Monthly Archive for July 2009
That platter you see there marks my very first shrimp boil. First time making a shrimp boil, first time eating one. Even so, a shrimp boil was one of those recipes that I had a strong connection to before I’d even tried it. Do you know those recipes? You can just picture it, taste it, feel yourself hovering over the pot. This recipe conjured visions of bare, sandy feet and tanned, happy faces and rolled up sleeves and newpapered table tops littered with cobs stripped of their kernels and pink shrimp shells. Cold beers would be plentiful, to wash it all down, and each of the many people around the table would clutch paper napkins, swiping away the dribbles on their chins from time to time. An old radio would be tuned to the oldies channel and salt water would hang in the air.
By the time I got done day dreaming about the recipe, I practically owned a little cottage on Cape Cod. I could sail with my eyes closed. I’d spent my childhood sporting clamdiggers and feasting on lobster rolls.
In reality, of course, none of these things are true. In reality, as I said, I’d never eaten nor made a shrimp boil.
This summer, I seem to be just a step behind when it comes to the coming’s and going’s of seasonal produce. I’m still craving asparagus, for instance, even though the bundles of spears danced out of season weeks ago. And I’ve got some lovely rhubarb recipes that will have to remain dog-earred until next spring, when those sassy stalks reappear. Recently, I posted a salad studded with freshly-shelled peas, just as early summer was sliding into mid-summer, pushing peas out the door. [For the record, though, peas were back at the Wicker Park Farmers' Market this weekend!] I’m afraid that my timing is off again here, with today’s recipe—a quick bread dotted with tart cherries.
Tart cherries (any cherries, for that matter) were nowhere to be seen as I walked through the market on Sunday morning, with Kevin and my mom (!). They slip in and out of season in a flash, which is not a bad plan, on their part—as it just leaves us wanting more. But maybe you’ve been smart enough to squirrel away a pint or two in your freezer. Or, better yet, maybe the cherries are still gracing the markets where you live (for all I know, they could still be around here too, especially at the larger markets like Green City). Or maybe you’ll be good enough to save this recipe for the next time cherry season rolls around. Or, hey I know!, maybe you’ll think of just the fruit to stand in for the cherries.
Kevin’s always been here on this site—the man behind the camera, at times; the guy proofreading before the thrilling moment when I press “Publish”; a character in the stories; and, nearly always, at the table to eat the food that I post about. But in Napa, over dinner one night, I suggested a jointly-authored post. To my surprise, he said yes. (Actually he said he thought that, hundreds of posts in, I’d never ask.) So here we are, the two of us, each with our take on our time in wine country—which we split between the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
It’s a conundrum, that’s what it is. Ever since getting back from our wine country redezvous (say that ten times fast), I’ve been hell-bent on cooking and baking. California’s produce enticed me at every turn: in farm stands dotting the shoulder of the roads that snaked through vineyards; on the plates at incredible restaurants; hanging from the trees that innocently adorned people’s front yards (Can you imagine: a lime tree in your yard? I can’t.). It was inspiring—which has it’s upsides, namely the celebration of summer produce that’s been happening in my kitchen.
But it’s got its downsides too. I’ve got a vacation to tell you about! I’ve got a show and tell to conduct! But the kitchen is calling and I can’t seem to sit down long enough to put together a post that does wine country justice.
As I made this salad, I remembered something I didn’t realize I had forgotten. Sitting cross-legged, a bowl of shell peas in my lap, the memory came whooshing back to me, slipping over me and settling in like an old, worn-in sweatshirt: you might forget it’s stuffed in the corner of your closet, but once you find it, the comfort is undeniable. You know, you just know, that you should take it out more often—wear it, appreciate it, savor it.
