At the core

It’s the first week of our CSA season and halfway through the year. Time to remind ourselves, and our worried family, why we’re acting so weird.

strawberry-rhubarb-crisp-1

Once I’ve told you something, my usual M.O. is to assume you know it. I don’t like to pester you with it again unless you ask, or unless you’ve clearly forgotten and it’s become a question of urgent personal safety. I think of this policy as a matter of courtesy. You’re an intelligent person, you’ve given me the gift of your attention, so I figure you’ve got it. This, and a cartoonishly exaggerated lack of patience, is why I could never teach small children that I did not give birth to. But usually I do alright with interested adults.

Usually. But then, there’s the fact that most of us remember only about 10 percent of what we learn. This statistic came to my attention last week when, mid-recovery from a life-sucking case of the flu — our second since January, after not having had it for years — my mom inquired whether we might be getting sick so much this year because we’re not eating properly.

“But I manage a CSA! But I write a food blog! I really don’t think it’s that!”

“It’s just that I know you’re eating inexpensively this year, needing to save money. Maybe you’re not getting enough meat.”

So I’m thinking, this is my Mom, and she pays kind of a tremendous amount of attention to me and my family and what I write here. Certainly more than you do. Arguably more than I do. And even so, Mom seems to have forgotten that in January I made a little pledge here to spend all year keeping things plain and simple — and that the pledge, and not, thankfully, an unfilled need for food stamps, is at the core of the cheap grub and the simplified, though not uncomplicated, mindset.

Now halfway through the year (!), I guess it’s high time for a little refresher and a quick State of the Um-ion. In my first post of 2009, I shared our family’s plan to try to live simply and mindfully, and to eat inexpensively:

“The idea is to act a little like all those folks who’ve decided not to buy anything but toilet paper for a year, except that our focus is on interests, thoughts, projects and the like rather than material goods. We’d like to end the year more simply and more mindfully than we’ve begun it, and, in a sense, with less to show for ourselves than we’ve currently got. Ever since we’ve started thinking more about what we eat and where it comes from, life has been inching in this direction; and we’re looking forward to bringing the same thoughtfulness to other tasks.”

So how have we been doing?

Sometimes, like when we scare our extended family, or when we almost run out of diapers because I’m not so much in the habit of going shopping, or when I need a dentist appointment but don’t have any regular babysitters anymore, I think we’ve done a little too well. In general, we’ve been good about not acquiring new projects and new possessions, but it hasn’t resulted in quite as much soul spelunking or inner (our outer) peace as I’d hoped. Maybe that’s something to work on for the second half of the year. Or, depending on how much fun the beach is this summer, maybe I’ll just work on accepting my shallowness for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing more about fruits and veggies again, because our CSA season starts today, and I’ve got bushels of rhubarb, spinach, green garlic, spring onions, leaf lettuce and dill in my garage. In the spirit of keeping things uncomplicated and focusing on the good that we’ve got (and also, getting people to like me by baking tasty treats), I thought we’d kick off the season with a classic American dessert (or breakfast) — Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. Crisps are incredibly easy and very flexible, so don’t feel too constrained by the measurements — though this recipe does work nicely in a deep-dish pie plate and is, to my taste, just the right amount sweet.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

For the Filling
1 ¼ pounds rhubarb (about 4 large stalks)
1 ¼ pounds strawberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the Topping
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
8 Tablespoons cold butter, diced
Pinch of salt

Special equipment: A deep-dish pie plate

Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit with a rack in the bottom third.

Make the filling: Trim the rhubarb stalks and cut them crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Trim the strawberries and cut them in half or in quarters if large. (The pieces of fruit should all be roughly the same size for even cooking.) Add the strawberries to the bowl. Add the ½ cup sugar, the cornstarch and the lemon juice to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Pour the fruit mixture into the pie plate.

Make the topping: Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter and salt in a medium bowl or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. If using a bowl, blend the mixture together using your fingers and thumbs until there is no loose flour at the bottom of the bowl and much of the mixture is in pea-sized pieces. Or, if using a food processor, pulse briefly until the mixture reaches that state.

Distribute the topping over the fruit. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips for about 50 minutes, until browned on top, bubbly and completely cooked through. Cool for at least 10 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream for dessert, or with Greek yogurt for breakfast.

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