Category Archives: cooking

Summer notes

I picked up a yellow flesh watermelon from the farm as part of our share yesterday. I’m the only one here who eats melon (is there a genetic mutation that makes melons unpalatable? – otherwise I can’t explain it). So I had myself a snack.

yellow watermelonIn the midst of basil season, I’m not making pesto this summer. Pine nuts are just too expensive, for one. Are there any substitutions for them? I seem to remember coming across a recipe for a pistachio-arugula pesto that I filed away in my mental to-try folder, but that’s not answering the need. Walnuts won’t do for the other reason I’m not making pesto: the wife isn’t majorly into nuts to begin with.

So I’m making pistou instead. Which is to say, I making pesto without pine nuts. Pistou is apparently a Provencal basil sauce of garlic, cheese, and olive oil, so pesto without the pine nuts, but it seems a bit extravagant to invoke a whole alternate heritage for what amounts to eliminating the pine nuts and amping up the garlic. Here‘s the recipe that I started with, but it’s no rocket science. And when I say amping up the garlic, I mean I’m using a hell of a lot more garlic than this recipe called for. It’s like a garlic bomb it’s so awesome when you do it like that – just give it a little while for the sharpness to mellow. And, you know, put it in soups and on roasted new potatoes. And of course toss it into pasta. Salad dressings, too.

That, and I’m looking forward to my first basil gimlet of the season.

And, finally, another butterfly, a Gray Hairstreak. This one is small and easy to miss. Think of that and their considerable and broad distribution from Colombia to Canada. A massive invisible nation dwarfing all others, hovering only eighteen inches above the ground of the contiguous land masses of North and Central America.

In the last post I compared my new interest in identifying butterflies with love, and in a few upcoming posts, I’d like to explore a broader, and a bit more technical, philosophical and naturalist background to the comparison. But for the moment, I’ll just say that what turns my head to pursue a flash of color fluttering above the grass is very much like the experience of love. And then to patiently pursue the butterfly until it comes to a rest – which can be at times fifty to a hundred yards, man; to peer intently at it to identify as many characteristics as my inexperienced eye can before it flies away; and then patiently to differentiate and situate it amongst a variety of potential beloved. This one was a tiny pale flake, and without the desire to know butterflies a bit more intimately, I would have simply pegged it the ubiquitous Cabbage White and moved on. Now not only do I know the Hairstreak, I’m also aware of its similarity to the Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Summer and Spring Azures. A world in which to place it, and in which to attempt to place myself. And my eyes thereby acquire experience.

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Cooking meat

I should be grading, or revising my teaching letter to send out for job applications, but the flu has laid me pretty low today. So I’ll make a quick post.

Thanks to those of you who are following along despite my unorthodox approach to the art of blogging. My posts may not be short, but they’re short for the format I’m accustomed to writing in, the academic article/paper. My thoughts were to experiment in writing series of short, off-the-cuff essays on topics that are important to me: namely, the natural world, my ambiguous professional status, writing as an art and discipline, secularism, and cooking. There are so many more I could add, but I thought these choices would give the blog consistency and coherence and still reflect the full presence of a mind.

I’m enjoying it immensely – I honestly do enjoy writing, and my life is too chaotic and fragmented right now for me to find the peace and concentration to write poetry, so the blog has become a welcome companion. I hope that I’m good at it: most of the posts are written in one or two brief sittings, and then edited for spelling and grammar live on the blog the day they’re posted. The one exception is a post on science and belief ideologies I’ve been working on, which, perhaps because it’s more like my academic work, has taken several sittings and may not ever make it up.

I’m constantly tempted to post shorter pieces on the attractive detritus that I find strewn about the Web, because there’s a lot of it and I have lots of interests, but I’m forcing myself to limit those “link” posts to material that fits into the predefined array of topics. Meaning that people encountering the blog are being expected to do a lot of heavy lifting, while I’m simply enjoying having a form to fill with my typically overwrought sentences.

Anyway: cooking meat. I was a strict vegetarian for well over a dozen years, and then when my body began displaying signs of “metabolic syndrome” (hypertension, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol) I added seafood to my diet, thinking that would be healthier for the heart than a strictly vegetarian. That may be controversial, but I’ll stand by that assessment. That lasted for five years or so, and now over the past year I’ve become a full-blown carnivore. Or at least in what I’ll eat out and about. At home, I’m still largely vegetarian in what I cook. Why? Well, partly it’s because that’s still clearly a healthier (and more satisfying) way to live, but also because I’ve got no idea how to go about cooking a piece of meat.

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Eggs and Potatoes

Eggs and potatoes are significant part of my diet and a frequent evening meal. The other night it was pan-fried potatoes and chard omelets. Don’t laugh: spinach and eggs is classic, and chard can do anything spinach can do. I won’t rave about them, but they were tasty enough. I like making omelets; I confess, though, that my hand-flip technique is poor – bashful, really. I don’t commit enough to the forward swoop, so omelets that close as tidy as a clam are rare. The other night I just cut to the chase and broke out the spatula.

I want to praise the eggs – my ingredients, not my cooking. We are luck enough to live down the street from a genuine organic, free-range chicken farm. It’s run by neighbors who have full-time off-farm careers and an active, beautiful family, but they’re hardcore farmers nonetheless. They keep a few dozen chickens, plus assorted ducks and geese, and do some vegetable farming as well. They supply us with all of our eggs at $4 a dozen, and it’s a steal. The eggs are organic, meaning that the chickens are fed organic feed and not juiced up on antibiotics, and although one might say accurately say the chickens are free-range, the chickens are allowed a range of freedom many household pets would envy, making the term somewhat inadequate in application here. Every day the chickens and other fowl are let out of the barn to roam, and roam they do, but never stray, as no matter how much bugs and grass the chickens take in on their own, the spell of their feed keeps them in thrall: they slowly spread out pecking as the day begins, by midday they seem to reach the limits of their exploration, and they then turn and begin to peck slowly back to the barn to gather for their evening feed.

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Beet barley risotto with the red greens

We had gotten a couple bunches of beets with brilliant red stems and leaves from our CSA share, and I was very excited to cook them up. I was also craving risotto, so voilà: beet risotto. Although risotto has a medium-long cooking process, prep is pretty easy, and while it takes a while on the rangetop, you can – despite the common assumption – leave the risotto pot alone for periods at time. Perfect for an evening spent grading papers.

I had the beets roasting in the oven and the onions and garlic cooking along in brown butter in the dutch oven before I realized that I was out of arborio rice. As I was rummaging through the pantry I came across a fresh bag of pearl barley. Always handy for excellent soups, but it also makes an excellent if a bit toothy risotto. Problem solved. I poured some chardonnay over the barley after cooking it in the onions and butter, ladled in some stock after the wine cooked off, and went off to grade a paper. I’d come back after a paper, stir in a ladle-and-a-half of stock, and head back to another paper. With a glass of chardonnay for myself, natch.
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