I’m the first one to talk about going to the market, eating locally and finding the products that are in season, but here’s a thing that many of you suffering through heat waves may not have picked up on: It’s cold in Seattle. While everyone else is posting their facebook statuses of “Another 100 degree day here in (name of your city), it’s 70-75 degrees here at best on most days.

Our summer began on July 5th. We had a heat wave of low 90s for about a week, and then, the temperature dropped down to the 60s and 70s once again. The sweatshirts that I put away for the summer came back out of the steamer trunk, and I was forced to shiver my way through brisk Seattle mornings in order to make it down to the market, where I braved the winds of Elliott Bay whilst digging my hands in and out of frigid fish ice for hours on end.

I sit here now on a morning where the mercury has barely broken 65 degrees, my chilly toes tucked under my knees as I sit in front of the computer. This weather confuses me.

How can there be so much bounty during the summer months without the weather in town to back up all the wonderful things that you can do with these products? This should be the time of year when we make salads, eat fresh berries, or savor the sweet, refreshing crispness of an apple or peach. Instead, I sit, bundled on top of the down comforter that still has yet to come off the bed for fear of another cold night in the Pacific Northwest.

Last week at the Market, I stopped at Alm Hill Gardens, a little farmstand from Everson, Washington. Everson is located in an idyllic setting, a tiny pocket of Washington State just over the border from Canada, where I’ve been told magical things happen in the garden. Alm Hill is always the first farm to have tulips before the spring, and during the summer, they have weird looking yet familiar vegetables to fill a fridge. That corner of the United States is where an abundance of seeds and bulbs are harvested for Home and Garden stores across the country, and it stays green almost year round. When it’s snowy, the valley looks like Switzerland. In the Spring, the acres upon acres of tulips evoke a Holland or Belgium. With Summer comes an even deeper appreciation for all things verdant, as the fields burst with berries, green garlics, and variegated greens of all varieties.

This week, they had the chard and green garlic, some translucent yellow onions, and few hundred pints of berries for sale. With the cold snap that we’ve been experiencing off and on in the mornings, the berries must be incredibly sweet and sugary, but we’ve had at it with the berries for the past couple of weeks, taking advantage of fresh fruit while it is warm. The only thing that looks appealing in addition to the staples that I picked up were the bags of second run berries. “Perfect for Jaming [sic]”, they read. Although it’s cold, even I know that it isn’t jam season just yet. I chose the chard and green garlics. (Yeah, they’re garlic spears, but these were not quite as straight-stalked as the others, still falling in curlicue tendrils out of their twist tie bouquet).

With chard and garlic in the backpack, I trudged my way to the bus stop, and made the ride up the hill to the home. I made sure to catch the bus that let me off right outside my house, because I didn’t want to walk the four extra blocks from the 49 bus in the cold. As it happens on many nights, I came home hungry, and put the backpack on the counter, sweeping the cutting board out from the drawer in one smooth motion.

Down below the cutting board was the pan. Next motion, out with the pan and onto the stove. As the right hand closed the door to the cupboard, it drew up to the burner, flicking it on to medium.

Right hand switches to panhandle. Left hand switches to Olive Oil. Right hand rotates the pan slowly as left hand gives two swirls around the pan. Right hand puts pan back on the burner.

Now bend down to get an onion, the most dangerous of mincing vegetables. I say it is the most dangerous of mincing vegetables for a few reasons.

1) Tiny pieces. You need to cut them into tiny pieces. This, for many people, is a daunting task. They cut the onion in half and then butcher it with the slow method of cutting that nobody, not even Vince of Slap-Chop fame, would be proud of. The easiest way to do it, and the way that yields lovely little dices, is to cut the top and the root off, slice it once vertically, and then slice them 3/4 of the way, both vertically from top to root, and horizontally. You’re left with what looks to be the beginning of those Onion flowers that they serve you at your local neighborhood ChiliAppleFriday’s, but, you know, a little more reserved and portion controlled than that. Then, with your finger in the old standby claw method (where the danger comes from), you slice the attached matchstick looking pieces into dice. Is there a correlation between dicing and a six sided die?

Sidebar: As I am writing this paragraph, I can’t stop thinking about that onion thing. I’ve never had one. Is it just like a giant, beer battered onion ring? It’s one of those creations that simultaneously fascinates and disgusts me. I call this feeling disgastination. Just for a moment, if we will, let us take a look at the marvel that is the Onion flower.

Come on. You know you were thinking about it, too.

