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Saturday, May 29, 2010

You never know

The dining room table, which Risa built long ago and which can seat ten if those along the sides are kindly with their elbows, now generally fills up with guests once a year for sure -- Thanksgiving, and every other year, Christmas. It's mostly a desk for bill paying and a staging area for trips into town now.

Risa thinks a lot about the impact of empty-nesting on household routine. With no one to feed but themselves, she and Beloved have taken to using one corner of the big table as if it were a breakfast nook, setting two plates side by side, and watching the activities of the neighborhood songbirds through the window as they eat. Not only are they cooking for two, instead of five, but portions have shrunk as the fires in their muscles die down. Sixty may be the new thirty, but one does less and less, and eats less accordingly.

Risa has come to specialize in one-dish meals. Last night, for example, she pulled out a package of the lamb that was bought last year (local), and found it to be ribs. She cut up the ribs into individual pieces set them going, on medium low, in the ten-inch frying pan, then made up a barbecue sauce of salsa, home-dried tomatoes, soy sauce, salt, pepper, home-dried veg flakes, and molasses. Separately she steamed some grated walking onions and elephant garlic, combined this with the sauce, and slathered the faintly sizzling ribs with it, basting thoroughly, and kept it under cover, stirring things around a bit now and then with a chopstick.

Next, she took from the refrigerator a thawed packet of home-frozen broadbeans and, pushing aside the ribs, dumped the broadbeans in, salting them down a bit, then went out to the garden with a pair of scissors and came back with a large handful of kale, bok choi, chives, spinach, dandelion, and turnip greens, scissored all this up, and, pushing aside the ribs and the broadbeans, dumped the greens in, and covered again. As soon as the greens had wilted well (but not turned into moosh) she took the frying pan off the stove and set it on the square ceramic platter that serves for a hot pad, between the two place settings, and rang the dinner bell.

Beloved served herself, Risa served herself, they ate, maybe had a glass of water from the pitcher that stands on the table, and then Risa cleared away.

What 's significant about this is that the freezer container of beans was a six-ounce size recycled yogurt container, and the greens were about the same amount. The aim is to have no leftovers, and eat "fresh" at every meal. But, of course, there was too much lamb for that. Everything is packed by butchers and grocery stores for much larger portions or with the assumption of more people at the table, than is really typical.

"Serves four." "Serves six." "Serves eight." It's an issue, but less so if you do a significant amount of your own home preservation, preparation, and cooking. Risa now highly values the six-ounce and eight-ounce sizes of containers suitable for use in freezing. The other day, the ladies were looking over their pantry shelves, which are beginning to empty out as the long winter drags to a close, and it dawned on them that three-fourths of their canning jars are the quart size, and some of them are the two-quart size, when what's wanted are the pints and the half-pints.

"We'll keep our eyes open for a smaller canning kettle and the small jars."

"What shall we do with the big ones?"

"Stash them somewhere, of course. You never know when somebody might have to move home -- then the big size would come in handy again."

Simmering ... ranks as one of the most important moist heats. The temperatures range from about 140F to 185F. Simmering protects fragile foods and tenderizes tough ones. The French verb for the slow simmer is mijoter, and the French engagingly refer to low simmers -- between 130F and 135F -- as "making the pot smile." Rombauer and Becker, Joy of Cooking

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