The Stars Hung Upside Down

It is an odd time of year.

The temperature has cooled slightly in Virginia, and in the digital world, a metaverse virus is teaching epidemiologists about the spread of disease.

Opening up a package from a producer at work, I found 3D glasses, which my colleague Cameron proceeded to rock (see below) and then attempted to conceal at his desk;

Cameron Nordholm

I managed to recover the glasses so others in the department, including Abby and someone wearing a fez, could see the telescope print in 3D.

Abby and Fez 3D

Similarly strange produce appears at market, notably Saturn/saucer peaches, prized for their aesthetically-interesting shape, lower acidity, and subtle almond flavor, that continue to command incredible prices at farmers’ markets and in groceries.

donut peaches

My favorite round eggplants make an August appearance, with purple tan lines around their albino collars,

purple eggplants

along with the red-headed stepchild of the eggplant family:

orange eggplants

I think. I’m less concerned about positively identifying this vegetable than noting its presence—like my new Hefeweizen of choice, the Harpoon UFO (UnFlitered Offering) with rings around the logo, I’m more comfortable lately classifying objects as unclassifiable. Orange eggplants must mark some shift in the universe…

Restaurants update their menus in late August to reflect the season, and at Mas, Dana, Ben, and I picked this partial-peck of pickled peppers as we sipped sangria.

pickled peppers

They arrived looking like swollen pimento olives, but even better, they were filled with jamon and manchego—a nice proportion play, distantly related to a Scotch egg, and perfectly suited for a tea party or an upcoming picnic in the country.

pickled peppers

Continuing my color exploration, I was delighted to find royal burgundy beans at one of my favorite Charlottesville City Market sellers, Waterpenny Farms, recently.

purple beans

Trying to explain my find, I realized that we label to a certain type of long, slender bean by its green color; exulting over “purple green beans” in the phone call I placed to a friend likely sounded a bit like I had downed a few Hefeweizens before morning market.

The purple beans become green when cooked, and I referenced their original hue by reducing shallots in balsamic vinegar, then stirring in the butter and beans before plating the dish and driving to Will’s a few Sundays ago.

balsamic beans

Balsamic green beans (makes half a pound): cook beans in simmering water for 4 minutes. Drain and shock in ice water bath. In emptied pan, reduce 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar to one tablespoon with one diced shallot. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and add to beans.

Will’s elegant apartment was immaculate, as always—his Asian travels explaining the red accent pieces and the thoughtful furniture placement.

will's house

We all envy Will’s personal style, Juan-Carlos most obviously that Sunday, as he appeared in the same shirt in a different pattern. (Will matched the rosé, though.)

shirt twins

I am still unclear as to why there was a stake at the head of table, but we did claim the yard, someone proclaiming our gathering exactly what conservatives most fear—a group of intellectuals liberally pouring wine and opinions into the late afternoon.

Will's table

There are a few traditions by now: Will presents an expertly-spiced protein main (beef rendang this time), Ben unearths a casserole recipe from his childhood, and Dana riffs on potato salad.

The chocolate tart I brought worked for dessert, (the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver’s recipes are wonderfully consistent),

chocolate tart

and Jason could not stop smiling as he ate one of Claire’s warm cookies.

cookie

We laughed and we danced, sometimes at the same time,

laughing

dancing

before raindrops forced us from the table—and we rushed through the screen door, wiping wet hair out of our eyes and peering out as we matched the storm pour for pour…

I tend to brush my (rather short) hair back from my forehead when I approach a market, taking a moment to revel in the activity before focusing.

farmers' market

Then, I seek out tomatoes,

cherry tomatoes

trying not to be distracted by purple vegetables like beautiful turnips

turnips

and candy-striped beet stems.

beet stems

Synaesthetic food names always enthrall me, and Waterpenny Farms’ “music” garlic made a wonderful mojo

music garlic

for camarones el mojo de ajo (simmer five large cloves in half a cup of olive oil for twenty minutes and use two tablespoons of the oil to cook peeled, deveined shrimp for four minutes on medium-high heat, turning once–top with sweet garlic),

camarones

and for roasted zebra stripers

stripers

coated in a tangle of linguine with big corn, another gift of recent market weeks.

linguine

Market bouquets have been glorious,

market bouquet

market bouquet

market bouquet

but the flower I’ll remember was last Saturday’s red lily. The Twin Oaks vendor shared a few of its many names, including Resurrection Lily; one more name can’t hurt, so I’ve christened it the Lobster Lily.

lobster lily

Close to the Twin Oaks vendor is Biodiesel Man from Planet Earth Diversified; he sells microlettuce like “nano” mustard greens grown for a vineyard restaurant.

(I like to mix mustard greens with arugula and a lemony dresssing to convert some unsuspecting friend who firmly believes lettuces have a mild, if any, taste.)

micro mustard greens

We are at the peak of tomato and pepper season, and I smile at the rainbow arrangements—the food scholar inside my head planning a lesson about vegetables, diversity, genetic inheritance, and tolerance.

tomatoes diversity

pepper diversity

Last Saturday, a woman sat spinning, smiling sagely as children approached her wheel in wide-eyed silence. She didn’t look up as she spun, and I imagined her a Mrs. Who figure, quietly spinning between two jewelry stands for some unexplained and likely universe-altering reason.

spinner

Back at the house, deciding not to make a stew on a Bunsen burner, I read under the canopy of trees on the back porch, looking up to see the first leaf that had turned, yet another seasonal reminder.

turned leaf

In the spirit of experimentation, I made elote, roasted corn with mayonnaise, cheese (I substituted Parmesan for Cotija), and spices, from a great Homesick Texan recipe;

elote

and squash blossom quesadillas with Queso Asadero and garlic chives.

squash blossoms

squash blossom quesadillas

squash blossom quesadillas

This is meditative food, really, meant to give you pause at the slight crunch of the squash blossoms, the tang of Asadero, and the kick of aioli on creamy corn. (Fresh corn is often overly sweet, a veritable sugar land, which genuinely nettles me.)

Right now I want nourishing surprises, vegetables that beguile, garlic that sings, and afternoons with friends to laugh at the rain as we dance anyway…

dancing

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