“Don’t fly away; ’cause I love what I love, and I want it that way.”
Earlier today, Jerry Garcia and I belted out this lyric from a newly-acquired CD as I looked in my fridge at the end of a jar of Newman’s Own marinara, one-eighth of a package of shredded Parmesan cheese and half a package of spinach leaves, some wilted.
An hour later, I slipped side one of a Grateful Dead album from Sept. 1977 onto the turntable before returning to the kitchen. I cut the shoot end off an onion, leaving the root on. I set the onion onto its newly flat top and cut down the middle from the root, then pulled off the skin before setting half the onion onto its wide flat surface, cutting three horizontal slits, then four vertical slits and finally chopping it into small bits.
I cut one carrot into rounds and the final couple of stalks of celery from the fridge into crescent moon shapes, then turned my knife on its side over two cloves of garlic and smacked it.
Sunday afternoons have started this way throughout this summer. Thanks to <a href=http://www.wenninghoff.com>Wenninghoff’s Farm </a> I have been a member of their community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
This spring, I gave Wenninghoff’s a check for $200 in return for a share of their farm’s bounty. Since June 27, Wenninghoff’s has supplied me with a bag full of produce each week.
It’s a good amount of produce. In the first few weeks, we ate several heads of lettuce and a few other items. As the weather warmed, we ate fresh sweet corn and big plates of tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Sometimes, as last year, produce went into the freezer. There was one week when I almost went “ugh! I have so much of this stuff!” But I didn’t. I stuck another bag of corn and another bag of jalapenos in the freezer.
The Grateful Dead’s signature song began, and I put what I now know is mirepoix in the pan, followed a couple of minutes later by two cloves of finely-chopped garlic. I gave the slowly-sweating vegetables a stir, then set a lid on the pan and began to dance around the kitchen.
The next week, my husband, Wade, looked at the two cucumbers in the vegetable bowl from that week, and the two cucumbers from the previous week, and said, “I should make some pickles and can them.”
“You can do that?” I asked, somewhat amazed. I shouldn’t be . . . from making a shell of a Volkswagen bus into a running, working bookmobile; to decorating a room in a blingy “Hollywood-regency” style; to baking; the man is an endless source of wonder.
“Yeah, it’s easy,” Wade said. “Don’t we actually have a bunch of jars already?”
“Uh, I think so?” I said. I looked in the cupboards to no avail, then walked down to the storage room where we keep the Christmas decorations and other miscellaneous stuff. There, I found a bunch of jars given me by my good friend Jennifer Carter, who once asked me to recycle a bunch of glass for her. Wade saw those canning jars and grabbed them before they went into the recycling bins. They sat in the storage room since that time.
I brought the quart jars back upstairs and set them on the counter. Wade looked at the potatoes, leeks and onions that came in that week’s farm basket. “In fact, if you wanted to make a pot of your potato soup, we could can that, and you could have it to eat this fall.”
“Really?” I said, still amazed.
“Yeah,” Wade said, almost laughing at me. “We’ll need lids and rings, if you would get those from the grocery for me.”
I also wrote down vinegar, a couple of spices and several other things. “Get whatever else you want while you’re there,” Wade said.
I pulled my month-old “Iowa Writer’s Workshop” canvas bag out of my car and walked to Kaiman’s (It’s now a chain grocery store, but in true small-town fashion, we all still call it Kaiman’s). I looked near the vinegar, no canning lids. I looked near the pickles, no canning lids. I looked in the canned-goods aisle, no canning lids. I was close to asking someone for help when I went down the plastic-bags aisle. There, on the top shelf, sat a bunch of canning lids and rings.
I pulled down two sizes of rings and tried to remember which one I needed as a store clerk came over leading another member of the community.
“They’re right here,” the clerk said, pointing to the canning lids.
“Thanks, I would never have figured that out on my own.”
“This seems like an odd place for canning supplies,” I said with a smile as I picked up the larger-sized lids. “I was looking in pickles.”
“So was I. I looked with pickles, and with the vinegar, I even looked in the canned-goods aisle.”
We parted ways; I purchased a basketful of items and walked back to the house. Quartered cucumbers sat on a cutting board waiting for the rest of the items.
I chopped an onion as Wade got out a saucepan to make the pickling liquid. Several years ago, the act of chopping an onion made me really nervous. One of the few things I cook is potato soup; in fact, several people at our annual Bustoberfest campout at the end of October request it. Chopping the onion, however, always made my eyes water, and sometimes caused me to cut myself – once in 2003, I cut myself so badly I should probably have visited the ER, but I wrapped my finger in gauze and went on with my life.
Then one day about three years ago I bought a book titled “The Amateur Gourmet” for one dollar. Although I have read very little of this book, I did read the section on chopping an onion. The next time I cooked a pot of potato soup, I cut the onion using the method described in the book, and like magic, I had dry eyes and a well-chopped onion.
About 45 minutes later, Wade ladled a rich, creamy potato-leek soup into three quart-sized jars and handed me the end of the pot. While I ate the last bowl of soup, water boiled in a clean stock pot around three jars full of the mixture until Wade said they were ready, at which time he set them on the ceramic top of the Hoosier cabinet and let them sit until the lids popped. Once cooled, we set them into the fridge in the garage.
An hour later I looked in the fridge for the sheer joy of it.
“That is so cool!”
“What’s cool?” Wade asked.
“That, in the fridge. We just made all this food, and it’s in jars, and we can eat it at a later time.”
“Yeah …” Wade said, meaning ‘are you crazy?’ “Grandma used to do that all the time. She’d spend all summer canning.”
