So here we are, the first week of August, and finally, finally, the summer bounty is in. In the last week or so we finally turned the corner from green garlic back to cured garlic; we picked parsley from our own potted plant; we ate fresh tomatoes from the farm where we have a CSA. There is fresh, not frozen, corn in our fridge.
The past few weeks have been something of a blur here with unexpected family commitments taking us out of town three weekends in a row. It seems like July was utterly lost to us and before I had realized it, August had come. And with it, all the summer goodness we waited the winter for. Today, our veggie list is really something to marvel at:
Tomatoes & cherry tomatoes
Red and white onions
It is also nearly a year since we moved to this area: this time last year, living further south, I had already frozen most of the peppers, corn, kale, and zucchini that got us through the winter. And here we are again, ready to start freezing for next winter. We’ve already got some pesto and peas. Next to come is corn, peppers, zucchini, kale, and more. As always, the year turns around and we face again the seasons and tasks of the year before. There is something gratifying in turning this corner. We not only made it through the winter, we’re back to freezing for next year, while enjoying the fruits and veggies of the summer. We’ve moved from the hopeful looking-forward of green garlic to the real thing, the cured garlic which, when stored well, can last up to eight months.
Okay, so this is not a post with a recipe in it, and it’s not even a meditation on the glories and downfalls of seasonal eating. What we have here is a plea, a call to action, a rant against a society so committed to fossil fuels it is willing to consider poisoning the water table with radioactive and toxic chemicals for a little more natural gas. But mostly this is just some information, and the hope that whoever reads with will respond by sharing the information and contacting their representatives to urge them to ban hydro-fracking, here in New York and everywhere else.
Central New York lies on top of something called the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation with veins of natural gas trapped between layers of rock. And so gas companies want to mine it using a process called hydraulic fracturing or hydro-fracking, or just fracking. The process of fracking involves shooting water and chemicals into the ground horizontally to force out the natural gas which can then be captured and sold. Right now I’m going to focus on the problem of loss of agricultural land and threats to agriculture.
Agricultural land loss: New York has many, many farms, and central New York is particularly rich in farms, especially including small generally family run farms (both organic and conventional). Farmers are an ever-shrinking population in the United States and the amount of arable farmland we have decreases each year. We need out farms, here and everywhere. In the most basic, most simple sense, we need our farms because we need food and as we lose farms we lose our connection to where our food comes from and we will be forced to buy imported food which is not fresh, not as healthy as local food, and which does not support the local economy. But fracking has serious implications for agriculture. The chemicals used in fracking are related to illness and infertility in livestock as well as lowered yields in crops.
In addition, at the end of the day, farmers, small family farmers, are left with the both the liability and the damaged and often toxic land. The way that gas companies go about hydro-fracking is like this: gas companies sign leases with landowners, mostly farmers, that allow them to put more or less (depending on the lease, but often unknown to the farmer) whatever they would like on the land. They can drill wherever they want, they can put up trailers, work all night and all day, and bring in lots of traffic. And at the end of the day, the farmer is left with the toxic land because it’s a lease, not a sale. The damage to land that has been fracked means that if New York goes forward with fracking, we stand to lose a lot of farms directly. In addition, we stand to lose farms that go out of business due to decreased demand for food grown in areas where hydro-fracking is going on. The Park Slope Food Coop has already made this clear. Hydrofracking is a rural issue with urban and suburban impacts.
As we move into a future where the combined result of climate change, population growth, and increases in the cost of fossil fuels mean that food shortages around the world will be growing, we need our farms more than ever. We need farms here, and as we move into this future, the worst thing we can do and throw away tomorrow’s food source for some last hopeful gasp of fossil fuels.
Why love and garlic are so vital, and so similar:
- It is the best thing in the world.
- When it goes bad, it goes really bad.
- There’s nothing quite like it and nothing can really replace it.
- It can explode in your face when you least expect it.*
- It makes everything better.
- You never appreciate it until it’s gone.
Garlic, we barely knew ye. See you again in July.
*A truly alarming cloud of bright green mold spores shattered one closet-dweller’s innocent misconception that plants can’t attack you.
