13 June 2009

Finishing Up Week Three

I have a love-hate relationship with June. I think all NY teachers must have it. June is the cusp of the school year and summer. June is the point at which we see the light at the end of the tunnel. June is the threshold of the freedom, whose promise has motivated us for months.

June beckons similarly to our students as well, turning what once was a relatively normal gathering of children into a minion of monstrous souls. They suddenly have no volume controls, or off buttons for that matter. They’re not only noisy; they’re more energetic than ever. They’re not only energetic; they’re completely unfocused. They’re not only unfocused; they’re absolutely insane!

Needless to say, the last three weeks of school are difficult for teachers. My classroom has been sucked into a power struggle between sixth graders, longing for the glory days of elementary school movies in class and field trips and popcorn parties to round out the school year, and me, their teacher hell-bent on squeezing at least some of the as-of-yet uncovered curriculum into their skulls so that they can start off next year without weeks of review. I will win, of course. There is no question about that. The only question is – how bruised, bloodied, and beaten (physically and emotionally) will I be after my victory?

Why all of this talk of school on a blog about Community Supported Agriculture, home gardening, and overeating? Because, through June 26th, school controls my life, how I use my time, and how I think. I’ve been blogging mentally all week, but I haven’t had the time or mental energy or focus to type or post anything. I have been cooking, though. I’ve been making the time to cook. That time will not be available to me for the last two weeks of school, what with report cards and packing up my room and all, so I’ve got to make the most of this weekend to write, cook, and eat up a storm.

What did I do with the rest of last week’s shares? I had a lot of fun with them. In the interest of full honesty, though, I confess that I had designs on a pasta recipe to use up most of what’s left of the food last night, but I was just too tired to cook. We had takeout for dinner, and I don’t regret it. It was tasty and it involved very little in the way of fresh vegetables, but it was comforting and emotionally therapeutic. A good enchilada can work wonders on a moody girl.

I learned last Saturday that locally made does not always mean better tasting. The bread we bought from a local farm stand/bakery was, well, blah. We did snazz it up with the local lettuce, some Baconnaise (so darned good and bacony), and some crisp vegetarian bacon (you can never have too much bacon). I finally served up the pea shoots in a crisp salad tossed with lemon juice and rich olive oil with some homemade labneh dolloped on top. I wanted to toss in some home-grown mint, but I was too hungry and too lazy to run outside to grab some. Next time, though, the mint will be a fresh and tasty addition to the salad. It will contrast well with the labneh.

We didn’t fill up too much on dinner because dessert held the promise of many smiles. I cooked the two stalks of rhubarb down with a pint of the strawberries (so tiny and fresh and, surprisingly, tart), some of the strawberry juice we purchased, and some sugar. I stirred in some lemon zest before giving it all a whir in the food processor and letting it cool and set up. It was sweet-tart-tangy-strawberry deliciousness. I should have let it cook a bit longer to get it to set up into less of a sauce and more of a jam consistency, but my inexperience in this area got the best of me.

In the meantime, I baked up a batch of cream scones and sliced up another pint of the strawberries while I directed J into whipping up a small puddle of cream. Within a half hour we had homemade strawberry-rhubarb shortcakes – my way. Picture this (you’ll have to because we ate them before I could take any pictures): a rubied glistening puddle of strawberry-rhubarb sauce in the bottom of a shallow white bowl; a golden-brown blushed scone, glistening with the crystals of sugar I sprinkled on top before baking, nestled into the pink-scarlet pool; a generous dollop of softly whipped cream pillowed over the scone; thick slices of the tiniest almost-glowing red strawberries pouring over the cream; and a not-so-artful drizzle of the strawberry-rhubarb sauce over the top. Again, some fresh, homegrown mint would have been a lovely garnish, but my appetite and laziness won again. Besides, who needs garnish when you’ve got a plate like this just waiting to be eaten?

I managed half a plate before sugar overload meltdown struck. J ate his bowl, the unfinished half of mine, and a second bowl he fashioned for himself while I lay drooling on the couch. It was so very very good.