As I unzipped those peas, splitting open the pods, running my thumb along the pods’ spines, releasing the tiny peas one by one, I recalled the slow plink, ping, plink that a different bowl of peas used to make as they hit the emptied out Cool Whip container my grandma handed me when I was a girl, sitting on her back porch, just before dinner. I could smell the pork chops, bone-in, on the grill, and could hear my grandpa’s gentle whistle, threading together a tune as he flipped the chops with a long, wood-handled spatula, and the sizzle each chop sent up when it hit the grill’s grates. I could see the fireflies flickering around the garden—lush and full to the bursting. It’s the same garden that produced those peas; they grew in a manner that made the child-size me think of the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk. I could feel the first licks of a cool breeze creeping up off Lake Superior. I could appreciate the stillness, the kind only found in tiny towns.
[I’m in Napa, but I put this post together in advance. If we can’t all sip crisp whites and spicy reds together, I’m hoping this is the next best thing.]
Some recipes just have your number. Call it destiny, or maybe love at first read. But, before you’ve even made the recipe, you just know. This recipe—for sweet cherry compote—was one of them. It has all the elements of my kind of recipe: a project (cherry pitting); a tranformation (rendering cherries from firm globes to slouching folds); color (a deep, seductive ruby—one that flirts, even, with purple); and a marriage of flavors that is equal parts sweet, salty and sour. Like I said, it was over before it began.
Speaking of destiny: this compote always had one destiny and one alone—a turkey sandwich. Which is pretty shocking for a girl who, not so very long ago, simply could not abide the presence of fruit on her sandwich. Be it banana-topped peanut butter, pear-threaded grilled cheese, or cranberry sauce over thick slices of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, my answer would be, emphatically, no thank you. Maybe even just a firm “no,” dispensing with the “thank you.” Heck, I didn’t even much like pb&j as a kid (the jelly, of course, being the problem).
Oh, dear. It seems I’ve got a serious case of ants in my pants. Or let’s call it wanderlust, maybe. Yes, that’s better—more sophisticated, altogether grown up. Wanderlust. Whatever you call it, I’ve got it. It all started in Boulder. We were there last weekend for a wedding and, though I’d been there once before, the town thoroughly charmed me.
From the lively earthiness unfolding all day long on Pearl Street to the foothills that ring the town—punctuated by flat sheets of rock, jutting up into the sky (flatirons); from the stalls after stalls at the Saturday morning farmers’ market to the never ending games of croquet in my friends’ childhood backyards; from a serious commitment to beers to the little girl in the park asking her mom where she could compost the paper cup in her hands: it was my kind of town. I could get used to this, I thought.
The end of a long holiday weekend, I find, inspires a renewed resolve in the diet realm. Where I was slathering a brat with mustard and reaching for another frosty beer just a day or two ago, I am now yearning for leafy greens and sparkling water. The Fourth of July, it seems, breeds an earnest in me. For a couple of days, that is.
And this bread is just the post-holiday thing, ready to chase away any over-indulgences of the weekend past. Chalk full of whole grains, super-powered flaxseed, and tangy yogurt, this bread is about as earnest as it gets. Sure it’s got a sweetness, but it’s only a whisper. The main ingredient of this bread is a vegetable, for pete’s sake!
I associate some holidays with certain people, particular places—finely wrought traditions accumulated over the years. But not the Fourth of July. I’ve spent that holiday in a number of places and with various casts of characters. Instead, my associations of the holiday run more sensory: the heat, the splashes of fireworks in the night sky, the oldies that play on the radio, the hiss of sparklers. Most of all, though, it’s the smell: the scent of fizzled out firecrackers mixed with the aroma of so many smoking Weber grills. And, of course, the foods that pass over the grill, developing a char, taking on a smoke and feeding a hunger built up after a day spent in the sun.
True to form, we’ll be doing something new this Fourth of July too. We’re heading to Boulder, for a wedding celebration of sorts for our friends Emily and Jon (who, as you might recall, were actually married months ago, but, hey, who’s counting?). After that, we’ll come back for a short week before hitting the road (er, air) again—Napa bound (wine country recommendations, anyone?).