Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spring at the Fridge

[Generally befuddled musor stumbles onstage, still non-plussed by the casual act of getting a blog running]

Um, Hi.

Here I am, or we are ("we" encompassing Krys, my wife), in rural New Zealand, still staggering (or whatever you do when rocketing from conditions of hysterical stress and machine-gun mark-hitting to a late winter/early spring where it's still too early to plant) with the change. And as it always is with people like us, eating acquires front-and-center attention.

The situation: new house on a lot of pasture land in the hills of the northern South Island, Aotearoa. Go to Google Earth and type in "Orinoco, New Zealand" if you want to see exactly where: the crosshairs land exactly on our property, and you get a very dramatic zoom from the Western Hemisphere to our portion of Godzone. The house containing three freezers, among them a large chest freezer still sagging under the weight of a cow sacrificed in our name last year, plus assorted garden vegetables lying in state, awaiting inspiration/motivation: corn, kale, tomatoes, pesto, plums, pork, green beans, peppers. A spring coming to life with free-range eggs, asparagus, and a panoply of seedlings. A garden outside, 2000 square feet worth, patiently waiting for us to recover from the shock of seeing our organic wonderland of six months ago overwhelmed (as are we) by a riot of weeds, but still harboring some tenacious holdovers from the winter, including carrots, kale, collards, parsley, leafy radicchio and chicory. And appetites conditioned by California luxury and endless choice.

It's time to eat.

Tonight: we were in a lovely little garden shop today, singing sweet songs (the shop was) of "candy cherry tomato" plants, which of course how can you resist. But in plunking down my money for the plants, I spotted a basket of duck eggs. Well, I know exactly what to do with those.

Picked up a bundle of asparagus at some intervening market. Home, lunged for Mario Batali's recipe for asparagus and sunny-side-up duck eggs. The refrigerator was husbanding some cooked pinto beans, and some salsa.

(May I tell you about salsa? Mexican food is, like, a foreign concept of unfathomable exotitude in New Zealand. So, naturally, in our Berkeley sojourn this year I conceived the ambition of learning my way around salsa so as to hubristically aspire to the stellar heights of Cancun Taqueria in Berkeley, which religiously proffers upwards of a dozen staggeringly savory salsas every day. A successful cookbook find on Amazon, a spirit-lifting shopping excursion to Mi Tierra foods for dry chilis and other exotica before leaving California, and a round of fast talk to the MAF--Ministry of Agriculture and Food, vouchsafers of New Zealand's agricultural innocence--upon re-entry to New Zealand, later, and the salsas have started coming. This week's entry: grilled tomatillo and chipotle.)

This week our specials have featured fresh chicory salad. Krys discovered that some cardboard had blown on top of the chicory plants, and what was underneath was a lovely pale leaf, entirely edible and, it seems, highly prized in some quarters. But having finished that off, we were encouraged to move on to the rest of the plants, and it turns out that chicory makes a fine salad! Crisp, just the right chew, and sassy enough to argue with your palate. Threw on some sliced apples from the cold store, dried cranberries, and roasted salted pecans that I accidentally bought at TJ's, with a nice tart vinaigrette. Everybody's happy, and it even makes dessert kind of redundant.

(By the way, could somebody explain to me why on earth people buy bottled salad dressing? We found one in our fridge from a houseguest, a "balsamic dressing" whose first ingredient was water. It can't be the price. It certainly can't be the quality. It must be the idea of convenience; it would have to be, given how little real convenience there is to it.)

And there it was. At Mario's behest, I blanched the asparagus, tossed it in hot olive oil for a minute, then cooked the duck eggs sunnyside up with gorgeous runny flaming yellow tumescent yolks, and lay them lovingly atop the asparagus, all of it doctored throughout with salt and pepper, then smothered with good-enough local Parmesan. After that, plain old pinto beans with salsa, a couple of slabs of Krys's homemade bread, the chicory salad, and a couple of glasses of red wine.

We sit down and toast (as we do so often): "To another feast."

Not bad for, say, 20 minutes at the stove, including Margarita Time.


  1. What, are you just trying to *reinforce* that inferiority complex some of us live with for not being half the man you are in the kitchen...? Ah well. I embrace my inferiority and look forward with delight to reading more of `Eating in Orinoco'.

  2. Here are my theories about the Great Salad Dressing Mystery. The composition of the salad is, of course, more time consuming than the preparation of a dressing (a real Caesar being the exception). So, it must be:

    1. Ignorance of even the most rudimentary concept of how to cook. (Can I really make the whole greater than the sum its parts? Can chocolate really make a good meat sauce?)
    2. Fear of success. (What do I have to do to top that? Asparagus confit with poached duck eggs?)
    3. Fear of failure. (What if it tastes like ass?)

  3. I think you're right: fear and ignorance pretty much cover it. Which suggests that people eat badly/unhealthily not from ignorance so much as fear. How about a support group for people to support one another in ignominious kitchen failure, the better to strip the stigma away?