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A Mindful Task


We didn’t have winter in Tennessee this year. I don’t know whether I didn’t get the memo or wasn’t invited to the meeting, but I’m sure I wasn’t consulted on the matter because I like winter and would have forcefully opposed skipping it. In fact, winter is one of the nice things about East Tennessee – although decidedly not charming.
It’s typically an ugly season – drab and drear with the bones of the hardwood forests displayed on the hillsides and the fields a sallow yellow color. It usually rains a good bit but, making up for the downside, in the past we could rely some really cold days and even a bit of snow. Just enough winter to make you long for spring and perfect weather for the soups and stews and braises that bring solace on cold nights when the wind drives rain against the windows sounding like a thousand snare drummers gone mad.
The lack of fresh local vegetables is made up for with the satisfaction of potato chowders, roasted beets, butternut soup, and sautéed winter greens. Winter is a great season for eating and one I eagerly anticipate each fall.
Nevertheless, by the time March rolls around I’m tired of the heavy winter fare and in turn anticipating the first spring lettuces, rhubarb, and asparagus. However, in Knoxville those treats are still a few weeks down the road and so, as far as I’m concerned, March is the real culinary winter.
This year it’s worse. The warm weather stole much of the savor from my usual winter meals and despite the warmth it’s still too early for truly fresh produce. I approach the kitchen with dread and a sense of hopelessness having nearly exhausted my ability to find exciting and interesting dishes. I’ve turned to making sausages and baking bread, to corning beef and simmering stock. And in these ancient tasks I’ve found small, often unexpected, delights.
Yesterday I warmed a couple of slices of home-corned, beef brisket in the microwave for lunch. That was all I planned to eat, I didn’t even feel like the effort of making a sandwich. But as the meat warmed and its fragrance escaped the oven and the fat popped and crackled I reached for a loaf of Cuban bread I’d made a couple of days before. I cut off a couple of slices and added them to the plate along with a dollop of brown mustard. Using my fingers, I tore off a chunk of meat and a small hunk of bread, dipped them in the mustard, and found heaven. The rich, slightly sweet flavor of the bread toning down the too-salty corned beef and the mustard adding just the right touch of syncopation. Finishing the food, I licked the fat and gelatin from my fingers.


Posted by Kevin Weeks at 1:00 AM | Permalink

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