The small, emerald padrón peppers available last week at the vendor’s stand are gone, so instead I scoop up two big handfuls of pale green, slightly wrinkled guandilla peppers and place them into a bag.
I adore these slim, elongated chiles that in their immature green stage have a very mild pungency. They remind me somehow of narrow elf slippers. Popular as Spanish tapas, especially in the Basque country, they are fried in olive oil with garlic, then sprinkled with salt, and I can eat a bushel of them singlehandedly. That said, I prefer the smaller, plumper padrón variety which have more of a bite, though some are quite mild and one never knows just how hot the pepper will be short of eating it. A plateful, please.
The morning sky hangs low in a flat ceiling of clouds, the coastal air cool enough on a July late morning that I am glad for the light jacket I’m wearing as I stroll the Monterey farmer’s market. A Friday ritual, my dear leather-handled Provençal market basket in hand, I move unhurriedly along the string of my usual, preferred vendors’ offerings of fruits and vegetables. The guandilla peppers cheer me, especially having just struck out on dandelion greens — an unexpected gap between crops, apparently — and I feel slightly deflated, wondering what I will substitute for my daily lunch of super greens. (Dandelions are over the top in nutrition and healing properties, and I eat a bowlful every day in a salad mixed with diced apples, goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a spicy vinaigrette. If you dont know about these powerful medicinals that most people consider a common weed, read “A Bunch of Dandelions: An Autumn Cleanse for Health” from last year).
It is summer in the northern hemisphere (even if that doesn’t mean much on the foggy Monterey peninsula, and I might experience better weather in Ireland), and the colorful, seasonal bounty of the market is glorious. My basket was already weighted down with tree-ripe peaches and sweet white nectarines, some promising apricots (they so often disappoint), a punnet each of fragrant raspberries and juicy blueberries, a couple of globe artichokes, baby zucchini (courgettes, I call them) with their gorgeous golden blossoms still attached, a massive bunch of fresh basil singing with its anise-like notes, and a generous bag of the tiny, tender stem, heirloom Italian broccoli that I never seem to tire of.
Shopping at the farmers market is one of those simple pleasures in life that fills my heart and spirit. It is always a feast for the senses, not only for the color and abundance on display, but for the aromas of ripe fruit (one can smell the strawberries ten feet away), the fragrant summons of culinary sage, the scent of fresh green onions and leeks, and so much more. Over the years, I’ve written a couple of posts about open air markets and my abiding love for them — including the very real goodness of pressing dollars directly into the hands of those who grew my food, establishing a human chain of connection to the earth, stitched with gratitude.
May all be fed.
My mate is currently back in Hawaii for work (as he often is for weeks at a time, holding the reins of an international film festival), but I am happy to cook for myself, though admittedly our usually simple fare tends to get even simpler when I’m on my own. With gorgeous summer produce such as this, there’s little that needs to be done with it other than honor its inherent goodness. Don’t do too much mucking around with ingredients. Faites simple. I confess to some nights eating just a bowl of the tender stem Italian broccoli with a small amount of buttered quinoa or rice alongside. A peach for dessert, perhaps.
Even when I am cooking somewhat more traditionally, like the goat cheese enchiladas with salsa roja that I made last night (yes, all for myself), it’s still a simple affair and I don’t usually follow recipes. With the exception of a dessert or two, I almost never write my creations down. So it has been an interesting practice these past couple of weeks to find myself in the process of drafting and testing recipes, fourteen of which are currently included in the manuscript for my new book. Each one began with jotting down approximate measurements and short notes of the “method”; I have now progressed to quantifying specifically (in both US imperial as well as metric), elaborating in greater detail, and testing — eating — the result.
Admittedly, some of the recipes I’m fine tuning are not summer food, and it feels odd to prepare things that normally I would only eat in other seasons (Warm Camembert with Mushrooms and Walnuts, for instance). Thankfully, berries are at their peak and the fresh Raspberry Tart with Honey Almond Cream was a sublime, sweet celebration.
“Oh, is it a ‘foodie’ memoir?” someone recently asked about my current manuscript. “I hear those are very popular right now.”
No, it isn’t, though certainly as a French-trained cook the role of good food is central in our house, and my time in the kitchen (along with what we eat) naturally features into my story of our time in England. Yet I would say that the book sidesteps culinary memoir, as a genre in which the mundane details of life are wrapped around the principal act of cooking and eating.
I had loosely anticipated that tonight I would test and document the “Fish in Parchment”. Robert is not overly fond of whole fish (it’s too much effort for too little return, and he always chokes on a tiny rib or hidden shard of bone), so I’ve waited to make it just for myself. I’m not fussed about picking round the skeleton, and fish is better when cooked on the bone (just like everything else). When the baking parchment is opened, a cloud of fragrant steam is released, heady with a Mediterranean perfume of thyme, capers, garlic and lemon, and it earns points for the theatrical presentation (even when dining alone).
Yet the glorious blossoms attached to the baby courgettes won’t really last past today, so perhaps the fish will wait until tomorrow and I’ll make something with these elegant fleurs comestibles. The golden tissue paper blooms called to me so loudly with their beauty that I couldn’t resist. They seem the very essence of summer, somehow — along with the basil and little orange tomatoes. And those peaches, apricots, berries, and everything else filling my French basket.
With regrets, you’re going to have wait a while for those fourteen recipes in the upcoming book (cross your fingers that it finds an agent and publisher soon). But if you check back to this post next week, it’s likely that I’ll have updated it with whatever I created with the baby zucchini and their flowers.
Friend, here’s hoping that wherever you may be on the globe, whether it is summer or winter for you, that an abundance of goodness rests on your table. Food that knows its roots and season. And as I so often wish in these posts, that even if your soul is not that of a cook, may you find other simple treasures and delights that nourish your body and spirit every day. Too, I hope that you feel positively overcome with gratitude for the gift of life… even for something as ordinary as a pale green pepper or a delicate orange blossom.