When it’s a thundery April night and one is suffering the effects of over-indulgence, be it chemical or emotional, there’s only one way to woman up and fly right. (And I dare you to listen to this song, sober or otherwise, and not end up feeling like you’ve overdone it)
So, now that you’re suffused in the light glow of melancholy, here’s what to do: eat a bowl of virtue. Specifically, eat a huge bowl of kale. “But closet-dweller!” I can hear you say, your voice small and muffled by ions and tubes and pictures of cats (that’s what the internet is made of, right?)
“I thought you were one of us! The great unwashed and unrighteous legions of lazy vegetarians who eat kale with a sense of dull, anhedonic, puritan purpose, much like a tethered cow sullenly chewing its cud!”
And I say to you, fear not. For I have tried kale anew. I have doused it in warm olive oil and balsamic and garlic. And lo, it is good. It also tastes extra tasty cause I got the idea from a farmer at the farmer’s market, where I went and handed over money for vegetables and did not even cry, not even once, not even alone in the parking lot.
So, do what I did, and chop all this stuff that’s in the conveniently placed photograph up (not the kale, wash that and put it in a bowl. And really wash it if you give the farmer’s market your custom, or you could inadvertently eat some bugs you’ve just killed in hot oil and have to turn your back on your whole way of life). Put it all in a pan except the kale, with lots of oil, more than is appropriate. Put salt and pepper in there, and a splash or two of balsamic. Then, when everything is soft and fragrant and smelling of righteousness and vitamins, pour it over the raw kale, and let it sit while you check your email or pick the lint out of your bellybutton (or both, who am I to limit you?) Then eat that beautiful big bowl of greens, and you’ll feel a little better.
And if you don’t, heat up a big bowl of pasta and cheese and go to town. I won’t tell.
I have a few controversial opinions, and this is one: I like my egg sandwiches like I like my men: Cheese, Stress, and Accessory free.
My basic philosophy behind the egg sandwich is as follows: Of course you can dress it up. Put cheese on there, avocado, tomato, bacon if you can stand the guilt, fancy lettuce, mushrooms. Go all Richard Gere dressing up Julia Roberts on that sandwich. It’s going to be delicious. But it’s not what I think of when I think about egg sandwiches. (Insert your own “what we talk about when we talk about blank” Raymond Carver bullshit here. Seriously when are people going to stop doing that? Am I the only one who notices this?)
But in the same way that I find Julia Roberts more fun and appealing as a prostitute than as a rich prostitute, an egg sandwich can be even tastier when left alone. An egg sandwich is about having no money and no patience and no creativity. You can make one when you wake up in the afternoon starving and the fridge is almost empty. Or right before you go to a party where you’re scared there won’t be any food you want to eat. Or when you come home drunk from a party and need to put food in your stomach immediately and are too poor for the all-night diner and too dignified to just eat uncooked bread. If you have friends and do things like go to parties and don’t live in a closet in small-town New York, that is. The upside of which is I can eat an egg sandwich literally any time, because I am always home.
The Julia-on-Sunset egg sandwich is the opposite of fancy, the opposite of carefully arranged gruyere and goat cheese and extraneous vegetables getting between me and hot egg yolk that has just sizzled in butter being in my mouth. Save the drama for your mama, put a fried egg on a hot piece of bread, salt and pepper, take a moment to gaze in wonder at the beautiful golden drippiness, and then shovel it into your mouth. And then you should probably eat another one, too. Here is a picture of what I mean. It is not a good picture, because I don’t have a nice phone or steady hands.
With all this said, if you want to put more shit on there, I’m certainly not going to stop you. This is America. You can put whatever you want on your sandwich. If you can put an undead baby bird on it, then you can put some cheese on it too, let’s be real.
Tomorrow I brave the small-talk wasteland of the farmer’s market. (Sample dialogue: Nice Farmer: “Hi!” Pause as he or she tries to place where they know me from, namely me hovering behind my roommates while they “normally interact” every weekend. “Where are the non-closet-dwellers?” Me: “Oh! (Exclamation because I am relieved I know the right answer) They’re in England…” Pause as I try to remember their name, almost say it, then as I am saying it I decide that’s not the right name, which results in a winded snort-giggle. NF: “That’s amazing! What are they doing there?” Me: “Oh, like, stuff. Your basic England stuff.” Long pause while we smile at each other. Longer pause while I shove some potatoes onto their scale, drop some on the floor, and then crawl on the floor to retrieve them, escaping from this suburban hell-scape only after becoming so verklempt I forget how to count money and the farmer finally takes what they need out of my hand, giving me a pitying head shake, as if to say, “Now I understand why your role is to hold the bags and smile into the middle distance”)
Oh well. For this, and many situations, I listen to this song. If you’re going to have cheeseless opinions about breakfast foods, if you’re going to live in a closet, if you’re going to drop the entire bag of beer bottles you’re bringing to the grocery store so that they roll all over the lawn and street, glinting in the sun and clinking merrily to broadcast your alcohol consumption to the neighborhood, if you’re going to be dumb, in other words, you gotta be tough.
