[Sunday night dinner, November 2008.]
Okay. Lately it seems like all I’ve been doing is baking — and it’s true that my oven’s been getting more of a workout than usual. I’ve scraped the sugar jar completely bare (maybe not a bad thing?) and gone through more butter than any person has a right to. I’ve melted all the chocolate I could find in my pantry to make ganache and I think I can finally take a little break. Yes, cakes, cookies, and the occasional pastry are what’s right with the world but do you know what’s also right? Vegetables. And eating them. Often.
The other night I made a dinner which I feel totally balanced out all those sweet treats and made me feel quite virtuous for using up a lot of my market haul that had been languishing in the vegetable drawer while I stuffed myself with cheese, wine, and cupcakes. What I did was: sauteed a red pepper and chopped chard in olive oil, roasted half a head of cauliflower, and, just because I couldn’t go too far over the healthy edge, spread fresh bread with brie and placed it alongside to round out my plate.
My brother would have been so proud.
I always think of him when I make greens, mostly because he’s the one who sort of got me started on the whole sauteeing-them-lightly-in-olive-oil in the first place. I mean, sure, I used to have creamed spinach (minus the cream) on toast, maybe with a poached egg, for a quick and satisfying weeknight supper, though I rarely branched out beyond that supermarket staple. But a few years ago — more like, yikes, four at this point — Kurt moved to Wheatland Vegetable Farm in Purcellville, Va., and everything changed. I mean it: up until that point I’d definitely visited farmers’ markets whenever I could, but I must ashamedly admit I picked up a lot of my produce at Whole Foods or the little organic market in my Washington, DC, neighborhood. I always knew vaguely it was best to eat in season but it was so easy to pick up pre-washed and bagged spinach or a tomato in the middle of winter (nevermind it didn’t taste so good) or or or.
I don’t really remember the first bunch of fluffy, tender chard he tossed my way, but I know that during the course of the summer he sweated it out an hour south of my urban abode he worked hard on the farm — and to convert me to eating local. To be honest, it wasn’t even that he had to try that hard; once I bit into an heirloom tomato I was wholly and utterly smitten, though he certainly helped ease my way. Funny-looking though they were, I had no idea that a tomato could taste so good. Well, I suppose I did know — we had a garden when I was growing up, after all — but years of conditioning to grocery store shopping had caused me to forget something I probably was never truly conscious of in the first place.
Summer squash, those tomatoes, little knobbly cucumbers, baskets of basil, and the ubiquitous chard was the siren song of that summer. Sometimes he’d stop by my little studio apartment on the way from working the farmers market in my neighborhood; I’d come home to find evidence he’d been there: beautiful pink tulips drooping delicately on my dining room table, a light spattering of dirt on the kitchen floor, a fridge packed full of gorgeous, freshly-picked vegetables. I loved those weekends.
One of his specialties from that time (and probably it still is) was to chop and liberally douse chard, spinach or kale with olive oil, slice some garlic or onions, and cook the whole mess until it was sweet and melting. I love to cook greens this way, too, though I might use a little bit less oil. I didn’t do this the other night, but often near the end I’ll add a handful of chickpeas or white beans; along with a few roasted potatoes or steamed couscous the dish makes a complete and satisfying meal.
Summer is long gone, even though I swear my mind is lost back somewhere in July (did I write that article? Did I send that editor that rewrite? Where am I, again?), but a hearty meal of market vegetables does wonders for helping me feel more anchored in the moment. The holidays loom, a new year beckons, and I find myself impatiently awaiting what’s next even as I know I must slow down to savor this very sparkling present. The moon rises early now but I swear it’s brighter than it ever was this whole cool summer, and that is something to marvel over. Breathe, I tell myself, breathe right now and eat this roasted cauliflower. Cook down those greens until they become silky and soft and make you feel like you have all the time in the world for dreaming.
It’s amazing what a few good vegetables can do.
(And, I can’t wait to see my brother. Just a few more weeks.)
Sauteed Chard and Red Pepper
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 bunch chard, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
5 Tb. olive oil
Heat the onion and olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. After a few minutes, add the pepper and stir well to coat. Sautee for a few more minutes then add the chard, stirring well. Add a bit of water or oil if the vegetables are sticking. Cover, lower heat to low, and cook until the chard is wilted and the pepper is soft but not mushy. Add salt and pepper liberally to taste.