the bird we'd held upside down by the feet to kill, the bird  whose brave and beautiful new frontier of guts I'd just intimately explored, become the recongnizable and comforting cuts of meat we see in plastic at the store.

Meat and bone and reserved organs go in the freezer for the coming year.  Guts and feet and heads go in the guts bucket for trap bait and burbot bait.  Crops get blown up for super bad ass Christmas decorations.  Rake up the feathers that are covering the driveway and add feathers and the content of the blood bucket to the compost.  Let it sit a season before adding to the garden.

The Darlin'Man and I came home with a cooler of homegrown meat and a bucket of blood for the compost in repayment for our days work. 

In my mind, I hear the interwebs erupting into questions about 'but wasn't it hard?' "how can you be so blithe about so much death?"

In answer:  Yes.  It was hard.  Its wasn't so much at first.  I've dissected animals before, so that much was not new to me.  And so for the first bunch of hours, for the first 19 chickens it felt actually pretty easy.  The death wasn't bothering me, the guts weren't bothering me, my feet were getting sore and that was about it.  Then we took a break, went to the store to get more freezer bags, iced coffee (it was HOT day and physically taxing work), and ice cream.  When we got back and met the overwhelming scent of warm death, it was suddenly hard.  I tried denying it.  But it wasn't until I let myself feel the weight and experience the nausea that it was ok again.  And then it really was, other than being increasingly tired.  The work of killing and gutting and cutting is hard work, physically taxing, psychically draining.  A couple of times the drain got a little overwhelming or nausea crept back in.  I found myself chanting Shiva mantras with all the gratitude I could muster until the pure awe took back over.

It feels good.  It feels clean to bear the direct karmic weight of the deaths that feed me. It is heavy, but it is the good kind of grounding heavieness, the kind that brings awareness to action, not the kind that wraps awareness in chains.  I know people who have done a slaughter day and decided that really, eating chicken is not worth it.  And I respect that to the moon and back, to the sun and the stars and back again.  I respect that with the exact same kind of honest respect that had me cooking chicken wings for dinner the very next day; eating and enjoying delicious, intimately known meat with wine and vegetables. 

So thank you chickens, thank you Snowbasin, thank you chicken breeding farmers of past and present and those yet to come.  Thank you farmers who grew the grain.  Thank you sun for shining.  Thank you water.  Thank you wire-makers and fence-makers.  Thank you trees and sawmills.  Thank you fire.  Thank you life.  Thank you death. 

**photos courtesy of Justin Maple**

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To call them in to dinner...

Earlier this summer, my Darlin'Man found this lovely, half buried and rusting out in the 'garden' (by which I mean the slope o' brush that will *hopefully next year be a pig pen and then for the decade or two to follow will be the main food production garden).

Its an old, big, heavy, iron triangle.

He showed it to me and at once I fell in love.  I've always dreamt of being the frontiers-wife who calls in her menfolk and childrenfolk to dinner from hayfields and woods.  I'd rather thought a dinner bell would be a bell, but the instant I saw this lovely, I realized just how wrong I'd been.  Obviously, the dinner bell is a triangle.  A loud clanging one at that!  The past week or so, he's been stacking wood while I make dinner after work, and so I've gotten to use it to call him in - bonus: the noise is enough to break through even his really nice headphones :-)

Do you know that feeling that is part present joy and part nostalgia and part future anticipation and part dream satisfaction all rolled into one?  Thats what I feel each time I ring the triangle. 


First raspberries of the season!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thankful Thursdays: A Gratitude Practice

I am thankful for dreaming together.  I'm thankful for the rain.  For grand plans and little steps.

I'm thankful for the hearts innate capacity for healing, for breath and blood and bone.

I'm thankful for friendships.  For family.  For those taking great leaps into new places on bright scary paths.

I'm thankful for flowers blooming, for herbs eaten and dried and growing in pots.  I'm thankful for good greens to eat and meals to share.

I'm thankful for the lives that sustain my own.  I'm thankful for inner listening, for dancing with joy, and for crying my heart out.

