My daughters are each in their own way quite practical, especially when it comes to worrying, which—and I don’t mean to toot my own horn here at all–I raise to Olympic levels. They take after their father more in this regard, mercifully, being much more judicious in terms of what they worry over or tolerate others worrying about. After learning I was born on a Wednesday, some years ago one of them crayoned me up a sign that said “Just Say No to Woe,” which I would show you here but our photos are not at all organized, which I am pretty worried about.
Anyway, back in the days when I kept a flower garden, I had a hibiscus plant. I may still have it. Hard to say. But when the girls were small it was glorious, several feet high and blooms as wide across as soup bowls. Every fall, I did as I was told (that right there should give you a sense of how long ago this was) and cut it straight back to the ground. In the spring, there followed several anxious weeks of peering at the spot where it had been, wondering if I had killed it. My oldest caught me at this once, and I explained that every fall I hacked it down and every spring I worried that it was daid. “But it always comes back?” she asked, and I told her that it did. “Maybe,” she said gently, “you can stop worrying about that now.”
She was right, of course. I could, and I did, and consequently I freed up a little mental bandwidth to worry pointlessly about some new and different things.
Most summers, for example, I worry that I have not canned anything at all and the summer is going by and no food has been stored and there goes another year wasted. People start posting jam recipes hither and thither in June, chutney this and jelly that, and on they go when I do not even know where the beach towels got stored last year, let alone where the jar lid magnet got to.
Then late August rolls around, and with it tomatoes, peaches, apples, pears and quinces, and I remember that I never can in June or July or even, functionally, August. Labor Day is the real starting bell.
It’s true that I hardly did justice to the berries this year, which are a July phenomenon and which I generally freeze by the bucketload. It’s been an exceptionally sad, busy, tiring year and it was hard enough to make lunch or do laundry, and I did let the berry train pass right by, for the most part. But in canning terms the peals of the starting bell are just ringing out now, really. The wild rumpus only beginning. And so forth. So I don’t have to worry, or anyway not about that.
This weekend Mr. Big Gorgeous Canning Pot was released from the beetle-haven of the basement. From his cavernous depths. I’ve already hauled out a double batch of Indian-spiced pickled beans,
twelve jars of tomatillos,
and 8 glorious pints of what we affectionately call “Peach Glop.” I may redeem myself yet.
With the peaches that escaped the Glopper, I made a quick clafoutis. This has happened before, but since the last time I talked about it here was two years ago, I thought I could talk about it again. And not, you know, worry.
But of course the first clafoutis (though highly edible) failed to puff and become generally gorgeous, so then we all had to suffer through my making it a second time for breakfast the next day, which, as worrisome things go, is not as troubling as other stuff that comes at a girl.
Second one came out fine. So I can stop worrying about that, and move on to other stuff.
- two large or three medium ripe peaches, chopped or sliced
- a good scraping of lemon zest (meyer lemon zest is a boon here)
- a nice splash of St Germain elderflower liqueur, or failing that, white wine
- 1/3 c sugar (divided)
- 3/4 c half and half
- fat pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 c all-purpose flour or your favorite GF substitute
To gild the lily, come serving time:
- a handful of finely minced lemon balm or lemon verbena leaves
- a dollop of crème fraiche
Mix the peaches, lemon zest, booze and 1T of the sugar in a small bowl, and set aside.
Heat the oven to 375. Generously butter a 10″ glass pie plate or ceramic baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining sugar and all the other ingredients. Whisk or blend (an immersion blender is nice for this) until perfectly smooth.
Pour the peaches and the juices they have accumulated into the prepared pie dish. Now pour the batter over the fruit, and pop that bad boy into the hot oven. Bake until puffed, set in the center and browned at the edges, about 30-35 minutes–but keep an eye on it after 25 minutes, as ovens vary a lot. If your oven has a convection setting, use it for the first 15-20 minutes, then you can turn it off and turn the heat down a hair for any remaining time needed.
It will deflate on its way to a temperature you can safely eat it at, but so be it.
I don’t know what all of you have gotten done the last few weeks, but the dill’s sure been busy. It has self-seeded in a good portion of my parents’ garden, and it’s about as high as an elephant’s eye, and I picked a whole big lot of it, knowing full well I had nothing to mince it up into (it’s mad tasty added in copious amounts to spinach, but I had no spinach).
I just got kind of mesmerized by its abundance, and the waxy feel of the leaves and the bracing aroma as I picked. Then all of a sudden I had a huge handful of dill, whose abundance I did not want to waste. Dill pesto! There’s an idea. Fearing it would be too aggressively dilly on its own, I threw some lettuce in to mellow things out. In a matter of moments, I had some glorious green goo.
There are lots of things this would be good with, and for, and on. I imagined styling it up for you on a slice of bread or a sandwich or some twee little canapé. But then my family suddenly zipped off somewhere together and the house was quiet, me and the dill pesto alone together. In the waning moments of the day’s natural light, I took a head of endive and went outside. I tried to take some nice pictures, really I did, but I was really tired, and hungry, and it was so quiet there in the cool of the evening.
