What you don't see in the photo is the color of the summer evening sky. You can't feel the perfectly soft warmth paired with the gentlest of breezes in such contrast with the scorching heat earlier in the day. You might get a hint of the relaxed ease of the meal, but what about the thrift? What about the sense of accomplishment, stewardship, gratitude, and relief? And, of course, there's the deliciousness to consider as well. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how many can you really see? To anyone else, it's just a plate of food, but to me it represents so much more...
Slice of Bread... I haven't baked sourdough bread in, oh, about a year. Considering that we don't buy bread in the store... that's saying something. It's saying that we haven't been eating much bread in the past year!* My sourdough starter (Edwina) started acting up last summer, and after too many botched loaves, I just put her in the fridge and ignored her. Then I got a new colony to play with and there she sat, cold, alone and forgotten. Until two weeks ago, when I started trying to salvage her. If you ever wonder if a starter is salvageable, let me tell you... I've put Edwina through a ton of neglect over the years and she keeps coming back. This time I had my doubts though. I hadn't fed her since October and she was pretty much a solid. Sunday night, after two weeks of training, I put her back in the game. And Monday afternoon she proved that there's a lot of life left in the old girl... and I had two lovely loaves of homemade sourdough bread to prove it. Hallelujah!
Mess of Greens... Chard and beet greens sauteed with garlic in butter and oil, stems and all. Yum. We planted those greens in pots out on our back patio last spring. Other than using a few smaller leaves in a smoothie now and then, this is our first real meal with our first real harvest of those plants. Being new to chard, I didn't really know what to do with it, but I knew it acted like spinach, wilting quickly when heated, and I knew I wanted a simple yet flavorful preparation. My hubby grew up eating chard, so I was delighted when he said, after the first forkful, "That's the taste I remember!"
What I did: Smashed a clove of garlic and heated it on med-low along with some oil in our biggest cast iron pan. Rinsed the greens, cut the stems off, spun it dry, chopped the stems into smaller pieces and tossed them into the pan. Roughly chopped the leaves, and when the stems were almost tender, piled the greens into the pan. Immediately tossed in a 1/4 cup of water and put a lid over it. Every few minutes checked it's progress and pushed it around so it got coated in garlic-oil. When it was just shy of being done, removed the lid and added a little salt and pepper. Before serving, tilted the pan so the juices drained off the greens.
Grilled Bratwurst... These were bought on sale a couple months ago and have been cooling it in the freezer until the other day when we thawed and grilled them all. In my book, it's just not summer (or fall, for that matter) without bratwurst on the grill. That's what I call eating seasonally. It should be mentioned that we're pretty much flat broke at the moment, and specialty meats would not exactly be on the menu at a time like this. So I am doubly grateful for the foresight of buying these when we saw them, and for the means of keeping them until we needed them. When you work hard at saving up for a rainy day, even if all you're saving is food, you are humbly thankful for it when that rainy day rolls around.
Smear of Mustard... This is not just any old mustard. Oh no. This is the last jar of the Pretty-In-Pink Pepperberry Mustard that I made for Christmas gifts last year. Sweet and hot, just like the middle of summer. I'd say it was my favorite mustard, but I made five different kinds and they were all really great in their own way.** I like just enough heat, and just enough mustard to compliment the food without overwhelming it. With mustard, as with many other things in life, all I need is enough.
Tall Cold Shandy... A shandy is a drink made with lemonade and beer. I knew about them, but before yesterday, I'd never tasted one. I started out making a batch of Rosemary-Lemonade** with the last few Meyer lemons from our tree (patiently waiting in the crisper drawer). I won't go into why I thought whole-lemon lemonade would be a good idea... it isn't by the way. But there I was with a quart of rosemary & bitter lemon failure staring at me. Our house rule is, "If it's remotely edible, we don't waste it". Sometimes I regret that rule. I was halfway through my big icy cold mug of failure-ade when Hubs came home from work, hot and tired, and cracked open a cold can of cheap brew (I won't mention the brand, just think of the cheapest beer you know). Inspiration, like lightning, struck. "Hey, I'll take one of those"... and into my glass went half a can of swill. (Oops, I meant to say, beer.) Next thing you know, Hubs grabbed a big mug and made one too. They were incredibly refreshing, and quite tasty. For yours, you'll want to use normal lemonade (made without peel, pith, and seeds), but go ahead and use cheap beer... I think I got that part right at least.
All in all, it was a perfect and satisfying end to a busy and hot mid-summer day. A day in which the simple dinner alone was worth well over a thousand words. Had I won at backgammon, it might even have been more... but for now it's enough, and enough is all I need.
*Hubs did break down and buy a couple loaves at one point, and a friend gave us a few artisanal loaves, but we're looking at maybe only 6 loaves of bread consumed in the last 10-12 months.
**I will post recipes soon.