*Thankful Thursdays are my weekly gratitude practice.  They follow the gratitude meditation which ends my Thursday night Kripalu Yoga class.  A gratitude practice, positive thinking, an abundance mindset.  All of these are practices which increase vitality, invite positive transformation, and allow happiness and fulfillment to exist in the here and now rather than in the someday-when.
(Always cross-posted to my yoga blog)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CSA Cooking: Tabouleh

Tabouleh is esssentially a peasant food from the middle east.  We got extra parsley in our share this week, and we have the addition of most of my mother's share (some was given to friends!) while she is out of town, and I chose oregano and a mint for our respective herb choices.  Plus a bunch of baby bunching onion scallions gave us this: 

I was going to dry the herbs for winter use.  I really really was.  I took them to the dehydrator and I just couldn't do it.  They smelled so good!

So instead I made a Tabouleh variation.

First, boil/cook bulghur (a form of cracked wheat, essentially).  Leaving it a little chewy is best.  I used twice the water to the dry bulghur, and it was too much water.  It basically cooks like rice, but quicker.

Chop all of your herbs and onions.  The 'real' recipes for this that I have seen call for a couple tablespoons of parsley and a teaspoon of mint with chopped onion and tomato.  Well, I didn't have tomato, but I did have baby onions with long scallions.  And really, this dish ought to be all about the herbs!  I love traditional peasant foods because they are so easy to make variations: they were born out of whatever happened to be available, and so they are very forgiving :-)

So I added oregano, and used up ALL the parsley!

Toss it together in bowl with the (cooled) cooked bulghur, and pour on generous amounts of good olive oil and lemon juice.  Stir it some more so that its all stirred together and coated in juices and yummy.  Salt and pepper if you wish (I do!).

Its good immediately or the next day.  Like tonight when I get home after teaching class...

A few things...

The Compost!

Benign neglect seems to have stood me in good stead for the compost pile so far.  I went out there Sunday to add the bucket of chicken blood that Maple&Me graciously sent us home with.  (fun fact: chicken blood, like chicken shit, is concentratedly high in nitrogen and will burn roots if not composted for a year before using in the garden; and so into the compost the blood went!) I've been meaning to tend the compost for a few weeks now, and figured that as long as I was adding blood to it - which if left in its glorious congealed state hanging out on the top of the pile, would certainly attract any scavengers in the area - I might as well turn it over.  So I spent probably the better part of an hour with a pitch fork.  There was some IMPRESSIVE lambs quarter grown to nearly my height that I tore up and added in, along with some of the grass and fireweed that was choking the edges.  I forked in the sawdust and straw I'd tossed on top of the pile early this spring and late last fall, and broke up the root balls of last years porch grown container garden I'd emptied in when I planted this year's.  And then I turned the compost, aerating and mixing all the good stuff together...  and I was oh-so-pleasantly surprised to find that we are approaching dirt!!!  Like real, actual, full-of-humus, dark loamy lovely earthy DIRT!!!  Soil, I should say. 


Red raspberry leaves, clover, plantain, wild acrtic chamomile (which is such a better name than pineapple weed!)... and some CSA parsley, oh my!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homestead Eating: Beet Kvass ... and other ferments

So, about fermenting.  I found something that I can reliably ferment successfully.  Two things actually, if you count the lacto- pickles.  The key to it, for me is to drown the foodstuff in water and either kefir culture or salt, so that the brine far far far overwhelms the food.  One day I will be able to ferment in a crock, rather than only being able to ferment in a mason jar.  Oh the sweet sense of success!  But I digress.  Beet kvass is bad ass.

Chock full of pro-biotics,  and the fermenting makes the beety amazingness of vitamins and minerals and micro nutrients that much more accessible to the body.  It tastes good too, if you like the sour of real fermentation and the earthiness of beets.  Fortunately I love the latter and am falling in love with the former.

The 4th 2-quart jar of the stuff is currently fermenting on the counter, and I've got about a quart in the fridge.  a 1/4 cup twice a day is recommended as a tonic for the digestive system and the blood.

