Pie Cook-Through #4: Ginger-Peach Pie

So you might remember I had a crust situation.

After making that pie, I was mad, you guys. Making the crust made me mad. I didn’t want to be mad. I wanted to eat delicious crust wrapped around a fruity filling (that is, “pie”). So I did what I always do when some aspect of cooking kicks my ass: I went to my friends. I believe what I said was something along the lines of “FUCK PIE CRUST help me make it less enragingly.” My friends are smart and skilled and had many tips, and when I sat down to make this pie, I had all of their advice open in my browser, ready to be referenced at a moment’s notice.

My watchword was “calmly.” I decided I was going to have faith in the process. I was going to trust that this recipe would work, given that its creator is a fucking professional pie baker. And I was going to accept that pie crust is not something I can make in twenty minutes and be thrilled with the result.

So, that crust situation I had? I don’t have it anymore.

The crust for this pie was fucking impeccable. For days, it maintained a crisp texture and excellent flavor. It cut easily with only a little brittleness in the outer edge. It looked pretty. It was everything I’ve ever wanted my crust to be. Here’s how I did it.

* Everyone always says that EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE COLD and now I believe them. I didn’t keep my dry ingredients in the freezer, but I did keep my butter in the freezer until the moment of incorporation. I took it out to chunk it, and I then wrapped it all up in a dish towel and put it back for the intervening minutes so it would be as cold as possible when I put it in the food processor. I mixed my milk and vinegar in advance and stored them in the fridge until the moment I added them to the dough. I think this definitely contributed to the level of crispness I was later able to achieve. (For those of you who don’t know, colder ingredients steam when they hit the hot oven, creating pockets of air that lead to fluffiness/flakiness. Here is an article about butter. For those of you who are facebook friends with me, you can see me learning all about this in the Note titled “serious baking questions.” from 2011.)

But I didn’t stop there. I refrigerated this bitch after I took it out the food processor and pulled it together (more about that in the next bullet). I then refrigerated the half I wasn’t rolling out (once I remembered I’d made a double crust recipe, which was ten frustrating minutes into the rolling out process. Amazing how much easier it goes when you’re not doing double work). And then once it was rolled out, I refrigerated the large rolled-out sheet. And then after it was pressed into the pie dish, I refrigerated the pie dish. Basically, I refrigerated for at least ten minutes and at most thirty minutes after every step and I am glad that I did.

* One of my biggest sources of frustration last time I made crust was that the quantity of wet ingredients called for in the recipe did not seem scientifically capable of moistening the quantity of dry ingredients. This time, I did add probably 2 tablespoons more milk than the recipe called for, but I really tried to stay minimal and stick to the recipe. I turned the dough onto the counter and, as last time, felt strongly that there was no way this was enough wet, but I forced myself to stay calm and trust the process, and I started working the dough. I didn’t full out knead it, conscious of introducing as little body temperature as possible into my COLD!!! dough. I just sort of pulled the dry bits at the edges into the middle and prodded and pressed and lo and behold it started to come together. I did this for a few minutes and then I refrigerated. Faith in the process, you guys, faith in the process.

* For rolling out, one of my friends recommended saran wrap between the crust and counter and more saran between the crust and rolling pin. I didn’t have saran, but I did have wax paper, and I foolishly assumed there would be no difference.

So, um. Wax paper is … waxed. It doesn’t have traction. And if you try to roll out a pie crust between two pieces of wax paper, it will slide all over the counter and you will become enraged.

Packing tape is your friend. It was mine. Just tape all your wax paper to the counter, get back to rolling out, and put saran on your shopping list.

* Remember you are making a double crust and do not try to roll out the entire dough ball as one crust. You will be mad.

I think that’s it. I think that’s everything. It was a long process but the resultant crust was so, so worth it.

Oh and the pie. Ha! The pie was fine. You toss peaches with fresh ginger, powdered ginger and sugar. I definitely prefer Deb’s peach pie filling, but this is my go-to crust, now and forever.

Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.

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it’s summer. eat vegetables.

