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July 24, 2008

Chard, My Love

in gluten-free,semi-vegan,vegetables,vegetarian

In food, as in love, when I tend to fall I fall hard. My stomach seizes up in a fierce knot, and I find I have little appetite for anything other than coffee, wine, water, and a few slices of cheese here and there. I tell myself at these times: be still my heart — and my stomach. In Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, which I love so dearly and consider to be perhaps the most perfect book ever written, the main character, who studied to be a doctor, wonders why the liver is not the organ of emotion; the heart is made of much stronger stuff.

For me, the organ of emotion is the stomach.

I can chart my emotional turbulence or content by the way my stomach feels, and how much sustenance it will allow me to consume on a daily basis. My heart beats on steadily and carries me through miles run and blocks walked, uncomplaining, but my stomach is sensitive, fragile. It tells me when I’m stressed, or unhappy, or blissfully content, or nervous. I am more attuned to its whims than I am to my steady heart, and (sometimes) mind.

Luckily for me, though, my love affair with chard has defied this precedent. As I’ve been falling deeper in love with this crinkly, tender green over the course of the summer my stomach has gently welcomed all with which I have plied it. It’s no wonder, then, that the other night I made for dinner a main dish starring chard, served with a side of chard, and finished off with chard ice cream (kidding about that last part — really. But would it be good, I wonder …?).

I have made a spinach-and-brown-rice gratin, swapping chard for spinach and omitting the olives (oh, and using pine nuts and a bit less cheese); I have sauteed tender and sumptuous new chard from my generous boss’ garden, in just a bit of olive oil and red onion; and I made a sort of chard-and-red-potato gratin from my own imagination for dinner the other night.

[As an aside, I love that my friend gently teased me recently that I am made so happy by the farmers' market, and how she likes that I am so inspired; it's true! I love my farmers' market unashamedly, and it never gives me a stomach-ache. Not to mention that when I unabashedly exclaimed to my favorite farmer: That is a beautiful bunch of chard! he not only didn't think I was a nut, he thanked me and perhaps even blushed.]

What can I say? We’re having a full-blown romance that I swear is not just a May to December thing. It’s for real (no, it is!).


[Bits of chard, July 2008.]

Yesterday was a picture-perfect, slip-it-into-an-envelop-and-write-home-to-mom-and-dad sort of sunny afternoon. How we have been missing those here in the city by the Bay! I think one thing about living here is that I’ve been taught appreciation; I’ll not take sunshine for granted anymore, and while I may feel chilly at night, I tell myself it’s the natural air conditioning that makes it so, and do I really want to live in humidity again? (I’ll test this supposition by visiting DC the last week of August, and reminding myself.)

I am on the cusp — of vacation, of Indian Summer, of a new decade, of so many things large and small. I am missing people who are scattered all over the continent (and globe; unexpected voice mails from England will make my day, just so you know) though emails and phone calls somewhat suffice (and texts! J’adore the text messages, bien sûr). My stomach of late has been a bit finicky and temperamental, but luckily there are months still for chard to flaunt its brilliant green leaves throughout the markets — and it will soothe and smooth me out until the season’s turn into brilliant blue fall.

What is your favorite way to fête my amour?

Chard and red potato gratin

This is very easy, very quick, and doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients. I was a little nervous it would be too bland but! Chard came to the rescue and this gratin was flavorful and tender, even a day later.

One large bunch chard, washed and chopped with the ends removed
7 red potatoes, thinly sliced
2 tsp. oregano
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Steam the chard in a frying pan with a splash of water for about 5 minutes until it is wilted and tender. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes very thinly. In a baking dish, rub a bit of olive oil and place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Cover with chard and sprinkle with half of the cheese and the oregano. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Repeat the process to make another layer, then cover with a final layer of potatoes.

Drizzle with olive and salt and pepper and place in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Vegans: omit the cheese, and I think it will still be delicious.

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