Friday, August 17, 2012

What I Know and Don't Know About Beans

Its string bean cray in the garden right now. Urban dictionary defines "cray" as well no one knows what it means, provocative, short for crazy. The 9 foot cages that support the vines look like monstrous bean towers with tendrils reaching for the stars. There are days I must harvest every few hours. Cool beans one might say. But do they really grow that fast or are they really that illusive?
You think you've gleaned every last pod only to come back and discover a cluster of the ones that got away. Shaking the cage reveals more first picking escapees and you sharpen your eyes to detect their subtle verticle movements hidden within the wild tangle of leaves. You walk off, only to glance over your shoulder and spy another handful. There's always a few you miss. The biggest pod can be dangling right in front of your face but you're so busy looking at the big picture you don't see it. Your harvest basket is brimming with bean bounty and as you step away out pop a few more from the corner of your eye. And if you miss them, tough beans kid, they'll be too big to eat tomorrow. Things slow down eventually, the vines dry up and the leaves turn yellow. Assuming they're finished you pull the plants and toss them on the compost pile. Yet they keep producing, small pods emerge from the heap, pumping out their final hurrahs for the season.

There I was, balancing on a small ladder, feeling a little like Jack climbing the beanstalk, a Jolly Green Giant chanting "Fee fi fo fum" in my head and pulling out every yoga trick I could muster to stretch and snatch that one last hanging haricot vert- that's the fancy variety. While trying my best not to inhale a white fly or two I began to question, am I completely full of beans?

In such moments my monkey mind grasps for meaning, searches for priceless pearls of wisdom to bring a little meat into the mundane, something I can sink my teeth into besides vegetables. I chewed on this conundrum and out spilled a few beans of armchair psychology.

Over the years I've learned that there are times in life when you need to step away from certain situations to gain perspective. Some are choices or crossroads, others are part of the creative process. To see more clearly, change the point of view, reframe, look outside the box or inside if need be. Sleep on it. When making a decision, looking at it from different angles may unveil the perfect direction to take.(Even writing a blog requires a process of getting it down, letting it digest, and revisiting it with a fresh state of mind.) The answer to a problem may be obvious but you are too thick in the weeds to see it. Take a time out. Breath. Timing is everything and in time, things become clear. The right thing to do may be dangling in front of you, like that bean that got overlooked the first time around. Go for a walk about, come back and have another look. Practice this mental process and the road of life will be a little less bumpy.
And of course, like beans, you learn to pick your battles.

So my tidbits of experience may not be worth a hill of beans but I do know how to cook them.
Fresh: Minimize. Lightly steam, salt, pepper, and a little dab of butter will do ya.
Pickled: Lots of recipes on the web. After working several summers in an organic cannery and loving it, for me its either go big or go home. These days I prefer to make refrigerator pickles in my own kitchen. It doesn't take a lot of special equipment, lids or jars. The key to the crunch of a refrigerator pickle is pouring piping hot brine over your packed jars, then flash cooling them immediately, in ice water if possible. Blanch and cool the beans first, pack with fresh herbs. Dill is the all time favorite but play. I use a little calcium citrate to insure crispness. Hell, I'm taking calcium anyway. You can find it in the pickling section of most grocery stores. Pickled beans will stay snappy in your fridge until the next season, if they last that long.
Frozen: Blanch and freeze for bean time flavor all winter. Bring them out at Thanksgiving for your classic green bean casserole. I like mine with creme fresh, caramelized onions and BACON! Never better...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The New York Granny Diaries

My son and daughter-in-law flew me to NYC to babysit my grandson while mama goes to Japan on business. I'm here for 10 days. My son, raised in the garden, is an inspired and talented chef in Manhattan, currently a stay at home dad healing from back surgery. With too much time on his hands he has taken it upon himself to feed me to show his appreciation for my grand mothering. Guess I'll just have to go along with it. Thought I might journal along the way.

Day 1: Meatballs Et Al

Slightly jet lagged and running on 3 hours of sleep, we arise and start planning a special dinner to mark the opening ceremony of the Olympics. We leave the apartment early to beat the crowds and sweltering heat and with baby in tow mosey on down to the infamous Green Market in Union Square. There we load up on summer bounty. The stroller doubles as a shopping cart overflowing with heirloom tomatoes, corn, beans, onions, herbs and honey. Dinner evolves into savory meatballs swimming in fresh tomato basil sauce and a kale Caesar salad. The Russian and Curly Red kale traveled in my suitcase from my garden in California. Frozen yogurt from the corner Belgian deli and fresh strawberries sopped in vodka, honey and lemon zest closed the dinner ceremony. All washed down well with lots of chilled Rose, the wine of the moment. No complaints, no leftovers. Let the games begin.

