Sunday, May 29, 2011
It's about 8:30 p.m. here in my little corner of the Hudson Valley, and the sky is just starting to get that cornflower blue cast to it, and the leaves are making a soft whisper, being blown by a cool breeze. The warm air is mixing with the cool wind, and it smells like baked mown grass, Russian olive and rose blossoms, chives and maybe a hint of rain. Since it stopped raining last Tuesday, I've been thrown into a summer-time idyll, and the things I want to write about pile up as photographs, but never make it to the page.
I've instead been working in the garden: pulling up rows of arugula and braising greens, radishes and lettuce. All of a sudden there is a deluge of things to eat from my yard. The strawberries are ripe and the rhubarb is flourishing. The asparagus is taking nicely to its new bed, and the potatoes seem to be in a race with themselves, they are growing so fast. The sugar snap peas aren't happy, but the purple podded peas are. The beets and carrots are coming along. The cucumbers sprouted in what seems like days. And the tomatoes. Oh, goodness, the tomatoes! It's really summer when the tomatoes are set in their cages.
This week I spent some time driving around tiny towns, like Accord and Alligerville, picking up ten pounds of rhubarb and dropping off jars of jam to worthy folks. My little boy and I have been making the rounds of all the playgrounds, and all the places to eat ice pops, or sorbets, or something fruity because he doesn't yet have a taste for vanilla or chocolate. At the ice cream stands families loiter, like us, and the older kids seem to be sniffing out summer vacation. We like to visit a park in Gardiner that is next to Sky Dive The Ranch so we can watch for people falling from the sky with colorful parachutes.
Today was another perfect summer day, and we didn't do much. We drove to Tractor Supply to buy chicken feed. We took a quick stroll over the Walkway Over the Hudson. Later on we hung around at the Kingston Point Park and flew a kite. Whenever you take the time to fly a kite, you think: what a good idea it is to fly a kite! The wind was perfect, and our new dragon flew up easily. There was a good mix of people down by the beach, and I closed my eyes to soak it all in. I grew up near the water, and it still is a deliciously comfortable feeling that floods every sense: the smell of sunscreen, the feel of the sand, the sound of the waves and children laughing, screaming or crying. The only thing missing was the salt. I do miss the ocean.
All of these things are just thick with summer. Bug bites and sunburns are just the price you pay; not as onerous as they will soon become. Right now I'm savoring instead the outdoor visits with friends, drinking icy cold beers, and snacking on some crackers, good cheddar and this really delicious rhubarb mostarda. I've been meaning to make mostarda for a long time now. It's an Italian condiment that's similar to a chutney, but not quite as pickled. My version has wild Alaskan lingonberries in it, thanks to Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven. But think of this recipe as a blueprint. You could use any fruit really. And then insert it into your idyll.
Rhubarb and Lingonberry Mostarda
1 pound of rhubarb, chopped in 1/2" chunks
1 cup of lingonberries (or cranberries, or pears or apples)
1 cup of dry white wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon of brown mustard seed
1 tablespoon of yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon of salt
the juice and zest of two small oranges (I used satsumas, tart and bright, blood oranges would be nice.)
(optional: bay leaf, sprig of fresh rosemary)
Put all ingredients in a pot and simmer until it gets to a spreadable consistency. Some recipes say two hours, but mine was much quicker, probably because of the lingonberries, which are high in pectin. Store in the fridge. Serve with pork or chicken, or with a good cheese.