SOUTHERN DECAY: V

IMG_1495 IMG_1481_2 IMG_1480_2

IMG_1479_2

 

V: ENO RIVER

Walking through the woods at the Eno River state park, in the deathly heat of midday was surprisingly exhilarating. We caught a crayfish, saw a blue heron and a foul little black snake with a speckley white snout. I found the empty shell of another crayfish’s claw submerged in the water while sitting on a rock in the middle of the river. Rivers. River culture. I have always had a strange attraction and connection to bodies of water. I have fond memories of swimming in the Dan River with my grandfather in the mountains of Virginia where his cabin was. The Eno, and other Southern rivers that flow outside of the mountains are so different to me. The word stagnant comes to mind. In the summer they are warm, almost like bath water for the first foot or so, then cooler underneath. Rivers and lakes are like tiny swatches of natural Southern beauty that for the most part are left untouched by the urban world. Almost. There’s something so jarring about walking through the woods and stumbling on a clearing with thick metal towers supporting power lines going off into the distance in both directions. A reminder that so little of our natural world is left untouched by human hands.

SOUTHERN DECAY IV

IMG_0995 IMG_1021 IMG_1272 IMG_1286

 

IV: OUT OF CHILDHOOD, INTO DUST

My mother’s hand on my baby book is an image that I will keep with me for a long time. It represents the roots from which I came, the trees to my apple. There’s something so Southern about this type of reliquary divination that I haven’t seen in other parts of the world. The idea of cataloguing, of preserving everything from food to the dead is a practice deeply embedded in the culture of the South. It somehow seems entirely natural to liken a baby book to a jar of pickled okra. The act of saving something from the present for the future–of encapsulating memory and loss to later consume as either pleasure or pain. Out of childhood, into dust.

Vegan Paella

IMG_1527

There are no words. None. This dish was incredible, and making it was just as fun as consuming it at a recent potluck I hosted for framily. In these dying days of summer I am soaking up all I can of Carrboro and my North Carolina friends. What better way than through delicious vegan food like this?

IMG_1523 IMG_1526

Vegan Paella

3 cups jasmine rice, cooked in your favorite (or homemade) veggie broth and a pinch of saffron

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

heft pinch Spanish saffron (you can buy it at a very good price at Trader Joe’s)

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes plus a handful for garnish

1/2 block tofu, cubed

2 vegan sausages (I used Tofurky’s Italian style)

handful kalamata olives

handful fresh spinach

fresh parsley, mint, basil or any garden herb you like

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, grated

1/4 cup diced bell pepper

olive oil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

In a large wok or soup pot, heat a liberal dose of olive oil. Add onions, tofu, and sausage, and sauté until sausage begins to turn golden. Add saffron, peppers, and carrots, mix to incorporate. Add rice, mixing to fully incorporate sautéed goodies. Remove from heat, add tomatoes, spinach, turmeric, and herbs. This part makes paella a labor of love. Mix, and mix, and mix and get all the goodies incorporated into the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add lemon juice gradually as you mix. (And mix, and mix.) Scoop into a grandiose bowl. Sprinkle reserved tomatoes, olives, and a pinch of saffron on top.

IMG_1529 IMG_1524

 

Serve with lemon wedges for an additional citrus kick. This is one of those great clean out the crisper recipes. You can really add just about any veggie you’ve got to it and it’ll turn out phenomenally. I’ve made a slightly different version of vegan paella before, but hands down this one has that classic flair that really makes paella well, paella. It’s all about that saffron.

Gingery Quick Pick(le)s

IMG_1309

I love pickled foods. That winning combination of tartness, and sweetness, cut with the acid bite of a good vinegary base is absolute perfection in my book. Growing up, we used to go to my great grandmother Ruby’s occasionally for Sunday dinner. At any big meal, always without question there would be a crystal dish filled with Ruby’s homemade pickles. To this day those are still the best pickles I’ve ever eaten.

IMG_1310

Even though these aren’t Ruby’s pickles, they are fantastic and are so easy to make. And what better way to showcase fresh, local cucumbers?

IMG_1312

 

Gingery Quick Pick(le)s

2-3 medium sized cucumbers (A note on cuke selection: don’t get any that are bigger than your hand. They’ll be a bit bitter.)

1″ knob fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup rice vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon agave

Slice your cucumbers into roughly 1/8 ” slices, set aside. Peel and roughly chop ginger and garlic. In a bowl, whisk agave, vinegar, sesame seeds, garlic, and ginger together. Add cucumbers and toss to coat. Allow your cukes to pickle for at least 2 hours before serving.

IMG_1324

These pickles will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge and like a fine wine they get better with time. I used them with several dishes kind of as I use kimchi or sauerkraut: as a topping on salads, noodle, and rice dishes. Shown above: hands down the best salad I’ve ever had in my life featuring delicious, gingery pickles on top.