Sunday morning found me and J in the kitchen snacking on leftovers from the previous night’s dinner and dessert. Lunch was salt-and-pepper pistachios and hummus with flatbread out in the yard after some gardening in the sunshine. Since it was Riley’s fourth birthday, dinner was to be a true celebration. While J ran out for a haircut, courtesy of everyone’s favorite Unkie Scot, I shelled a pint of fresh organic peas, sliced asparagus and garlic, and sliced and thoroughly washed the leeks (boy were they sandy!). While I cooked a big pot of fettuccine I sautéed the leeks and garlic until they were soft and yielding and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Before they could dry out and crisp, I threw in my customary handful of red pepper flakes and I doused it all with a glass of a crisp local white wine. While that reduced into an amber syrup, I blanched the asparagus in the pasta water, beat a couple of eggs and had J, freshly coiffed, grate some Parmesan cheese. In one fell swoop, we tossed the pasta, asparagus, raw peas, and eggs into the leeks and tossed it all together with a generous glug of spicy olive oil and a fluffy mound of cheese. A sprinkle of kosher salt and a few grinds (okay, maybe more than a few for me) of black pepper later and dinner was served. I hate to brag, but this was a mighty fine bowl of pasta. The leeks were almost creamy and the wine-syrup was thickened and lush and clinging to the noodles. The peas, few as they were, were the stand out flavor of the dish, carrying through every bite, laden with pea or woefully pea-lacking. The asparagus were crisp-tender and the fluffy threads of cheese were wonderfully salty. J and I ate like two greedy piglets, but I couldn’t finish my bowl. Riley and Holdy eyed the pasta hopefully, but there was no hope for them – J laid claim to any and all leftovers. Sorry, pups, maybe next time.

The second quart of strawberries was not going to make it another day. The only problem with getting absolutely ripe fruit from the CSA is that ripe fruit’s shelf life is miniscule compared to the bullet proof stuff we buy in the grocery store. It demands to be eaten now or it will dissolve into a puddle of brown mush. A strawberry dessert was clearly in order, but what to make? I’m starting to learn to think of meals from a “What do I have?” perspective rather than a “What do I want?” starting point. Remembering the strawberry-rhubarb concoction in the refrigerator and the whipping cream and strawberry juice snuggled in behind the milk; it came to me – Strawberry Fool! I set J to work whipping cream again while I sliced the rest of the strawberries. Tonight, I thinned out the strawberry-rhubarb sauce with some of the strawberry juice and, while looking for the Gran Marnier, I stumbled upon my bottle of cachaca. Oh yeah, this is going to be good and I feel a cocktail forming in my head. I sent J to rummage through the refrigerator for a can of seltzer and to fetch some glasses. Now I was making both Strawberry Fool and its beverage cousin, the Strawberry Foolish. Party!

Strawberry Fool assembly: drop several sizable dollops of pillowy whipped cream into the bottom of a shallow dish, toss sliced strawberries with strawberry-rhubarb sauce thinned with strawberry juice and cachaca, nestle spoonfuls of syrupy strawberries and sauce into the mound of whipped cream, crumble leftover scone over the top.

Strawberry Foolish assembly: spoon strawberry-rhubarb sauce into a glass, thin down with strawberry juice and a shot of cachaca, add ice, top off the glass with seltzer, and mound a spoonful of whipped cream on top. If you like your drinks creamy, stir some cream in with the juice and cachaca before adding the soda. Next time, I’m blending this up into a delightfully frozen concoction.

The rest of the lettuce was used up on Monday night’s black bean and bacon jalapeno cheese burgers. Tuesday night was a wash because of a doctor’s appointment. Wednesday night was falafel night (I thought about slicing the radishes into the salad I stuffed into my whole wheat pitas, but chickened out). Thursday night was Panini night with some fabulous Zarro’s bread and some homemade tomato sauce (I wanted to make spinach Panini, but I was too wiped to clean the spinach). Friday started with the best of intentions to use up the spinach and asparagus in a pasta dish with a radish salad, but the week got the best of me. Thus, the need for Mexican takeout to soothe my soul.

Wow, all of this writing and I haven’t even hit this week’s bag full o’ goodies. That’s another entry for another day. So much great stuff, so little time.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I get exhausted just reading about your hyperkinetic weekends!

    You're right about June, of course. You didn't even mention the emotional turmoil that goes with graduation & stepping up, and I get hit with both of those every year.

    You have a way with word, Shiu - you coulda been a food writer!