A Song of Summer Comfort
August 1, 2015
Here we are on the verge of the summer feast of vegetables. I'd say we're in the heart of it except that tomatoes are late this year and haven't yet shown their full red glory—and peppers are even slower. Nonetheless, at the market I haven't been able to resist the quart baskets overflowing with green beans. And then some of the stalls have quart baskets of dark purple beans mingling with yellow wax beans (I never knew why they are called wax beans, though when I was little and experienced them only as canned, I assumed it was because of their waxy flavour).
Where was I? I was toting a shopping bag with green beans and then happened upon the potatoes—big fat ones from the cute vendor with the curly blond hair and beard. And then more baby potatoes from the Pyramid Power stand, where Jenna presides over the jars of fermented vegetables and the boxes of exotic egg-shaped cucumbers and—hurrah!—tomatillos.
Last night I diced a small chunk of bacon (it was too small to thin-slice without risking a finger) and tried it over low heat until the fat flowed (flew?) and the little chunks were crispy. (Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said, "This would be better with a little bacon"?) I cooked up our last remaining package of home-frozen romano beans from the year before, adding two sprigs of my friend Pleasance's gift of winter savoury and a clove of crisp new garlic.
I topped (but, lazily, didn't tail) my purple and yellow beans and put them to cook in the pan with the bacon, adding a cup of water and the cut-up green tops of the market onions. In a couple of weeks they'll be selling them as just plain cooking onions, with no green tops attached.
I cooked four cut-up Romas (plum tomatoes) with a clove of garlic and put the resulting pulp through the food mill when it was softened. And then I put it all together: Romano beans, string beans, garlic, onion tops, fresh tomato sauce. I added salt and pepper and let the ragout simmer.
I scrubbed the tiny new potatoes and cooked them until just tender, then drained them, dried them in the pan over low heat, and added olive oil. Dinner was ready.
Before we ate, however, we enacted the first two D's of our favourite routine: we had a Drink, and we Danced (the CD mix is near its end now, at the point where Beatles' song follows Beatles' song; I'm finally able to recognize them most of the time). So after D and D we took the third D, Dinner, outside and ate our comfort food at the backyard table: bean ragout into whose juices we fork-mashed our new potatoes. Well, I did. DinoVino WineScribe was so determined not to miss out on the juicy sauce that he ate his ragout with a spoon.
When I told him, after we had finished, that I had been smarter, mashing my potatoes into the sauce, he thought for a moment then said, "I mashed them together in my mouth." No comment.
While waiting for the predicted thunderstorm that never came, we happily sat outside and felt the cool breezes. Until a wasp crept through the sleeve of DinoVino's t-shirt and bit him on the chest. This was an affront he could not abide, but I put a baking soda paste on the sting, which made it all better.
Then we went upstairs and watched Leonard Bernstein's Omnibus presentation on The Art of Conducting (from 1955 or so) and I fell in love with Lenny all over again.
This Song of Summer Comfort is not solely about comfort food; it is also a song of gratitude for the comforts of our life. Grateful as I am, however, I try not to attach too much importance to comfort. It is a difficult balance.