Day 2: Suffrin' Succotash

Mama left for Japan and Sweet Grandma Honey (my stage name) is in the house. Since his birth 9 months ago, I've been YouTubing music videos to my grandson featuring my ukulele sing along shtick. The intention is to stay connected through the magic of music and cyber space while living on opposite coasts. So far he's been raised with a collection of Grandma playing children's tunes, and now the cartoon character on mama's phone has come to real life. He's rapidly taken on the sidekick role to my cache of diddies and is a devoted fan, a much needed diversion for an active baby boy away from his mother for the first time. While we sing and play, my son cooks.

Tonight he prepared a perfectly seared pork loin with a succotash of fresh corn off the cob, caramelized Hudson Valley sweet red onions, yellow wax, green haricot vert, and Romano runner beans, a bite of red pepper flakes and parsley-basil oil. Rustic, honest, homey. He says its so simple he would never serve in a restaurant. I say I'll suffer through it, go ahead, spoil me.

Baby eats heirloom tomatoes with tofu, sweet potatoes, yogurt and bananas.

Day 3: Brie LT Sandwichcrafting

Its Sunday Funday and we invite family and friends over to play Bocce Ball. The court is right outside the front door of our building. Outdoor games call for outdoor snacks and a picnic is in order. Whatever we do it must have tomatoes, the food star of the season. In our quest for a simple menu we probably constructed and deconstructed the sandwich concept way too many times, but so apropos considering its origins in the current hub of the Olympic Games.

The word sandwich that we use today was born in London during the very late hours one night in 1762 when an English nobleman, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was too busy gambling to stop for a meal even though he was hungry. The legend goes that he ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread. The Earl was able to continue his gambling while eating his snack; and from that incident, we have inherited that quick-food product that we now know as the sandwich. He apparently had the meat put on slices of bread so he wouldn’t get his fingers greasy while he was playing cards.

Well bocce balls are messier than cards, but sandwiches would carry on well to the court so we run with it. First step, shopping. There's a Farmer's Market every Sunday right in this housing development. The availability of fresh food and support for the organic movement here in NYC makes the city feel sane.

We start with bread - 2 ciabattas, 1 mushroom, 1 onion-rosemary.

Everything looks so good, a feast for the eyes.

Picking up a little this and that, we go big on tomatoes and go home.

Brie LTs
 Slightly toasted bread, layered with bacon, brie, tomatoes, red onions,
pepperoncinis and basil, drizzled with Japanese Mayo.
The lettuce deconstructed on the side, tossed with kale from Voss Gardens.

We packed our picnic down the elevator with glee and made our way to the bocce court. Our balls barely busted out when the clouds burst and poured. Undaunted, we went back up the elevator, ate well, made merry, and took a rain check on the game.

Day 4: Dashi and Delivery

Breakfast is served.
 Oh the joys of living with a chef with too much time on his hands and an adorable grandson. My son dreams recipes in his sleep or in this case dreams them up when he can't sleep due to incessant back pain. Today he awakes with Japan flavor notes on his mind, missing his wife. He dutifully mops the floor, keeping the world safe for a crawler, makes me a quick bite, and we're off to the Japanese grocery store.
Today's cravings involve Dashi and Asian Greens. Most of the things at the Sunrise Market are a mystery to me but I'm always enthused about the marvelous packaging and curious about produce I've never seen before. We pick up kombu (dried kelp), fresh kimchee, dried shiitake mushrooms, soft tofu for the baby, and some Hi-Chew Japanese candy.  Ambling our way through the East Village, we stop at the Union Square Green Market to buy mustard greens, baby bok choy and fruit.

Heading home, the last stop was to get some fish.
 But the shop had closed, so plans changed once again.
Who said the secret to life is Plan B?

 Just Lunch
 Back in the apartment, a quick snack of homemade Kimchee, Japanese cucumbers and scallions - dressed with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes, is just the thing to recover from our 3 mile trek sweating in the July humidity. New York is a walking city and you can easily regulate all the fabulous eating and drinking it offers with exercise. Just wear good shoes. And the people watching on the street is top notch, my favorite spectator sport.

Meanwhile the stock pot goes on to make dashi. Dashi is a Japanese stock made from boiling Kombu (dried kelp) and Bonito (smoked dried fish shaved into flakes) in water to extract the umami flavor. The rich liquid is used as a soup base for noodle and miso soups as well as a classic flavoring of Japanese cuisine. Some dried shiitakes are added to this one and it brews for hours filling the apartment with heady aromas that promise great things to come. I rob the pot and spoon some broth over the baby's Japanese noodles and carrots his mama made ahead and left in the freezer. He tastes and becomes wildly ecstatic, bouncing in his high chair. Top that with his first blueberries and he's channeling his happy baby pose.

Later on, due to lack of sleep, enthusiasm for dinner prep wanes. Its Plan B time again-DELIVERY!!!
New York City Baby, you can order whatever you want, whenever you want it. A simple phone call and 10 minutes later authentic Greek gyros arrive at our door; one lamb, one chicken, piping hot off the grill, dressed with garlic yogurt and some decent romaine lettuce. Just 5 bucks a pop (+tip) and no dishes! Meanwhile, Japan upsets Spain in Men's Soccer Olympics and the dashi pot goes in the fridge to await further adventures.

