Friday, June 26, 2009

The Great A-Scape

Lawd a-mercy, things looked dicey there for a minute, but I finished my first class yesterday.  Summer has solstice-d, and I must've missed the dove clutching an olive branch in its beak, but the rain has stopped!  In short, things is looking up. I can't wait to attend to all the things I've been neglecting for the past few weeks, like my apartment (the bathroom is starting to attract mycologists), my cat (I just brushed a kitten's-worth of fur from her shedding coat), and of course, the kitchen.  Holler!

I made this loosey-goosey soup last week after my first farmers market trip.  And none too soon – another day without produce and I would've been pushing scurvy.  It's great for those wet spring days that are supposed to happen in, say, April, not late June. I'm just sayin'.  Anyway, spring veggies, some fresh herbs, an aromatic, maybe some white wine, and you're done.  The scapes, garlic in its young, spindly stage, are great.  They reached a near-celebrity status last year after this New York Times article, and well, once it's cool in the Times, it must not be cool anymore, right?  Well, I'd like to believe that vegetables transcend that hipster mentality.  Cut up, the taste and texture is rather like fresh green beens with a kiss of garlic. Trendy or no, what's not to like? 

Spring Vegetable Soup

6 cups water, vegetable stock, or combination

olive oil for saute

1/4 cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)

1 shallot, cut into rings

2 garlic scapes, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 carrot, sliced diagonally into ovals

stems from a bunch of swiss chard, chopped

a few asparagus stalks, scut into 1-inch lengths (reserve a few stalks for garnish)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

a combination of a couple fresh herbs, mix 'n' match 'n' chop – parsley, thyme, lavender, rosemary... any suggestions?

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stock pot.  Add the shallots and cook until just softened.  Add the rest of the veggies and cook until they brighten up and soften (poke or taste; the cook time will depend on the veggies you use).  Add the wine, stir, and cook for a couple minutes while some of the wine evaporates.  Add the water and/or stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer.  Halfway through the simmer (probably about ten minutes), add your fresh herbs. Simmer until the soup is fragrant and the veggies are softened but not mush – twenty minutes or less.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a garnish of asparagus spears and a pinch of the freshly chopped herbs. Serves 4-6.

Friday, June 19, 2009

June Is Bustin' Out

It's a little-known fact that June marks the beginning of monsoon season in New England. Or at least that's what this week of relentless rainfall would have me believe. It is also, after seven solid months of sweaty-palmed anticipation, the beginning of farmers' market season! The one behind my apartment has just opened; others have been kickin' for a couple weeks. Check out the Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets for more days and locations. My overtired, overworked body was buoyed at the mere site of all the offerings. Paper-writing was just going to have to go on hold for the day. You can hardly pay me enough to go out and buy jeans, shoes... but this is a place where I'll gladly empty out my wallet week after week. I bought tons of veggies, of course, and some potted plants and herbs (to help supplement the ones that bit it as seeds under my watch), and what I'd really been holding out for: strawberries. Their time with us is terribly fleeting, and I'll snatching 'em up by the quart for as long as they're around. Half of this week's were gobbled up plain, as tiny, plump, juicy, impossibly sweet little bursts of awesome in my mouth. The rest went into this tart, one that I've been fantasizing about making for an embarassingly long time. Almond meal makes for a really moist pastry – not as flaky and buttery as one might want in a tart shell, but I think the flavor more than makes up for the difference. And if you have and fresh basil around for garnish, all the better – one whiff is like pure, concentrated essence of summer.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart 

For the tart shell:

½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour (or pastry flour. Or good ol' all-purp)

½ cup almond meal

½ cup Earth Balance

¼ cup confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pie or tart pan. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and almond meal until you get a crumbly mixture. Press the mixture into the pan, pushing along the seam of the pan so the mixture creeps up the sides. Bake for twenty minutes, or until just browned (I got away without using pie weights, but if your shell starts to bubble up, throw something lightly weighted on it to hold it down). Set it aside and let it cool while you make the filling.

For the filling:

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed, and thinly sliced (I didn't bother to hull mine, since the berries were so tiny)

2 stalks rhubarb, washed and finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons sugar

juice from one lemon

3 tablespoons flour

In a medium saucepan, gently heat the lemon juice over low heat. Add the strawberries and rhubarb and cook gently, until the rhubarb is just softened and the strawberries start to release their juices. Stir in the sugar, taste and add more if it's still quite tart. Stir in the flour one tablespoon at a time and let the mixture thicken for a minute. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake for about five to seven minutes, or until the mixture is pretty well firm in the shell. Garnish with ribbons of fresh basil. Serves 6.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vegetarians: Uncle Sam-Approved!

This is one of those academic breakthroughs that scholars dream about. It's also one of those revelations that rabble-rousers scour the internet trying to find. Very briefly: I'm researching the history of the American home garden for a class - American Agricultural History. There's no approaching this topic without examining the victory gardens of the World Wars. Victory gardens literally sprung up at the behest of government propaganda - boatloads of it. And by gum if it didn't work - by 1918, over 5 million Americans were "earning the right to stay home" by producing and canning vast amounts of their own food. Um, wait. So the government of a century ago implored us to be producers, not consumers, in the brink of global terror and impending war. Fast forward to the last months of 2001, and we're being implored to shop from September 12th until ever-after. Can you imagine the state of the nation's, the world's economy, if we'd again taken to the soil and not sales rack (or dare I say the sub-prime mortgage)? 

Mind blow. 

Anyway, back to vegetables. For my research, I got my hands on a copy of the original gangsta of victory gardening, the government-issued tome The War Garden Victorious. I literally threw my fist in the air oi-punk style when I read this quote:
There is need for vegetable food. The body is kept in better condition  if it does not depend too largely on a meat diet (119).
BOO-yah! There you have it, kids. Next time your mom/boyfriend/coworker (not autobiographical, ahem) bugs you about how imperative meat is to your survival,  just turn them to this non-scientifically based early 20th-century factoid. Wait, that came out wrong. But you get the idea. A plant based diet is good for you. Though to remind the government it's old opinion would be like reminding your friend about that drunken night when she peed in the sink - they'd both get really embarrassed and try to deny it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

5 Ingredients+10 Minutes = A Meal

An equation even I can wrap my harried brain around. You know you're too busy when hygiene becomes an afterthought and pizza becomes a food group. I don't have time to miss flossing, but my craptacular diet since starting this class and a second job is starting to catch up to me. Somewhere in the melee I had the time to whip up this salad. The flavors here are uncomplicated, cliche even, but delicious. This truth was only amplified by the fact that it was two days before I had time to eat it. And I guarantee it would be worlds better if I'd used dried rather than canned beans. Oh well. I'll try it the right way in a few weeks. Summer school is the pits; can't wait for the end of June... 

The Basic Bean Salad
24-32 oz any ol' beans - navy, pinto, kidney, chickpeas, black beans...
1 shallot, minced
juice from one lemon
a handful of fresh parsley, minced
pine nuts for garnish

Drain the beans and rinse them in a colander. Combine the beans, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a bowl, tossing gently to coat. Let it sit for an hour (or 48) while you run to class, the post office, Philly, whatever. Just before serving, stir in the parsley and top with toasted pine nuts. Serve as is, over rice or grains, or salad greens. Serves 6.