Rocco officially outgrew some of his newborn clothes last week, an event we marked with photos and exclamations and the reorganization of his top dresser drawer. I am ever comparing the Rocco Today with the Rocco [Insert Age Here], something that’s pretty easy to do when you have an ongoing chronology building in your phone’s photo album, but what can I say? I’m nostalgic. It’s not that I long for those first few emotional, sleep-deprived days; it’s just that I like to remember them. They are part of Rocco’s story; they are part of ours; and, because those first early weeks were so hazy and slow, there’s a lot about them that would be easy to forget or neglect—namely, other things happening in the world outside this one. One that’s especially worth noting, for example: the release of Honey & Jam, a beautiful, seasonal baking book by Hannah Queen.
Last year at this time I was talking to you about sautéed beet greens. Today I’m bringing you sautéed Swiss chard. What can I say, I’m a one-trick pony when it comes to June vegetables. (Also, fun fact, I’m apparently thinking like the Italians, who refer to beet greens and chard almost interchangeably, says historian Clifford A. Wright.) While the name chard was originally a corruption of another French word, historically it’s been called everything from leaf beet and strawberry spinach to Roman kale, because it’s been considered so similar to these other greens. To a Nashville girl in 2014, carrying home bags of local greens from my CSA dropoff this past Monday night, that makes sense: because the main thing I was thinking while I washed earth off plants, cooking some and storing the rest, wasn’t how I wanted to highlight lamb’s quarters over collards or how intricate the differences were between the two. Instead it was the real and pressing need that all my greens have in common, namely this: I would need to find a way to cook and eat them all this week.
This year our vegetable CSA, CSA meaning community supported agriculture, or, essentially, a share of a particular farm’s produce, began in June. Every year it runs about through December, but the start date changes based on how the weather affects what grows, and this year it was a little later than last, so here in the initial weeks, things are still monochromatic. We leave with bags that bear twenty shades of green. And while this past week we’ve had beet green chips (excellent!) and, even in the sauna that is Nashville June, some pretty dreamy soup, we’ve also fallen back on the ever-beloved classic, the dish that reminds Tim of his childhood and me of old blog posts: sautéed greens.
So here’s the thing with sautéed greens, whether you’re talking about chard or beet greens or spinach or kale: When they are done right, they are so, so right. Oily and wilty, warm and comforting, sautéed greens are satisfying and nostalgic, and even if you didn’t grow up eating them, like I didn’t grow up eating them, they taste like home. The problem is that when they’re done wrong, they are so, so wrong: limp and tasteless, swimming in a greenish liquid, the sort of mixture that makes people say things like they don’t like vegetables, no thanks. I realized, while writing this post, that I never order sautéed greens at restaurants anymore, which I don’t blame you for thinking is a pretentious thing to say. But here is the reason: Once you’ve had one gloppy mess of greens and tried to force it down, you know you never want to do that again.
So here is how we sauté greens or, in this case, how we sautéed Swiss chard with onions and toasted walnuts and raisins: You start by melting oil (ghee or coconut oil or butter are what we like best) in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add sliced onions, salt and pepper, reducing the heat and letting the onions soften and caramelize for about 15 minutes or so. Add nuts and raisins, toasting for 5 minutes. Add chard and a little more salt and some water. The greens themselves cook pretty quickly, in 10 minutes or less, but the flavorful, aromatic addins add so much value to the dish, they’re worth the extra initial time. Once the greens are soft and wilted, you taste and adjust for salt and you’re done! We’ve been known to eat greens like these for dinner, but you might like them alongside roast chicken or a big pot of grass-fed pot roast.
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Two days ago on our morning walk, Tim and I put on sweatshirts. Yesterday, I pulled out my boots for the first time since May. Today, the window’s open in the bathroom, and even from the next room over, I can smell the fresh air and feel a cool breeze coming in (the high today in Nashville was 72 degrees). What’s more, down the hall and in the kitchen, the oven is on, and I have a pot filled with root vegetables boiling on the stove. Fall is here, officially and obviously, and I’ve been dressing, eating and, what I’m trying to say, I guess, is enjoying this new season, even when it means summer’s gone.
But before we get too deep in changing leaves, could I get one last hurrah for summer? I hate to say it as a lifelong October lover, but sometimes I’m nostalgic for the season that ends (besides winter). And while I was all set to pack away this late summer squash recipe for next year, our Monday CSA pickup brought a few more of the yellow squash we’ve been seeing the last few weeks. So I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind if I slipped this late summer squash quinoa dish in? You could, of course, swap out the yellow squash with a nice winter one, cubed and roasted with oil until it’s caramelized. You could, also, decide to go elsewhere for a recipe featuring pumpkin or apples. I’ll understand.
For now, here’s a quinoa dish we enjoyed before the temperatures dropped and the days shortened. It’s a reminder of the beauty that was, even as we walk forward into the beauty that is and the kind that is to come.
When we started registering for wedding gifts last summer, there was one thing Tim really wanted to add: an ice cream maker.
And where I (the impatient, get-it-done type) probably would have just clicked the first version I saw at Target or Williams and Sonoma and rejoiced to have checked something off my list, this man I married is different. He does research.