2) The tears. If you manage to cut an onion and remain in full force, digitally speaking, there are still the chemical repercussions of your onion reaction to deal with. Everyone will tell you that they have a way to combat these tears. Here is a short list of ways that I’ve heard will help, but in truth, do not.

  1. Wear Goggles- This does not work because it is dumb.
  2. Hold Matchsticks, matchheads out, in the corners of your mouth- This was allegedly started because people believed that the phosphorus in match heads, when inhaled in small doses, would counteract the vapor coming off the onion. If you breathed in through your mouth, you’d get the match scent. In through the nose, the matches were below your nasal passages, so they would go up your nose. I don’t know what they were talking about, but according to the hit show “Breaking Bad”, Phosphorus is found in the striking surface of the matchbox. Also, that show teaches us not to do drugs, I think. So just to recap- Match theory-Busted. And don’t do drugs.
  3. Buy diced onions- You are lazy.
  4. Rinse the onion before chopping- Where does your flavor go? Are you going to dip  your flavorless dish in the garbage disposal to sop up the flavor you lost? No? Okay. So don’t do that, either.
  5. Leave the skin on before you chop it- As a barrier to all the vapors getting up to you and clogging your head with salty tears of defeat? No. Do you like bits of onion skin in your onion? They burn in the pan and make your dinner look rustic. Don’t do that.

There’s no way I’ve found that really works, unless you get a fresh onion. Get one that hasn’t been deadheaded. That’d be one that doesn’t have the papery skin on the outside. For some reason, they seem less pungent and less aromatic that way. I haven’t seen them out here, but if you go to a farmstand and they have the really shiny onions, get those if you really want to make an attempt to not cry while you’re cutting onions.

So now, I’ve chopped the onion, and it’s in the pan. Slice a couple of cloves of garlic. Toss those in as well.

From my bag, I pull out a bunch of chard, slicing the stems and rough chopping the leaves. With the green garlics, I discard the rough stem ends, and whittle the pieces into 3/4 inch bits. Those go in the pan. So do the bits of chard.

Salt, pepper. Another splash of oil. A secret blend of herbs and spices known to the world as the amazing packet known as Saizon Goya. Let the chard leaves wilt.

Out of the freezer comes the packet of Morningstar fake meat crumbles. They’re actually quite delicious, and the only thing that I’ve found that mimics the texture of ground beef and gives enough body to stand up to the fixins already in the pan. Now, a note about this.

I understand that many of you have known about my philosophy on food, and on food substitutes from the vegetarian diet. 99% of the time, I can see using meat in a dish. However, if you know more about me than that, you might also know that I’m not a huge fan of red meat. I don’t usually go to a restaurant and order a steak. It will be fish, pork (although it’s hard to find a pork in a restaurant that is as succulent as they make it out to be, to pork’s sad discredit), or some kind of other interesting meat. Red meat in general has never left me feeling satisfied after eating it. It has only left me feeling bad. It’s heavy, doesn’t have the most pleasing flavor to me, and with all the things that people are doing with other meats these days, it’s fast approaching chicken as the meat that is the most boring one for me to work with. With that in mind, for something like the dish I’m describing, (which is tacos in case you have not yet guessed), these vegetarian crumbles fit the bill, and I like them, so there.

So then, those go in the pan, along with a fresh diced tomato, and then we let it all sit for a few minutes to bring the fully cooked crumbles up to temperature so that the dish as a whole will be delicious and filling while warm and satisfying on a not so warm night.

We get some cheese out, grate it, bring our friend Paul Newman’s salsa to the table, and then we enjoy some delicious tacos. The best thing about tacos is that you can put anything in there. Unless, like the Andyman so skillfully does, you strive for authenticity, there is little worry that you need to adhere to someone’s great grandmother’s recipe. It’s a pan full of flavors that go well together, and it tastes good. Today’s burritos, tortas, tacos, etc. do not taste like they came straight from Michoacan. When they do, it’s amazing. When they don’t, it’s your own creation, and it’s stuff in a shell of corn that tastes good. At our house, we call it tacos. It’s a good blend of something summery and something that will keep my toes, still cold, at least above the freezing point.

If I’m working hard all day, I  don’t have the time to sit by the stove and make a rich, layered molé. What I do have time for is to shop for all of the ingredients that make up groovy flavor profiles that I can be proud of as a home cook, home cookin’ meals like I do. The tortilla is the canvas. I merely paint.

Halibut Cheeks, Escabeche, Squash Blossoms, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

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