This year we have had the quintessential fall. Bright reds ranging from deep burgundy to jammy crimsons, flaming oranges, and amber yellows. A few weeks ago our first frost mellowed the hillsides into a more subdued, yet equally glorious, pallete. Truthfully it has felt a little surreal to be experiencing such a picture-perfect autumn. Often during this season I whine, wishing the colors were just a bit more intense and the leaves lasted just a little bit longer on the trees. However I have no complaints for 2015 – this fall has been perfect.While I have been revelling in the colors there is also a bittersweet edge to the season. November heralds – at least in Massachusetts – the end of the local farmers markets. Golonka’s, my neighborhood farmstand, closed up for the season last Saturday. Each week at the various farmers markets I visit there are less venders, and the colors of available produce are, like the season, becoming more muted. Still, there are delicious ingredients to fill my baskets with so I just throw on a scarf and sweater then venture out to see what is being offered.About a month ago I was in Hudson, New York filling in for my Dad at our art gallery. Since the gallery doesn’t open until 11am I decided to wander up to the Saturday Farmers Market and came across a wonderful stall featuring strudels. Homemade, hand-pulled apple strudel (and other flavors) similar to what you’d find in Europe. All that was missing were the cobbled streets and a steaming cup of Viennese coffee. Since I was alone there was no choice but to go back to the gallery and eat the entire piece of apple strudel myself before it was time to unlock the door. One bite and I was in love and in luck. Love because the strudel was perfect. Layers and layers of seasoned apples, which while cooked, still had a bit of toothiness left in them. Luck because the couple who made the strudel also had a stall at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market, which is where Shawn was going the following weekend to pick up Russell for his college fall break. How serendipitous that my husband could pick up both our tall one and more strudel.It got me to thinking though, when should you buy something vs. borrow the idea and make it yourself? This blog came about four years ago as a way of sharing with my friends the various recipes I’ve gathered throughout my life and travels. It is about meeting people and cooking their food, then passing along what I’ve learned, tasted, or been given. For me food is so much better when shared with others, despite my lone strudel munching. Add to that I think it is safe to say I am an adventurous cook. If I have a well-written recipe, which someone bothered to test (do not get me started on cookbooks or internet sites with untested recipes), there is every chance that I can make it myself. Which brings up the bigger question of do I need to? I can think of two different purchases I made at farmers markets this season which answered that question for me.
The first was from Beets & Barley at the Tuesday Market in Northampton. They had an enormous chafing dish of Kale Salad. It encapsulated the height of summer flavors combining local kale with cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced baby zucchini, homemade gluten-free croutons, and a tangy lemon-walnut vinaigrette. I wanted seconds, but instead shopped the market for the ingredients so I could go home and make a giant bowlful for my family. Beets & Barley had given me an idea I could easily play with and tweak, something I could borrow.
The apple strudel I purchased from Strudel-Z was a perfect example, for me at least, of when to buy. Sure, I could probably figure out how to make a strudel dough thin enough to read the newspaper through*, but honestly I think I’m okay not doing that. For me where the scales tip is connected to both the amount of time and work I’d need to put into something as well as the more intangible question of how does it taste? Those are very personal questions, which tie into all sorts of other questions and circumstances (for instance do you even live in an area where there is a plethora of farmers markets, how much time do you have, what is your disposable income, do you love to cook, etc.) that basically means there is no single correct answer. After all you just might have the most wonderful grandmother who grew up in strudel country, then taught you to make every imaginable flavor of strudel there is when you were only six-years-old. It’s possible.I am not going to jump down the proverbial rabbit hole of what you should make vs. what you should buy right now, but you are more than welcome to delve into some of those philosophical food questions. For starters I’d suggest Jennifer Reese’s book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and Barbara Kingslover’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. You can also try Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, Eric Scholsser, along with many, many others. Leave a comment below if you’ve found someone who you feel adds to this conversation.
In the meantime I’ll tell you how I make this borrowed kale salad. One tip I’ll pass along is from a TV producer I worked with several years ago. We were featuring a kale salad on the show and she suggested massaging the kale. I remember thinking, “Okay crazy lady from somewhere in crunchy-granola-west-coast-of-America we’re going to massage the greens – yeah right.” Though actually she was completely right, and I had to fork down a big mouthful of humble pie. Pressing or massaging helps to break down the cells in hardier greens like kale, which is especially nice if you’re going to eat it raw. To do this you simply roll the kale into a little bundle (with the stems if it’s baby kale and without if it is the big stuff) and then roly-poly it on your counter. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to do this extra step.
Borrowed Kale Salad
Kale, baby or whole (if whole remove the rib)
Cherry tomatoes, whole or halved
Small zucchini, thinly sliced
Walnuts, roughly chopped
Carrots, shredded or sliced into thin discs
Crumbled blue or feta or goat cheese(optional)
As I mentioned above give the kale a bit of a massage, then cut into chunks or chiffonade (very thin strips). Toss in the other vegetables and nuts, then toss it all with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Olive oil and lemon or orange juice with a spoonful of mustard works well. So does a balsamic vinaigrette. A grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt and you are good to go.
So many possibilities for dressing this salad, just as there are a bazillion ways to build this salad.
This is just a jumping off point more than a recipe. Some other ideas can be found here.
* Serious Eats has a recipe for a strudel dough which looks pretty good if you do want to try it.