Thursday, August 28, 2014

Warm and Fragrant and Sad Carrot Salad

I wish I could write something cheering and funny. I want to model a nice, brisk end-of-summer attitude for the kids, for you. But I am just boringly, wiltingly sad. I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. Just the dial-toney hum of missing Ben, who started high school, of counting the minutes until Birdy starts sixth grade. There is a big gangly-necked blue-jay baby at the feeder outside my office window, and his mom is coaching him about how to eat, and he is moving his beak in an awkward caricature of chewing, seeds falling out all over the place while he cocks his fluffy, baffled head.

Craney will never leave us! 
Ben is making his own school lunch. He spends a lot of time with his friends, whom I adore. I cannot always guess what he is thinking. The kids leave us in increments, I’m starting to understand. It’s all right and good and perfect. We are so lucky! And I could just cry. I will.
I've got to start growing again.
Still, there is the consolation of being invited to dinner, which is, I think I’ve mentioned, one of my greatest pleasures—and one of my greatest skills, the getting us invited. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but this carrot salad? It’s the same one from the famous carrot-salad-in-the-car story. The one that goes: one time Catherine's family was invited to their friends Lee and Meredith’s house to do some cross-country skiing. And when Meredith later invited them to stay for dinner, Catherine said, “Oh, we’d love to! I actually happen to have a carrot salad in the car. Which I brought, you know, just in case.” Our friends like to remind me of this story at least every time we see them, which is, thank God, a lot. (If not quite enough.)

Last night we were actually invited to dinner ahead of time (yay!) and I made this. If you’re getting lots of sweet, delicious carrots from your garden or farm share, this is a lovely change of pace from the usual rawness and crunch. 
Another of my carrot-season favorites: escabeche, with jalapenos and onions, which makes me feel like I'm back at Tacos Vallarta in Santa Cruz, gorging on carnitas loaded down with pickled carrots. I  can as much as I can can. Some jars are called ahead of time.
The carrots in the salad are tender but, thanks to the vinegar, still firm. The seasoning is bright and unexpected, herby and fresh and mellow all at once. Good hot or cold. Delicious. Even though Ben did not, I notice, choose to pack the leftovers in his lunchbox. (WTF?)
Gardening is not my area of expertise. I had to pick the mint from underneath the sprawling tomatoes and volunteer grape vine.
Warm and Fragrant Carrot Salad
Serves 8

This is my expanded riff on “Carrots, Roman Style” from the lovely Deborah Madison book The Savory Way. Above the recipe I have written “simple + yummy,” but then, weirdly, I have made about a million notes. Don’t be dismayed by the long cooking; this happens largely unattended. You can used a teaspoon of dried mint if that’s all you’ve got; also, ground cumin is fine, but use a bit less.

1 ½ pounds nice, fresh, sweet carrots, scrubbed
¼ cup olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped fresh mint
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped celery leaves (or, if you’ve got it, lovage—but less of it)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 smashed and peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3 cups water
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (and more, for later)
Black pepper
More herbs for garnish

Cut the carrots into 2-inch lengths, and then cut these into quarters, sixths, or eights, so that they are all nice and even(ish). (I don't see why you couldn't slice them into the usual coins, unless you are obedient like me.)

In a Dutch oven over low heat, warm the oil and add the herbs, cumin, and garlic, and cook just until you can really smell them. Add the carrots and toss them with the oil and aromatics, then add the salt, water, and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Deborah says, “By this time the liquid should have reduced to almost nothing, leaving the carrots nicely glazed. If the pan becomes dry before the carrots are done, add more water in ¼- or ½-cup increments until they are sufficiently tender.”

Grind on some pepper, then taste for seasoning, adding more salt or a splash more of vinegar until the carrots taste very bright and delicious. Serve with a scattering of more herbs. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Instant Pickles, Beach-Rock Rainbows, and Endless Summer

Man, oh man. Even as I write this, I'm watching maples leaves flutter and drift, watching the plums darken and blush, watching a roly-poly woodchuck fattening up. ("I really like the blobby animals," Birdy just announced from the window. "Woodchucks and manatees. You know. The fatties." Me too.) This is all I can say about it. Because I love cool nights, I do. But the end of summer? Kill me.

We have been having such a good time.

We made Jiffy Pop at our campsite. Jiffy Pop wants you to know that they don't recommend popping it over a campfire. Just saying. I wonder what they imagine people are doing with it.
We played Acquire in our miniature Wellfleet rental. Birdy took this photo from the spiral staircase.
Ben and Birdy made drip castles.
I laughed in a pond. 
We arranged dozens of rock rainbows on various Cape Cod beaches.
Speaking of summer, which we are still in the middle of, I reposted some of my very, very favorite recipes here. Including the pasta that I am making tonight, the peach jam that I am making as soon as I hit "publish," and the dill pickles that I am not currently making:

The only reason I am not brining any of those pickles right this minute is that I invented something I'm calling Instant Pickles, and I make them all the time because we keep needing pickles for picnic lunches, and I keep not having made any. 

This used to be a full jar.
Here's how you make them: fill a quart-sized jar with sliced pickling (or regular) cucumbers. I cut the cukes in half lengthwise, and then cut the halves into fairly thin slices. As you stuff the cukes into the jar, add a couple of heads of dill (or sprigs if you've got no heads), 2 garlic cloves peeled and smashed, and, if you like, a hot pepper or a pinch of pepper flakes. Add a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of white vinegar, and shake the jar well. That's it. They're ready as is, but they'll get better as they sit in the fridge (shake the jar  as you think to). Plus, as they sit, the salt will draw the water out of the cukes so that they'll end up in a fair amount of brine in the end. Unless you eat them all right away. Which you might.