Days 5 and 6: Dog Day Afternoons With Leftovers

Day 5:

We took a down day and a long walk down by the East Riverside. That old man river cools and calms the sultry city and a refreshing breeze stirred the thick air. The baby sat upright in the stroller, gazing at the water, taking it all in.
The rest of the day we baby proof the apartment. My grandson, with his new found mobility, seems to be everywhere we don't want him to be - time to batton down the hatches. Its amazing the peace of mind a play pen can bring, complemented by the serenity of a home cooked meal. Yesterday's dashi pot came out of the fridge and delivered harmony. Not only does it taste good, the depth of its goodness goes down deep into the soul, like your Jewish mother's chicken soup.

Cold ramen noodles cooked in dashi with kimchee, tofu and summer vegetables.
I learned slurping your noodles is proper Japanese etiquette.

Heirloom Tomato, Spanish Sardines, Basil Garlic Oil, Shaved Pecorino

Dashi simmering with greens, ground pork, chicken, and God knows what else.

I ask my son, "What do you call this?"
He says, "Delicious."

Day 6:
Granny takes some down time to go shopping. Its utterly fun hunting for that elusive New York bargain in this city of fashion. Back home in the garden I dress way down most of the time, digging around in my grubbies. Here in the Big Apple I seize the opportunity to dress up and unearth a few items to put some razzle dazzle in the wardrobe.
The best purchase of the day however, was a ball for the baby. I came home and we play ball. Squealing with delight, he caught on to catch real quick. What a timeless marvelous toy - now he's looking at the Olympic games on TV with new interest.
Leftovers were the daily special, and true to form, they taste better the next day. Dinner was downplayed and casual: Savory pan fried chicken, a summer vegetable medley, heirloom tomatoes with feta and basil garlic oil. Plattered in the kitchen with style, its "Make your own plate night" while we watch womens' beach volleyball.

Days 7 and 8: Canoodled, Bamboozled and Sizzled

Day 7:
Sleepless in New York, a full moon hovers over Manhattan, the city that never sleeps. Words like canoodled and bamboozled pop into my head for no reason at all aside from they way they slide off the tongue. My grandson is wakeful as well and we fix our eyes on each other in the blue moonlight through the slats of his crib.
An old friend comes to visit over lunch. Everything is served cold: rice noodle salad with seasonal vegetables brined in kimchee, soy ginger chicken tenders, tomato cucumber salad and iced matcha,
Japanese green tea.

Though our guest is from Italy the flavors are predominantly Asian. Hmmm... to slurp or not to slurp the noodles, Italians consider it rude, Japanese consider it rude not to.

Forks over Chopsticks?
Etiquette is cast aside.

  No matter how you munch your way through it,
good food in good company transcends cultural differences.
another New York moment....

Day 8:
Its sizzling in the city, ozone warnings are in the air. The atmosphere is so bad the baby did not go outside today. Keeping him inside all day was a challenge. Our rambunctious little munchkin gives new meaning to "climbing the walls" because he really does try. I went out early for my daily walk and to run errands.The streets were so stifling it was difficult to breath. Fire trucks with loudspeakers were cruising the streets warning, "Drink lots of water and stay inside!" I dropped the idea to take pictures of the community gardens thriving in the neighborhood. Missing my home in the mountains, I journeyed back to my home in the city.

Summer in the city

Lemonade and popcorn were the snacks of the day, good old summertime comfort food. With not much appetite or ambition to cook we pulled some of mama's curry beef and rice out of the freezer. A hot pastrami sandwich showed up from somewhere. Chef exercised his culinary skills with an uplifting strawberry peach sorbet.

Mmmmm, I could eat this all day...
and at night I could drink it with vodka...

Day 9: Chillin'
Live from New York it Saturday Night, Granny's night out!
What better way to chill than some cold dry as a bone sparkling rose
and small plates at large with my niece (she works here) and my sis.

Day 10: The Last Supper

Last day in New York for Granny, that would be me. Mama came home from Japan and my son cooked Mexican. Go figure. Something about those Latino flavors that say,
"Welcome home!" "Okaeri!" "Bienvenido a casa!"
Made With Loving Hands

Taco filling-beef, black beans, garlic, heirloom tomatoes, poblano and aneheim peppers
Salsa verde-cucumbers, tomatillos, cilantro, lime, salt
chipotle salsa, corn with lime, sour cream, lettuces
watermelon/strawberry cocktails

So my little sojourn in a New York state of mind comes to a close.
Back to the garden for this Left Coaster.
 Looking forward to seeing my hubby, the fresh air, the quietness and further adventures.
Go Granny Go!