[Spring flowers, April 2008.]
When T.S. Eliot called April the ‘cruellest month’ ( breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain) I think he did it a disservice. True, clouds are hovering over San Francisco today, and last night I fell asleep to the drip-drip-drip of rain against my bedroom window — causing me to remember the first month we moved here, when it rained nearly every day and summer’s dry hills seemed an impossibility — but water is always much-needed for we Californians, and I can’t much complain. It’s also true that this season is one of transition, a time when the earth emerges slowly from its long slumber and shakes itself into wakefulness; if we have days of rain and sun and unexpected chilly winds, that’s all just part of it.
I’ve made a few soups lately that have made me feel as though I were actually eating spring, probably because of their color, but also because of their pure simplicity and freshness. One was a riff on my broccoli soup and one was something I made for a dinner party on Friday: just some leeks, asparagus, and spinach cooked until all was melting and brothy and delicious. While savoring each spoonful, I felt as though the outdoors was clamoring at the door to come in; it tasted of the garden, and the earth. On a gray, blustery day that rattles all the blossoms down from their branches, a hot bowl of soup can be just the thing to ease the bite.
Now, about that dinner party: It was bit of a challenge only because I wanted to try a few new things, and because I had less time than I sometimes do; also, I had two vegan guests, one low-fat eater, and two vegetarians (myself included) to please, and I wanted to do better than simply ‘fine.’ I didn’t want to make polenta and roasted vegetables because I’ve done that so many times for a classic and delicious vegan main course, but my inspiration, I have to admit, was running a bit low. (It happens! Sometimes the only way out is to not over think it — if possible! — and to pare down.)
What I came up with was: a baked halibut steak marinated in its usual white wine, olive oil, and lemon juice; lots of little roasted new potatoes; a big salad punctuated by roasted beets, greens beans, radishes, and almonds; lightly sautéed portabello mushroom slices, and a Mediterranean-influenced dish of Rancho Gordo butter beans baked in tomato sauce. To start with, the very simple seasonal soup of fresh green vegetables (I decided not to puree it, so we could see exactly what we were eating) and to finish, a Meyer lemon sorbet from the last of the lemons given to me by a friend (she has a tree in her city backyard) and an orange sorbet, a fresh strawberry ice cream, and vegan gingersnaps. Before even all of this, I cut up an Acme whole wheat walnut loaf and put it out with a fava bean, roasted garlic and red pepper dip, olive, home made hummus, and a dry sparkling wine. Surprisingly, given all this bounty, there were few leftovers.
[What we ate the other night, April 2008.]
Today I received an unexpected and lovely surprise: a piece in the Chronicle, which I wrote last summer and to be honest, had pretty much forgotten about. I think it’s particularly appropriate to my mood lately (and, apparently, my mood last summer!), for it’s been one moved and motivated by this seasonal change to wish for my own garden. This comes on the heels of Michael Pollan’s excellent story in Sunday’s New York Times magazine about the virtues (and pleasures) of planting a garden. Not only to reduce one’s ‘carbon footprint’ — I would argue that eating tender lettuce picked a few minutes before eating it is one of the most wonderful things you can do in life. Of course, I love food, and I love vegetables, so for me, perhaps, this idea is more alluring than to others. But I think for most of us who’ve either grown or grown up with a garden, having easy access to seasonal produce is nothing short of fantastic.
Some day, I think, and then I’ll go pick blackberries from the bush in the field at my parents’ house in lieu of my own. Some day I will have land and space and time to grow my garden. In the meantime, I’ll quietly celebrate my luck at having access to such good local produce in my everyday life, and make more pots of these spring-appropriate soups.
Asparagus, leek and spinach soup
4 leeks, sliced thinly and rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 bunch asparagus, chopped with its woody ends discarded
1/2 pound spinach washed and chopped
salt and pepper
In a large pot, sautée the leeks in a few tablespoons of olive oil over low heat. When they are beginning to soften, add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook on high heat for a few minutes, then reduce to a simmer. Add the water and spinach, and simmer for about 10 minutes to let the flavors blend. Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.
Broccoli and spinach soup
1 bunch broccoli florets, washed and separated
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 potato, diced
1 bunch spinach, washed
5-7 cups water or broth
herbs du provence
salt and pepper
In a large pot, sautée the onion and garlic over medium heat. After about 5 minutes, add the broth or water, broccoli, and potato, and cook, half-covered, until the broccoli and potato is tender. Add the spinach.
With an immersion blender or in a food processor, puree the soup until it’s smooth. Season with salt and pepper and the herbs. Serve hot.