even though i joke among peers for being “hopeless hostess”—forever forgetting to offer drinks or get dinner on the table before midnight—we love having friends come to stay in our home. and as long as they can get comfortable with the pace that things move around here most days, i think they like it here, too.
so when my friend katharine mentioned a few months back that she was going to be in our area for a week or so, i eagerly invited her to make room in her plans for visiting with us at our place.
we decided to meet up at cleveland’s west side market shortly after her plane arrived on saturday. of course it was an absolute zoo—i don’t know what i was thinking when i suggested that, haha. but we each managed to find parking and walked around a bit, which is always a treat.
between the specialty foods, produce, and people watching, you can’t really go wrong in making a morning out of it.
i stocked up on some exotic salts for cooking and bought a small bag of nuts for nibbling, but mostly we were there to stroll and see.
after a while the crowds and noise drove us out in the street to look for a quiet place to eat lunch (which turned out to be vietnamese).
next stop was the cleveland museum of art, which i had never been to visit, so i was excited. they have recently reopened after an extensive renovation and expansion. the photo above is angled toward the old beaux arts structure, now partially enveloped by the modern annex, shown below.
but not entirely; the two coexist and converse with each other very well. the atrium space between the two buildings is nothing short of vast—its sparely furnished space provides an ocean of stillness in which to transition from the old museum to the new and from traditional art to modern. the sheer volume of air in which to merely sit and be is a luxury i rarely experience.
one of the museum’s missions is to offer “the finest of cultural assets, including an art museum that is accessible to the public free of charge”. and so it does—we just walked through the doors and were immediately allowed to engage in the art, the space, with no stops at a desk and no coat or bag check.
we entered through the south garden of the old building, where no less than a dozen bridal parties were congregated for photography—that was quite something! we didn’t spend much time in the old galleries because we were anxious to take in the new architecture.
the new spaces are stunning; this hallways of glass shows the outer side of the old building on one side while revealing gallery contents of the new building on the other. inside, the galleries are scaled for modern and contemporary art, with ceilings high enough to allow for exhibition of really large canvases and installation pieces.
even though the exterior of the two museums is very different, the floorpan inside actually reminds me very much of the whitney museum of american art which i visited with nancy back in june. not surprising since both museums are striving to create better traffic flow and an environment in which to fully view and appreciate the works.
at the end of the afternoon they had to kick us out—we stayed until the very last minute and then walked around the outside of the buildings for a bit, taking in the very different architecture and surface design of the adjoining structures.
back at home we got katharine settled in and then met up back in the kitchen where she pulled gifts out of her bag, one of them a basket of peaches from north carolina. uh, YUM! it was perfect, but a little less worse for wear from its travels that morning. so instead of resting and knitting as we’d planned, we got right to work peeling and slicing them for a pie.
in between getting supper ready and putting the remaining chopped peaches into freezer bags for the winter, i made a gluten free pie dough so we could bake off dessert right after dinner.
katharine knitted and chatted with me while i worked—one of my favorite things about the new kitchen is that i can happily socialize with david or with guests while i work.
we ate an absolutely delicious meal of ratatouille i’d cooked a few days earlier, topped with codfish, mmm. afterward, i rolled out the crust which did not give me a struggle this time, thank goodness.
for the filling, i just used raw sliced peaches, some sugar (maybe half a cup? three-quarters?), a few tablespoons of tapioca flour, a pinch of salt, and spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, allspice—but not too much of any one). since i was using a crumb topping (the same one from the GF cherry crumble bars i made last week), i didn’t add butter to the filling.
and though it was nearly midnight when we finally had a taste, the pie turned out just beautifully; i will definitely be using this method again as it works equally well with cherries and i suspect, blueberries.
this pie also makes an excellent pre bike ride breakfast—just sayin’.
with vanilla ice cream of course for calcium, magnesium, and protein . . . .
sunday morning i was up first, so i put on a pot of coffee, knit a few rows while it perked, and headed out to the garden to catch any overgrown things that needed attending. just outside the back door i found this butterfly in my peppers, so lazy that it couldn’t even be bothered to fly away when i got within a foot or so.
when i explored deeper into the vegetable patch, i found that though i had picked the previous day, everything needed a going over.
i didn’t actually pick these winter squash but boy are they growing like mad—i’ll show you more tomorrow.
the weekend heat had thrown the beans and squash into production overdrive (it has since cooled bit, thank goodness).
so that’s where katharine found me when she ventured outside, burrowing under umbrella-sized squash leaves in search of those that might be hiding (no matter how i try, i ALWAYS miss one and we end up with a squash torpedo for the compost pile).
naturally i did not get a rest from the green beans either—there was a full basket when i was done. also peas and greens—once all that was assembled, i knew just what i wanted to cook for dinner that evening.
but first, a little recreation. since barb was coming over that afternoon to knit, we decided to squeeze in a little bike ride around town. unfortunately my back tire was mysteriously flat so we ditched the bikes and set out on foot instead.