A door creaks open in a central New York Apartment on a blustery April day. A trembling, blinking creature emerges from the dark recesses within, moving slowly into the harsh afternoon light, a la The Beast of Disney fame. Who is this pale and disheveled form, you ask, wearing a bewitching mix of leggings and marinara-stained t-shirt with mismatched socks, inquiring of the cat as to the time?
It is I, the closet-dweller. I, who revels in the dark embrace of the closet by day and gazes, hypnotized, at glowing screens by night. I, who wrangles toddlers and recycles all those beer bottles whose labels I have not torn off in a frenzy of unused energy. I, who provides almost no monetary but much comedic support to my steadfast and lovely roommates. And where, you might ask, are these providers of vegetable knowledge, givers of gentle prodding into the warmth of the kitchen? Whither, they not of the closet?
My fellow denizens of small-town America have fled to England, leaving me to face alone the yawning cupboards empty of onions and greens and the anxiety-producing prospect of a solo farmer’s market. But I will not quaver! For they have also left me to indulge pleasant pastimes: Washing the dishes in one’s underwear whilst belting hits of the lovesick-country variety. Feeling no compunction about eating ice cream for breakfast. Talking to the cat freely in his natural tongue.
So I will press on, knowing as I do the shadowy contours of the apartment, the insomniac secrets of its culinary abundance. Join me, on this journey of discovery and peril, of fear and opportunity, as I leave the closet and prepare to fend for myself.
Tonight’s adventure involves pasta, mushrooms, butter, three-buck chuck, and the musical stylings of Ms. Dolly Parton. Let’s begin:
You might want to start by tying a red ribbon around your ponytail and clearing away some dishes, while listening to this song.
Ponder the contents of your fridge while you do so, and the big questions, such as, why exactly is food at the bottom of the drain so much less appealing than food on a plate? What does the mime in Dolly’s video symbolize? Where can I find those suspenders she’s wearing?
Congratulations. You have earned your first glass of wine. This can be consumed while cutting up some garlic and if you’re me, your second-to-last shallot. Chopping can be soothing but also boring, so you should listen to this awesome song. I give you my full permission to dance around singing the chorus into a wooden spoon, as I know you want to. Go on. If you can’t be undignified and cliche in front of your cat, you’re depriving an animal of the chance to harshly judge your melodramatics, and what kind of responsible pet owner would do that? Think of the animals!
If twangy, confusing, and unrequited love is not your thing (and if not, why not?) this is also a good opportunity to call someone you love but who lingers on the phone, as one: you have wine, and two: you can say, “I would love to talk some more, but I have to put these shallots and garlic onto the stove in a frying pan with a shitload of butter and salt and pepper. Goodnight!” (See what I did there? Subtle recipe instructions!)
Now, on to the improvisation portion of the meal. While the shallots and garlic are making sweet love to all that butter, fill a pot with water and set out the pasta of your choice. (I find it satisfying to methodically rip off the top of the box, but to each her own.) Cut up a hefty portion of portobello mushrooms. Throw those in with the other stuff. Here is where my night got tricky. I decided to be bold and go for a creamy sauce even though I had no cream. You could also take this recipe in the direction of the tomato-y balsamic if you have access to such things. What I did is perhaps unconventional, but turned out, well, let’s be honest, pretty ok: tear up some cheddar cheese (white, extra sharp, just like yours truly, heyo) and pour in the heaviest liquid dairy you posses, but not sour cream or yogurt, obviously. You want to keep the liquid in proportion with how much you chopped and how much pasta you’re making. With that in mind: pour a little bit of the wine from your glass into the pan but much more into your mouth. I also put some vegetable stock in there, cause it was in the fridge, and my mushrooms were a little withered and I thought it would perk them up. And yes, I realize this recipe is just to put a little of all your dairy products over pasta and mushrooms and eat it, but sue me. I’ve been living in a closet for six months.
