Archive for April, 2009

Mesclun is Not a Drug

April 24, 2009

I planted some mesclun (salad mix) seeds five weeks ago, a bit early perhaps, and they seemed to take forever to sprout. I’m impatient, but coaxing them is useless. Giving plant food to seeds is overkill.

Mesclun is a French dialect word meaning “mix”, so technically “mesclun mix” is redundant, but it’s not any worse than “PIN number”. Such is language use.

My “gourmet” mix includes green and red lettuces, arugula, curly endive, Russian kale. The combinations vary from seed company to seed company; read the labels. There is usually a combination of lettuces and bitter greens, and some curly something-or-other to make it look “gourmet.” They’re all delicious.

Anybody can grow salad, even in the city. Salad mixes can grow with less sun than summer vegetables require, and they’re perfectly happy in cool weather. Growing your own won’t replace going to the green grocer or supermarket for greens, but it’s a satisfying act to pick a few of your homegrown lettuce leaves and throw them into the salad bowl or on a sandwich.

My mesclun babies are now about an inch and a half high, and they’ll need to be thinned soon. They’re growing in barrels so I can tend them more easily.

Annual herbs are also easy to grow in barrels, but you do need some sun, so if your condo balcony faces northwest, you’re out of luck.

But more on the mesclun as it grows up.


Nothing Fishy

April 22, 2009

Wednesday, April 22

My neighbor, Terry, is a good fisherman, and the local streams here are stocked with trout. Terry’s wife doesn’t particularly like to gut fish for cooking, so I often get the fruits de mer of his labor.

I love fresh trout, not only because of the great taste fresh fish has, but because of a couple of good lessons it teaches me. One is what fresh fish look and smell like. The trout that Terry gives me has virtually no smell (they’re fresh water fish) except a kind of clean fish smell.

This gives me a comparison when I want to buy fresh fish at a market. I have no difficulty asking the person behind the fish counter to let me smell the fish before I buy it. If it smells ‘fishy’ or off in any way, I don’t bother. I can get something better in the freezer aisle.

A clean fish smell, except when I gut them. Then it’s easy to understand why Terry’s wife might not want to do this. But that’s the second lesson. You remind yourself when you disembowel a whole animal that you are eating something that was alive recently, and you try to appreciate the ladder of life that permits one species to consume another one.

I can understand vegetarianism, but I can’t understand people who eat animal protein but who do not want to know that it comes from animals. Such culinary denial. If we all had to catch and slaughter our own animal protein, we’d probably eat a lot less of it.

Thank you, Messieurs Trout (and Fisherman Terry). That I am higher on the food chain than you may just be an accident. But in this universe, my culinary spirit is grateful. Excuse me while I go get some flour and oil for the pan.


April 19, 2009

Thursday, April 16

I get on food jags. On the ides of April (technically, the 13th) I bought a pack of low fat, low carb sandwich wraps and whole wheat pita, which gave me an excuse to play with those breads for a while.

A basic ham and Swiss cheese wrap was first—with cuke slices, red bell pepper strips, Southwestern sweet-hot mustard, and a sprinkle of chili powder. Que alegría.

Next was one with more Swiss, herb-coated chicken breast slices, asparagus spears, and some homemade Creole remoulade sauce (made with homemade blender mayo, of course).

I was on a roll. I was on a wrap and roll.

Then a Greek, gyro-style one, but porkless. Instead, some leftover lamb from Easter rolled into a cone-shaped pocketless pita, ‘me ola’ (with everything): tomato (wretched winter ones for now), thinly sliced onion, and homemade tzatziki sauce (made with homemade yogurt). Bon Appetit. Or as they say in Greek, Kali orexi.

Or rather, bon wrappetit.

Easter Sunday, April 12

April 12, 2009

I always buy lamb for Easter, but I waited too late this year. All that the supermarkets had left on Saturday were expensive crown racks. My favorite supermarket here, Martin’s (a subsidiary of Giant) did have some cheaper shank ends, so I bought a twin pack for $6.50. They also had hormone-free whole fryers for half-price ($3.13) and ham butts for an astounding .58/lb ($4.38). A good meat harvest for under $15.

I marinated the lamb overnight in a standard mix of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and rosemary. Standard but never tiring. I roasted the two shanks for a couple of hours; they should have been braised, but I like the smell of roasting lamb on Easter.

For the rest of the Easter meal, I mashed some Louisiana yams and steamed some broccoli, and a colorful plate it was. I added some slices of the ham butt. Lamb and yam and ham make a harmonious ménage a tois.

I feel a Biblical connection with the lamb, and a cultural connection to the ham and the two vegetables, having grown up Italian in New Orleans, LA. It would be an odd combination in other lamb-eating parts of the world, but for me it was food as a reflection of myself.

Dare I say, the meal resurrected my spirit.

The salad says spring

April 9, 2009

Finally, edible green stuff is starting to spout in my yard, and I can start grazing on things for my first real spring salad. My friend Lu chides me by saying “Are you going out to get grass to eat again?” At least I know where the “grass” comes from. Does he think lettuce from Chile is any safer to eat?

Young dandelion leaves are a mildly bitter addition to my bowl (best picked before the flowers emerge), the sort of taste that radicchio or endive provides.

Violets are coming up now. The purple and white flowers are attractive and tasty, and weirdly interesting when you serve them to your friends, who wonder if you’ve lost your mind putting flowers in with the lettuce. The leaves are good, too, in moderation.

Wild onions are ubiquitous, but their taste is breath destroying; the chives and Egyptian onions that I planted are milder alliums.

I also get mache or corn salad resprouting from seeds I sprinkled about.

I love this time of year. It’s the first time I can hunt and harvest food not in a grocery store. I feel my taste buds waking up with the red buds (which are also tasty). This long cold spring is moving on finally. The salad says so.