Garlicky Celery-Leaf Pesto

Sauces & Spreads

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Yesterday it stormed at the West LA farmers’ market. The wind howled and was indiscriminate in its punishment, knocking over A-frame signs and garbage bins and ripping canvas away from tentpoles. Lori and I scuttle from stand to stand. It is like being back in Seattle. Lori walks right down the middle of the street, her rain jacket zipped all the way up to her huge grin.

“I’ve missed this,” she says. I tell her Mmm-hmm or something just as non-committed, but what I’m really telling her is Yeah, me too.

We stop to sample chocolate, primarily to warm up the shivering woman behind the table. Conversation is what keeps all of us warm. We approach and she comments on the weather, telling us to please come closer. It really is like being back in Seattle, where strangers begin conversations with talk about the weather. Some of the chocolate has sugar and some doesn’t, but every melted morsel is delightful in our mouths. A man passing by sees the warmth and joins the three of us, all of us now hovering closely under the tent.

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Dry again, back in the car, we eat breakfast dumplings with pork and eggs. A woman steamed them in a wok on a camping stove.

“We meant to eat brunch,” Lori says. She’s right. Sometimes these mornings–our schedule full of lines to cross off–slip away, and we forget about the in-between lines that assure us the leisure we keep meaning to make time for. We dip the dumplings in organic ketchup. The clouds are bursting. This is the first road food we eat in Lori’s new car and this stormy morning feels more special because of that.

Lori is pretty sure she doesn’t have to begin writing her essay just yet, so we buzz over to our new favorite coffeeshop. It feels like months since we had a Sunday off together.

“It’s homey in here,” Lori says. “It feels broken in.”

We sip spiced lattes and I chat with the barista as if I know why origin and growing altitude matter for this particular cup of coffee. I don’t, but the barista is nice enough to treat me like an adult.

The sun begins to peek out, but the storm is about to get fiercer. We will soon lose power. Leaves and sticks will fly around outside. One of the bulbs on the string of outdoor lights will burst. Down the street, a tree will fall onto a Range Rover.

But I won’t notice any of that, because I’ve got this babe with her new car that smells like potstickers and coffee and this badass bunch of celery leaves the farmer decided not to hack off.

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Arugula Pesto

Sauces & Spreads, Vegetables

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Lori and I are preparing to leave for a couple weeks. Just about everything is done. Even the weather has taken a turn for the worse, so I don’t feel so bad about leaving Seattle in the summer. I was feeling sort of guilty because one of the places we’re going to is colder and rainier than Seattle. (Yes, it turns out there is such a place. And, no, it’s not Olympia.)

But there is still some food we need to eat or preserve. We go through pains to use food, me probably more so. I think I am just more fearless when it comes to eating old food. That’s how I’ve fortified my gut against bacteria like Mithradates protected himself against poison. (Except that one time in Syria, but that was Syria!!)

Arugula was one of those foods. But how do you preserve arugula? You can freeze it, but then you have to blanch it and pack it and–eew, I have to stop myself. A better way is by whizzing it into pesto. Arugula can be dangerous, though, in amounts too high, like cilantro. It gets bitter.

We went for it, anyway, and the result was amazing, like arugula essence but with tact and self-awareness and manners. Walnuts keep the arugula grounded; parsley takes off some of the edge.

Muhammara (Syrian Pomegranate Dip)

Fruit, Sauces & Spreads

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I love watching people try this for the first time. Its flavor is mystical, almost indescribable. So enchanted by it am I that I feel incomplete if I don’t have any stored in the fridge.

Variations of this mesmerizing dip abound. Some are coarse, some are pureed, some are burgundy, some are orange. But all of them share a few traits: pomegranate, walnuts and red peppers.

Galician Octopus Broth (Caldo de Polbo)

Seafood, Soups & Stews

This dish, like so many of my dishes, is inspired by the verdant and bewitched land of Galicia, the northwest province of Spain. The streets of coastal Galicia, from cities, like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela, to small towns, like Ribadeo, are filled with pulperías, or octopus restaurants. These cephalopods are caught in the rías, the canals that flow through the land into the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Here in Seattle, octopus isn’t as popular. Even though our own ocean-connected water, the Puget Sound, harbors some of the largest octopuses in the world, they are only really served at the Asian restaurants and, occasionally, at more mainstream restaurants like Coastal Kitchen or Golden Beetle. Commercial octopuses here come from Japan, the Philippines or China. Only by accident do fishmongers have Puget Sound octopus. Because they are a protected species, they can only legally be sold if caught by accident; that is, if they get mixed up with other fish being caught. But that is so rare.

Cherimoya Almond Cake (Tarta de Chirimoya)

Desserts, Fruit

Cherimoyas–at least up here in the Pacific Northwest–are beginning to leave the shelves. For the last few years, since I discovered it, this tropical fruit has been part of my warm transition into the spring. Most people have never heard of them, not in my encounters. And those who have face difficulty in figuring out how to use them.

The flavor of cherimoya reminds me of mango, banana, apple and pears all at once. In other words, the cherimoya isn’t simply sweet. It is a symphony of different flavors: sugar with a hint of piquancy, a creamy and mellow tartness and an almost winey clarity. Thus, this dense and moist cake has a flavor profile way beyond its simpler cousin, the Galician cake, Tarta de Santiago.

Salmonberries Stuffed with Cognac & Mascarpone

Desserts, Fruit

One benefit the salmonberry has over more popular and cultivated berries is its ability to be stuffed. Because of its dry exterior and the strong flesh around the seeds, these berries can handle a little poking around. The honey and the elderflower introduce the tongue to a subtle but complex sweetness. The slight sourness of the salmonberry is barely tasted as the sweet cognac cream returns with the layers of sugars initially desired.

Salmonberries with Wine

Desserts, Fruit

Salmonberries are as varied in color as they are in taste.  Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are sour, sometimes they are insipid and sometimes they are an indescribable mix of flavors.  Because this is my first harvest of the season, I thought it best to keep them the centerpiece.  They are the first spring berry to ripen in the Pacific Northwest, and their presence is a reminder of the long, warm days to come.

Keep this plate small.  Salmonberries aren’t known for their abundance.  You might be able to put this plate together from only one bush, if you’re lucky, and if the bush is large.  The simple syrup recipe makes way more than you need, but you can store it in your fridge for a long, long time.