Monday, April 16, 2012

Vinegar. You Have to Taste it to Believe it.

I began to write a post about our Seder, but then had to go take care of kids and got distracted and the post never got finished.

It is a worthwhile post, so I hope to eventually get to it.

But tonight it is all about the vinegar.

Which is actually a pretty good metaphor, considering that many associate bitterness with vinegar, but in my experience, in a rather holy and mystical way, somehow the bitter times are always tinged with a sweetness that make it possible for me to keep on getting up to mill grain into flour, bake bread and greet the world.

My dear friend, Stewart, you know, the one with the husband who used to help me butcher chickens and stitch up our wounds at the kitchen table?

She knows me. The other day we got a care package in the mail, filled with goodies that are attached to other stories. Precious goodies. But the one featured in tonight's blog is the slim bottle of elixir. Date Balsam Creme Vinegar- she discovered in a shop, Oil and Vinegar on Barracks Rd in Charlottesville, VA.

Having enough emotional resources to cook up a Sunday dinner is a pretty good indicator that things are beginning to look a little brighter around here. Not perfect, but better.

Before leaving for church, I put on a pork shoulder roast to braise. This is a roast from the hog I purchased from our milk suppliers, Z-Bar Ranch a few weeks ago and Daddy helped me butcher. Pan-seared it, then put in a dish with onions, carrots, celery, garlic, lots of thyme, sea salt, a few juniper berries, a bay leaf, some red wine and water, covered, stowed it in a hot oven (500 degrees) for 15 minutes, turned the temp down to 350 while I showered and dressed, then to 275 when we headed out the door to St. James.

Is there anything that makes a person feel more loved than the smell of an herby roast in the oven when coming home?

I roasted up some sweet potatoes, sauteed green beans, then remembered the bag of greens. The one given me by a lady who wished to barter for bread at the farmer's market. I pulled it out of the fridge and discovered fresh parsley, celery,a bunch of chocolate mint, kale and swiss chard. The parsley and celery went into the meat juices with a slug of vermouth to make a nice au jus, boiled down until thick. The chocolate mint was rinsed and placed in a jar. I poured boiling water over it to make a nice iced tea for our dinner. The rinsed greens went into the wok with loads of garlic and a bit of oil. A great big pinch of sea salt.

I pulled out cream and cheese, thinking about the children. You know their preferred way to eat greens is smothered in cream and cheese. Which is pretty darned good.

But a little niggly voice on the inside reminded me about Stewart's gift of vinegar. Hmm. Thick, earthy, just enough twang to remind me of its origen, but sweet and rich, right for Sunday dinner. I then remembered the bartered pecans from the fellow at the market who really likes my Almond Raisin Granola.

Oh yeah.

So, while the greens simmered in their juices for a couple of minutes, I threw a handful of chopped up pecans in another skillet to toast. When they were done, I placed the greens in a serving dish, generously drizzled them with the Date Balsam Cream Vinegar, then dumped the pecans unceremoniously out of the skillet, right on top.

Raymond even ironed the tablecloth and napkins, which was a unique treat at our table, as most of my friends know, I don't iron. We haphazardly gathered, guests helped set the table and fill up the glasses and carry the food. Maggie grabbed the toast out of the oven. We prayed and gave thanks and food made its way to the plates.

I cooked up a huge bunch of the kale and swiss chard and can you believe? Not a bite leftover. When everyone else left the table, I grabbed the serving bowl and slurped up some of the remaining vinegar, but don't tell anybody, because then they will know the truth that I am an uncultured slob. But I bet there are a couple of you out there who would have done the same thing. At least if no one was looking.

Thanks a lot, Stewart. Thanks to you, we are now addicted to a specialty treat that can't be found here in Alpine, Texas. Unless you send us more. Or we figure out how to make some ourselves. Which is a pretty good idea, because I am thinking that there are a few folks out here who might be happy to add that to their weekly bread order! For those of you who are in the Charlottesville area, I highly recommend you rush over to Oil and Vinegar in the Barracks area. You might need to drizzle that magical substance over fresh strawberries. Or peaches in season. Or use it on all those greens you keep getting in your CSA and don't know what to do with them.

I am so very thankful for Sunday dinners. For that hungry feeling you get in church, knowing there is something good waiting at home. For the smell of roast that takes me back to childhood. For lots of food at our table, maybe not all grown by us, but brought here directly from other peoples' hands, via friends of the farmer's market. Leaving our Va. farm meant leaving a lot of things behind. It is a comfort and joy to see that with some effort, we are able to keep the important things. Sunday's dinner was a helpful reminder.

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