spring vegetable supper menu

I think I’ve turned a corner on my academic work.  It’s taken me nine months of struggle to finish up loose ends left dangling from my dissertation exile, publish a couple of articles, invent a few new classes for the job I started immediately after finishing the Ph.D., start new work for conferences and grant proposals, make travel plans, plus a host of other teaching and administrative stuff that’s par for the course.  But I’ve done it.

I don’t want to say I’m out of the woods, but I feel that for the first time in a few years, my schedule is manageable and not subject to change at the drop of a hat, and I’m very, very much looking forward to having a little breathing room to do my research and well, you know, live.

Witness:  I dusted a lamp yesterday and felt infused with pleasure.  Because I actually had 2 minutes to dust a lamp and nothing but the immediacy of lamp-dusting on my mind.  The zen of dusting lamps.  Lame, huh?

Spring and summer are going to be quite busy here at Raccoon Tree Acres, but I only have a few deadlines.  The work I did this winter on proposals, conferences, and teaching my research subject makes them easier to meet, too.  I’ll be going to Maryland to visit the archive of a cantankerous modernist, London to read the papers of a sexologist, Prague to talk about dirty James Joyce, and Zurich to expound upon the literary fruits we know and love.  (Do I dare to eat a peach?  Why yes, I do.)  And we’ll have time to visit family and friends, too, in between.  We haven’t seen most of our family in years, so these are much-anticipated events.

I’m planning to blog the delights of food in all these places, of course.  But for now, I’m quite pleased at my lamp-dusting-local self and the drunken glee of Eugene on the sunny days in spring.  Our farmer’s market is glorious right now.  Our organic farms make the most of the plants they grow and sell the thinnings of their rows.  For the spring vegetable supper below, I bought new potatoes, big fat bunches of the sprouting tips of crucifers (kale, brussells sprouts, broccoli), tiny carrots and French radishes, turnips the size of a quarter, and the biggest bag of deep red rhubarb ever.

I’ll fess up to erring on the side of too much butter, cheese, and cream for the gratin and butter-braised vegetables.  No one complained, though.  The gratin was assembled by blanching the brussells sprout greens and boiling the potatoes, then layering both in a Pyrex dish with nutmeg, pepper, and a handful of chopped sprouting onions, leeks, and garlic that I had culled from my allium bed that afternoon.  Cream in which thyme and savory had been soaking was poured over the top, then a fontina-like Italian cheese whose name I can’t recall was grated over the whole shebang.

For the chimichurri marinade for a gorgeous piece of chinook salmon, I used the tender fronds of my caraway plant, fennel fronds, thyme, savory, lovage, celery, onion, lemon, and olive oil.  We grilled the fish on alder planks, so it was a lovely combination of fresh green and live smoke.

And the rhubarb?  Well, that was a no brainer.  I used some of my homemade granola to fancy up a crumble topping, and tossed the fat pieces with a bit of vanilla sugar and Clear gel food starch to control the juice.

I’m still full.

Spring Vegetable Supper

Fresh from the Market

To Start

Mt. Chanterelle Fern’s Edge Dairy goat cheese
Dolores’ Pickled Prunes

Rabbit Food

Green salad with nasturtium blossoms, French breakfast radishes, and young carrots with homemade lemon chive vinaigrette

Grill

Spring herb chimichurri salmon, grilled on alder planks

From the Kitchen
New potato, Brussells sprouting greens, and culled spring onion gratin
Butter-braised baby turnips and carrots with arugula flowers

From the Vine
Sweet Cheeks Rosy Cheeks
Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Clos du Bois Pinot Noir

Sweets of Spring
Rhubarb homemade granola crumble
Noris Dairy whipped cream

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everything’s coming up rose geraniums!

A by-product of any rhubarb cooked over the stove is the shocking pink syrup I wrote about last year. Here’s my new batch, making friends with two kinds of pickled plums and some pickled ginger in my refrigerator.  Hullo there!

The problem is that most of the rhubarb that flourishes here in the Willamette Valley is the green-stalked Victoria rhubarb (below).  When mixed with June strawberries, there’s no problem with color, but bright green rhubarb pie or crumble seems a little, well, less festive.

