Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Green, In Lieu of Spring

January was a tough month for me here in the Berkshires. I grew up in a place that was cold and windy, but always had sun, even in the depths of winter. The brightness of the sky made up for the shortness of the days -- the sun might only be out for less than 8 hours a day but it was dazzling when it was. It hardly rained, and the chinook winds blew away any clouds that might have the temerity to show up. If it snowed, the warmth of the chinooks would eat up the drifts in short order.


Moving to the US northeast was a shock -- the grey that descended in late fall, the rains, the mounds and mounds of wet snow. New York was bad enough, but then I moved upstate to a town that sat in a little valley and -- I swear to god -- had a permanent raincloud hanging overhead, even on days when the rest of the area was sunny and dry. Some years it got more rain than Seattle, and I couldn't bear the occasions where it would rain not just an hour or two at a stretch, but literally for days without stop.

It's sunnier here in the Berkshires, compared to that, and it's beautiful -- every season has its charm. Even winter, when after a fresh snow the little village I live in looks like something out of a snow globe, quaint and snug in its blanket of white. But I wasn't prepared for the snow, no matter how pretty it is in those first hours: I wasn't prepared for the sheer volume of it, the inches and feet that accumulate over the course of months and eventually get piled high by the snowplow that clears out my driveway. I've never seen snow like this.

I hide out in winter in my house, curled up on my couch under my Hudson's Bay blanket, leaving only when necessary or when cabin fever gets the better of me. It's a form of hibernation, for sure, made worse by the fact that all my farm has to offer is starchy root vegetables with a few precious green leafy things to round out the haul. But I'm too lethargic to care in January, to be honest -- the lack of sun slows me down to a state of pure stasis. January is a month to endure, not to savor.

February is a different story, though. I can feel the days get longer, and when the sun shines it shines with promise. With the mounds of snow piled up around my house it would be ridiculous to imagine I feel spring in the air, but I do feel something -- something has shifted, ever so slightly, enough to vault me out of my hibernation mode and into something else. I can feel my body vibrating, ever so subtly, with new energy.

And when this happens, I crave green. Green in everything -- I want to surround myself with it, I want to wear it, I want to eat it. It's a form of willing spring to arrive, I know.

I try to eat as seasonally as I can, and almost always limit my consumption to what I get at my farm, but by February stores are running very low and so I have an excuse, for the next three months, to eat differently. To celebrate this new freedom I went to the big Asian supermarket in Albany last week -- one of my favorite places to go, with a vast produce section and ingredients from almost every region of Asia -- and loaded my cart with baby bok choy, gai lan, snow peas, and a few other things that looked lush and green and tasty but whose names I've forgotten.

I have no idea where these vegetables were grown or under what conditions -- they could have been grown in a vat of human remains and watered with waste water and doused with arsenic and Dick Cheney's dandruff for all I know. But I don't care. They satisfy my deep need to step away from winter and into what comes next.


Pan-fried Noodles with Beef and Snow Peas
Serves 4

This recipe comes with very little variation from epicurious.com. It's a very quick meal to prepare, and my daughter inhaled it. You could substitute gai lan or baby bok choy, cut into 2" pieces, for the snow peas.

9 oz fresh Chinese egg noodles or 8 oz dried
2 TB oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 c cold water
4 TB canola oil or other neutral vegetable oil
12 oz snow peas, ends trimmed
3 scallions, minced
2 TB ginger, minced
1 lb beef (sirloin, tenderloin, or flank steak), cut across the grain into thin pieces, 1" x 1/2"

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and add noodles. Cook until tender (about 6 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and water. Mix until smooth.

3. In a nonstick skillet (10"), heat 1 TB oil until very hot. Add noodles, spreading out with chopsticks or a fork until they form an even disk. Allow to fry for about 5 or so minutes until you can see the bottom is browning and getting crisp. Now flip the noodle cake (very carefully with spatulas, or with a flick of the wrist like you would a pancake). Let brown on the other side, and remove to a serving platter.

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 TB oil until very hot. Add rinsed snow peas (some water should still be clinging to them), along with a couple of pinches of salt. Stir-fry until pods are bright green but still crisp. Remove to a bowl.

5. In the same skillet, heat another 1 TB of oil until very hot. Add scallions and ginger and stir for about 30 seconds. Add about half of the beef pieces, spreading out in a single layer. Allow the beef to sear on one side without stirring the pan for about 1 minute. Shake and stir the pan and allow the beef to sear for another minute. Remove to the snow pea bowl. Repeat with 1 TB oil and the remaining beef, removing to the bowl when done. Keep the skillet on the stove over high heat.

6. Stir the sauce again to make sure it's well combined, then add to the skillet. Allow the sauce to bubble and thicken; it will turn from milky looking to glossy. Add the snow peas back to the pan and stir to combine well with the sauce. Pour the beef and snow peas on top of the fried noodle cake and serve very hot.

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