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Archive for March, 2010

People like to refer to that Julia Child quote about  “never apologiz[ing]” for what happens in the kitchen. Now, not to put myself up there with the great one or anything, but I’ll just take that a step further and say that it’s good to also know how to promote what you plan to serve. Talk it up. Rave about the ingredients. Make your guest’s mouths water so they can’t wait to feast. And here’s one thing I find especially effective: bring up the old components whose greasy/on-the-verge-of-moldy behinds you managed to salvage by whipping them into the culinary concoction at hand.

Well, that last one doesn’t work for everybody. Fortunately, my friend Molly, who joined me for lunch on Wednesday, is a lady who appreciates a waste-free lunch, and would, I think, be just as sad as I am to see a handful of criminis, no matter how shriveled, fall to the mercy of the compost pile, especially if that pile resembled an algae swamp as ours does, rather than an earth renewal process. So she didn’t flinch when I described retrieving from the depths of the ice box the source of that odor at which Jake and I have wrinkled our noses all week and declared “something’s smelly in here.” Nor did she set down her fork even when I suggested that the cheeses had been rather “well-aged.”  Before, I could get to the questionable lemon I juiced for the crust, she offered that the leeks had been new. Indeed they had–the one ingredient I bought just in time to help me use up all these leftovers.

We ate small slices of the resulting galette, kind of a rustic tart, and stalks of roasted asparagus on the front steps in the sunshine, serenaded by the sweet sounds of rap music drifting over from the glass studio. Hot food in the day time always feels like a bit of a luxury to me. Lunchtime is  often a time to scrounge, to slap together pieces of bread, to reach for the the chips and salsa, or to eat the leftover that I’ve packed in my lunch. To have made something expressly for the purpose of eating at lunchtime, to eat it on a plate and be able to go back for seconds–well, it has the same excitement effect on me as weeknight baking: the feeling that I’m somehow getting away with a party on an otherwise ordinary day.

And yet, some days just call for this kind of lunch-y treatment. As we ate, I recalled to Molly how my childhood friend, Nicole, and I would sometimes get the urge to do something different for lunch. We generally turned to one of two solutions, both of which relied on the compliance of other neighborhood children. The first was to solicit a few dollars from everyone, including ourselves and order delivery pizza. The second, which we resorted to on our even more desperate days, was to call an impromptu potluck at the neighborhood park, with the prerequisite that anyone attending bring something edible. Perhaps we should have been more specific with our criterion, or at least vetted our invitees more thoroughly, because the resulting meals rarely met our hungry expectations. For years, we invited our neighbor Mary, whose parents were from China, with hopes that she might bring egg rolls. There may never have been an egg roll to speak of in Mary’s house, but we were set on the rather stereotyping assumption that they had to turn up in her clutches one of those days. Alas, most often she brought crab chips. And then there was Fionn, whose invites were allotted more cautiously once he arrived bearing co-op bags of bulk flax seed and bee pollen. To be fair, our contributions were probably at least as sorry–our interest was in finding ourselves a decent lunch, after all, and not actually in feeding the neighborhood children.

But, I share a little better now, and can readily access the grocery, so even when pickings are low, the neighbors are not my first resort. This is probably a good thing since I have a feeling some of them are surly: bolted iron gates and watch dog signs abound in these here parts.

I’m looking forward to trying this type of pastry in the future with other past-prime ingredients. In fact, I might even go as far as to recommend that you allow your mushrooms to dry in a paper bag in the refrigerator–their texture was a nice addition. Or you could take the easy route and just buy dried mushrooms.

“Just in time” Mushroom, Leek, and Goat Cheese Galette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Crust:
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
a few cranks from the salt shaker
8 T. unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
juice of one small lemon (about 2 tsp.)
1/4 cup very cold water

Filling:
2 T. salted butter
1 small leek, halved and sliced thinly (to equal about 1 cup)
3/4 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced (if a small portion have been sitting in a paper bag in your refrigerator for the past month and you have to resuscitate them in boiling water, so be it)
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, chopped
about 5 oz. crumbly goat cheese (I used a mix of feta and chevre)

Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Place in the freezer along with the stick of butter for half an hour. When butter is sufficiently chilled, unwrap it and grate it into the flour mixture, fluffing lightly with fingers or a fork about every third  of the stick to coat the shavings, and prevent butter lumpage. After the whole stick is grated, use a knife to finish mixing and break up the lumps a bit more. You want it to resemble a course meal.

