black pants

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There are usually a couple of factors that play into our seed selection in the garden:

tried + true: seeds of stuff we’ve planted before- particular varieties + brands that have worked well in the past, that are generally consistent, easy to grow, and of course, tasty.

cookbooks: I scan through anything by Alice Waters, Suzanne Goin, or Thomas Keller, for references to particular varieties of vegetables that they prefer.

catalog descriptions: The better the description, the more susceptible I am to purchasing the seeds. Who doesn’t love seed catalogs? Not only because of the artful photographs of produce at its best, the useful facts and tips, but more than anything, for the possibilities that abound. The better the description, the more likely I am to by the seeds. Each different variety has got to be the next best thing- the one I need to have.

Its the last one that gets me in trouble- which is why I’ve got about 20 different varieties of lettuce seeds, neatly (or not so neatly) organized in my seed box. And why I only end up planting a handful. The best comparison I can find: pairs of black pants. A woman I know, at one point, owned ( I kid you not) about 40 pairs of black pants. Each pair was slightly different in cut, style and material- but it was all about the goal of finding not just the perfect pair, but the perfect pair for a number of scenarios. Some were all about the material- the weight of the fabric, the drape, the right amount of warmth. Others were about the cut- the pair that made your ass look amazing, the ones that lengthened your legs, that shaped your waist. The ones for going out, the ones for work, and the ones for hiking (damaged good pairs that were relegated to outdoor wear- not that they were actually suitable for strenuous activity). The point was that there were so many different pairs, each the next best thing- the perfect pair.

Now, I know that there is no one perfect variety of lettuce- there are soft, blowsy butter lettuces, for subtle salads with light dressings and sprinklings of herbs that let the sweetness of the lettuce shine. There are hardier romaines, for the crisp crunch of green, that can stand up to heartier dressings and seasonings. And don’t get me started on other types of greens, like spinach, arugula, + baby vegetable leaves (beets, chard, mustards) that will satisfy a number of disparate recipes + cravings. And then factor in all of the other requirements- growing days, suitability, hardiness, etc. that are part of every decision as far as what to plant in a garden.

But you always end up with favorites- pants that you continuously wear, lettuces that you eat over and over again. There’s a comfort, and familiarity that in the end, that makes them your favorites, that will always delight you, always make you feel good.

So I bring you one of our favorite salads- its an everyday affair- my default, at least when the handful of ingredients it contains are in season. Its not a fancy thing, or a subtle thing. We’ve served it to guests, but not at fancy dinners- its the sort of thing you whip up for nights that friends drop by with pizza, or a sunday afternoon barbecue, while having a few cold beers. Once again, the recipe is just more a guideline, rather that an exact specification. Most of our recipes with vegetables out of the garden are that way, which makes sense- since produce is so variable- sometimes the ingredients are sharper, more bitter, other times, less so. We like it more sweet than astringent, more crisp than bitter, but it’s up to you- so adjust accordingly.

Note: For information on how to supreme citrus, look here.

Grapefruit salad
serves 2

1 grapefruit, about the size of a softball

a handful of arugula

about 3 cups of romaine, torn into bite-sized pieces

1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt, and pepper

parmesan or cojita cheese, to taste

Place lettuce + arugula in a large bowl. Supreme the grapefruit, saving all of the juices by squeezing every last bit of peel and membrane into a small bowl. Add the sectioned grapefruit to the same bowl, and sprinkle sugar on top, turning citrus in the juice, to coat lightly with the sugar. Remove the grapefruit sections with a slotted spoon, and place on top of greens. Add salt + pepper to remaining juice + sugar mixture, then whisk in olive oil. Pour entire bowl of dressing over salad greens. It will look like a lot (about a half cup) of dressing- but its really very mild- not your typical sharp mix of red wine vinegar + olive oil. Toss well, be careful to keep grapefruit sections evenly distributed throughout the greens. Shave parmesan on top, (alternatively, crumble cojita cheese), grind additional pepper on top, and serve immeadiately.

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