I know you’re as smart as you are pretty, so you’ve remembered to cook and drain your pasta during all the above innovative saucing. Mix all the stuff you’ve cooked together and put a bunch of stuff on it: salt, pepper, more cheese. And pour another glass of wine. You deserve it. And let me know how it turned out. For me, it was sort of weird, but I liked it. That’s what she said. Closet-dweller out!
This week, for the first time since moving to Upstate New York, the only allium we bought at market was garlic. Which is to say that we found no shallots, onions, scallions, or leeks. These last five shallots, left from the previous market, are the end of our onion and onion-like foods. My hope, of course, is that scallions will be in at the next market, but this does leave us with five shallots for two weeks of cooking and since we use shallots or onions in basically ever meal we cook, it could be a sad few weeks. Or month. This is the first time that I feel like we may be truly tested in our resolve to not buy non-local produce. I hope we’re up to the test, and I hope we can find delicious onion-free recipes.
Veggie List, April 2nd
In honor of Purim, a Jewish holiday about Queen Esther and the saving of the Jews of Persia, I made hamentashen cookies (they’re supposed to be either the hat or the pocket of the story’s bad guy Hamen). The recipe is in another post. I used my mother’s recipe and I will here recount my rough version of the Purim story. Stick with it, there is a lot of build-up and back story before you get to the real action.
Also, a quick note: traditionally you’re supposed to get dressed up as the characters and then get so drunk you can’t tell Hamen from Mordechai. It’s a little bit like a Jewish Halloween, with more alcohol.
The Story of Purim (more or less, with all the feminist leanings of my upbringing and education):
A long time ago the King Ahashverosh of Persia had a wife named Vashti. Now Vashit was a proud and beautiful woman. In some versions of this story Queen Vashti has leprosy, in others something else judgmental and terrible thing has happened to her to anger the king, but in the feminist version Vashti refused to dance naked for the King and his friends at a feast. So, Vashti, unwilling to debase herself for the king was either killed or sent away.
Which, or course, leaves us with a single king of Persia. So Ahashverosh held a beauty contest and chose the sweetest, smartest, and most beautiful of the young women to his new wife. That young woman was Esther, a Jew. Esther had lost both her parents and had been raised in the capital city by her uncle Mordechai. When Esther was chosen to be the queen, Mordechai cautioned her not to let Ahashverosh or anyone else in the palace know that she was Jewish. And so Esther, keeping her identity a secret, became the queen of Persia.
Now, every week, sometimes more than once a week, Mordechai would go visit Esther, so he was always walking by the palace walls and one day he heard two men plotting to assassinate Ahashverosh. Mordechai immediately told Esther, who told Ahashverosh, who was able to avoid the plot and kill the conspiring men. Next Ahashverosh went to his chief adviser, a man named Hamen, to ask how to best honor Mordechai. It went like this:
“Hamen, how should I honor someone to whom I am grateful and who I love?”
Hamen, being conceited, assumed the person in question was himself and answered, “You should dress him in the king’s robes and mount him on the kings horse, and one of your officials will walk with him and proclaim through the city: ‘behold the man the kings loves!’”
“Why Hamen,” said Ahashverosh, who, it seems, took every idea to heart, “that’s a great idea! Do you want to know who that man is?”
“Yes!” (me) said Hamen.
“It’s Mordechai; he saved my life. And since I respect you so much, Hamen, you can lead him through the city on my horse, in my robes, calling out how much I love him.”
Hamen was not pleased. He developed a massive grudge against Mordechai and, once he found out that Mordechai was a Jew, against all Jews. So over the years Hamen kept conniving and scheming how to punish Mordechai and the Jews. And finally he came to it: Hamen met him in the street and told Mordechai to bow because he was chief adviser to the king. But Mordechai refused, saying he would bow only to god. Hamen was pissed, angrier than ever, and ready to put his scheme into action.
Hamen went to Ahashverosh and had a nasty manipulative conversation something like this:
“Hey Ahashverosh, shouldn’t all your subjects love you and bow to you?”
“Well, what if I told you there was a group of people who loved someone more than you?”
“That’s terrible! Who are these people?”
“The Jews! The Jews love their god more than they love you.”
“And what should I do?”
“Kill them, kill them all!”