So it was in those final few months before our wedding that we had at least three different conversations about ice cream maker options: the kind where you have to freeze the bowl ahead of time, the kind with the freezing mechanism already inside; small ones, large ones; ice cream makers from Cuisinart, ice cream makers from Italy. Because this was around the time when I was off for a weekend to Oregon, I even remember talking to Kim and Tyler Malek from Salt and Straw about the ice cream maker(s) they use and recommend and why, jotting notes in my notebook to share with Tim.
My Tim loves ice cream. I mean, he loves it. He’s been dreaming of making his own (with raw milk because that’s what we drink) since long before he knew me (there are handwritten notes that prove this fact).
So having told you all that, I probably don’t have to tell you what happened when, after our honeymoon, opening the handful of gifts at my parents’ house in Chicago that our friends hadn’t already transported down to Tennessee for us, we found one very heavy, very large box sitting amongst them, holding that dream ice cream maker (a Delonghi GM6000, if you’re curious):
those first few weeks back in Nashville, he must have made ice cream eight or nine times.
And while I’ve been telling Tim all along, amongst our ice cream night with friends and homemade ice cream at the pie party and quiet nights at home filled with scoops of chocolate chocolate chip or bourbon vanilla or cinnamon or hazelnut coconut chocolate chip, that one of these days, I’ll really have to blog these ice creams, it wasn’t until recently, amidst our raw experiment week, when Tim made a raw ice cream sweetened only with dried fruit (!!), that I got too excited to contain myself.
So, without further ado, I bring you the most interesting ice cream I’ve ever had: Tim calls it raw chocolate. With an ingredients list including raw milk, dried fruit, raw organic egg yolks (does that scare you? read this), cocoa powder, vanilla, gelatin and cream (if we’d had raw cream, this could have been a totally raw version), it’s free of refined sugar and, I can almost promise, unlike anything you’ve ever had: icy and sweet, flecked with hints of raisin (although next time, we might just do dates), refreshing and unique and delicious.
After three attempts, two days and one satisfying result, I can honestly say I know something today I didn’t know a week ago—well, make that, I know a lot of somethings, and they all have to do with one thing, the kind of thing that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a slow learner (hand raised!) and prone to catastrophe (why yes, that was me that put wax paper in the oven on attempt #1)—I now know how to make the perfect apple strudel. There are bigger accomplishments to be made in life than this, I know, but there are few I’d be more happy about and few I’d be more excited to share with you.
So here is the story.
You could say things began last Saturday, at an evening wedding on the lake, where all the tables in a big white tent in Michigan were topped by gorgeous, green apples and a certain beautiful bride insisted we take a whole basket home with us, because have you read her blog? she’s always generous like that and, our arms full while we walked to the car, we brainstormed what to do with them.
But in another way, you could say the story starts even earlier than that—decades earlier—in a small Maywood kitchen where my grandma liked to bake and in the house I grew up in, where my mom liked to make her recipes. I found the original version of this strudel, one in Grandma’s writing, one in Mom’s, tucked into an overflowing cookbook, the kind you have to hold carefully or papers start falling out, and although there were many [crucial! important! why-don’t-you-guys-write-this-stuff-down?] instructions missing, my third attempt at following it was a charm, particularly when I enlisted my mom’s trained eye for help.
Secret #1: With apple strudel, it’s all about technique. There are many things you can fudge on: slice the apples, dice the apples; add nuts and raisins to the filling or leave them out; make one strudel or make them two at a time (the way the women in my family liked to). But one thing you can’t alter is the way you roll out the dough and spread the filling in a compact, uniform mountain right in the center. It should be high and even and just in the center of the dough. This is key.
Secret #2: You don’t have to chill the dough. This is mind-blowing. I mean, the original instructions insist you refrigerate the dough, in wax paper, for eight hours or overnight, but: Mom has never done this, and now I’m just guessing Grandma didn’t either. I could launch into a long aside here about how home cooks really should write their recipes down accurately! for posterity! for struggling granddaughters! But I already whined about this to my mom, so I’ll just assume you all know this and we’ll move on.
Secret #3: You control the dough. I could have called this one, Use lots of flour or This is why you don’t have to chill it, but I like mentioning control because it emphasizes how the power is in your hands, literally. The dough will seem very sticky and elastic when you first work with it, but you are free (as free as can be!) to add flour to get stuck pieces off the parchment paper, to make the dough move around better, to just get it feeling the way you want. You’ll know when it’s the right amount because the dough will roll out easily and yet not stick uncontrollably. It’s magical.
Secret #4: It’s OK if it leaks in the oven. Listen, the pastry dough is thin (that’s what makes it all flaky and buttery and mmmm), and the filling is wet, so you may have some leakage. That’s totally fine. Use a rimmed baking sheet, and make a little parchment paper wall around the strudel if you want, rolling up the edges. It will still taste good.
All these secrets would mean nothing if it weren’t for the results: a long, golden strudel with flaky crust surrounding hot, apple-pie-like insides with nuts and raisins and gooey sweetness. Have it with hot coffee! Top it with vanilla ice cream! Eat it on its own! This is an apple strudel to be excited about. And I am.
It’s pretty easy to see things I’ve inherited. I have my dad’s olive skin, my mom’s round face, the bump on my nose found in both sides of my gene pool. I like good conversation, working in the garden, making a big meal to eat with people I love. And, sometimes, when I laugh very hard or hear myself telling a story like it’s a routine, I think how my grandma used to do those things.