So if you can, grab up or pick hefty red rhubarb stalks when you see them.  I bought mine at Groundworks Organics at the farmer’s market last week, and made some syrup with vanilla sugar we made at our OSU Extension Master Food Preservers ‘Gifts in a Jar’ class last winter.  Just before pouring the sweet and sour concoction into a jar to cool, I swished a few rose geranium leaves in the syrup for an unusual flavor.

My problem is that I can’t stop eating my rose geranium-vanilla rhubarb syrup on ice cream.  I want to use it for crisp gin cocktails with a garnish of rose geranium flower.  Or maybe to spice up a fresh strawberry fruit salad.  Or maybe to drizzle over some sour cherry claufoutis.  Will it last, though?

Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

Now’s the bat time, by the way, to start shopping for scented geraniums.  I fell in love with the classic variety ‘Attar of Rose’ last year, but all my geraniums — peppermint, lemon balm, cinnamon, rose — died in the freeze.  The geranium lady at the market told me she lost most of hers, as well.  Even ones that were 10 years old.  A shame.

Rose geraniums make a wonderful simple syrup on their own, without rhubarb.  I seem to recall I made a simple syrup last year with local Pinot Gris and rose geranium.  If you can bring out complementary flavors in your chosen wine with the rose, all the better.  Other ideas?  You might try submerging a few leaves in a quart of sugar to make rose-scented sugar for baking, or even make a pound cake with the leaves imprinted on the top of the cake.

We’re pretty sure that my friend’s Greek grandma floated whole leaves on top of her summer jelly. I wonder if you could substitute rose geranium for roses in other kinds of jams, as well.  I guess I’ll have the entire summer to find out!

i pity the rhubarb fool

Suffering fools in my house:

Her: Would you like some rhubarb fool?

Him: Did you mean “do you want some rhubarb, fool?” or “do you want some rhubarb fool?”

Her: Both.

Him: I pity the rhubarb fool who rejects this hypothesis.

For the 0.31416% of my readers who understand this is a statistics joke, made “popular” by the Graduate Student Statistics Department T-Shirt Committee at Berkeley in the 90s, probability=1 that you laughed. The rest of youse fools, well, yeah, I only laughed after I finally persuaded my love to give the t-shirt to Goodwill in, like, 2005.

So this is a celebration of spring cleaning, and spring produce, too. Our CSA bag yielded three lovely stalks of pink rhubarb, and I had some leftover whipped cream from yesterday’s strawberry shortcakes, so I thought I’d whip up a quick fool. Rhubarb Fool is an old English dessert, not always the prettiest girl on the block, but can be lovely and even wild. In all cases, it is a combination of chopped, cooked rhubarb, mixed with sweetened whipped cream. One can puree the rhubarb or, as I did for my quickie, leave it chunky. It’s a nice, light combination of tart and creamy, bitter and sweet. In short, my ideal dessert. My version is very simple, and features Fee Bros. peach bitters, which brings out both the fruitiness and the bitterness of the rhubarb. The darker in color the rhubarb is, the darker the puree will be, but beware: rhubarb loses its color to the water, so you want to make sure not to use too much water, and reincorporate water into the puree.

I Pity the Rhubarb Fool

Serves 2

  • 3-4 medium stalks spring rhubarb
  • 3 T. sugar or xylitol (a sugar substitute that tastes just like sugar), or to taste
  • 5-6 shakes Fee Bros. peach bitters
  • 1 cup freshly whipped cream (please use real cream), sweetened with sugar and a bit of liqueur like Cointreau or Hungarian barack palinka (apricot)
  • fresh mint leaves for garnish

Slice rhubarb into 1-inch chunks, place in non-reactive saucepan with sugar and enough water to barely cover chunks. Simmer until soft but not dissolved, stirring occasionally. When fruit has softened, taste and adjust for sweetness. You may decide you’d like it sweeter. Remove from heat and let cool.

While fruit is cooling, whip up your whipped cream to soft peaks, adding sugar and liqueur to taste. Chill in refrigerator.

Spoon fruit into small glasses or bowls and chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple hours. Top desserts with whipped cream and garnish with a couple of mint leaves, if you have them.