Wednesday, August 15, 2012
On warm nights, we sit out on the little deck off our bedroom. We’re talking about buying an outdoor heater for the space so we can use it even more than we do. We read, or watch an episode of Friday Night Lights on a laptop– we’re midway through season 3 – or just sit and catch up. I saw my first shooting star last night, just as we were about to come inside. Alexi said he hadn’t seen one since he was around 8 years old. I couldn’t believe my eyes - I felt like a character in a movie watching a UFO fly by, or something. One of those little moments of magic that happens around me all the time, somewhere in the background, that I was lucky enough to see this time.
Also noteworthy, I made my first and, likely, last batch of ice cream of the summer. It was well worth the wait. Nectarine. Cooking the nectarines, in the process of putting it together, nearly knocked me out. If I’d had peaches on hand, I probably would’ve also made a pie, just for love of that scent.
Our dinner was entirely comprised of vegetables.
When I was growing up, we ate home grown vegetables all summer; legendary sized cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like, thanks to Alaska’s midnight sun. Most of our back yard was roto-tilled and turned into a garden. When we were hungry outside of meal times, we were sent to the garden to get a snack. Scallions were a particular favorite of mine, and remain so to this day. One of my chores was weeding; early on in the season, trying to do it without also pulling out the tiny vegetable shoots was a challenge. The accidents, however, were usually happy ones. Nothing tastes better than a baby carrot. We were all outside working together, and there was goodness in that shared experience. I suspect my parents gardened both as a way to have better things to eat, and because it was what they were used to doing, both being the children of farmers.
The rest of the year, much of the produce we ate was of the canned variety. The only fresh vegetable I remember having in winter was in the form of a salad of iceberg lettuce accompanied by tomatoes that tasted like nothing. I suppose this was due to the distance from the source. Not much was shipped to Alaska in winter, and what did arrive was expensive and not very good.
Generations ago, the first people in my family who became farmers did so because it was a way to survive, most likely, and not for the love of it. Their cultivation of food was so that they’d have it. It may have become a love, for the land, for the act, and that may have been passed on to their descendants. A few years ago, close to retirement age, my parents took up farming. My dad started out by studying agriculture in college and if his father hadn’t died when he was twenty, he might have stayed put in Texas and farmed with him. I know my parents feel a great tie to the land they inherited, and their present efforts at least partially spring from memories of place. I’ve never felt that way about anywhere. I choose to live where I do because the climate is perfect for me, the terrain is beautiful, and it feels culturally similar to what I grew up with in Alaska. I’m comfortable here. Food relates to my sense of home in that I do grow my own from time to time, because of my memories of doing it, and I'm selective in what I buy and prepare for my family. I love good food. I hope my boys take that love and that selectivity with them throughout their lives.
One of the vegetable dishes we ate with some regularity in the winter months of my childhood was canned green beans with canned new potatoes, and I loved it. (I think it’s safe to say this is the only canned vegetable dish I can speak about with animation, aside from canned spinach, and that’s another kind of animatedness entirely.) When I was deciding what to make for dinner, looking over the contents of my refrigerator, I took out the pound of beans and pound of fingerling potatoes, remembering that dish. I decided to make something I bookmarked some time ago in Canal House Cooking, a constant source of seasonal inspiration. We all loved it.
String Bean and Potato Succotash Salad
Slightly adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 1
1 pound waxy potatoes, such as red potatoes (also called boiling potatoes, or new potatoes) or fingerling potatoes
1 pound string beans, trimmed
4 ears corn, shucked
1 shallot (can also use 2 scallions, or ½ a small onion)
a handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, followed by the corn. Remove the corn after 5 minutes, and let it cool. Add the string beans to the pot with the potatoes, and cook until their color changes from bright green to a deeper green, 3-4 minutes. Scoop the beans out of the water with tongs, and cool them in a bowl of cold water. When the potatoes are tender, after about 15 minutes, drain them.
Cut the corn off the cobs and put it in a large bowl. Cut the potatoes into chunks, and add them to the bowl with the corn, followed by the string beans. Add the olive oil, parsley and shallot, toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more oil if it seems dry.
To make it a main course, add feta or olives if you wish, or enjoy as it is.
Feel free to add squash, peas or other vegetables you have on hand.
Yield: 4 as a main course; 6 or so as a side