This has been an unusual start to fall. My mind should be full of warm thoughts of braising, stirring and roasting – at long last in this chilly weather. But all I can think about is my next bowl of salad.
Funny, isn’t it, how our bodies ask for nourishment? I had a summer of excess, plain and simple. Between vacation, work lunches, dinners out, family barbeques (and frequent stops for ice cream along the way) my mostly plant-based eating was replaced with butter free-flowing through my veins.
And so I keep eating salad. It’s surely not a concerted effort on my part. My head wants to braise leeks and roast sweet potatoes and stir gigantic pots of soup. But when I reach for the kale – with every intent of simmering it gently – it ends up in thin ribbons in the salad bowl. Stewed cranberries are made into a tangy vinaigrette. Apples never find their way into crumbles. My shopping basket teems with frilly heads of lettuce.
Which is how this salad came to be. It’s – I dare say – the perfect mid-fall meal. Sweet orange segments, creamy avocado and thinly sliced macintosh apples get lightly dressed in a salt-and-pepper lime vinaigrette. It’s hearty, refreshing, savoury-sweet and just right for lunch when soup seems depressing.
(lunch for one)
People find the idea of supreming a piece of citrus fruit to be so daunting. Likely this is a reaction to the intimidating French name, because it’s a snap. The key tool is a really sharp knife (I’d say paring knife, but I actually I love my santoku for this job.) The left-over bits and baubles around the supremes can be used for juice, or even eaten as-is.
1/2 soft, ripe avocado, sliced
1 medium orange, supremed
1/2 macintosh apple, thinly sliced
juice of half a lime
sea salt, cracked pepper
Gently combine all ingredients except salt and pepper. Add seasonings a pinch at a time and taste, until desire level of sweet-salty contrast is reached.
My Great Gran Emmy and her powder-blue home on Lena Street stir many memories. Papa Oz passed away when Eleni and I were little girls – just old enough that I remember the funeral home and his so-very-serious brown suit – so most of the images I hold of my gran are her alone in that little house.
There she was, propped up in her flowery pink bed, ubiquitous crochet needles alternating in her shaky arthritic hands with the equally ubiquitous chain of cigarettes and china tea cup rattling on its saucer. Sometimes we would sit at the foot of the bed petting Muffin – her angry little lhasa apso – but more likely at her kitchen table where she’d always have still-slightly-frozen jam thumbprint cookies waiting.
But the rhubarb. Come spring, it was another world behind that little house on Lena, a world entirely composed of sturdy pale blushing stalks under great big leafy-green canopies. If you’ve ever grown rhubarb (intentionally or otherwise) you know what I mean. Its season comes much earlier than the rest of the garden, and good thing at that, as it just doesn’t know when to stop growing.
We’d be set outside to rip these abundant stalks from the earth, little girl against plant, using all our weight to yank the stalks (most taller than us) with an “oof!”, give them a rinse with the garden hose, and cart our treasure to the kitchen, a great pile forming alongside the jam thumbprints.
Gran Emmy made lots of things with her rhubarb. Crumbles and jam and the most incredible strawberry-pineapple-rhubarb sauce that she’d spoon for us still warm into little black and white Pyrex bowls. But when I’m feeling slightly less indulgent and want to extend the rhubarb’s life past me eating it straight from the pot (not that I’ve ever done that) I make apple-rhubarb butter. Very tart, slightly sweet, smoother than jam but thicker than a sauce – it’s good on toast and in oatmeal, or let’s be honest – straight from the spoon.
Apple Rhubarb Butter
Tonight when I saw six brilliant fat rhubarb stalks at the Riverdale Market I snatched them up. If you’re near Toronto’s east end on Tuesday evenings, Riverdale sets up a great market that’s open from 3-7pm through to October.
4 medium-size apples, diced fine (a sweet variety, like galas or pink ladies or golden delicious)
6c rhubarb, cut across in small pieces
1/2c brown sugar, loosely packed (or more to taste up to 1c – I like my butter very tart)
2 500mL glass jars, sterilized
Before you start, boil the jars to ensure they’re nice and clean. I use old almond butter jars, since they’re abundant in my cupboards.
Dump the diced apple and a bit of hot water (1/4c or so) into a pan over high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the apples are mostly broken down and soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the sliced rhubarb and a bit more water if needed, reduce heat to medium-high. Cook the rhubarb down with the apples, stirring frequently. When you have a sauce, add the brown sugar and stir. Keep reducing until the sauce thickens considerably, about 30 minutes. The mixture will have cooked ~45 minutes from start to end.
Ladel into clean jars and lid. Let cool and store in jars in fridge for up to a week (though it won’t last that long). Makes four cups.