seeing our town through someone else’s eyes is always fun. we live in a fairly quirky small city, a lot like the one i grew up near. lots of character, so to speak.
the sun grew hot very quickly so we soon headed back—we’ve had absolutely stunning weather this last week or two—not too hot at all, but the sun is bright and clear so it’s smart not to stay out in it too long.
we all chatted and those two knitted, barb on her blanket statement strips and katharine finishing up her gorgeous artichaut shawl (more on that in the next post). i had my work cut out for me, clearing the fridge of green beans before the week began—i had about six pounds left after giving away some in the office on friday and more on sunday to barb (note the large blue bag sitting next to her).
i topped and sorted what i had into sizes—really big fat ones to cut into soup-sized niblets, medium large ones to grill and glaze chinese style, and very slim, tender ones to flash cook thai basil style. the last two going into the freezer for winter as ready-made side dishes (IMO this method preserves the original bean flavor and texture even better than freezing plain—plus it’s so handy on the user end).
as you can see i have not been exaggerating one bit about the volume of beans—i really am drowning in them. thank goodness for the vegetable lovers we have close to us!
once they were all prepped i got busy stir frying them in batches (blanching for the cut ones that i was freezing plain).
it’s very simple—into hot sesame oil toss some minced hot pepper, garlic, salt, black pepper, and ginger, throw in the green beans whole and allow to sit until blackened a bit on the one side, then toss and repeat til they begin to wilt. just before shutting off the heat i add some chile sauce, a little oyster or hoisin sauce, and a spoon of black pepper sauce, then give it a toss to glaze the beans. since i am going to reheat them when they thaw, i am careful at this stage not to overcook.
i laid each batch out on a big platter to cool and tossed them together, then divided into freezer bags and stored away for future winter meals. these make a great side dish with salmon, veggie burgers, or butternut squash soup.
next it was time to start supper—david was out for a ride and would be hungry when he got back and i had a surprise i’d been saving for him. i had cut up some yukon gold potatoes and put them on to soak; now i drained them, tossed with olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic, then slid them into the oven to roast.
while i finished the beans up and washed greens for dinner, katharine shelled our little crop of peas which i’d been collecting for a few days to use as a feature ingredient in a special supper—one of david’s favorite dishes.
aren’t the purple ones pretty?
and katharine says they are easier to shell than the green ones . . .
since i had the large skillet out and warmed up, i sautéed some sliced summer squash for a bare minute or so in olive oil and garlic from this year’s crop that david was drying on the porch. O.M.G.—there aren’t words to describe the aroma; it’s a drug.
to the pan i added the trimmed swiss chard (any soft greens will do) and turned off the heat so the leaves would just wilt.
i set that aside and in a big pot, started a sauté of more garlic and two cans of chick peas, which i allowed to cook til the outsides bubbled a bit. then i added chopped chard stems, sliced shiitake mushrooms, pepper, salt, fresh chopped parsley, and sliced scallions that got left in the ground from last year’s garden and are now so big they are exploding out of the dirt, the size of jaw breakers. but gorgeous alongside the bright green chard stems!
i meant to add some shredded carrot to the mix—the bright orange would have been fab—and forgot. once they have begun to soften just a little, i added a couple of quarts of vegetable stock while the vegetables were still crunchy—we don’t want anything overcooked in this dish. i get every ingredient pre-prepped before cooking so i can preserve the bright colors and fresh, almost raw texture of the vegetables; the cooking time is very short and the timing is critical.
somewhere in there i put a pan of water on the fire to boil some small soup pasta—orzo or tiny rings are perfect.
into each bowl put a portion of raw peas (if yours are very large you could cook them in some of the soup broth for one minute), a portion of the small pasta, and a portion of the greens and squash, then topped with a portion of the soup. it’s kind of like a salad in a soup, haha.
it is delicious with grated curls of parmigiano-reggiano or slices of aged provolone with, if you are lucky to be able to eat it, great hunks of chewy italian bread. instead of that i served the roasted potatoes, which is also rounds out this meal well. we all three relished each bite of our late sunday supper, happy to be filling our stomachs with such wonderfulness. it was so satisfying, we didn’t even eat pie afterward (but we did eat it for breakfast the next morning).
i don’t know if this soup has a name because i made up this version years ago based on our taste for the ingredients. i cook it every spring and summer when i can get all the ingredients fresh. in our experience, it is really only good in season, using fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market or garden. i have poor luck cooking beans at home from dried, but if you are talented at it, then skip the canned ones and use your own.
not twenty four hours after clearing the garden and my fridge of produce, it is full again—and without spending a penny. true we did that back in the spring, but it still feels like riches falling into our laps from nowhere. how lucky are we?
we stayed up for a while longer, knitting and watching episodes of chef & the farmer—about a locavore restaurant enterprise that is located only about an hour from katharine’s home, in kinston, NC. she had never seen it and i wanted to share; it’s one of my favorite series. what a foodie day!
next time, i’ll tell you more about my visit with katharine and her beautiful shawl project—tomorrow!