“What made Madeleine sit up in bed was something closer to the reason she read books in the first place and had always loved them. Here was a sign that she wasn’t alone. Here was an articulation of what she had been so far mutely feeling. In bed on a Friday night, wearing sweatpants, her hair tied back, her glasses smudged, and eating peanut butter from the jar, Madeleine was in a state of extreme solitude.”
-Jeffrey Eugenides (The Marriage Plot)
I’ve been falling more and more deeply into this novel all week long. To those of you who know me well, the reason should be obvious: it’s about a girl who loves books and eats large amounts of peanut butter directly from the jar. But it’s also about a narrative trajectory that has fascinated me since my last year of college–the role that marriage plays in the novel and what happens when transgressions occur, not to mention the problems that arise when a life is based on literature. Amazingly, thanks to a timely concurrent reading of this novel and a story by Zinaida Gippius, “No Return,” I’m again on good terms with my dissertation. The ideas are flowing and I think I can combine everything I found in Finland with questions and themes that have long stood on the periphery of my research. Thanks to this, my committee and I are also enjoying a peaceful spell in which ideas are exciting again and we’re all on the same page, seeming pleased with ourselves and each other after our meetings. Yes, it’s been a momentous week. Year Six of graduate school officially ended today after I took my last (and only) final! Obama (finally) stopped evolving! All in all, you might say that things started to take a positive turn last Friday evening when the Greek and I were walking home from campus and I stopped to grab us dinner at the lovely Summer Kitchen Bake Shop.
It was a hot evening and we had somewhere to be at 9, so cooking was out of the question. At such moments, Summer Kitchen is a lifesaver; if I need lunch and am walking to campus during their hours of operation, I’ll pop in there to grab something. They have sandwiches, soup and pizza and, although I’ve tried almost everything they have, I always gravitate to the vegetable salads at the front–the caramelized brussel sprout salads, the orzo with butternut squash, or the cauliflower and chickpeas. As I was talking to the girl, telling her I wanted the golden beets and the cauliflower, I saw that they had updated their green salad selection to include an asparagus salad with fennel, arugula, feta and candied pumpkin seeds. So I got that, too (when having vegetables for dinner, can you ever have too much?). I took the salads home and, as it turned out, we both preferred the asparagus over the others. And in that moment when we both guiltily reached for the last pieces of asparagus, I knew what we had to do: it was time to get out the bikes and go to the Farmers’ Market, where bundles of asparagus would be waiting for us…along with green garlic, ramps, spring onions, too.
So that’s exactly what we did. Despite the presence of a lingering cough, I biked 4 miles there and 4 miles back. Getting there, despite a little tire-deflating incident that called for an emergency bike shop run, was easy enough : the weather was beautiful, the ride was downhill and there was such promise to the day. Biking back, however, was another story; it was all uphill and, even as I kind of sensed it at the time, I still hadn’t realized quite how much we had managed to buy: two bunches of asparagus, fava greens, several avocado, a giant beet and, best of all, a heavy, thick-skinned pomelo (Chinese grapefruit)! Even at the sweaty end, it was well worth it.
The plan for dinner was fairly simple, at least on my end: While the Greek was making Julia Child’s Coq au Vin (a photo of his masterpiece is below), I would be attempting to recreate the asparagus salad, but with a few substitutions. Putting it all together in my mind, I knew I wanted to keep the feta cheese (but of course!) and asparagus combination, but I wasn’t going to be adding any candied pumpkin seeds or arugula. Instead, I was going to toast some walnuts and use the fava greens, which, to me, were a novelty. The leaves were thick and dark and the taste a little nutty; really, it’s not unlike spinach–it’s just more subtle, more mild. These things seemed almost inconsequential since, as we all know, the hardest thing about recreating any salad is making the right dressing; I knew I could taste something tangy in the balsamic-based dressing that Summer Kitchen had provided, so I finally settled on adding a tablespoon of Greek yogurt (and, in fact, I think my recovering taste buds were spot on). My one major innovation was to add a minced chunk of green garlic (what would be about the equivalent of 1 large clove of garlic) because how do you resist its smell?
The end result of both culinary endeavors was one of the most lavish feasts our dining room table had seen in some time (I truly don’t think we had been this gluttonous since the February days of Downton). The Coq au Vin was almost indescribably good and the two things that I will say about it are that mushrooms, carrots and chicken should always be cooked in wine and with bacon and butter. The second thing is that this meal, although perfect in and of itself, also politely begs for a salad. So, when your boyfriend decides to make a dinner like this in early May, when it just so happens to be the height of asparagus season, and you, feeling a little tired of the usual thin mustardy dressing, want something that both coats the crunchy vegetables with creamy goodness and has a smooth finish, turn to this salad/dressing combination. Or a variation of it. I always feel uncomfortable about suggesting salad recipes because salad is salad and who really needs directions on how to make a good one? But then I realize that we can be intimidated by our vegetables and unable to see the ability that one vegetable or new dressing has to take a so-so salad and transform it into something wonderful. Summer Kitchen helped me and so I’m helping you. Pay it forward and share the asparagus love. Your body will thank you as you indulge in one of spring’s best finds.
Asparagus and Fava Greens Salad with Balsamic Yogurt Dressing with Green Garlic
Yields a large salad for two
Recipe notes: I liked a thicker dressing with this salad, but dressing is a personal thing. Some people prefer more oil, some more vinegar. Just don’t cut out the Greek yogurt or green garlic (or good old regular garlic if that’s all you have); they’re essential!
Fava greens are one of those rare farmers’ market finds and if it comes your way, I suggest you grab it immediately and try it. It’s delicious and a nice change from the usual greens. But if you can’t find it, any kind of spinach will do.
One other important thing is the asparagus; I decided, for the sake of time, only to chop off the ends and to use raw asparagus in the salad. Because of both the bright green color and the brief shelf life of fresh asparagus, I think Summer Kitchen had probably blanched theirs. If you go the raw route like I did, I suggest you use only the top third of the asparagus stalk and save the tougher bottoms for a brunch frittata like I did. Asparagus, spring onion and mushroom make for a lovely one, especially when topped with chives, parsley and sour cream; there’s a photo below of both it and the fruit salad, which starred the pomelo. There’s something immensely satisfying about a meal that keeps on giving.
For the dressing:
1 Tbsp. Greek yogurt (I use 2%)
1 Tbsp. of minced green green garlic
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3-3 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Spoon the Greek yogurt into a small bowl and add the green garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk well and again before serving; the yogurt may start to separate.
For the salad:
1/2 lb. fava greens (3 loosely packed cups)
10 Stalks asparagus, ends removed, the top 1/3 cut off and the bottoms saved for breakfast or for roasting
3 oz. feta, roughly crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
Assemble ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon as much dressing as you like onto the salad and mix well. Enjoy the taste of spring!