I use the recipe from Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions," though Nourished Kitchen also has a recipe.  I haven't actually been using salt in mine.  I started the first batch with some whey from kefir (though you could use other whey, or even the clear juice - yes, that's whey - that collects in a container of good live yoghurt), and the subsequent batches with some of the previous batch :-)

In fact, my success with the kvass has been so heartening that the other night I cleaned out my moldy crock, and started a brand new batch of Kimchi (vaguely following Wild Fermentation's recipe) - being liberal with the brine, which I hope will keep the whole thing from imploding into green spores.  So far so good, this morning, the brine above the lid/plate was thickening and starting to smell ferment-y!!!!  I used one half of  (last week's) GINORMOUS head of Napa Cabbage from the CSA.  I have another one from this week, so am anticipating possibly plenty more of the same!

And I threw together a kohlrabi dill pickle ferment: pictures and instructions to come in a CSA Eating post later this week.


Friday, July 5, 2013

CSA Cooking:Rhubarb Pie for the Fourth of July

"As American as apple pie" might as well be "as American as rhubarb pie," since both the apple and the rhubarb originated east of Europe and both were brought to America and then spread westward as pioneers pushed the frontier across the continent.  In fact, in The First Four Years Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to the rhubarb by the then-colloquial name of "pie-plant," which says much for the tart stalk's perception on the American frontier!  While the rhubarb never had the icon of Johnny Appleseed to grow its fame, it does have the distinction of being legislated into a fruit.  Though by a botanical definition the rhubarb classifies as a vegetable, in 1947 a New York State court declared the stalk a fruit on the basis of its common usage as fruit.  Today, for the purposes of food regulations and import/export duties and tariffs, rhubarb is a fruit.

Rhubarb pie is one of my very favorite pies in the world (and thats saying alot, coming from me!).  We've decided that the rhubarb bed will be along 2/3rds of the front of the house: I hope to get the baby plants in the ground before the end of the summer.  And next year, plant well-started strong sunflowers behind the row of rhubarb, right up against the house.

 There's been stalks of rhubarb in the last two CSA shares, so I figured I'd bring a pie to the extended-family 4th o'July gathering.  Cousins are in town from Minnesota!  Newly engaged cousins at that! (extra super bonus points for deciding to propose on a mountain in Alaska, cousin-in-law!)

.... and then between this and that, sleeping in, and cuddling huskies, I didn't make the pie.  Maybe I'll make it tonight, while the man is out of town, playing a concert gig?  Then I can eat the whole thing allll by myself....

So there's no picture of a scrumptious pie, but I've still got more information than you never knew you didn't want to know aout rhubarb!

rhubarb (n.)
late 14c., from Old French rubarbe, from Medieval Latin rheubarbarum, from Greek rha barbaron "foreign rhubarb," from rha "rhubarb" (associated with Rha, ancient Scythian name of the River Volga [along the banks of which rhubarb grew wild per wikipedia]) + barbaron, neuter of barbaros "foreign."

Grown in China and Tibet, it was imported into ancient Europe by way of Russia. Spelling altered in Medieval Latin by association with rheum. European native species so called from 1640s
. (etymonline)
**Fascinating, is it not?

The import of Rhubarb into Europe began as early as the 1300's, but was used primarily medicinally until the widespread availability of sugar in the 1700's.   

"Rhubarb has been used for medical purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years,[2] and appears in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic, which legend attributes to the mythical Shen Nung, the Yan Emperor, but is thought to have been compiled about 2700 years ago" (wiki!)

** The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic.  The title alone holds so much promise, and the books legendary attribution only increases my desire to read it!  Just think what a cultural shift it would encompass if we modern westerners retained a sense of farming as an active engagement with the divine!

"The expense of transportation across Asia caused rhubarb to be highly expensive in medieval Europe, where it was several times the price of other valuable herbs and spices such as cinnamon, opium and saffron. The merchant explorer Marco Polo was therefore much interested to find the plant being grown and harvested in the mountains of Tangut province. A measure of the value set upon rhubarb can be gotten from Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo's report of his embassy in 1403-05 to Timur in Samarkand: "The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb..."." (thank you wikipedia for your information!)

**I find this both fascinating and also slightly hilarious, since the seeds of the rhubarb plant have been a peasant survival food staple in Russia for centuries.

And Finally, the theatre geek in me wants you to know that "In British theatre and early radio drama, the words "rhubarb rhubarb" were repeated for the effect of unintelligible conversation on the background.  This usage lent its title to the 1969 film Rhubarb and its 1980 remake Rhubarb Rhubarb" (wiki!)


