Thursday, August 19, 2010

Still, gray day, up in the aerie, radio downstairs on low. Tackled brimming carton of local plum tomatoes today. Halved about half, placed in various pans and a cookie sheet, drizzled with E.V. olive oil, scattered with unpeeled cloves of local garlic (so fresh & pungent), and roasted at 225 for three hours. I have a beautiful supply of caramelized, concentrated tomato essence now. I ran out of pans and oven space, so I dipped the rest of the tomatoes in batches in boiling water, in order to loosen the skins. I'll purée the heaping bowls of tomatoes tomorrow. It is a pleasure to put by local produce like this, and what a gift in bleak midwinter.

One of the two grapevines that we've been training to clamber up either side of an eyesore of an outbuilding has produced a small cluster of fruit, ripening to purple, and I popped one while watering - tart lubricious mouthfeel with unpleasantly gelatinized seed. Well, we were growing the vine for its screening qualities.

Yesterday afternoon I thought of the young Danish chef who reminds me of Emily Dickinson as I tried to figure out about dinner. Every time I roast a whole chicken I save the raw liver in a container in the freezer. I now had, defrosted, enough to sauté for a main course, along with a farmstand cabbage and an onion. But what else to round out the meal, complement the ingredients? I was out of potatoes, besides we'd had enough starch (bread with breakfast, pasta at lunch) for the day. Lettuce, tomatoes, and zucchini didn't seem to go, or I wasn't in the mood. Even if I'd had the car I didn't want to go to a market or farmstand just to get - to get - well, what, anyway? And then I thought - apples! Earlier in the day I had looked out the door to the juliet balcony of what used to be our bedroom and noticed that the fruit on the picturesque ancient tree was beginning to ripen, ornamental red globes brilliantly coloring against the foliage and ink dark wood. I threw on a tee shirt and jeans (as a rule I keep clothes handy), marched up the driveway, hung a left at the front lawn, crossed the garden (curious cats in meandering tow), arrived at the tree, stood on tiptoes to reach up, grabbed the edge of a small branch on which clustered a promising reddening bunch, successfully captured it, pulled, and picked off small, gnarled fruit, gathering 8 or 10 apples in all (enough for dinner, I should think), which I held with my palms against my chest as I turned on my heel and began my triumphant stroll home, treasure and delicious future side dish in tow. It was at that point that I thought of René Redzepi, the creative chef. I know, it's almost laughable that I'm psyched that I simply went into the front yard and picked apples, while he is a master herbarianist and mushroomer, venturing into Danish meadows and wooded wilds to forage all sorts of unexpected native herbaceous and fungal edibles. I'm glad he's reclaiming that lost art.

I have an uncle, for years now incapacitated (I wish I knew Latin - I may mean this literally) with Alzheimers. But before WWII erupted (zanim Wojna wybuchła, exploded), he spent his boyhood in the Polish countryside - and learned his mushrooms. Now (well - not now, but forty years ago, say when I was ten, around 1970 - and what was for him many many years after his boyhood and indeed the war) I was visiting my young cousins and my Babcia and my aunt and uncle at their lovely, unexpectedly Prairie-style house in a leafy commuter suburb of New Jersey, and Wujek had just returned on foot from a weekend stroll in the town park, bringing back with him a prized clutch of wild mushrooms that he had gathered. I was amazed, and a little wary - but I trusted my uncle, a total rock. My awareness of mushrooms was limited but precise. Mushrooms came either in plastic-wrapped containers at the A&P or they grew in the wild - but the bloodless enticing eruptions found at the roots of a tree, for example, might be Deadly Poisonous and only an Expert could tell for sure. As was perhaps quite typical in the pre-war day, my uncle was indeed such an Expert, having spent a boyhood gainfully playing outdoors, exploring field and forest, and surefootedly picking up the knowledge along the way. I was prepared to believe that he knew his Polish wild mushrooms, but did this qualify him to judge New Jersey's? He laughed and assured me he knew what he was doing (probably he overcommented - he was a bit tedious and longwinded as a raconteur - a family joke being that he wouldn't just tell you about marigolds - but about the history of the word marigold.) Someone in the kitchen, my Babcia or perhaps my aunt, sliced and sautéed the morsels to perfection in a bit of butter, and seated squeezed in on a bench among my cousins, tanned as nuts, my siblings, my beloved Babcia (I may well have been pressed against her wonderfully cushy self), my uncle at the "head" of the round, crowded picnic table in the latticed and shaded alcove, who having been presented with his ritual glass of hot tea embarked on one of his Midday Rambles, at some point in the midst of that delightful meal, which featured numerous little courses and side dishes, bowls passed all around, and shouts into the kitchen, I managed to score my first mouthful, the most delicious bite of wild mushroomy wildness - explosive mindblowing sumptuous depth charges.

I was age 10 at the time. Soon after - a few years - the August I reached age 16 I met you.

My uncle, the rock, when it came to wild mushrooms (and just being a rock) - he rocked.

Will post now, without editing. But reserve the right to come back early in the morning and fix apostrophes and accent marks - little tweaks - nothing major. This is the main meal - if you return - it won't be that suddenly halibut replaced cod. It'll be more that that --- oh, I don't know -

kisses for you, for now, wherever you are

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