Today I would like to tell you about two vegetable salads that I have been devouring recently because I am in a CSA and absolutely drowning in delicious fresh vegetables. Seriously you guys, I drastically overestimated my household’s ability to eat vegetables. And I love vegetables! I’m known for it! But holy mother of God. They have sent me two heads of lettuce per week. Yesterday was my third pick-up, we got a double share because we’re out of town next week, and we still have a whole head of lettuce from last week! No human can eat this much lettuce.

Anyway. Let’s discuss the humble beet.

I love the humble beet. I know people who think it tastes like dirt, but that mostly makes me think they’ve never tasted candy (which is, for the record, what the humble beet actually tastes like). I mostly eat beets steamed and plain. They don’t need anything else; they’re perfect. However, I’m trying to branch out and get creative with my vegetables, so I decided that I would use my CSA beets in a beet salad. I chose one from Jenny and Andy’s list of top ten side dishes: roasted beets with honey, thyme, and feta. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of those three flavors together, but the salad is fantastic. The freshness of the thyme pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the beets, and the feta adds a nice savory kick. Here’s how you make it.

1) Roast beets. The recipe says to roast them at 425 for 40 minutes, but I got weird results – my larger beets were undercooked and my small beet was overcooked. I might stick to steaming in the future.
2) Cool and chop.
3) Add a drizzle of honey, a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. Add generously of fresh thyme and feta cheese crumbles. Toss. Refrigerate. Devour.

The other salad I’ve been eating is a green been and potato salad, the brainchild of my best friend’s boyfriend’s family, who were kind enough to invite me to join them for their July 4th celebration. I ate it, loved it, asked for the recipe, and promptly made up a batch. Here’s how you make it. You’ll need:

Small potatoes (you can buy little potatoes in bags at the grocery store)
Green beans
Garlic
Salt
Garlic powder
Fresh basil
Olive oil

Boil your potatoes until done (it’s nice to boil them close to the state you’d want them in for mashing, because then when you assemble the salad potatoey goodness gets all over everything). While you’re doing this, blanch your green beans. This means: submerge them in boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes, then pull them out and throw them violently into a bowl of ice water. (This sounds like more trouble than it is. I did it for the first time for this recipe and found it to be very easy and an excellent method of cooking green beans.) Also while you are boiling your potatoes, sautee a couple cloves of garlic, chopped fine, in a fair amount of olive oil with some salt. This is your dressing, so be generous. Cook the garlic until it’s reached the level of doneness you like best – mine browned, which is not what I wanted to happen.

Now we assemble! Slice your potatoes in half longways and toss together the potatoes, green beans, garlic and oil, black pepper, a shake or two of garlic powder, and a healthy amount of chopped fresh basil. Let it sit for a few minutes and then taste it. Mine definitely needed more salt, yours may have other needs. Doctor it up, let it cool and enjoy!

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quick thoughts on Hamlet (2000).

This morning I decided to check out Ethan Hawke in director Michael Almereyda’s 2000 adaptation of Hamlet. It’s a modern-day version set in New York City, where Denmark is a corporation the CEO of which has been murdered. Here are my disorganized impressions.

* This is heavily edited, as is usually the case for screen adaptations of Hamlet. That in itself is not surprising. However, there are a few elisions that struck me as especially significant for our interpretation of the text. First, Hamlet’s speech after he first sees the Ghost (beginning at roughly I.5.170) is dramatically shortened, leaving out the part where he informs Horatio that he may “put on an antic disposition” in the future. This has the effect of shifting emphasis from the question of Hamlet’s mental stability that is central to many performances of the text (certainly, the 1990 Zeffirelli version starring Mel Gibson grapples extensively with this question) to the observation of his obvious psychological disintegration. The play-within-a-play is also reduced, removing entirely the traveling troupe of players – instead, Hamlet shows the “court” a short film he’s made called The Mouse Trap. Once again, this stripping down of external factors foregrounds Hamlet and his deteriorating state of mind, making the story less plot-driven and more of a psychodrama.

