Having read The Ambassadors back during undergrad — that is to say powered through it fast enough to write a synapses, have a flaccid discussion with equally unimpressed students, and pass a test on it before shoving it even more quickly out of my mind — I finished Henry James’ tale of expectations, deception, relationships and authenticity again today. I didn’t remember even the barest of outlines re-reading it, and for that I’m grateful.
I feel stingy giving it only three stars on Goodreads because it deserves more, but the superfluous nature of every line that is quintessentially James’ style is such a chore to push through for 512 pages that I also can’t in good conscience give it any more.
There is, however, no way around the fact that this story has snaked its way through my thoughts the entire evening, and that’s saying something.
Into the second week, the reality that our CSA (community supported agriculture) farm is inevitably going to give us a few things that we have no flipping idea about and/or far more of something than we know what to do with has hit hard. Garlic scapes? Never heard of them. Sorrel? Isn’t that a horse color? Lemon balm? Um yeah, I got nothing.
So a book I often go to first is From Asparagus to Zucchini: A guide to cooking farm-fresh season produce. (Please buy it locally if you can.) It doesn’t have every possible vegetable or herb under the sun, but it’s been quite useful to me over the years. It has an overview of each vegetable, cooking & storage tips, and a page (or two or three) of recipes to try.
I decided to try out Asparagus Risotto Cakes today, except it tasted sooooo good coming off the stove that I decided to cut the recipe short. “We’re eating this for dinner AS IS.”
If you have some fresh asparagus on hand, I highly recommend you try making it. Just remember, like all risotto recipes, once you get started you can.not.stop.stirring until the meal is done. Stir, stir, stir, stir, stir and then stir some more. Therefore it’s essential that you get everything prepped and ready-to-go beforehand.
Asparagus Risotto Cakes, adapted from p. 19 of the aforementioned book
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tablespoon minced garlic (I used garlic scapes*)
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
1 pinch saffron threads, crushed
3/4 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
6 cups chicken stock, hot (keep an extra 2 cups stock on hand, ready to be warmed, in case the rice looks like it’ll need a bit more liquid)
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I had Parmigiano-Reggiano on hand)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
Steam asparagus in colander over large pot of boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Rinse in cold water, cut thick stalks in half, chop into small (~1/4″ length) pieces.
Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add onions and cook until transparent. Add garlic, cook 1 minute longer. Add rice, stir 2 minutes. Add saffron and wine. Simmer hard, stirring, until liquid is reduced by half.
Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until well absorbed each time. Half way through the stock, add some salt. Continue adding the stock, stirring until all the stock is absorbed and the rice begins to clump. It’ll take longer than usual for risotto.
Add butter, cheese, lemon juice, asparagus, pepper, and more salt if desired. Serve immediately.
*Garlic scapes are ancillary stalks removed as garlic is growing, to direct more energy to the bulb. Your farmer’s market might have them in stock early in the season. They can be used in place of garlic in recipes, salads, sauces, etc. I tossed the scapes in the food processor, chopped them fine, and plan to freeze the extras in small ice cube sized sections for future use.
I messed up my right elbow about a month ago, maybe longer, I can’t remember. My memory of non-impactful things isn’t something I find I can trust much anymore.
Anyway, I lifted too much weight too many times when my fingers, wrists and forearms weren’t strong enough to match the rest of my larger muscle groups’ strength (and no, I’m not a bulky brick, thank you very much) so I injured the tendons at the elbow that connect my lower arm to my upper arm. It’s painful just to pick up a coffee cup, hold a book, find a comfortable position writing or typing. Good timing for the 150,000 words I have coming in for edits soon, no?
In short: no lifting at all for the bulk of the summer and possibly the entire summer and into the fall. This sucks. But unlike last year when I broke the left elbow, the ortho says I can still swim, bike, and run. So just call me Cardi(o) J, because I’m going to be hustling in one form or another from now until I can get back into the gym just to avoid losing my mind.
I’m down 2.5 pounds already this week. Sigh. Muscle takes so long to build but so short a time to lose.
It doesn’t look like much right now, a somewhat disturbing tar-colored substance, but man oh man does it ever smell good. I’ll be using this tomorrow, meh maybe tonight even, for a batch of Beef Short-Rib Chili with Beans. I hear the Texans crying into their sweet tea already.
But which chiles should I buy?
It’s pretty easy to make if you can get your hands on good, almost leathery (but not over dried and crackly) chiles. I ended up going to two stores to find mine. If you have a decent Mexican grocery in your area too, you’re probably all set.
6 Ancho chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
3 California chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
2 Árbol chiles, destemmed and deseeded and cut in half
DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR EYES DURING THIS ENTIRE PROCESS
In a dry, heavy-bottomed, medium sauce pot, stir the chile pieces over medium-high heat for a couple minutes, until they start to really release their scent.
Add 2 cups of chicken stock (or water) and simmer over low-medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until the skins get soft.
Carefully (!) ladle the hot mixture into a sturdy blender (glass top is preferred, although mine is not) and blend on LOW so the hot mixture doesn’t forcefully expand – high school physics at work here – as the blades begin to spin, splattering lava all over you and the kitchen. Scrape the sides down. Blend on medium. Scrape the sides down. Blend on high until a perfectly smooth puree is achieved. It’ll make about 2 cups of chili paste.
I’m going to use a cup in each of the two recipes I’m making, so I poured an equal amount into two storage containers. One went in the fridge, the other into the freezer. If you want smaller amounts, freeze in ice cube trays and pop into a ziplock bag after its frozen solid. Question your need for chili seasoning packets ever again.