Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Spring Peas, so sweet and  savory.....  yodel for this bread man  . . . . and a two of my favorite things.....fresh, local asparagus and strawberries

My husband hates peas, a secret he has harbored for over 30 years.  I just can't believe it...not that he kept a secret that long from me, but that he hates peas?  Who can hate those sweet spring offerings, when done just right, meaning gently boiled or steamed for just a few minutes until al dente?  I just can't imagine. 
As I sat on our back porch, enjoying warm but moist spring weather, and loosened the small globes from their pods, I couldn't help but remember sitting with my grandmother on her front porch, watching the cars drive by our busy road, while shucking peas and beans.  I wish I could hold her knobby, arthritic hands, the ones that soothed my childish brow and patted my teenage back, and talk with her more about her ways in the kitchen.  I miss her.
So I added last week's peas from the market to some shrimp sauteed in butter with slices of green garlic (which looked like spring onions), that we poured over hot capellini.  Steve had brought the shrimp from B & J Seafood in New Bern on his way home from Oriental, where he went sailing with our neighbor Joe.  I watched as my husband shoved the peas around and around his plate, just like our kids did when they were little.  Just like the school marm that I once was, I admonished him to eat his peas, please.

Bread Imported from Havelock
With flour dusted over his apron, the owner of Swiss Chalet Deli & Bakery wearily toted baskets of bread from the back of his van to his booth at the Raleigh State Farmer's Market.  It was 11 o'clock, rather late for setting up at the market.  When I asked, he said he had  made several deliveries in New Bern after pulling these loaves from the oven at his bakery in Havelock.  Havelock is between New Bern and Morehead City, a good three hour drive from/to Raleigh.  There is not much of a market for his breads in Havelock, and so he makes the trip to Raleigh three times a week.  Yes, he was tired.  It's a baker's life, one he learned before leaving his native Switzerland.
His baguettes were good, but I want to try the whole wheat and sourdough next time, in hopes of finding more texture.  

Two of my Favorite Things.....
Fresh Asparagus    Cooked until just barely tender, fresh, spring asparagus is such a wonderful treat.  I never ate asparagus growing up around here, but it does grow okay in our muggy weather and heavy clay soil.  My friend Missy had a great patch going until she decided to do a thru-hike on the Appalachian trail, when the weeds took over and she lost interest.  But I remember she had to dig a deep trench, then use manure from her horses and other composted materials to cover the roots of the asparagus slips she laid in the prepared trench.  The next year, we strolled in her garden to take a look, and finding tender, pencil-thin shoots, snapped them off and ate them right then and there. What an intense "asparagus" flavor.  Dynamite.  I'm sorry she's given up on her garden now.  
I usually cook asparagus like this:  Snap off the tough ends.  Rinse, then place in a skillet wide enough to hold them all laid out flat.  Cover the asparagus with cold water, then place on high heat.  As soon as the water comes to boil, the asparagus will probably be just right. Give it a taste to see if it's done to your liking, then drain and either add a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper.  
Or, you can either grill or roast asparagus. Wash, snap and dry the shoots.  Place on a flat baking sheet, or on a perforated grill pan, and sprinkle with a little extra virgin olive oil, shaking the pans so that the asparagus rolls around and distributes the oil evenly.  Then either grill over medium heat, or place in a preheated 400 degree oven for several minutes.  Cooking time depends on the thickness of each stalk, so watch and taste for doneness. Here's how I taught my kids:  pick up a stalk, hold it at the bottom and if you can make the the top wiggle, it's done.
Fresh, local strawberries
I LOVE strawberries.  Used to have a huge patch as a 4-H project.  Would sit in the field with my basket, but few picked berries made their way to the kitchen, for I about ate my weight in strawberries.   
Strawberries are everywhere at the markets right now.  You could fill up just on tasting the berries offered by the vendors at the State Farmers Market.  This year, I plan on trying to "put up" some preserves, using a method prescribed in this new book I just love, HOW TO PICK A PEACH:  The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons, a food & wine columnist for the LA Times.  He recommends working with very small batches, like 8 cups of sliced strawberries, with equal parts berries and sugar, left overnight to "marry," then cooked down till they are thickened, but not as thick as regular jam.  You can refrigerate the five pint jars you'll get, or boil them to seal the lids.  
To serve with the fresh strawberries I brought home this week, I made the Little French Fudge Cakes, a recipe reprinted in our newspaper from Lynn Rosetto Kasper, author of THE SPLENDID TABLE and host of the NPR show by the same name.  They are a rich chocolate-y cupcake, a good substitute for the fudgy brownies I usually serve with strawberries.  

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