* The other significant elision was of a simple line: “Madam, I wish it may.” Spoken by Ophelia to Gertrude (III.1.43) in response to Gertrude’s hope that Ophelia’s “good beauties be the happy cause of Hamlet’s wildness” before Ophelia is sent to provoke Hamlet by Gertrude, Claudius and Polonius, this line implicates Ophelia as at least somewhat agentive in the royal family’s machinations. Leaving it out casts her explicitly as a pawn, forced to conform to the will of others and powerless to work her own. I found this reading of Ophelia more persuasive than those I’ve seen before, which render her more childlike.

* I really like Ethan Hawke. I’ve liked him for years and I’ve seen him in a variety of films and I know he has range and can act. I feel this disclaimer to be necessary because he is just not very good in this. He’s mostly mopey and, later, unstable. And here’s the thing about Hamlet – it’s funny. It is clever as hell and features some of my favorite wordplay in all of Shakespeare, particularly in IV.3, when Claudius confronts Hamlet about Polonius’ murder. Hawke delivers his lines there – clever, witty stuff – like depressive insights, which I guess is consistent with his overall interpretation of the character but does not fit the material at all. (Seriously, if you can hear “he will stay ’till you come!” said about a dead body and not split your sides laughing … then you probably weren’t shown Hamlet a lot of times at a formative age, which really might be for the best when all is said and done.) The only scene where he shows any range is, strangely, III.2, when he approaches Ophelia at the viewing of The Mouse Trap. He’s sharp and energetic, and as a viewer you’re left wondering where this guy was for the other 105 minutes of film.

* Hawke also, and I’m sorry to say it, blows every single soliloquoy. This isn’t entirely his fault – for reasons known only to him, Almereyda staged the soliloquoys largely as voice-overs, rendering them toothless. I was especially struck by this choice because of my recent rewatch of Slings and Arrows, the brilliant Canadian TV show about a Shakespeare company (I should have a post on the show up sometime in the next few weeks). The first season of Slings & Arrows follows a production of Hamlet, and when its lead actor is paralyzed by the role, his director “reduces the role of Hamlet to its core elements to calm his overwhelmed actor. It’s six soliloquies, and the rest is filler. “Nail those six soliloquies, everyone goes home happy.”” In many ways it’s true – we watch a new version of Hamlet to see what the lead is going to make of “To be or not to be” and “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.” We don’t get this opportunity with Hawke. It’s disappointing.

* The other performance I found thought-provoking was Julia Stiles as Ophelia. Stiles was 19 at the time of filming, but has had an older-than-her-years dignity and grace throughout her career, and let me lay my cards on the table: I adore her. I think she’s brilliant. I think she’s a generational talent and I am utterly baffled that she hasn’t had a bigger career. So, with that said – I am just not sure what she’s doing here. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. Stiles is really good at her job. But I didn’t feel like her performance came together until her final scene, Ophelia’s famous mental collapse. The confrontation between her and Hamlet (III.i, which I mentioned above, also known as the “Get thee to a nunnery” exchange) is also extremely well done. In particular, I love that rather than doing as the text does and hiding Polonius and Claudius offstage (and forcing the audience to decide if Hamlet knows they’re there or not, and therefore to whom he’s speaking throughout) the film makes Ophelia wear a wire. We know exactly to whom Hamlet is talking until he discovers the wire, and casting his building rage in that scene as a reaction to his beloved’s betrayal makes the whole thing make a lot more sense. I also appreciated the film’s approach to Ophelia’s characterization, which I discussed above: she’s a pawn, totally disempowered, but not at all naive. I found this more resonant and relatable than the usual portrayal of Ophelia as an easily led innocent child.

* The only person in this film who knows what to do with the language is Liev Schreiber (Laertes), which is in my experience standard in filmed Shakespeare adaptations. You’ll be watching along, thinking about performance and characterization and staging, not even noticing the language with which everyone is, you think, doing a serviceable job – and then someone waltzes in and opens their mouth and it is immediately clear that their command of the text is so superior that they are doing something utterly different from everyone else in the film. Brian Cox had this effect in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, and Schreiber does it here. It’s no surprise – he’s an accomplished Shakespearean actor (I saw his Henry V in Central Park in ’03 and it remains one of the theatrical high water marks of my life) – but it is sheer joy to hear him work with this text.