“Okay, let’s pick a date.” Again with the not thinking for himself. Ahashverosh is remarkably un-discerning for a king.
So Ahashverosh and Hamen drew lots (I think that’s literally what Purim means) and picked 13th of Adar to be the date on which all the Jews of Persia would be killed. He put it into law and Hamen was really happy.
Mordechai, however heard and was heartbroken. He tore his clothing, wept, and laid in the streets. Then he went to see Esther and told her about the plan. Esther, seeing that she had the power to prevent this massacre, knew she had to take action. She decided, given the limited social roles available to women in her time and position, to use her feminine wiles. She started by fasting for three days and Mordechai organized all the Jews to fast a well and pray for her. Then Esther faced the challenge of going before Ahashverosh. To go to the king unannounced and unasked was punishable by death, but Esther knew she had to nonetheless.
She put on her finest clothes and went to the court of King Ahashverosh. She walked by the open door once, slowly, hoping the king would see her and invite her in, but he did not. She walked by a second time, and again he didn’t see her. So a third time she passed by the door. A third time he did not see her. And so Esther took a breath and stepped into the court.
At once guards ran to her, pulling out their spears. But Ahashverosh finally saw her and called out to let her go. And so Esther came and sat with the king all afternoon and at the end of the day she asked the King to join her for a banquet in her personal chambers. The king came and had a great feast with Esther. And she asked him to come back the next night and to bring his adviser and friend Hamen. Again, they all had a great time. And Esther asked them both back for one more banquet.
At the end of the third banquet Ahashverosh said to Esther, “Thank you my dear for these banquets, they have been so wonderful. Please, how can I reward and thank you? Be it up to half my kingdom, what can I give you?”
And Esther, finally having her moment proceeded carefully, “What would you say, my king, if I told you someone wanted to kill me?”
“What!” Cried the king.
“Who? Kill him!” Cried Hamen.
And Ester stood. “Him,” she said, pointing to Hamen. “Hamen wants to kill all the Jews and I am a Jew.”
Ahashverosh jumped up as well and called for the guards, who took Hamen away and hung him on the gallows he had prepared for the Jews. But, Ahashverosh still had a problem because he’d already passed a decree to kill all the Jews on the 13th of Adar. He brought Mordechai into the court and made him an adviser and the two of them put out a decree that the Jews could defend themselves and their neighbors could defend the Jews. And so Esther saved the Jews of Persia.
Here’s a yummy and filling soup. It’s a good recipe for this time of year: it uses most any veggie you can get locally, and it has plenty of room for variation. It’s so nice, after all the work of the summer, to have kale in the soup. It’s a tasty reminder of why freezing food in the summer is worth. While spring may be only a week away, it could be May or later before we get much more variety in our veggies and the garlic supply is dwindling.
But, all of that said, I feel optimistic for the next few months. In the last two weeks we’ve really begun to feel a change. Certainly the days are noticeably longer now than they were a month ago, and the temperatures are rising to the mid-twenties and thirties, even giving us occasional days in the forties and fifties. But most of all there is the feeling of spring returning. The hillsides are turning red with buds on trees and there are sap lines out for maple syrup. Everything feels a little lighter, a little easier than it did in the darkest part of the winter.
And our supply of veggies remains good. Despite growing some legs, the potatoes are holding up well. We’ve started buying diced tomatoes but we haven’t yet broken down and bought non-local fresh produce. It feels good to remember what food belongs to which season. It marks the calendar, fills out the details of these days. How good that will feel when the garlic finally runs out is up for debate however. In the meantime, we still have frozen pesto and a few jars of homemade tomato sauce, as well as corn, peppers, kale, broccoli, and parsley in the freezer.
Now, enough rambling. A recipe for an easy root-veggie soup:
1 sweet potato
1 head of garlic, roughly chopped
six small carrots
1 bunch of kale (we used frozen kale)
mixed veggie stock
dried parsley and basil
- Chop all of the veggies and put everything except the garlic and the kale in a pot with a tablespoon of butter. Cook lightly for ten-fifteen minutes then add six-eight cups of liquid.
- Simmer until the potatoes begin to soften, then add the roughly chopped garlic.
- Season with dried parsley and basil.
- Finally, about ten minute before serving, add the frozen kale and mix it in.
- Eat! Very good with cheddar slivers on top.