I always try to let the circumstances of a day inform the dinner that I make, incorporating as much foresight as I can in the from of procuring certain ingredients in sufficient quantity to feed whoever will be around. Then there's the amount of time I have to actually cook, and whatever the season offers in the way of things that are fresh and perfect from the garden. In the case of today, Milo's Grandmother arrived for his party tomorrow and it looks like we're one day away from a frost that will end the lives of a good portion of what we have growing.
Put simply, this summer has sucked balls (and not in the good way). We had cold and rain every day of June and most of July; real summer weather arrived in August and now we're back to seasonal coolness and rapidly shortening days. Yes, I know that bitching about the weather is about as useful as explaining radiocarbon dating to a young-Earther, but this summer has been a fucking wash. Literally. Almost all of the things I planted for fall are still stunted little babies- we'll have no turnips, rutabaga, or black radishes bigger than a thimble- and since I was away for a critical week there's no tomato sauce or grape jelly in the pantry for winter. Even if I had been around, we still would have had to buy most of what we canned. And our peppers are only just beginning to ripen, meaning that all of the lovely hot sauces I like to make may not happen at all this year.
I love our friends, and I like this place, but if this is the new normal I don't want to live here any more. I'm not living through full-force winters and then getting wet, chilly, useless barely-summers. No matter how perfect spring and fall are- and they are- it's not going to be enough.
So to make best use of the non-spicy garden, I yanked a pile of stuff to form a saucy substrate for a whole pile of mussels we got from the fishmonger. Onion, garlic, fennel, carrot, parsley, chioggia beet, celery, Roma tomato, thyme, beet greens, chard, and scallion all went in the big pot along with some leftover dashi from lasagna night and about half a bottle of cheap (yet tasty) Alsatian Riesling. It simmered while I washed and checked the mussels for aliveness, then dumped them in until they all opened. Meanwhile, a pound of spaghetti boiled, and then it all collided in a big bowl to great effect with a crusty local baguette on the side. Apart from how damn good it tasted, the best part was watching Milo figure out that this meal is all about the bread and the sauce; he quickly abandoned both bivalves and noodles alike in favor of diligent dippage. I've got some ideas about how to use that fact as a jumping-off point for future dinners, but for the time being this did just fine.