I am not pleased with my husband this Saturday night. He has been emotional and unreasonable, and I am tired of being the “big” one. I have just put the two older boys to bed, after quite the energy roller coaster, and I need to carve out some Zen in my night.
I go to the kitchen, cleaning what’s dirty, left over from a too hectic Saturday, delivered pizza poking at the corners of my angst. There, on the other side of the box, is my farmers’ market bag; I’ve left one of the bunches of asparagus I bought in it, and an errant leaf of red lettuce. I’d planned to make it earlier in the afternoon, but things — pizza, messes, arguments — got in the way.
Now it’s eight o’clock at night, and I turn on the oven. I have three bunches (the asparagus was $4 each, or three for $10, and I was in the mood to binge on seasonality), and my husband will be gone all the coming week for some Army Reserve duty in Boston. I’ll be the only adult in the house with all these vegetables. I’d better roast while the roasting is good.
I have really only one method of preparing asparagus that feels right to me, and I learned it at my friend Liz’s childhood home in Syosset, New York. She and I went to business school together in Philadelphia, and she has had far-reaching effects on my life in food. It was Liz who persuaded me to try (and love) sushi, and I remember many afternoons when we would sit in the living room of her high-rise apartment, eating edamame and green tea, boiling water in the same little saucepan for both.
I visited her family on a weekend after we’d graduated. Her funny, smart fiancé was there, and we read the Sunday New York Times in turns and talked about the interesting bits. I was happy to be away from northern Virginia, where I was living at the time, and was enjoying the undercurrents of luxury of a weekend on Long Island. It was warm and we were working together on dinner. Another friend of hers was making asparagus, and we exclaimed at its perfection. It’s so easy, she said — just asparagus, baking sheet, drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then cook at 400 degrees until it’s tender and the flowered ends begin to crisp and curl.
Indeed, it is such a perfect way to cook this particular vegetable that my picky five-year-old tried a piece last week and declared, “I tried something new. And I actually LIKED it!”
The asparagus is out of the oven now and I am sitting on a stool in the kitchen eating the spears with my fingers, dipped in the green-garlic pesto I made a few nights ago. Monroe, the baby who is always practicing his standing skills, is holding on to my knee with one hand and eating asparagus with the other.
If Truman, my three-year-old, is my partner in fantastic cheeses and cured meats, Monroe is my ever-willing consort in vegetables. He appreciates rapini, and chard, and beets, and now, asparagus. We ate a few very slender stalks raw, because we were eager to get going.
Now we are making our way through a baking sheet full of tiny green spears, and we are making discoveries. I read somewhere that the big stalks are paradoxically more tender than the thin ones, and I discover that it’s true; or maybe perhaps the fat ones were just broken off at the right place. Though they have roasted all together for the same amount of time, we can eat to the very end of the big stalks while some of the thin ones are woody at the base.
We have developed a pile of teeny ends. We have nothing else to do, so we consider every bite; we are learning all the things I could read in books or on Web sites or in gourmet magazines, only we are doing it through trial and experience. There is no error to make.
I am in a reverie, and I realize that we have been eating in silence for 10 or 15 minutes. I look at my little boy, not even a year old and already knowing more about asparagus than most people ever will. “This is asparagus, Monroe,” I say. “It is delicious.”
We leave some for my husband, who despite his faults tonight deserves to know, too.
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The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
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