Overall, I enjoyed this version of Hamlet. As with nearly every adaptation of a beloved and familiar text, there were things I loved and things I didn’t like and things I found fascinating and things I found stupid. Which is why I continue to seek out adaptations of beloved and familiar texts. Have you seen this version of Hamlet? Do you have a favorite version? What do you think?

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Pie Cook-Through #3: Mocha Black-Bottom Pie

This pie wasn’t supposed to happen. For my third pie in the pie cook-through, I had selected Grasshopper Pie, as much for the chance to use up some of the marshmallow fluff left over from Rocky Road Pie as for my desire to eat mint chocolate pie. But when I decided to take a break from making the chocolate cookies for the chocolate cookie crust that Grasshopper Pie happens to share with Rocky Road Pie and go get some of the ingredients I needed (my butter really needed to soften, guys, I’ll be straight with you, so it was a crucial time for a walk), I hit a roadblock. You see, Grasshopper Pie gets its mint chocolate flavor from a few tablespoons each of creme de cacao and creme de menthe, and neither of those could be had for love or money in less than 750 ml quantities (so, basically, the size of a wine bottle). I don’t make cocktails at home, which meant that I was looking at spending something like $28 for four fucking tablespoons of liqueur.

So I went home and returned to the pie cookbook. I’d already committed to the chocolate cookie crust, and although (let’s be real for a sec) you could in reality pair any pie with a chocolate cookie crust and do absolutely no harm to it – possibly even improve it, in some cases – I like to realize a cook’s vision on my first run-through of a recipe. So I looked through the book for the center of the Venn diagram containing “has a chocolate cookie crust” and “doesn’t require me to buy more ingredients” and found it in Mocha Black-Bottom Pie.

Kave tells us that black-bottom pie is “an icon of Southern baking, and refers to pies with a bottom layer of very dark, barely sweetened chocolate topped by layers of light, chiffon-like custard.” A cursory internet recipe search says basically the same thing. And that is, in fact, what this is: a chocolate bottom layer, a very light layer made by mixing coffee custard and meringue, and a topping of whipped cream. Here are my uncollected thoughts about Mocha Black-Bottom Pie.

* Rather than the chocolate layer being a ganache, as with Rocky Road Pie, it’s a chocolate custard, which I think is much nicer than ganache. (For those of you who didn’t follow the links, a ganache is made from pouring hot cream over chocolate and mixing until the chocolate is melted. A custard refers to a mixture of eggs and milk.)

* This pie was fussy as hell to make and used most of the clean dishes in my kitchen. First you mix water and unflavored gelatin and set aside. Then you beat egg yolks in another bowl and set aside. Then you mix cornstarch and milk in yet another bowl and set aside. Then you heat the rest of your milk. The whole recipe is like this. It took me a lot of hours and ended with me needing to relax after the activity I did for relaxation.

* The chocolate cookie crust is a work in progress, you guys. Unlike last time, I did not use too many cookies. This time I only used too much butter and baked it for too long. The cookbook calls for ten minutes, but there was still visible butter at that point, so I went longer, after which I could both still see butter as well as my crust slumping all over the place. The problem was too much butter – the recipe calls for 5 – 8 tablespoons and I went right to 8. Next time I will start with 5 and work my way up. Like last time, it did not want to cut after it had chilled through, but with some force I was able to make clean slices.

* The recipe has you make a batch of custard which you then split into two parts, turning one part into chocolate custard and the second into coffee custard (to which you then add meringue). I was alarmed to see how little was left for the coffee custard, but my alarm was misplaced. Mixing the meringue into the coffee custard creates a substantial amount of filling.

* I made several meringue-related errors and I am not enough of a meringue connoisseur to know how much any of this matters. First, I did not add the sugar until the meringue had already reached the stiff peak stage, and since I didn’t want to overbeat it, I only let it mix the sugar for a few seconds. Secondly, I did not fold the meringue into the coffee custard but instead poured the custard into the stand mixer and let it all combine that way. This did not seem to make a difference to the final product, which was very sturdy (gelatin is magic, you guys!), but it’s worth noting.

