Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I haven't really been feeling the cooking urge lately. I'm just too busy outside making space for and planting food to be bothered to make very much of it. That will change, though; we have a couple of potlucks coming up, and I'm teaching a class on meat-curing on Saturday, and as the garden gets up to full speed there will be much that needs freezing or otherwise eating. But for now, I'm getting busy with the shovel and such, and then looking around sort of bewildered when I come in at the end of the day, as if dinner is something that I haven't really considered at all. Because I haven't.

Today was just such a day. The garden expansion is just about done, so today I did other things: prune the willow tree back so it's much more open and friendly underneath and not shading the asparagus any more. Cut the branches into pieces and compost them/save the fat ones for burning. Rip out a strip of lawn against one side of the garden fence and replace it with all of the lavender which I dug out of its previous bed where it wasn't getting enough water (since it was partly under the eave of the screen porch). And weed both sides of that piece of fence, mulching it hard, to keep the lawn from encroaching upon the garden. Weeds are bad enough without letting grass grow right up against the fence. The new design has buffer zones of heavy mulch or plantings around the fence to further exclude grass and weeds.

All of this will make a lot more sense when I post pictures, which should happen soon (I promise). In the meantime, how about another half-assed dinner? This one has the virtue of being almost entirely local from top to bottom. To begin, grass-fed stew meat from the freezer. I cut the stew-sized chunks into much smaller cubes, trimming off any tough bits as I went. I browned the meat in butter, removing it when nicely colored, adding diced onion (the only non-homegrown vegetable), green garlic, brocoli, kale (2 kinds), fennel, chard, herbs, peas, and carrots, and let it all get contentedly tender before splashing in a bit of wine and the rest of some beef-chicken stock with soba noodles in it (first straining out the noodles and other solids). And I let it simmer for a minute, thickening it with a dollop of beurre manié flavored with mustard, while the first-rate local polenta arrived at a doneness.

I poured the meaty mixture into a gratin dish, and topped it with polenta into which I whisked a goodly portion of leftover green mash made from escarole and endive. And popped it in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes to color and bubble the topping. I threw some minced fennel fronds at it as it cooled.

Now polenta is neither mashed potatoes nor a flaky pie crust. It doesn't cohere into something other than that which it covers, allowing for textural contrasts and the like. Serving it made both layers into one, resulting in a glorious porridge of grain and stew that glistened seductively while smelling like pure and comforting nourishment. It started out sunny and hot today, but clouded over and then began to rain by midafternoon–perfect weather for exertions and transplanting. And stewy things that involve turning on the broiler. Tomorrow it's going to be stinking hot and humid again, so I'm thinking about turning the leftovers from this meal into popsicles.

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