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Will be woven

CSA Cooking: one bunch of fresh basil

I arrived at the CSA pickup today after work to the welcome realization that this week's share included fresh basil.  Also new baby turnips and a giant napa cabbage.  I took up my bunch of basil, rubber banded around the stem – the rubber band providing pressure to bruise the stem, breaking just enough cell walls to release the aromatics of basil without compromising its structure.  The lady behind me walked around me to continue down the line of vegetable offerings while I stood there with my nose buried in the basil like it was a bouquet offering from my beloved. 

The sense of smell is so powerful, scent carries sense beyond the smell itself.  Campfire smoke, the smell of rain on dry earth, cookies baking, the unique scent of a loved one.  Each carries with it and evokes its own matrix of memory.

A noseful of fresh basil is long summer afternoons, is summer time gloamings below a spreading maple.  It is the most richly velvety satisfying taste sense mouthfeel in the world.  It is the transcendence of a sunripe still warm heirloom tomato, eaten in careful bites, each bite slathered in pesto.  It is the promise of summer sun shining green on a winter plate.  It is fresh and pungent, bright and deep.  Dried basil is a beautiful underpinning for almost any sauté, stew or soup.  Cooked basil adds piquancy to thai and Italian dishes alike.  But fresh basil is simply sublime.

I stuck my nose in that bouquet of basil and I knew just what I was making for dinner.  I had to go by the grocery store anyway for milk and trashbags I'd neglected to replenish the last time, as well as (always!) for cereal.  And so I stalked the vegetable section, noticing myself first bypassing it joyfully.  In winter I spend most of my grocery shop in the vegetable section, but in summer my table overflows with so fresh so local greens I rarely buy anything except for a special occasion.  This qualified.  I found the tomatoes, and settled upon a plastic clamshell (I know! I know! The unsustainable plastic waste! But really, there are times when bruised tomoatoes or pink-pretending-to-be-red tomatoes just won't do) of on-the-vine beautiful little round red tomatoes.  I brought them home.

I boiled water, salted it, and added pasta.  I poured a bunch of olive oil into a cast iron skillet.  This is not the time for sparing use of olive oil, testing to see how little you can get away with to coat your greens.  This is a time for covering the bottom of a large pan in an eighth inch or more of oil.  So much that you pause for a moment, thinking you've poured too much, it’s a waste, it'll ruin the dish.  It isn't, it won't.  I chopped a large clove of garlic and set it to simmering in the oil.  Washed the tomatoes, finely chopped the basil (stems and all – I certainly was not going to was any of the aromatics) and set it aside.  Then I quartered the tomatoes, placing them in the oil, where they sizzled and threw drops of hot oil out of the pan when their inner juices came in contact.  As all the tomatoes found their way in the skillet, they settled down and began to mull in the oil.  The goal for the tomatoes is the point where they start to go soft, are warm through, the skin just beginning to peel off the edges of the slices. Salt and pepper. About half way there, I added a handful of pine nuts (the last of the bag that has been in my freezer and then in my fridge for probably a few years now, I use them sparingly, but adore them when I do).  As the tomatoes warm and sweat, the juices mix with the oil to creat a light, beautiful, flavor not-quite-sauce.  Fortuitously, my pasta and tomatoes were ready at the same moment.  This is the sort of confluence that I don't plan anymore, I just intuit.  Below my brains understanding of cooking time, in minutes or the distance from a simmer to a boil, my heart knows the rhythm of the kitchen and I find myself puttering around until just the moment when, like today, the tomatoes ought to begin for them to finish at the same moment as the pasta.  If you don't have this pulse yet, not to worry.  One or the other can always be taken off the heat.  I scooped the pasta into the skillet, letting each scoop drain of excess water as it hung in the hair above the pot.  Then turned off the heat and mixed the pasta with the tomatoes, pine nuts, and the lovely sauciness in the pan.  The last step is to mix in the chopped basil, letting the warmth of the pasta begin to wilt it, releasing its oils to our tastebuds, but retaining that fresh beautiful incomparable flavor. 

Served under a scattering of parmesean cheese with chianti on the porch in the rain clean air, there was no time to take a picture.