* Finally, as with Rocky Road Pie, we have The Case of the Disappearing Chocolate Layer on our hands. When I filled the pie shell with chocolate custard there seemed to be plenty, but when serving and eating the pie, it was dwarfed by the quantity of coffee meringue. I’m not sure how to explain this. I think next time I might double the custard recipe and make double the chocolate custard but the same amount of meringue and see how it works out.

I give Mocha Black-Bottom Pie a solid A. It’s hard for the taste of a pie to live up to the fussiness of this recipe, but my partner and I both really enjoyed this over multiple days. It keeps good too!

Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.

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hits and misses.

So, you may remember that I joined a CSA. As anyone who’s joined a CSA in the Northeast knows, that means a lot of zucchini. I’ve only received three so far, but I don’t exactly have a lot of uses for zucchini and it turns out one zucchini makes two whole loaves of zucchini bread! So other than having zucchini bread for breakfast for approximately the next ever, I am not sure what I am going to do with it.

On the bright side, Deb’s zucchini bread recipe is outstanding, so I am not getting bad feelings when I imagine eating it for breakfast for approximately the next ever. And you guys oh my god this was revolutionary – the grater attachment on my food processor meant I could stick a zucchini in the feed slot and walk away and live my life. I didn’t have to hunch over a grater desperately trying to keep all the gratings in my measuring cup! This is a game changer.

That’s our hit for the day. As for misses … well. Well. Last night I adapted Adam’s recipe for smothered pork roast over rice for pork chops instead of a pork roast, and …. well.

My partner tries everything I make. To his credit, this even includes things containing ingredients he’s certain he hates. He is game as game can be. And after eating a few bites of this, he informed me that it made him feel like he was in prison and cashed in his get-out-of-dinner free card, which he’s only ever used once before. My feelings were not nearly so negative, but neither were they positive. I was totally indifferent to this meal, and he found it actively repugnant. I don’t think it’s my adaptation that’s the problem, either. I think it’s just not a very interesting dish. And since prison cuisine is not really what I’m going for here, this definitely will not enter into our regular rotation.

Notes & Verdicts
zucchini bread
by smitten kitchen
Notes: Remember that this makes two loaves! Otherwise, no adaptations to speak of. I did not put in optional nuts. I did put in optional cranberries, but that’s just because we have them and I’d like to use them up. They didn’t change the flavor profile one way or the other.
Verdict: A+. Outstanding.

Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice by The Amateur Gourmet
Notes: My alterations to this recipe were substantial, as I was making pork chops instead of a pork roast, but I did try to keep to the spirit of things. Briefly, I dredged my chops in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and browned them in oil on both sides. I’m actually really proud of the color I got on them – it is definitely the best color I’ve ever gotten, and I put the credit for that on Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which I’m slowly reading through for the first time. I then made the roux, which is a basic gravy made of equal parts butter and flour, using a half cup of each. When it was nicely browned, I added three sliced onions, four diced cloves of garlic, and generous amounts of dried thyme and dried rosemary to the pot and covered it all in chicken broth. I let it come to a simmer, re-added my chops, and let the whole thing simmer for probably fifteen minutes.
Verdict: My partner described this as “vomit-looking goo,” and I …. don’t totally disagree with him. I thought it tasted okay but the flavor was not nearly as complex or interesting as Adam would lead you to believe. Mostly I tasted thyme and rosemary. Maybe this is a recipe that really needs the long cooking time you’d get with a pork roast to shine, but I won’t be trying it out. C-

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Pie Cook-Through #2: Strawberry-Basil Pie

The story of this pie is not the story of the pie, but of the crust.