In a smaller bowl whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, and ice water. Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and add half of the wet mixture. Mix with fingers gently until large lumps form. Remove the lumps and hold them in your non-dominant hand, as you use your other hand to pour the rest of the wet mixture into the flour, and then mix again with fingers to incorporate most of the dry ingredients. Smack these new lumps onto the old lumps to make one giant lump/ball, do not over handle, and cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

To make the filling, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, rosemary, and garlic and saute for another minute, until it begins to smell herb-y. Raise the heat to high or med-high and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft, mixing occasionally, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Roll out crust into a 12 inch diameter circle. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet or pizza stone.

Crumble the cheese into a medium sized bowl.Pour mushrooms over top of the cheese and mix gently. Spread this mixture onto the pastry crust leaving a 1 1/2 inch border. To finish, fold in the edges, creasing every two inches or so, leaving the center filling bare.

Bake the pastry for 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until pastry is lightly browned. We allowed the galette to cool slightly before eating. It was good warm, and then good again at room temperature when we went back for seconds.

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This weekend I spoke with multiple family members who were throwing open windows, and weeding, reveling in the general spring-ness that seems to have crept in everywhere. I know everyone writes about the seasons, and maybe it’s not that interesting, but I can’t get enough of the reminders like the  Michigan crocuses above poking up from under brown leaves to tell me warm weather really is on the way.

A few weekends ago, Jake proclaimed it spring. He cited the car, that cocoon-like suggestion of summer it becomes when it basks in full sun on a spring day. On days like this, we close the car doors quickly, and sit for a few moments before driving off. We watch the sunshine and the shadows and pretend our metal shell is not a temperature barrier and that the same warmth surrounds everything we can see. We let the air stand like warm breath on our skin before we roll slowly backward and the fresh air from the vents swirls us back to real time.

In the spring, I am always a little surprised to find myself emerging from something of a sensory hibernation, as if I’ve had my arms clutched tightly around myself, over my eyes and ears all winter, and am only now feeling the air move around me for the first time in months.

I breath in deeply upon stepping outside, and the smell of the blossoming plum trees is so intoxicating, I wonder whether I have smelled anything all year. Yesterday, I left the windows open all day, and after closing them, late into the night, I found my nose still searching the air for pockets of a deeply earthy fresh smell that lingers, like grass roots in gas form. Walking outside, I turn my head and look around me, and feel as though my neck hasn’t moved in months as I peer down paths I never knew veered off the roads I’ve traveled for weeks.

I feel expanded, and the atmosphere seems larger, more grand, more thoroughly permeated, as though I can hear crickets chirp from miles away. A few nights ago, I listened to a frog croak outside for several hours, its song streaming freely through the same window that kept the winter out.

I approach the spring with a conflicted desperation each year. One part of me sees the first daffodils and wanting to race on, eagerly asks, “great, but what next? What blooms guarantee we have slipped inescapably into summer?” The other part of me stood still on a hill on the community campus yesterday, just before the sun set. I watched geese wander the soccer field and willed the sun to stop sinking–wait a few moments–because this time of year, there’s no telling when a day like that will come again.

I wrote this poem below two years ago in May, as the title suggests, but in its sentiment, its motion, I think it is a poem for March. I think we are all the March cottonwood seed: when the time is right, and the day is clear, we flood in swarms from the warmth of our homes, our catkins if you will, and pour into the streets. We are hurried at first, eager to take it in, and then we linger, drifting along river paths, hovering over garden beds, air-borne by some kind of sunshine-induced elation that only fickle spring weather can bring.

On days like today, when the sky is overcast and the air feels damp, I lie in wait, water the plants outside, admire the potted narcissus on the table, and look for the next warm gust to lift me up again.

Oregon in May

On Sunday, the cottonwoods
announced their existence,
and Eugene became a bit
fluffier under a dusting
of their downy seeds.
Cottony springtime reminders
clung to cobwebs
and collected at curbs,
dry and feathery
like a final winter snow.
After two days, a cloud
of them had settled
on the stagnant streams,
and I half expected
the ducks to be covered,
drifting from under
the footbridge
as if tarred and feathered,
fluff balls caught in a mallard’s
stately tail or dangling
precariously from the edge of a beak.
The rest wafted through campus,
across the bike paths,
hovered above the Willamette
with the same dissipated
intention of someone walking
through a garden on Saturday:
hands in pockets, guided only
by a winding grass trail
and the smell of hydrangeas
around the next bend.

*I’ve been thinking about the comments on here, how I could better use them. Given that I keep plugging on about after dinner conversations and stories, I would love to hear more stories from anyone reading. Here, I’ll try to make it easier by asking a question:

What clues you in that spring is coming?

Or, here’s another: Word has it that much of the country had a lovely Saturday. What did you do to celebrate the weather this weekend?

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