Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #2: Farmer's Markets & Friendships

 The Story

The summer of 2006 ended up being pretty instrumental for me. It was between high school and college, and it was when I formed two relationships that ended up shaping me for the rest of my life so far.

The first one, which isn't all that important here, was my first girlfriend. She was a lot of firsts, from kiss on, and was the person who taught me that there could be joy in looking forward to the future. I still haven't internalized that.

The second was a group of girls. They taught me, among other things, that friendships didn't have to be mediated. They were the first folks that I ever hung out with in any real way where our friendship wasn't defined by some shared interest - music or games or whatever. We did share interests, but could also be in each other's company without pretense. It's a lesson that fundamentally changed me into a better person, although it took some time.

One of those examples, of simply being in each other's company, was experiencing things I had no affinity for. Not because I was branching out, but because I was interested in being together with them. The archetypal example (and the one that brings me to today's topic) was going to the Farmer's Market.

I've been going to Farmer's Markets, first with them and then with others, for over a decade. Prior to about two weeks ago, I'm fairly certain I hadn't ever bought anything from one aside from prepared food. The big change is that I am now, however briefly, on SNAP. Food stamps. I'm also doing meal prep and living off the generosity of others as I look for work. So I needed a way to translate that into food and ameliorating the burden I'm placing on friends and family. Part of that was finding out that the closest Farmer's Market has a program where not only do they accept SNAP, they match up to $5 for fruit and vegetable purchases. Which is lucky, because that's what I was planning on buying anyway.

Instead of a grip of themed recipes, I decided to shake it up a little this week. I recorded a Grocery Haul video (which you can find above), where I go through what I bought with $20 and how I plan on using some of it. In lieu of the Recipes section, I'm going to go over some of those preparations below.

The reason I hadn't ever really bought food from a Farmer's Market before is twofold. The first is that for maybe ten of the thirteen years since I started going with those friends, I just straight up didn't cook. The second is that I have hella social anxiety. Having people attempt to be pleasant at me when I'm barely aware of what I'm doing is brain-shattering. Doing so in a crowd of people who are trying to get their shit and go, or even just get past me, is often unbearable. But you do have to just go ahead and do it sometimes.

The story of my learning to cook so far, at least as I have often told it, is one of letting go of the Right Way to Do Things and doing them the way that I can. I just started using herbs a few months ago because I said fuck it and got some dried, after years of not using them because everyone said to use fresh. I never bought vegetables because I was afraid they would go bad - until I was told you could roast frozen broccoli and cauliflower. Getting my hands dirty with that did more for me than any amount of being told How to Do It ever could. I hope this column gives off that same energy. Because I also believe that I'm pretty good at this, and that comes from learning to trust myself more than anything else. That and material conditions, of course

Recipes (kinda)

Caramelized Plum

Use a serrated knife to cut a plum in half. Twist until it pulls apart. Cut around the pit and remove.

Put a cast iron skillet on the range over medium-low heat. Let it heat for a minute or two. Now, choose your own adventure:

For purely sweet, simply place the halved plums on the skillet and let cook for 3-5 minutes. When the meat is browned, serve.

For a more complex preparation, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on the pan and drop 5 or 6 grains of kosher salt on it. Then place the plums on the cast iron, smushing around to coat. Let cook about five minutes (for some reason this usually takes me a little longer?) until browned (as best you can tell). It's delicious. I suspect you can do the same for nectarines and peaches and other pitted fruits, but I haven't tried it yet!

Use Those Greens

Celery is ideal for this, but I've also done carrots. They're both useful.

For celery, cut off where the stalk pinches (where the leaves start). For carrots, cut off right above the top of the carrot. Wash thoroughly.

Strip the leaves from the stems. The less stem the better. Set stems aside.

Preheat oven to the lowest setting (170F for me).

Lay out leaves on a baking sheet. Ideally single layer, but you know. If you can't get everything onto one layer, just be more conscientious about shifting things around.

Put the baking sheet in the oven, and set a timer for half an hour.

Check back every thirty minutes, rotating the sheet and testing how dry things are. Probably after one hour you should start checking every fifteen minutes or so, depending on how dry things are getting.

At 170F, they should be done in an hour or two. They're done when you can easily crumble a leaf between two fingers; make sure there aren't idlers who aren't dry though.

Mash up the dried leaves in your hands and place in a container with an airtight lid. Use like a seasoning (probably most similar to parsley?). I like dried celery and carrot greens on meat, especially chicken. Place the set-aside stems in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Add vegetable scraps as you cook. Once you have enough, throw the mess in a pot of water, bring to a boil and then down to a simmer, and simmer covered for about an hour. Now you have vegetable stock*!

*Make sure there's celery, carrot & onion scraps in it. Avoid too much brussel sprouts, broccoli, and potato scraps to avoid bitterness.

PS: Zest lemons. Just peel those bad boys before you use them, and then set the peels out for 3-5 days. It's great lemon flavor that you're just wasting otherwise!

Roasted Roots

1 bunch of carrots

1 large daikon

1 large zucchini

Cut roots into sticks. This is actually not as hard as I was worried it would be - basically just keep cutting things lengthwise until they are about the desired thickness, then cut horizontally so they're somewhere between one and two inches. Uniformity is desirable but I've never managed it.

You can also separate the daikon & zucchini from the carrots if you want to follow another step soon.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Toss in oil, salt, pepper, garlic and onion (a small pinch of dried celery leaves can also add freshness, using the recipe above). I'd go light on the oil personally, since the goal here is to make something summery out of roots. Or at least mine was.

Place on baking sheet, evenly distributed. Let cook for 15 minutes. Check daikon and zucchini; they should be crisp but with a little bit of chew. If you check with a fork, you hopefully get a puncture and then a bit of slide. If they're good, pull them out. Let carrots cook for another five minutes or so. The desired texture is the same. Serve.

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