Winter Tonic

I’m practicing being a vegetarian again for our next show.
In the Tiger Milk 70’s my mother decided that white flour, white sugar, all red meat, and poultry were no longer welcome in our home. In the bat of an eye, no more Hamburger Fridays, Twinkies, Ring Dings, Pop Tarts, Spare Ribs or Chicken and Dumplings. We couldn’t believe it. If there had been such a thing as Sugar and Meat Protective Services, we would have called them. Kids at school who had never felt for me before, felt for me. “What do you eat”, they would ask me, “What is there?” “Well, you know,” I’d say, “macaroni and cheese, omelettes, cashew chili…” And then they would say, “Oh my God.” Maris Brayfield, who in the past wouldn’t give me so much as a Cheeto, would offer up Skippy and Fluff on Wonder without my even asking for it.
I would never have thought that I would say “It wasn’t all that bad.” In fact, if I could have heard me now, I would have said, “Sit yourself down–you’re old and you don’t remember.”
It’s just about the list. If your list has chicken and dumplings and short ribs on it, the brain freezes up like a case of lock-jaw. You forget all about The World of Vegetables. It can include but not be limited to: frozen peas, frozen corn, spinach, potatoes, and then leap to slow roasted tomatoes, braised leeks, sweet potatoes, and sauteed wild mushrooms. And the thing about vegetables is–they’re quick. You have the whole bean and legume family that cooks fresh in seconds, or dried can be simmered and then frozen or even bought ready in a can. Almost any vegetable can be braised in a little deliciousness liquid with a drop of olive oil, bay leaf, thyme sprig, and a piece of shallot until tender and then eaten with a piece of cheese and bread. Roast them for pastas and warm grain salads.

Last night we had a whole family of friends and though I compulsively put a little chicken into the soup I made for the kids, the rest was completely vegetarian. Mushroom risotto with shitake and cremini mushrooms, leeks, onion and shallot with a stock made from the stems, carrot, leek, celery, onion, thyme and parsley. A platter of roasted tomatoes, white bean puree (cannellini, sauteed shallot, garlic, rosemary, pepperoncino, olive oil, balsamic and lemon) and niciose olives, and a salad of arugula, homemade croutons, pan roasted asparagus and parmesan shavings.
Today for lunch to keep the momentum going I cooked a shallot with a clove of garlic, a sprig of thyme and some flat leaf parsley in olive oil and then added chic peas. Stir the chic peas around on the flame for a while. I could have eaten them just like that, but I cleared out the pan, added some peeled cubed tiny bits of potato and let them go til they stuck to the pan with a bit of golden underneath. Back in went the chic peas along with a good spill of water to make a sort of soup. At the end I added some baby beets I had braised and tossed with just a tiny bit of dijon vinaigrette for extra flavor. Tom Cat makes a gorgeous bread using a sourdough starter and I toasted it, drizzled it with olive oil, and poured the soup over. To top it, baby arugula leaves (although I think swiss chard would have been beautiful as well) with a shower of parmesan.
Call me Popeye.

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