This week we got: a small red cabbage, a cucumber, a small redleaf lettuce, onion, gold potatoes, tomatoes big and small, golden zucchini, chard, a green bell pepper, and basil. So pretty!
I also bought two pints of blueberries and two different kinds of sugar plums (half of which promptly burst in the bag on my produce-laden walk home). We also bought an ENORMOUS amount of pickling cucumbers, green beans, and carrots.
I knew the weekend would be hectic for me, so on Wednesday my neighbor and I got busy putting things away for the week. We turned the basil into pesto right away, and shredded the outer cabbage leaves for salad purposes. My neighbor had some long beans left over from the previous week, so we revisited the sesame beans recipe and added the smaller zucchini, one of the big tomatoes, and one of the carrots from the pickling supply. They certainly looked cheerful in the wok and on top of some peanut-sauced noodles.
Oh, did I mention there were the tiniest adorable artichokes at the market? We planned to buy four but they gave us two extra. They are hanging out in a steam bath with butter, lemon, and cognac. Tied with a string! The vegetables are so cute this week.
The three bunches of pickling carrots we bought had ENORMOUS leafy tops, as usual, and we felt that we had quite enough carrot foliage stuffed into our stock bags, so we sorted out the tenderer leaves from the bunch and made carrot pesto. Same basic deal as basil pesto–parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts. The result was pretty tasty–I mean, oil and cheese, right?–but bright and carroty, with a bit of a bite from the fresh garlic and lemon juice we added.
The next day, my cousin and cousin-in-law dropped in on their way back to Pittsburgh. As much as I like to cook with friends and family, when folks come in from out of town I really like to go out and eat–to walk from work or home to any of the great bars, restaurants, cafes, and gelaterias that make this city such a pleasure to live and work in. So we ate all kinds of meals that I didn’t cook, including an enormous four course meal at Han Dynasty that gave me leftovers for days. (I thought they’d reduce their portions for West Philly’s Dining Days, but they did not.)
My cousins headed out on Friday, dropping me off at a friend’s wedding preparations and rehearsal on their way. That day and the next was a whirlwind, with a loving community of friends and family who basically built a gorgeous outdoor wedding from scratch. I didn’t have to cook for that, either, although I did spend a lot of time in the venue’s kitchen.
Normally, after a weekend like that, I’d need a day to recover and cower in my home alone. But Sunday had been scheduled for weeks for a Canstravaganza, when my neighbor and our friend (the one with chickens!) get together to make gallons of jam and pickles. This weekend, the girls had already gotten started jamming on Saturday–I didn’t mind missing this, since I’m not big on jam–but they had one more batch of fruit they wanted to cook Sunday, a gooseberry-blueberry mix with a splash of vinegar for tartness. We then packed a bunch of jars with vegetables, spooned spices into each of them, and poured brine from one big batch into each. We made gherkin spears, bread and butter slices, hot sriracha carrots, and savory-spicy green beans.
They look great. The sad thing about canning, though, is that we won’t know what they taste like for weeks or months. Both my cooking cohorts own canning kits, so we were able to safely seal them up for storage. And good pickles are worth storing–opening a jar of spicy green beans or sweet pickles in the dead of winter is such a pleasure, a way to revisit summer’s bounty. My gentleman friend sent me a link to a line from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby that says as much: “Making preserves is an art of stalling time, of making the fruit that is so evanescent last indefinitely. . . . Maybe preserves are where a historian’s urges meet a cook’s capacities.”
I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a lot of work; we were at it for about six hours. We don’t can often enough for the steps to come easily–you can’t just wing it, as there are safety precautions–and it’s time-consuming to scrub carrots and trim beans and wait for the fruit to reach the right temperature. All the same, I enjoy and look forward to our infrequent canning dates. With three people, the work is manageable and we can take more turns at sitting down. Besides, the food we share to fuel our labor is also pretty good. I had enough left from my Han Dynasty extravaganza to feed us all lunch, which we ate while taking turns stirring the jam. For dinner, we spread pesto and butter on thick slices of country bread, and I made two kinds of slaw with the red cabbage–a sweet mango-y one and a spicy/savory one. We liked the mango version best; we couldn’t use peanut oil and I was out of sesame, so the savory slaw was really missing a nutty/fatty dimension. (Obviously that’s not the recipe’s fault; Smitten Kitchen is a great resource for slaws.) We’ve also long wanted to get into a habit of cooking fish, and in that spirit we bought three different kinds of fish to filet at home, saving the bones for fish stock. We pan-fried them, skins on, in very hot oil with lemon and capers, deglazing with butter and wine. The filets were so, so good. As tired as we’d gotten while canning, it was extremely satisfying to eat an elegant meal and listen the orderly rows of vegetables ping as their lids sealed.
Beat as I was on Monday, I threw cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and some spicy slaw in a bag for work lunch. It felt like weeks ago that I packed the lettuce and chard into my spinner, and I had to remember that I hadn’t washed either. I was happy, too, to have so much green pesto around the house; pesto encourages easy dinners. Oh, didn’t have time to prep dinner between work and yoga? Okay, pesto pasta with sauteed chard, golden zucchini, and little tomatoes. Oh, missed your bus back from a work trip and got home from NYC super late on Tuesday? Okay, pesto smeared on bread with cheese and fresh tomato.
So it goes: some weeks you take it easy, other weeks you feast and fête.