For nearly four months this blog has languished here, neglected and forlorn, half-heartedly attempting to entice passersby with embarrassingly out-of-season recipes for things like zucchini and raspberries and — good lord — rhubarb. It’s not the blog’s fault, really. In September I started an awesome new job and, awesome though it is, it required some settling in to. Then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the inevitable Christmas craziness — a month-long stretch during which we saw our pizza dude far more frequently than I care to admit. On the rare occasions that I found time to make something worth mentioning here, I looked at my calendar and realized it would be weeks before I was likely to do so again.
But I have things under control now. For the past month I’ve managed to cook almost every night. Real meals. Made from actual food! Last week I signed up for Eat Your Books, a handy-dandy new website that allows me to search the index of every cookbook I own in a matter of seconds. As I contemplated a lone head of cauliflower yesterday, Eat Your Books informed me that my library contains 99 recipes for cauliflower — a whole world of possibilities. And from that world of possibilities I selected a recipe I’ve made a dozen times before. Hey, baby steps.
My to-do list is kicking my ass. And not in the normal boy, am I busy way, either; it’s kicking my ass in more of a it’s 10:00 — do you mind if we just have pickles for dinner? way. My point here is that it’s been a busy week — the sort of week in which last week’s clean laundry languishes unfolded at the foot of the bed and dust bunnies gather in corners to plot their eventual takeover of the living room and minor concerns like eating and sleeping slip to the bottom of the priority list. After a week like that, a girl really deserves a cocktail. Or seven. Preferably in a warm, sandy spot near a large body of water, but the important thing is the cocktail.
On an unusually warm afternoon in the summer of 1980, my sister and I wandered into a little thicket of shade created by enormous ruffly leaves curving out from bright red stalks just tall enough for little girls to play beneath. Elated at such a discovery, we raced home to collect our buckets and shovels and then, for reasons intelligible only to little girls, spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the cool dirt amid those leafy stalks. I’m not sure if this memory has stuck with me for nearly thirty years because that patch of shade was such a lovely place in which to play or because of the boatload of trouble we got into when our favorite digging spot turned out to be the rhubarb patch of a neighbor lady whose Navy husband significantly outranked our father.
There’s absolutely nothing local about grapefruit, but you know what’s available locally right now? Turnips. There might still be a couple winter squash in my basement, but mostly it’s turnips. I’m not even sure I like turnips, so when a coworker mentioned that her daughter’s school was having a fruit fundraiser I succumbed to the siren song of citrus and ordered twelve pounds of grapefruit. Twelve pounds sounds like a lot of grapefruit, but it’s really not. The fruit was delivered last Friday and when I arrived at work the following Monday eager to chat with my friend and fellow grapefruit enthusiast Katie, she’d nearly run out. “What did you do with them?” I asked, hoping for a brilliant recipe I’d not yet discovered. “I just ate them,” she answered.
Oh. That honestly hadn’t occurred to me.
Whenever I’m called upon to feed a crowd my thoughts turn to slaw. Truth be told, my thoughts turn to slaw — with its delightful crispy, crunchy freshness — far more frequently than any social engagements require, but the point here is that slaw is the perfect thing to take along to a picnic or a potluck or any sort of food-related festivity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be made from whatever vegetables happen to be in season. Although it’s a great do-ahead dish because the longer it sits (within reason) the more the flavors blend, it can just as easily be thrown together at the last minute for an impromptu gathering without sacrificing a great deal of yumminess. Plus slaw looks pretty, tastes fabulous, and is a hell of a lot better for you than pigs in a blanket. In fact, I whipped some up earlier in anticipation of Academy Awards revelry.
I’ve developed a bit of a thing for this baked pumpkin. It all started back in October. We’d planned a Halloween party and I had my heart set on baking something — maybe soup — inside a pumpkin, mostly because I thought it would look cool. But really. Who wants to stand around at a party eating soup? So I scrapped the baked pumpkin idea and then, when Chris got sick, the party itself. Which worked out rather nicely, because you know what’s great for sick people? Soup.
I’d originally intended to fill the pumpkin with cream and gruyère, but my cheesemonger sent me home with three other fancy cheeses and this recipe in Gourmet persuaded me to add bread to the mix, making the resulting dish less a soup than a warm bowl of soft, gooey cheesy goodness.
If you own a television and are not particularly speedy with the remote, you’ve probably seen the commercial in which KFC glibly suggests that the only way to feed a family of four for under $10 is to buy them a bucket of fast food chicken. My initial response, after watching the TV mom and her two children zip through the grocery feigning shock at the price of such thrifty staples as a bag of flour, was to demand of KFC, ‘If I can’t cook it for $10, how can you?”
It was a rhetorical question, of course. For one thing, I was talking to the TV, plus I have a reasonable grasp on economies of scale. More importantly, I’ve read enough of the modern-day muckrakers to know that fast food is made possible by farming subsidies and cheap oil, and that the industry relies on exploitatively cheap labor and unsustainable factory farming to manufacture its sleazy product at bargain-basement prices.
But once I finished angrily lecturing the television — which had long since moved on to flushable toilet brushes or some other such nonsense — it occurred to me that not only could I cook that for $10, I could cook something much better using (mostly) local ingredients. And since we’d already invited Chris’s aunt and uncle to dinner, I figured last night was as good an opportunity as any to prove the Colonel wrong.