The pie itself is pretty straightforward. Kave describes it as a sweet riff on Caprese salad, the classic Italian salad of mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, and while I think that’s a stretch – strawberries, balsamic vinegar, basil and black pepper don’t exactly scream “sweet Caprese” to me – it’s definitely a different sort of flavor profile than you’d expect from a strawberry pie. It’s got a little kick. That said, I didn’t get to taste this pie until several days after I made it (it was a gift for someone), and I can’t say I was thrilled with it. My experience of berry pies has been that they are tooth-achingly sweet more or less across the board, and despite this one not even containing that much sugar (3/4 cup) I did not find it to be the exception. That is definitely something I can work on modifying in the future, as I intend to make this pie again. The basil also didn’t shine through as brightly as I had hoped. The answer to that might be increasing the amount of basil in the pie or finding a way to work it in as a garnish. These are things I can improve in the future.

The crust, though. As you guys might recall, pie crust was very much a new frontier for me, and it’s still not something I’m entirely comfortable with. I’ve made it a lot of times and it always tastes great – I use this recipe, which is as far as I can tell idiot-proof – but I really hate doing it. Mostly, I hate rolling out. I hate how flour gets everywhere and it always rips and it never gets thin enough or remotely circular and then you have to transport it without wrecking it. I hate all these things. And if I tend to do them without a ton of skill with a recipe with which I am familiar, you can only imagine how much chaos I can cause with a recipe that’s new to me.

Kave’s pie crust is, like her recipes seem to be (I’ve already made a third, and you’ll read about it soon), pretty fussy. Instead of water, she calls for the liquid to be a mix of milk and vinegar; in addition to flour, sugar and salt, she throws some cornstarch in there; and ideally, your fat would be a mixture of “unsalted European-style cultured butter” and lard. All of which, you know, whatever. Kave’s a professional pie-baker and I’m not, and I’m sure she’s experimented exhaustively to come up with a recipe this precise. If she’s that pedantic about it, it’s gotta be good right?

Well, I can’t tell you if it was good because I didn’t get to eat it until several days later and I’m not insane enough to judge pie crust by how it tastes a week later. What I can tell you is that I was seriously tearing out my hair making this. Remember, I’m shit at making crust to begin with, but I found the quantity of wet ingredients called for by this recipe insufficient to pull the dry ingredients together. And then I added more wet ingredients but I did it in a bad way so parts of the dough were too wet and parts were still too dry and only small sections had Goldilocks conditions. I’m shit at rolling out to begin with, but when half your dough is sticking to the rolling pin because it’s so damn wet and half is crumbling as you roll it out … I basically mashed half the dough into the pie pan and did a half-assed lattice over the top. And yet, because homemade pie with homemade crust is basically idiot-proof, it still looked incredible when it came out of the oven. (On the bright side, I was so mad about this crust that I reached out to my pie-making friends, and I got a million tips for not fucking up next time. So hopefully I can manage that.)

Word to the wiser-than-me: if you’re going to travel with this pie, do yourself a favor and wrap it more securely than in several layers of tin foil (or add extra cornstarch to the filling). I was traveling with my mom the day I made this pie and brought it to my friend, and we were both extremely distressed when she went to get in the car, moved the pie, and found strawberry goo all over the seat. We fixed things using a combination of scraping tools and towels and a plastic bag to make extra sure none of the goo leaked onto her skirt, but it was not the most auspicious start to the journey. My car still smells like strawberry on hot days. I guess that’s a perk.

I give Strawberry-Basil Pie a tentative B-. I didn’t get to eat enough of it for a really solid assessment, but what I had was decently tasty. It’s way too sweet though and I’m not sure how I feel about the flavor profile.

Clearly, I need to make it again.

Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.

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it’s summer. eat salad.

The best thing about summer, for my money, is the produce. Going to the farmer’s market becomes going to the crackhouse with a serious jones: the shit I want is everywhere, it’s surrounding me, and all I can think about is how when I have a job that pays me more I will be able to spend more money feeding my addiction. To offset some of the madness that comes over me at the crackhouse, and also to fulfill the culmination of a dream I’ve had ever since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma in college – that this book changed my life and my relationship to food is possibly the bougiest thing about me, and it’s utterly mortifying, but it’s true, I’m sorry – this year my partner and I joined a CSA for the first time.

