Bok choi with mushrooms.

bokchoi

I always think I am going to have so much time, and then I commit to a million things and am surprised when I can’t do any of them well. Well, no more! (That is probably untrue – just ask me to do something.) This summer has seen a shift in my priorities; I want to do a lot of things better, and, I hope, a few things pretty well. I want to make pickles and play outside and write books and blog posts and can homemade baby food for my friend who isn’t doing so well at the moment, and I want to do all of this without feeling like I’m letting anyone/everyone down.

So, with no small amount of despair, I let go of our community garden plot – we simply weren’t able to keep up with it. To be honest, I’m sure that we would have been kicked out eventually anyway – we hadn’t been showing up anywhere near often enough.

The community garden is a 15-minute drive to a spot we used to be able to walk to, and when we moved in December it was to a place across the street from a friend who has abundant garden space that she let us have access to. This new spot isn’t as pretty as our last place, though it is a lot bigger. Last night to make a salad I just hopped the fence across the street and thinned some of the beets, pulled a couple of radishes, and snipped some leaves off one of the heads of lettuce. We were no longer a part of the community in our other spot; here, we are neighbours.

The back part of the garden

The nice thing about our new space being so close is that I can walk by and plan dinner around what’s currently thriving; recently, it was the bok choi. Whenever I buy bok choi, it’s in heads like thick leaf lettuce, or tiny little bunches of the baby variety. I guess we’re growing a different kind, because ours is growing in the way chard does – long stalks off a middle stem with big, soft, droopy leaves. Whatever variety it is, it’s delicious.

In the spirit of saving time (because who even has any?!), here’s a quick dish of greens and mushrooms; you can use chard, or kale, or bok choi or whatever you’re growing or have bought. It makes enough for two large side dishes, or four small ones. It takes ten minutes if you’re a fast chopper.

I hope you like – and have the time – for this one.

Bok choi and mushrooms with trout

Bok Choi with Mushrooms

  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 lb. bok choi, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce

In a skillet, heat sesame oil and butter over medium-high heat until the butter begins to sizzle.

Add onion, and cook for one minute.

Add ginger and garlic, and both kinds of pepper.

Cook for two minutes, until everything is soft and translucent and fragrant. Add mushrooms, then bok choi, then the soy sauce, and toss the whole thing together. Cover, drop heat to medium, and cook for three minutes.

Serve with fish or barbecued meats; it would also be good with fried tofu.

DSCF5175

Anything “gratin” is obviously going to be delicious.

There is always too much food here, even when that isn’t the plan. I made this venison roast, which if you’re feeding four people and estimating that each will eat a pound then there shouldn’t have been enough but I still have about a pound left over because holy crap delicious but filling, and I made this red cabbage, and it was amazing and simple and there was (were?) tons, and I made a gratin of sweet potato and spinach based on a similar recipe from my own personal copy of Gourmet Today, which I got for Christmas from Nick. And there was a lot of good red wine, Rioja from Paul and Zinfandel from Grace, and another round of kroketten, a smear of mustard, cartons of Whoppers, bowls of Dutch licorice, and a pie in my fridge that I never ended up reheating.

The thing I want to tell you about is the gratin, though. I was so excited about it that I was all flustered and full of joy, and my pictures turned out blurrier than usual, but it was so effing delicious that there was no way I was going to go to bed and sober up before writing to you about it. Time is of the essence, and if it’s near midnight wherever you are like it is where I am, I’ll forgive you if you want to wait until tomorrow to make this. But make it as soon as you can, because it is so homey and luscious. The smell. The smell! It reminded me of memories I don’t even have but would happily make up.

Sweet Potato and Creamed Spinach Gratin

(Adapted from Gourmet Today, page 630.)

  • 3 lbs. spinach, coarse stems discarded (or three ten-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed)
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 or 3 large orange sweet potatoes (yams), about 4 lbs., peeled and thinly sliced (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

If you’re using frozen spinach, you don’t have to worry about this first part. Just drain it and chop it up and then put it into a large bowl. If you’re using fresh, follow me.

In a large pot, bring one to two inches of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add spinach, forcing the leaves down with a spoon and turning until wilted, three to five minutes. Strain, drain, and rinse under cold water. Wring wet spinach out in a clean, dry towel. Transfer to a cutting board and chop coarsely, before transferring to a bowl.

Melt three tablespoons of the butter in a heavy frying pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic, and saute until softened and glistening, about three minutes. Remove from heat and add to spinach, along with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cream. Stir to combine, and adjust seasonings as you like.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line the bottom of a buttered 9″x13″ baking pan with thin slices of sweet potato. Do the math here – you’re going to need five layers of sweet potato, so divide your layers accordingly. About a fifth will do – if you can eyeball it, you’re better than me. My layers got thinner as they went.

Spread one quarter of the spinach mixture on top of your first layer of sweet potato slices. Repeat three more times, until there are five layers of sweet potato and four layers of spinach.

Drizzle any remaining liquid over the top layer of sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the top evenly with Parmesan, and then dot with remaining two tablespoons of butter. Cover top with a sheet of parchment paper, and bake until sweet potatoes are tender and the whole thing is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove paper and bake until crisp and browned on top, another 10 to 15 minutes.

I'm sorry. This is where I got excited and everything went blurry.

I wish I had read about this before Christmas, because I would have made it for dinner and perhaps seemed less like the freeloader I pretty much am, and people would have loved it. It’s showing up at next year’s feast, for sure. And at feasts in between, for certain.