Here on the west coast, it's the thinning season, that time in the growing cycle when farmers make their way through their fields and orchards, culling some of the young green fruit from their trees. This is done so that the branches aren't overburdened, which can cause them to break, and helps the remaining fruit to grow fat and juicy. Gardeners who grow from seed know this practice as well when they cull their rows of tiny seedlings, allowing the remaining plants more space and nutrients to grow and thrive.
Although some people can approach this task with a kind of ruthlessness, I find it a bit of a challenge. How do you know how much to take, and which ones, and when?
Not long ago, my neighbors and I got together for a quiet tea-and-knitting evening. The idea was to enjoy some company and maybe get a small project done or add a few rows onto a knitting project. We all brought things to nibble and the hostess made ginger tea. Some of us knit, one of us sorted receipts, and the others just came for the company. Busy schedules aside, this was easy to organize and easy to pull together. Not much happened: a few inches of a scarf came into being, a few stories were told, several cups of tea were drunk. Wild times, eh?
A favorite way for me to be in the kitchen is also the simplest way: no recipes, no special ingredients, no plan. It starts with hunger, a tugging in my belly that eventually takes over all my thinking so that I have to stop what I'm doing and wander around to see what's on hand.
This morning I found a ripe avocado, a lemon, and a single piece of stale flatbread on the counter. In the garden, some mint and parsley, and a handful of wee lettuces just poking up. In the fridge a half of a cucumber, a few scallions, some peas, and a few radishes that were just barely on this side of fresh. It's clear that a springtime salad, something close to but not quite a fattoush, is what's for lunch today.
Here's what I do when things get rough, when I'm sad or troubled or upset. I go to the kitchen and I make something and then I give it to somebody. I don't let it get it too complicated: I pull some ingredients together from whatever is at hand and make then soup, or cookies, or bread. And then I give it to the first person I think of, usually the the one who is closest, like a neighbor, or a coworker, or sometimes even my mail carrier.
Every week I look forward to Dana Velden's Weekend Meditation here at The Kitchn. Her small essays always prompt me towards thoughtfulness and gratitude, and peel back new layers of thinking about the kitchen, the home, and living in the world. Dana has this weekend off, but we didn't want to leave you without a dose of meditation. Here is a look back at 10 of our favorite meditations from Dana, all with an eye towards spring and new beginnings. Enjoy!
As a cook, I am quite naturally drawn to the garden, the place where all cooking begins. But having spent the vast majority of my adult life in cities, I'm not so well-versed in the mysterious ways of soil and plants. I can never tell if those yellowing leaves mean the plant is thirsty or if it is drowning in my enthusiastic watering. (I usually forget when I've last watered and so therefore tend to overcompensate.) Gardening is just not instinctive to me and in fact, I have no problem self-identifying as a black thumb. But that hasn't stopped me from starting a garden this spring.
The last day of March. Easter. Passover. Asparagus and pea shoots in the market. Renewal time. Emerging time, with tender greens, and cherry blossoms, and rhubarb. The turning of winter into spring is in full force now. How will you celebrate?
This morning, while puttering around my kitchen, I discovered that the rock hard avocados purchased last week from a couple selling them on a nearby street corner (three for a dollar!) had finally ripened. A gentle squeeze tells me they're probably perfect. The radishes I forgot in my market bag, however, seem to have gone a little beyond ripe, although they may be good for sautéing. And the bread I brought home on Thursday will probably be ready for bread crumbs on Monday if I don't finish it up by then.
As cooks, the spare and simple truth that all things are in a constant state of change is something we deal with on a daily basis.
In my pantry right now, there among the cans of tomato paste and chicken noodle soup, is a box of rich, decadent sipping chocolate, a bag of dried porcini, and a little tin of handmade candied violets. In my closet, a pair of fancy velvet heels and a gorgeous cashmere sweater mingle with the cotton shirts and clogs. Tucked away in a drawer, a small vial of a favorite, very expensive perfume waits for the special day that I will dab it on my wrists. Besides being wonderful and special, all these things have one other thing in common: I never use them. And lately I've been thinking that this has got to change.
Anyone who has cooked a meal has had to come to terms with the fact that while it may have taken hours (days even) to create this meal, it will likely vanish down the throats of their loved ones in a fraction of that time. In fact, if it didn't vanish quickly and with a certain amount of relish, we would worry that it wasn't good and that our efforts had been wasted. The very reason why we create our lovely meal (hunger and deliciousness) is exactly what will destroy it.