Ah, yes, Grandma. Edna Rodman, goddess of all things domestic, the reason why Wade cans, and sews on buttons, and does all sorts of other things I do not, at least not well.
The next Thursday, I picked up my bag of produce and looked inside to find red cabbage, red bell peppers and more golden sweet corn. On Sunday, I looked up vegetariantimes.com and found a tasty-looking recipe for corn chowder after calling my mother.
“Mom? Can I have your recipe for coleslaw?” I asked.
“Which one?” she asked.
“I don’t know. The one Wade likes.”
“Oh, OK. I think I know which one you are talking about,” Mom said. “I’ll have to look for it and call you back.”
“You know what, Mom, why don’t you e-mail it to me, that way I won’t have to call you again.”
A pattern, a ritual, if you will, had begun. Kaiman’s opens at noon on Sundays. I awoke, brewed some coffee, and looked on the websites for both Vegetarian Times and Food Network for recipes based on that week’s bounty, then walked or drove to the grocery store near noon.
“Truckin’, up to Buffalo …”
Three weeks later the farm basket included a huge eggplant, probably about three pounds. Ninety percent of what I cook, and eat, is vegetarian, but seeing this purple honker, I decided to cook a lamb-eggplant curry that we had eaten once before. Besides, we also had suckini … I mean, zucchini, that week.
“Hey, honey? Would you help me?” I asked Wade when I returned from the grocery store.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“The Hy-Vee didn’t have lamb, so I bought stew meat. Would you brown it for me?”
So he did, and he kindly browned the onion, and the carrots, eggplant, and zucchini as I chopped everything. Then, I put it together with the canned tomatoes, water and spices, then watched the pot in wonder for more than two hours as the liquid thickened from the consistency of a broth to a gravy.
“What are you doing?” Wade asked several times.
“I’m watching this stew cook,” I always said.
It was nearly 10 p.m. before that stew went into jars, and the next morning before it went into the fridge.
“Inspiration, move me brightly; light the song with sense and color”
Wade stayed home from work a week or so ago, and as I came home, he started talking to me about a great recipe he had seen on TV.
“It’s schnitzel, but it’s made with eggplant instead of meat,” Wade said. “It sounds like something you would like.”
That week, the farm basket included eggplant and butternut squash. Having already made, and canned, one pot of butternut-apple soup, I wanted something different. I found a recipe for a butternut gratin, copied the ingredients and went to Kaiman’s.
The recipe called for Gruyere, and aged English Cheddar, which small-town Iowa did not possess, so I bought Swiss and cheddar cheeses. I brought them home and started making this delectable-looking dish. When I went to make the cheese/bread crumbs/herb mixture, I looked at the ingredients on my table and thought “Holy non-crap, that is a LOT of cheese for the amount of squash in the dish. Let’s cut the cheese … in half.”
The recipe called for eight ounces of Gruyere, shredded; and eight ounces of aged English cheddar, shredded. I bought eight-ounce packages of shredded generic Swiss and cheddar cheese. As it turns out, I was on the money by cutting the cheese in half. I learned the next day that eight ounces of cheese, shredded, is by weight. An eight-ounce package of cheese is by volume, thus you get a lot more cheese.
With the gratin in the oven, I returned to the schnitzel, which was marinating in olive oil/lemon juice/herbs in the fridge. I heated some oil, then stuck the eggplant steaks in bread crumbs on one side, then the other, then stood back and put it in the frying pan with my fingertips.
The schnitzel, topped with slightly-pickled red and green pepper slices, came out well, surprisingly. I love fried food, but have stayed away from frying since I was in college. I once tried to make fried cubes of potatoes while in my bathrobe, and all of a sudden I saw the edge of my bathrobe sleeve on fire. It was one of those weird moments when you mentally know something is happening, but it doesn’t register with you. I also may or may not have been smoking. The robe, goofy. What did you think I meant? At any rate, I beat my sleeve against my side a couple of times and all was fine, but I had not fried anything again, until a couple of weeks ago.
“Almost aflame still you don’t feel the heat …”
My friend Dee Lavertz Hadley brought a flat of tomatoes from her and her husband Glen’s farm to Bustoberfest last weekend. When I arrived home from work on Sunday, I discovered Wade brought the flat home with him, so he cooked homemade ketchup while I made roasted tomato soup … actually, make that smoked tomato soup.
“What are you burning?” Wade asked as the timer was close to being done.
“Nothing. It’s the tomatoes roasting,” I said.
“You’re burning them,” he said.
“The recipe said to roast them for 20 minutes!” I replied.
Wade got up and opened the oven door, promptly setting off the alarm nearby. We both coughed and waved our hands in front of our faces as Wade opened the window on the kitchen door. For the end of October, it was, fortunately, in the 70s outside.
The garlic that was roasting on the tray with the tomatoes and onions had burnt, but the smoke actually added a great flavor to the soup.
“Ramble on baby, settle down easy …”
As the final song on 1977s “What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been” played in the background, I took the cover off the rice/vegetable stuffed peppers I had started a couple of hours ago and put last of the bread crumbs on top, then the end of the Parmesan, followed by the marinara. Ten minutes later, I removed the last dish from the 2014 CSA ingredients from the oven.
For those who don’t know …
The lyric at the beginning is from the song “Help on the Way.”
The Grateful Dead’s signature song (at least in terms of general knowledge) is “Truckin’”
“Truckin’, up to Buffalo … I been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow.”
“Inspiration, move me brightly; light the song with sense and color” is from “Terrapin Station” (One of my many favorites)
“Almost aflame, still you don’t feel the heat” is from “Fire on the Mountain.”
“Ramble on baby, settle down easy …” is from “Ramble On Rose”