Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Delightful Surprises

Nearly 30 years ago my best friend, Wenirs, gave me a delightful surprise - she told me she was pregnant. She had wished for a baby for a long time, doing the whole temperature-taking-to-track-ovulation thing for quite some time, a total drag. So, we rejoiced at the news and, nine months later, rejoiced even more when my Fairy Godson, Mark, was born.

Mark was adorable from the very beginning - and this statement comes from a woman who doesn't really "get" the whole cooing-over-babies thing. I'm not like most women who love babies on sight - I respond positively to very few infants. Mark was different - he made me feel like cooing.

As he grew and matured, he went through some pretty gawky stages but he was always a delight. I have so many happy memories of him that I couldn't begin to share them all but one indelible one springs to mind. When he was about eight, we took him to see the "Phantom of the Opera" in Toronto; he loved it, sitting on the edge of his seat the whole time, glued to the performance. And, afterwards, as we were walking down Toronto's clean, safe streets, he'd just burst into song, "Prima donna, first lady of the stage..." in full voice, complete with dramatic gestures. It wasn't a performance for us or for the other people on the street, it was his way of reliving a thrilling experience.

He's an amazing kid. Even now, when he's not a kid any more. So, when he calls and asks, "Aunt Pam, do you want a visit this weekend?" my answer is always immediate and enthusiastic. He drives up from LA these days and he brings his friend Tim and we all have a great time. Tim isn't a vegetarian exactly, but he loves other foods more than he loves meat, so I look for ways to please his palate when he's here. This time, I fashioned some veggie packets that were so good, I thought I'd tell you about them, too.

They don't look like much on the plate, do they? Just some curly Swiss chard and some random sprinkles of other things. Well, pretty is as pretty does. Here goes:

To prepare, I cut the kernels off an ear of fresh corn, stirred up the remains of a pot of rice, chopped onion and minced garlic, sliced four small carrots diagonally, shook out about a cup of frozen peas, sliced a few green onions and mushrooms and cut up three of those small, sweet red and yellow peppers. I also went out to the garden and cut about 10 large Swiss chard leaves and removed the stems, chopping the stalks as well. Sliced some cheddar cheese and got out my grater and block of Parmesano Reggiano. Ready to roll.

To roll, I sautéed the mushrooms in olive oil until they were nicely browned, then added the Swiss chard stalks to soften and threw in a big pinch of Herbes de Provence before adding the rest of the ingredients in order - onions and garlic, then carrots and peppers, then rice, corn and frozen peas until I had a wide pan full of a bright vegetable confetti. The peas and corn weren't even cooked and the rice just warmed.

I laid out a Swiss chard leaf in a roasting pan, covered the leaf end with a slice of the cheddar, grated on a little Parmesan, and spooned in a nice dollop of the veggie mixture. Folded over the two stem ends of the leaf left from removing the stalk, and secured them with a toothpick through them and into the leaf below. Veeerrrry carefully flipped it over to end with the cheese on top without spilling the contents out the sides or tearing the fragile Swiss chard leaves, and lined each successive leaf up in the baking pan.

Into a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, then turned off the oven and left them to rest still inside for another 10. I didn't want to overcook them but I wanted to make sure the cheese was melted. The chard relaxed down onto the filling, the cheese got all melty and wonderful, and the combined flavors and textures in the filling really gave our mouths something to think about. Everyone agreed it was spectacularly delicious and Mark was actually talking to himself. Makes a Fairy Godmother feel proud.

To credit where it's due, the idea of subbing in Swiss chard for cabbage to make rolls came from Cookiecrumb, who left me a helpful comment when I wrote about my noble Swiss chard plant. I think she had something else entirely in mind, but I wouldn't have thought of this use without her tutelage. So, Cookie, thanks - you're da bomb!

The visit was a delightful surprise, as were the veggie packets. All in all, just the kind of surprises I like best.



Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Hey, close enough for government work.
I think you did a beautiful job.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010  
Blogger kudzu said...

I hope Tim burst into song! (Is he in the arts, now???)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Cookiecrumb, thanks - it was so good, we were all "mmmmm-ing."

Kudzu, it's Mark who did the bursting into song but, no, he's not a performer. He did exclaim to himself, however, and that's enough for me. Sweet.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010  

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