Last night, I had dinner with my friend Jacqui, someone I first met through an editorial internship three years ago, but later came to know through our food blogs (started on the exact same day last August, would you believe it?) and who inspires me, with simple-enough-for-me-to-try fried green tomatoes and stories about her family that give me chills right in the middle of my day and, lately, stories about beets, the purple root vegetable…
One thing you can say for green beans: they make sense. When you take a big bag of them out of your second CSA box, for example, confusion is not what assaults you (unless it’s curiosity over which of the many good, good ways to make them you will choose). That’s more than I can say for a lot of things, and I mean even beyond turnips or Swiss chard or bok choy. Like relationships—is…
The smell of parsley makes me think of Passover, and the Seders we had at our house, all through my growing up years, with different friends each time, when my mom would make a big meal that everyone would rave about. On those nights, we’d dip sprigs of parsley in salt water—the parsley symbolizing spring and the newness of life, the salt water reminding us of the tears of Israel while they were in Egypt,…
As far as vegetables go, asparagus is really something: tall, peaked in pretty tips, stalks cast in deep shades of green, with knobby dark-purple bumps along the sides shaped in tiny triangles. It has no fat or cholesterol, few calories, little sodium, as well as lots of potassium, folic acid, vitamins A & C and fiber. Plus, this time of year it’s just finishing up its two-month-long season, meaning it’s still pretty easy to find…
My great uncle seems to be dying. I found out Saturday, after brunch, walking next to my mom and my brother in the crisp spring air that made us hug our arms to our chests and pinch our fingers into fists.
It’s not like I knew him very well. I actually don’t think I’ve seen him since four years ago or more, at that family reunion after his daughter’s wedding. But I saw him a lot when my grandma was sick. He was healthy then, much healthier than she was, and he and his daughter—my mom’s cousin—sat with us at our dinner table and told stories about his wife, my grandma’s sister, who used to make me spaghetti and meatballs when we’d go to her house, climbing up tall steps to her back porch and into the kitchen.
And he was there for my graduation parties, and he always sent me a crisp $5 in a Christmas card, all through my growing up years. When I had to write a paper on someone who’d survived the Depression, it as just after my grandma had died, and he was the only relative from her generation left. So I mailed the interview questions to Uncle Lindy, and he filled them all out, every one, with scratchy penmanship in lines that were straight without trying. He wrote that there were no jobs then, people had to share a can of tomatoes for dinner, his paper route paid $2.50 a week. And I kept all those sheets, put them in a big green box in my cabinets.
I’m supposed to visit him in the hospital this week. But seeing him means seeing Grandma, remembering her days in the hospital, when her body was shriveled and sick, when she didn’t always know who I was. I brought her a photo album one visit, telling her about a school banquet and showing her the blue dress I wore, and she called me Nancy, my mom’s name, and she fell asleep. I don’t know if she knew we were there when we rubbed rose lotion on her legs and her arms and played music in the background, talking to her and touching her when she couldn’t respond, but most of the time I say she did.
These artichokes are pretty, aren’t they?
Looking at them now, I have that same warm and fuzzy feeling I experienced at Meijer, when I grabbed them, like a puppet, pulling them from their big green mountain and into a clear plastic bag, wheeling away with no idea of what I was doing, smiling that I’d found them on sale.
Beyond what it says about me that my big weekend plans are, more often than not, pushing a four-wheeled grocery cart around aisles of a supermarket, I want you to know there are other reasons never to shop on Friday nights. There’s the chance you’ll be followed by a middle-aged man, for example, one who never picks anything up, just follows you, getting closer and closer and shifting back and forth on his legs, forcing you to, in desperation, abandon your cart, hugging the borders of a happy family walking to their car, breathless and scared as you drive home, without anything you needed. Another week, you might be addressed with “Hey, how you doing” by a leather-clad stranger who brushes past you, and when you don’t respond, he may shout, “Fine, great to meet you, too. That’s just fine” while you try to find your friend or really, anyone else.
But worst of all, Friday nights at the quiet grocery store have been known to wreak other kinds of damage. Damage like, say, the purchase of four beautiful artichokes, just because you saw them and they were on sale and, what with your need to be on guard about other things, you don’t know what else to do but throw them in your cart and keep moving.
Things started off O.K., I guess. When I got home, I researched online: I watched a video about peeling an artichoke, I read articles that explained what the heart was and how to remove the choke. I also flipped through several cookbooks and a couple good blogs, and I saw what my options were.
But here is what happened: I got confused. In the midst of my excitement over learning something new, I half-followed every guide and, in the end, followed none.
My first artichoke (pictured above, peeled), I kept peeling all the way to the center, and then I didn’t know why I had. So I found an article that said you should really trim each of the leaves to remove their sharp bits, and I tried that with the other three. That same article suggested steaming the clipped artichokes in a bath of water and wine and salt, which I did, but in a pan that was too small.
If you don’t want anything in your life to change, say, for example, your food stereotypes?
Don’t read this book.
Because if you do, one chapter in, you might start saying things like, Maybe I could like mushrooms! Or fish! Or pickles! And so you will, try some of those things, I mean, after a lifetime of not, and you won’t hate them, not even a little, and you’ll suddenly see an entire world of menus and restaurant options that you’ve always overlooked, and, really, everything will change.
Now the second thing (which could seem unrelated): If you buy a birthday present six months early, don’t, please, make that present be for me.
Because if you do, you could be talking to me one night, about something simple like what what you did that day, while I eat forkfuls of tender pot roast and whipped mashed potatoes, and just randomly, I’ll tell you, You know, I think I’m going to buy a Le Creuset French oven next week, and you won’t be able to hold it in, that you bought me one, so within minutes, I’ll be opening the big box, uncovering the cream-colored, beautiful, beautiful cast-iron pot inside, ruining the surprise. And I will have to make something in it, right away.
I have been waiting for you for such a long, long time.
And now that you’re here, you’re playing games with me.
One minute, we’re pure magic—all fresh breezes and warm sunshine. Bailey and I go for an evening walk, his paws trotting past tiny green buds peeking out of the earth and I breathe in the new air, cold and clean, inhaling it down deep and sighing, happy sighing, the kind filled with satisfaction yet anticipation. The next, you’re waking me up in the middle of the night, my eyes swollen and my throat tight, while what feels like a hundred tiny hammers bang against my head and nothing—not the Vicks VapoRub® or the warm compress on my eyes or the two tablets of pain medication—makes me feel well again. I always forget about this part. Every year.
Then, just when I’m ready to give up on you—to say I’ll bide my time and wait for summer’s long, hot days—my mom buys and brings me a neti pot, a small contraption in the shape of a genie’s bottle that, when filled with lukewarm saltwater, clears my nasal passages and frees my airways and makes me breathe again, so I can taste your sweet, windy gusts that burst through my windows, signaling the rainstorm that will come, along with the temperate days and green, green grass.
Spring, I take it all back. I think I love you.
When I look at things clearly, I say you’re like kale. Does that make sense? Kale is dark green, leafy, sold in thick bunches wrapped with bands, filled with promise, the kind of produce you want to take home with you because it’s beautiful and healthy (!) and, you know, there will be a way to enjoy it. Even though it’s usually considered a winter vegetable, kale is easy to find on days like these in March, just like natural light and rainy evenings and smells of charcoal grills wafting through the sky.
But after I’d made a failed winter vegetable gratin and a botched attempt at blanched kale, I was ready to give up on kale. And then.