Friday, June 3, 2011

Springtime on a Plate

Not too long ago, my printmaking teacher said something quite humbling to me in response to a glib remark of mine: that current methods of art history education (requiring large amounts of rote memorization) were obsolete in the current age of google.  His response was that through reliance on technology we forfeit our abilities.  

In hindsight, it is unsurprising that someone who teaches printmaking would see the value of preserving skills many would consider obsolete.  The real question is why, as a student of printmaking, I didn’t instinctively feel the same way.  The truth is, that in a lot of ways, i do.  Take cooking for instance.  Almost all the cooking I do, practically speaking, is obsolete.  I could just as easily buy everything premade and packaged, ready to be microwaved.  But I choose to preserve my cooking abilities because I find it enriching.  And my teacher was absolutely correct about the effects of our reliance on search engines.  Since getting a smart phone and consequently always having googling capabilities at my fingertips, my memory, which has served me well in the past, is suffering.  I used to be able to ace exams that I crammed for the night before, vocab and grammar rules used to come easily to me when learning new language.  Now, those memory feats seem entirely unattainable.  One summer shy of thirty, I’m certainly not old enough to blame my age for my forgetfulness.  By always taking the easy way out: constantly checking wikipedia for facts, bookmarking information instead of retaining it, I have forfeited, i.e. actively surrendered my memorizing abilities.  

So what’s my point?  I’m not saying that I want to go live under a rock, eating termites, so I don’t lose my poking-sticks-in-logs-to catch-bugs skills.  Clearly no one person can be highly skilled at everything.  My point is that I need to be more aware of the payoff, or cost of convenience.  The decision of which skills I want to maintain, and which I am willing to relinquish must be made consciously and deliberately.  

In considering what other abilities I have put in danger of forfeit, it is clear to me that technology is not the only culprit.  Any voluntary relinquishment of a responsibility can effect a forfeiture.  Ken and I almost always cook together and the division of labor naturally gravitates towards our respective strengths.  I realized that over the years my comfort level with the tasks he usually assumes has fallen although I was perfect adept at them before we started seeing each other.  I would never give up cooking together.  Our ability to cook so well together (despite the fact that I am a recovering kitchen bully* with occasional relapses) is one of my favorite things about our relationship.  But I have decided that every so often I should cook an entire meal from conception through execution alone, just to maintain those skills which I would be loath  to lose.  

* years ago the nytimes published an article on kitchen bullies and my first thought on reading it, unhappily, was that it described me to a T.
My first solo meal was inspired by the early spring produce at the farmers market, and by this Hank Shaw blog post.  I was hoping to mimic his use of the season’s trifecta: ramps, fiddleheads and morels, but unfortunately, according to the folks at the greenmarket, the weather (constant rain, followed immediately by intense heat) ended our morel season early.  No worries, the fiddleheads and the ramps paired with a roast rack of lamb more than represented for the season.
I prepared the fiddleheads by trimming them and rubbing off their brown papery husk.  They were then pre-boiled for about five minutes in well salted water.
Usually we are so enamoured with ramps when they finally show themselves after a long winter, that we do as little as possible to them, opting for just a basic saute.  While I certainly enjoy them that way, I find two faults with our usual preparation.  First, the greens on top tend to cook much faster than the pink bulbs at the root-end, leaving either overcooked greens, or too crunchy bulbs.  Second, I find that merely sauteing the greens tend to leave them a little too fibrous and difficult to eat. For this meal, I chose to separate the two parts, and prepare each differently.
I made a sauce for the lamb by combining blanched and chopped ramp greens with greek yogurt and lemon zest.  This yielded way too much for one meal, but the leftover sauce, enhanced with an assertive addition of paprika and cayenne, made for a great chicken marinade the next day.
I sauteed the bulbs and the fiddleheads together and served them with crisped gnocchi.  (I have to confess that the gnocchi were in the freezer, and most likely made by ken).  Alongside a roasted coriander spiced rack of lamb, this dish was a lovely celebration of the spring.


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  2. I will reference this posting early next spring in hopes of duplicating such a wonderful meal.