Warm Pasta Salad with Crab & Heirloom Beans

Beans, Pasta, Seafood

pasta salad crab 04

Why do hummingbirds hum?

This was the question put forth by a young girl to her mother a couple days ago. I overheard the question while I was eating lunch. It was casual and, most likely, the girl asked it to ask it, nothing but playful chatter.

Because they forgot the words.

This was the mother’s response. It was simple, unexpected, playful, and it contented the curious girl. Then they were gone in a flight to the parking lot, as quickly as a hummingbird at a feeder of nectar.

When I saw these dragon tongue beans at the store, I knew I had to cook with them. Seasonal heirlooms? How could I not? But I also knew I had some crab sitting in the fridge. Then I was reminded of this little Q&A.

The little girl’s innocent, loaded question, which she conjured from her busy imagination, represented something meaningful to me: the quest to discover the world. We have different ways of doing this. One of mine is this food blog. I have said it before, but a sense of pioneerism in food is important to me, as I believe it is in Cascadia, especially in relation to the food we grow ourselves.

When farmers take the chance on these heirlooms, they are doing at least two things: taking a chance on the success of a tradition, and taking the chance on giving up some share of an established produce market in hopes of satisfying some demand for this tradition.

But we oughtn’t consume heirlooms merely because they are different or seasonal or to support our local farmers (but these are fine reasons, indeed). Our motivation ought to be more atavistic than that. Yes, heirlooms are engineered by humans, and, yes, if we go back far enough, we can trace them to a wild ancestor. If anything, heirlooms are celebrations of farmers and gardeners. They also represent the way growers adapt often foreign plants to domestic climates and soil conditions, making the most of the land, and concentrating it all in a single bite. It is no coincidence, after all, that inhabitants of the region that produces most of the world’s cabbage seed also consume so much kale. Tradition is food and food is land. The three are symbiotic.

Does it matter the hum of the hummingbird keeps it still and suspended in the air, or that the same hum keeps a Dutch wax bean hanging in the pink-purple Cascadian sun, or keeps the crabs crawling across the rocky crevices of the Salish Sea?

Unless you forgot the words, you decide.

Strawberry & Epazote Salad

Fruit, Salads

My hunger has been low since I awoke this morning with some kind of sinus irritation.  It was a terrible day to become ill as some friends and I had a date to eat brunch at a tiny French cafe at which none of us had eaten.  All of us had been excited about trying it.  The dishes were great, but I lacked the wherewithal to enjoy myself wholly.  I passed the rest of the day slamming water and tea and nibbling here and there on the empanadas a friend and I spent all afternoon preparing.  Finally, much later, when dinnertime arrived, I opened my fridge and saw the dark red strawberries.  Then the forest-green epazote.  Something magical suddenly occurred.

WHY THIS COMBINATION WORKS: The strawberry is sweet and the epazote is pungent, but both possess a refreshing coolness that, when combined in this vibrant salad, awake the pallid tongue yet bring tranquility to the overworked body.  Epazote, in small doses, is considered medicinal.  Even though the Aztecs traditionally used it to prevent flatulence and expel intestinal worms and other parasites, I like to think that its pleasant but strong fragrance was enough to calm my sinuses for the time being.  It is in the same family as spinach, beets, chard and quinoa–Amaranthaceae.  In large doses, like most things, it’s considered toxic.

Mussel Caviar

Recipes, Seafood, Tapas

The caviar in the foreground, along with whole mussels, rose petals, wood sorrel, arugula blossoms, lemon zest and threads of sorrel.

There is a cluster of mussels attached to the salty spots of my heart.  They were the first shellfish I learned how to cook when I was a teenager.  My mom and dad showed me how to dump a bit of white wine and pepper into the pot, pop them open with a boil, and drizzle their stock over them.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we eat our mussels this way, with a bit of garlic, a pinch of salt and maybe some butter.

This very elegant and easy presentation of mussels came about by accident.  I had some left in the fridge and had to use them.  To my delight, I discovered that the broth had permeated the mussels in the most delicate and robust way.