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April 2010

Hello, Chard!

Chard bowl
Freshly cooked-chard (and tiny pine needle)

We're beginning to be called "The Green House" now since the new paint job, but sometimes I think "Greens House" would be more apt. We have been swimming in collard greens since late fall and they seem to be at their peak! As much as I love them in the winter, I am getting a little tired of the work they bring - the stem removal, the chopping and storing and seasoning and cooking and cooking and cooking. Now that the weather has warmed up and the kitchen no longer a virtual refrigerator, the whole process has to take place as soon as the bucketfuls arrive (from generous farmers, from neighbors and friends). The kitchen has begun to feel like an emergency operating room with armfuls of collards being carried in regularly, laid out on the table, and prepared to go under the knife. Forgive my whining about the abundance of it all; they are still delicious and ridiculously healthy, make my kitchen smell like my grandma's and elicit all kinds of praise at the cafe; it's just collard-fatigue.

This weekend, hidden among the gift collards from the farmers market were three bunches of chard. Normally I would just chop these up and throw them in with the collards (cooking for the masses), but they seemed like just the right amount to prepare for the coffee-house (15 people), as opposed to the cafe (80), and something about their light green leaves and soft white stems just said "spring" to me. So I made up a batch. And, oh, they were good. They only needed a touch of seasoning compared to the collards (which I do all kinds of things to in an effort to hide from my southern friends the absence of neckbone or ham hocks). And they only took ten minutes to cook, stems and all! They were so tender, they practically melted in my mouth. 

I am sure that by the time autumn rolls around again, I will be jumping up and down at the sight of collards and looking forward to warming up holiday tables and cold-weather cafes with their healthy goodness. But chard... it's a spring-time green. It's about time for chard.

Simply Chard

2 tablespoons olive oil
a clove or two of garlic
1 bunch of freshly washed chard
a dash of salt
a sprinkle of dried hot pepper flakes (opt.)

Cut off only the very bottom of the chard stem, wash the rest thoroughly, roll and slice (as with collards). Sauté minced garlic in olive oil for just a minute -till barely starting to brown. Add freshly washed greens, still dripping with water. Turn heat down to medium low, cover, and steam. After about 5 minutes, check to make sure they still have a little water and add a few tablespoons if necessary, sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes, stir around in the pan, then cover and steam for a few minutes more. One bunch of chard should serve about 4 people.

Make it Real - my only cooking advice

Strawberries and flowers
I love making big breakfasts once in a while.  They can look so pretty, and it’s easy to make things delicious. This weekend's included fresh strawberries (fancied up with mint leaves and Johnny jump-up flowers), orange juice (Warren Henderson’s suggested blend of murcot tangerine and Valencia), crustless quiche with garden chard and snowpeas  - and buttermilk pecan pancakes.

Orange juice squeezing
Orange juice squeezing

Pancake mixing
Pancake mixing - child's play

I have the reputation for being a good cook, which is really undeserved.  I do cook a LOT – often and in huge quantities, which can be impressive. But the taste is all about the ingredients.  I like using good stuff  -  fresh, local things and straight-from-the-garden veggies and herbs.  And for baked goods, it’s got to be butter - the Fat of the Gods.   

Pancakes are one of my specialties.  Even I, who love to go out to breakfast and eat food other people have cooked for me, have never tasted better anywhere. The secret? Real butter and buttermilk - and never, NEVER Bisquick (or any of its sad variations).  

Where did the idea of Bisquick come from? According to legend and Wikipedia, it sprang forth in the 1930s when a General Mills sales executive met a dining car chef who pre-mixed the dry ingredients for biscuits with lard – thus eliminating the need for refrigeration.  This makes no sense to me since biscuits require milk and pancakes the addition of both milk and eggs.  I imagine it was promoted as labor-saving – no need to melt that butter (or lard!) or fetch that salt, sugar, or baking powder. Clearly our forebearers were hoodwinked.  

Go to the little extra trouble of mixing the pesky dry ingredients yourself and dealing with the butter for just a minute or two, and the results are so much better.  

We usually add things to the pancakes. We cracked some more pecans last week so used those (John’s favorite addition). And soon we’ll have blueberry, everyone’s favorite, and sweet potato (mine).  

My pancake recipe from my grandmother’s 1950s red-checked and tattered Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cookbook: 

Favorite Griddle Cakes

1 1/4 cups sifted enriched flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter (they also recommend bacon grease...)

Whisk together flour with baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Combine egg, milk, and butter. Add to dry ingredients, whisking till smooth. Bake on buttered griddle. Makes 6-8 cakes (I double this for four or five of us.)

Pancake riley
A blurry photo of the finished product (all photos of my little assistant tend toward blur)