This week we got: red butter lettuce, cilantro, leeks, a big rutabaga, some red potatoes, a garlic, spinach, green peppers, chard, and mustard greens. This is my half, minus of course the bell peppers.
Very leafy! I picked up fairytale eggplants and extra potatoes at the Amish stand at the market, which was the last one open when I got back to South Philly.
A word on the rutabaga. It’s not that I dislike it; it’s more that I just cannot excited about it. We’ve put it in stews, in mash, and under a roasting chicken to fry in schmaltz–and I’ll eat it, but I cannot stop wishing it was a potato or a turnip instead. Confession: when my neighbor and I pulled the rutabaga out of our CSA bag and looked at it with sadness, I said: “Well, it’ll keep until we next roast a chicken. Or maybe we can trick our guests into eating it at the Halloween party.” “Oh, let’s make our party guests eat it!” said my neighbor, and I had to agree.
But I won’t serve party guests food I won’t eat myself, so I did some more research. Some people consider rutabaga something like a sweeter and better potato (???), so most of the recipes I found are great for people who love rutabaga but not appetizing to me: ruin mashed potatoes by adding rutabaga! ruin shepherd’s pie by topping it with rutabaga! etc. It looked like the best route for our purposes would be to slice them into chips and bake or fry them until their rutabaganess is masked by olive oil, cayenne, and crunch.
More on party food to come. First, Wednesday, I rushed home earlier than usual to meet up friends for dinner at Noord, which lived up to every bit of the hype. My neighbor had gotten the vegetables earlier, so I picked them up from her on my way home and pretty much shoved them all in my fridge before going right back out again for a concert. Halloween is like my Christmastime, and this was going to be a week of nights out and extravagance, so on Thursday I just cooked ALL the greens–all but the lettuce!–in a big pot with onions, garlic, wine, and a little mustard. I also roasted some sweet and regular potatoes so I could portion them out as needed alongside some salads during the week. I chopped up the cilantro and froze it, doubting my ability to use more than a little as garnish during the week, and prepped some salad veggies for easy meals.
On Saturday morning I went out to stock up on staples–flour, spices, apple cider. I didn’t need too many things, since I’ve been happy with the results of the low-key party cooking I’ve been doing this summer. For perspective, you have to remember that in my less gainfully employed days I’d plan to spend at least a day and a night cooking and preparing food for a party, sometimes at my own house but often at a friend’s. For these co-hosted parties we would draw up a menu and divide up the shopping in advance, scheduling which dishes could be dealt with the night before and which could become busy work for early guests. My neighbor and I still use some of these strategies for a casual party, and it’s nice to know that we have the chops to pull off a big fancy dinner if we want to (for New Year’s Eve, say), but our friends aren’t too picky and will happily eat popcorn and pickles until they run out.
But I did make this sesame slaw with the black radishes and orange carrots (tasty and Halloween-appropriate), some savory quickbread but with carmelized leeks instead of scallions (so good), and the rutabaga chips which we fried in oil and then baked because they were kind of soggy (people claimed to like these). Because we had them and it’s easy, we roasted spicy butternut squash slices, seasoned potato wedges, and fairytale eggplant halves with fig balsamic vinegar. The eggplant was possibly a bit gruesome, since as promised, I was also dressed as one.
Hey, it was Halloween; implied cannabalism abounds. We also put out bread and butter, pickles, popcorn, and the fennel pesto we made last week. It seems like a lot, but really, most of the stuff was already made or easy to make. (The savory quickbread required no more time and energy than the breakfast muffins I make every week, so I am in danger of forming a serious cheesy leek bread habit.) The more time-consuming dishes are usually desserts, which was managed by my certified-baker neighbor (who made marshmallows and ginger snaps) and the copious amounts of candy brought by guests. I also made some lemon squares out of curd I’d had in the freezer for more than a year; I was happy to know that the curd was not at all transformed by its long hibernation.
We did a pretty good job of demolishing the spread, but I had enough roasted vegetables left for a lovely, hearty hangover breakfast Sunday morning along with scrambled eggs and the greens I made earlier in the week.
I still had one more leek and a taste for cheesy leek things, so on Monday I carmelized the leek in butter and mixed it, the remaining cooked greens, and the remaining fennel pesto into the greenest pasta ever. For the rest of the week, I coasted on leftovers and salads (the latter made with a generous helping of radish-carrot slaw, since it was not a big hit at the party table).
I have one final word about rutabagas, love or loathe them. When I was a kid, I attended some kind of poetry workshop at the Brooks art museum in Memphis, where I grew up. It was a great program: we roamed around the museum during a Saturday morning, each choosing an artwork or artifact to inspire a poem which we worked on during the afternoon. The workshop was led by the supremely warm and benevolent presence of Naomi Shihab Nye, who at one point took out a guitar and sang us a song that began like this: “I’ve got a song and it’s for you/ rutabaga rutabaga rutabaga-roo.” My mom, who was attending as a chaperone, bought her cassette, and for months we listened to it on the way to and from the elementary school where she taught and I attended. I may not care for the root, but I cherish the memory.
Naomi Nye has also written about onions, olives, and numerous other poems in which food or drink is slowly simmering in the background or pressed into the hands of guests. I suppose that in many ways, she is the unofficial muse of this blog.