I can tell you that this stuff is really good on endive.
- 1 large handful of fresh dill
- 4-6 leaves of sturdy, mild lettuce (I used a romaine heart)
- 1 handful of toasted almonds (roasted sunflower seeds would make a good substitute)
- 1 tsp harissa
- 1 slice of preserved lemon
- 1/2 c EV olive oil
Combine all but the oil in a blender. Coarsely combine, and then with the machine running, add the oil in a steady stream and blend until smooth.
Years ago, two friends started a debate about how many dollar bills could be stuffed into a soft-sided suitcase (it was a Le Sportsac, if you must know–it was the 80′s, and we can only apologize for the time in our history when we referred to suitcases by their brand name). “Infinite!” said one of them. “Finite!” said the other.
About three months ago, my friend Suzi asked me to participate in a kind of blogger’s chain letter, a mutually supportive exercise in talking about writing and raising awareness of each other’s work. It was just the sort of thing I ought to be saying ‘YES!’ to, in order to be More Committed To Writing and Building My Readership. And it was just the sort of thing I ought to say ‘no‘ to, in order to be actually more committed to actual writing, and because if one more skinny little figment of a commitment gets stuffed into the decidedly soft-sided suitcase of my mind, the seams surely will not hold.
It should come as no surprise that I said yes. It came as something of a shock that I failed to deliver. I try not to fail to deliver, even when I have overloaded the bag and things are looking burst-y.
Here are the four questions I was supposed to answer, back in April:
- What am I working on?
- How does my work differ from others in the genre?
- Why do I write what I do?
- What is my writing process?
Well, we know I have rather a smart mouth and I am inclined to use it whenever I have questions like this to answer. But I will suppress that tendency, to the best of my ability.
What I am working on is fitting writing, which I have come to see is closely connected to feeling capable and creative in all areas of my life, into a life with a lot of other areas. So I work on keeping this site updated (with varying degrees of success), and on writing for publication elsewhere, while I work on the dozen or so other things that will take all the time I have for them unless they are closely supervised (which takes some time). I work on understanding that I am useless to others unless, and until, I feel that rush of capable, creative energy.
And I work on dinner. A friend asked me this week to identify the loudest or most frequent thought in the cacophony of thoughts in my head. Really, I think it is “what is for dinner?” Sometimes this is expressed as “this is clearly the kind of day when I should have made dinner this morning” or as “I bet I could make dinner out of that leftover chicken if someone didn’t poach it for lunch.” Sometimes as mental arithmetic on when a dash into the store can be edged into the itinerary (“French people shop every day!–those tiny fridges!–so I’m not disorganized, I’m continental.”) or on who will be home to turn the oven off if I can manage to brown things and turn it on before I leave. Or any of the other endless mutations of this thought process that feeding five people can produce.
My process for writing about food is simple. 1. Agonize that I have nothing to say, 2. find that some odd thing about something I’ve eaten is oddly connected to something else that I think, and 3. find, suddenly, that I can’t get anything else done until I solve for all those factors on a page. I loved this post because I always feel I have to aim for something that feels simple and I liked imagining that my marching orders instead were to freely somersault through complex pastries and so forth. Her GF piecrust inspired me to try something pretty fabulous for my mother on mother’s day; I’m of the mind that cherry-picking in a maze of complexity (and mixed metaphors) can be inspiring as easily as it can be daunting. But I try to stick to things that are more broadly considered feasible here. (It was a purty pie, though. Maybe you’ll hear about it later.)
When we are living from grappled meal to grappled meal, I hardly feel qualified to write about anything edible. In a time span largely occupied by four-hour Planning Board meetings, this is par for the dinner course. But a dear friend whom I love to feed came for lunch the other day, and I made time to think carefully about what I could assemble.
Thankfully, it’s spring, and I can poke around in the yard for things to eat. If you don’t live on the east coast, where it has been winter for 7 or 8 months, you may find it hard to appreciate how miraculous it feels to pad outside in bare feet and grab some greens to play with.
I made hash. I made nettle and potato hash. And I imagine how that can sound exotic and peculiar and difficult, and I can tell you that it was easy and satisfying–to think of, to make, to eat, and to share.
nettle & potato hash
Boil one whole, medium-sized, smooth-skinned potato (red or yellow) per person until it is just beginning to be tender on the outside. Set aside.
Carefully pick as many of the tenderest nettle tops you can find (read more about eating nettles here and here, and here, and its merits as a superfood here). Blanch them quickly in salted, boiling water, drain (reserve that liquid for soup or a quick tonic drink for the chef), cool under running water, and chop coarsely.
Mince up a little garlic.
Chop the potatoes into half-inch cubes.
Heat a few tablespoons of good olive oil in a skillet, and saute the potatoes until they are golden and tender, stirring often.
Shove them to one side of the skillet. Drop the garlic into the empty space, stir, and then add the greens. Saute them around for a minute, then stir everything together and season as you like with salt, pepper and (entirely optional) chile flakes.