Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lilacs, Saffron and Spring Cleaning

Steely grey skies.
Soft, intermittent rain.
Clogged and overflowing gutters.
Soggy remnants of the Autumn firewood stack. 
Such are the images of Winter in Portland, Oregon.
Then it happened...


Crocus, Daffodils, then Tulips and now, those lavender cones of fragrant bliss:  Lilacs!
Is it age, maturity, failing eyesight or a heightened sense of smell that makes each Spring a genuine wonder?
The perfume of Spring waits for that first sunny week, then, begins her slow, seductive promenade; tempting, beckoning her pale and moss covered Northwest admirers to join in the stroll.

A massive, twenty five foot laurel hedge in our back yard began by offering a wall of sweet, mouth filling aromas and a layer of fine, ochre dust on our cars and patio.  Ah yes, the first smell of Spring! 

About a week later, she came out of nowhere.  She always does.  As our heads were spinning from the shock-and-awe of tulip color and variety, this quiet, old-fashioned girl who blends into a crowd year-round with her spindly branches and generic foliage, shed her horned rimmed glasses and unbuttoned her winter coat to reveal a figure and color that stopped men mid-conversation.  

She stopped me!

A recent return home from work found my Lilac had gone from bud to bloom.  I lept across a crowded yard, took her in my hands, cupped her blossoms to my nose and gently inhaled; bringing her close, then pulling away, raising my head with each gulp and slowly closing my eyes. 

Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.

Delicate on the front palate and unctuous on the back, she was sweet and didn't run off; she lingered, just like I remembered her.
It will only be two weeks, but, we'll have the time of our lives and enjoy each other's company till her Mother calls for her to move on...

What if I could have an aromatic flower that didn't run off with the season, one that would be there for me 24/7, 365?   Is that so much to ask?  Hell, we can put food in a box and cook it in two minutes, video chat a Sherpa going up Everest and watch a YouTube video on how to rebuild a car engine using only your left hand and a pair of vice grips.  Why can't I have my aromatic flowers year round?!

Look no further than your pantry, dear Chef!...

...pulled into the driveway after work a couple of weeks ago and as I opened the door, I could smell it!  No, 'twasn't the Garden Girlfriends, it was something savory.  Before my second foot hit the pavement, it hit me: Saffron.  My Loverlu was in the kitchen simmering some kinda rice dish with the pungent stigma of the crocus sativus. 
"Sausage, I'm getting sausage..."I whispered, "and bacon.  She's probably using bacon fat..."
Sure enough, up through the kitchen vent and wafting through the neighborhood, Lisa was simmering a pan of 'Spring Cleaning.'

"Hey, whatcha got here?" I asked dropping my shoulder bag at the front door and leaning towards the kitchen. 
"Oh, nothing, just some saffron rice with stuff I found in the fridge...cleaned 'er out!" she proudly claimed.  My Loverlu is a master at combining bits and pieces of this's and that's for a hearty, country dish. 
"Found a couple of sausages, half an onion, some kale, left over chicken and that chicken soup you made for breakfast the other day.  It was really concentrated; had set up like gelatin!"  Oi!  If you want to bring out my inner-Jewish grandmother, tell me the clear chicken stock is jellied!

The 12 inch pan had a matching glass lid on it which I thoroughly love, 'cuz then I can watch as things are progressing.  Thin wisps of steam steadily pumped from a couple of vents between the lid and pan, filling the kitchen and our address with rich, singular saffron aromas.  'Fred' our Chinese exchange student came shuffling in, clad in a bathrobe and dragging fuzzy slipper-clad feet down the hallway.  Drives me nuts, BTW.

"Mees-ess Queen, ah we sitting at the tay-boh?"  he inquired.  Sometimes it's a self dish up and Chu Yong will take a plate back to his room.  Drives me nuts, BTW. 
"Yes honey, we're at the table tonight.  Can you call Brendan?"

The high school boys rendez-vous in no time as the scent of simmering garlic, sausage, bacon fat and saffron have stimulated their salivary glands like no varsity cheerleader could.   

The table is set, beverages are poured, (Fred drinks warm water with meals, which drives me nuts, BTW) and we sit down.

A blessing is said.

Quiet.  The table is quiet.  Just the sound of forks and spoons hitting bowls. 

"What's that's like...different,?" asked Liam. 
"Oh, that's the saffron.  It's the stigma from a crocus flower.  These are from Iran; one of Dad's friends gave them to us." Lisa informed him, "There are only three on a flower and they have to be harvested by hand.  More valuable than gold per pound."

"Whoa, dude!  We're eating like golden flowers?!" he added between gulps, "I could sell this on eBay!"

No, just enjoy it at home.  These flowers reside on a pantry shelf and the dishes they provide along with the company they keep, are priceless.   

Pantry Paella: serves 8

Bacon fat, you should save all your drippings.......2 Tbls.
Sausage, any kind you like..........1 lb.
Chicken, pieces, ......about a pound or so
Onions, peppers, any remnant veggies...........about 2 cups, cut fork-sized
Garlic, fresh chopped (don't use that crap in the jar already minced!)....2 Tbls
Tomato, if you have any.....up to a cup
Leafy greens, spinach/kale/chard....up to 2 cups, chopped
Short grain rice, like Arborio or even Japanese sticky rice....2 cups
Rockin' chicken stock or left over soup........4 cups.
Saffron threads, darker red the better.......about 8

Place bacon fat in a pre-heated, 12" skillet.  Once melted, add the meat products and cook to desired crispiness.  Add the Onions and veggie remnants from the 'Crisper Section' of your fridge and saute' to done.  Add the garlic and stir for a couple minutes.  Add tomato, leafy greens, rice on top and spread around evenly with a spatula.  Next add the stock, soup or whatever and place saffron threads evenly distributed over dish.  Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cover till all liquid is absorbed.  That's when there's practically no steam left. 

It will be slightly sticky and shiny from all that wonderful fat and flay-vuh!  Dish up in bowls, pour yourself a glass of gutsy red wine, stand in the middle of your kitchen and in front of the children, kiss your lover on the mouth for 3 seconds. 


Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


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