I’d been holding off on joining a CSA for a few reasons. For one, the up-front costs are significant (CSAs typically require you to pay for the whole six months (or however long) when you join). For another, many CSAs are vegetable-only, and a not insignificant portion of the money I spend on produce is spent on fruit. But this year I found a CSA with pick-up at the crackhouse I go to anyway, which has the most reasonable rate I’d come across, and it includes fruit and cider! SOLD. SOLD TO THE SLIGHTLY UNSTABLE WOMAN WAVING A PINT OF BLUEBERRIES IN THE FRONT ROW.

Here is a picture of my first CSA share, for which I drove two hours round-trip in a thunderstorm after getting home from work at 6:30 because the pick-up market was cancelled due to the aforementioned thunderstorm:

CSA #1

From left to right, we got: romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, onions, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets, plums, peaches, and Kirby cucs. For $25! Even my boyfriend got excited, which he never does about ingredients. Naturally, the first thing I made was a salad.

Internet, here is my secret: I had never worked with fresh lettuce before. Somehow I got it in my head that working with fresh lettuce was a gigantic pain in the ass, so even though we eat a lot of salad, the greens have always been the kind that come prewashed in plastic containers. However, faced with some shiny new fresh lettuces, I took to the Google, became completely intimidated by the care-and-feeding-of-lettuce instructions I found, and then asked a friend, who said, “Here is the non-crazy way of doing the thing you Googled.” So for those of you who don’t know how to wash fresh lettuces, here is what you do.

1) Hold the lettuce around its waist and twist from the bottom. You can twist somewhat aggressively! The lettuce can take it! This removes the hard base and internal stem. You may need to dig out a bit more of this later; it’s fine.
2) Put the leaves in a colander and rinse them well. Move them around, shake them, get out all the dirt.
3) Pat them dry with some paper towels, just right there in the colander. Just whatever parts of them you can see. Maybe shake the colander around a little bit. It’s fine.
4) Leave them be. Let them air dry a little.
5) Come back in a little while (15 minutes?), lay out several sheets of paper towels, and place the lettuce on it more or less in one layer.
6) Place another sheet of paper towels over the top of the lettuce and roll the whole deal up.
7) Place in a plastic bag in your fridge. Boom. Lettuce preserved.

Now. Your lettuce is clean and stored in such a way as to maximize crispness. (And gentle readers, know that I did not wash my lettuce for A FULL DAY after I got it – I was exhausted after driving two hours in a thunderstorm – and it did not turn into slimy mush.) So what are you gonna do with your crisp lettuce? You are gonna make a nice big dinner salad. What you put in your salad will depend entirely on your personal preferences – my boyfriend and I like half a bell pepper, most of a cucumber (from the CSA!), two avocadoes, and grilled chicken (marinate in olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper and quick-grill it on the Foreman), and cherry/grape tomatoes for me – but what you put on your salad, now that, that I can help you with.

To create my salad dressing, I started by examining Jenny and Andy’s money-in-the-bank dressing and then went in my own direction. Here’s what I do.

Get a mason jar.
Pour in maybe an inch and a half of olive oil.
Add half as much vinegar (I tend to use white, but I have also used champagne vinegar, which is nice).
Put in a few spoonfuls of grainy mustard.
Add a generous amount of kosher salt.
Shake in some black pepper.
Shake in some garlic powder.
Strip a few stems of fresh thyme and add the leaves.
Screw the lid on tight and SHAKE VIGOROUSLY.

Now taste it. Mine usually needs more salt and more garlic powder. But here’s the best part: once you’ve dressed your salad with as much dressing as you want (and guys, I recently learned about tossing salad with your hands instead of using spoons and now I can toss salad! it’s amazing! I used to make my boyfriend do it for me because I’m such a spaz with two spoons! [insert all your many jokes about "tossing salad" here]), you can just stick the jar back in the fridge and use what’s left as the base for your next batch of salad dressing! It feels very domestic and conservation-minded.

It’s summer, you guys. Soon it will be winter, the time of the root vegetables, and you will wish you were surrounded by delicious fresh produce. Eat salad.

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