The green, green sprouts of home 

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I do when I get home from a trip is cook, because when all is said and done the food I like the best is the food I prepare myself.

After four days away from the home front, four days of lighting on a restaurant -- that much harder when there’s more than one person involved -- being seated, perusing menus, deciding on a wine, choosing a salad dressing, electing side dishes, selecting beverages, waiting for the check, signing a credit card slip, figuring out a tip, then returning to the restaurant for a forgotten coat or hat, the simple act of stepping into my own kitchen and opening the refrigerator is, well, heaven. Just heaven.

Even if all I end up with is a hard-boiled egg swimming in a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Even if I end up eating by myself in front of the computer.

One more thing about eating at home: I don’t need glasses. When are restaurants going to wise up and keep some spare pairs of reading glasses for people who are in denial about their eyesight? Or at least consider using a larger font.

The key to rustling something together at home is to stay stocked on the basics, which for me are garlic, onions, raisins, carrots, eggs, chocolate (even if I have to have someone hide the chocolate so I can’t put my hands on it willy-nilly) and the last third of a peanut butter jar that friends bring me, knowing I can’t be trusted with a whole jar.

With a winter garden of greens outside my front door everything’s that much easier. For the past two months I’ve had as much broccoli as I could want -- all from eight straggly plants with two teeny leaves each, all wrapped in a rubber band -- that I put in last August, and eight more I planted in November when I started getting panicky that I wouldn’t have enough.

These days I’m eating the broccoli side shoots. Delicious. I even taught the eight-year-old girl next door how to snap off the stem. Now she shows her friends where broccoli comes from. One week I had to buy some organic broccoli for me, but did I care? Hell no.

Some days I don’t make it into the house with my stash before popping them in my mouth. They are the second- and third-acts, these small heads, after the dramatic and initial mound that grows in the center of the plant, which is a relative of the cabbage family. In her book Chez Panisse, restaurateur Alice Waters says brocco means sprout in Italian and broccoli means little sprouts.

I knew the collard greens would make it through those temperature-dipping days of December but now I know the broccoli will, too. Except for a few browned leaves, everyone did fine.

Now I’m paying attention to the sprouts sending out yellow flowers, which means they’re trying to seed, which means they don’t want to produce anymore. Not yet, little one, I say, pinching off the blossom. I’ve still got plans for you.

For a few years, before I had a garden so close to my house, I would grow collards just because I liked the green in winter and to see the twisted way the stem would grow. Twisted collards. Good name for a band.

But now, when it’s so easy to go outside, snap -- or crop -- off five or six leaves from the bottom and make a little something for breakfast or lunch or dinner, it’s all about the eating.

I have no special way of cooking greens. I get the skillet hot and pour in a little oil. When the oil is sizzling, I toss in two or three cloves of freshly minced garlic, followed by a sliced onion and a handful of raisins.

Then, quickly -- because I’m a deadline-oriented person, both from journalism and working as a prep cook -- I chop up the collards and push them off the cutting board into a sink of water.

Just when the garlic starts to brown, I grab the collards, load them in, pour in a little wine if I have some left over, three or four pinches of curry and a few minutes later, after the water from the chopped

collards steams off, another cup of water.

Then I cover the whole kit and kaboodle, grab a cup of coffee and retire to my computer to read a little news.

I do the same thing with the kale plants I have growing -- although nothing is as hardy or plentiful as collards -- and Swiss chard, for my money the tastiest of all. No recipe. No hamhocks. No two batches ever the same.

In June -- on the longest day of the year -- I’ll pick the garlic I planted six months earlier -- on the shortest day of the year -- and start the curing process, something I’ve only read about.

This year I hunted down some organic varieties from Filaree Farm (“Food with Integrity”) in Okanogan, Washington. One variety came from the “Czech collection of a New York gardener,” another variety from Beijing and a third that was brought to a British Columbia from Romania.

I can hardly wait.


Jane Fishman can be reached at gofish5@earthlink.net.





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Jane Fishman

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