Thursday, June 14, 2012

pesto, pesto, pesto!

I have a startling confession to make.  Before I made it myself last summer, I had never eaten pesto.  Oh, sure I had heard of it, with all its basil-y, garlicky, oily goodness, but then it got so trendy and self-important that I just didn't even want to try it.  Years went by, and I didn't miss it.  Then, last summer, we finally had a wondrous crop of basil, so I thought to make some pesto with it. 

I got on line and read a few recipes, then felt that I was ready to try it for myself.  I will tell you what I did, although I hesitate to call it a recipe, really, as the amounts are sketchy, at best.  I went out and snipped off about one-third of the leaves from my basil plants. There were a lot of them - more than I expected.   I washed the leaves, still on their stems, thoroughly.  I picked the leaves from the stems, and rinsed them again.  I dried the basil leaves very thoroughly on old kitchen towels.
I gathered my other ingredients, which included fresh garlic, walnut halves, extra virgin olive oil, salt, freshly-ground pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese. Most recipes call for pine nuts instead of walnuts, but I almost always have walnuts on hand, and they are cheaper and healthier than pine nuts, so walnuts it is.  I put a big handful of basil leaves on my cutting board, and also eight or ten walnut halves.  To the top of this pile I added one garlic clove.  Then I just started chopping.  All of it.  Together.  It seemed to me like chopping it all together made it easier to do, so that's how I did it.  I chopped everything as finely as I possibly could, then I chopped it some more.  When it was very fine, I dumped the mixture into a waiting mixing bowl and covered it with olive oil. 

I repeated this process until all of my basil was chopped up.  I added too many walnuts, I think, the first time I made pesto, so have used them more sparingly since then.  I added about a half cup of the grated Paremesan, then added salt and pepper.  You don't need as much salt as you might think, as the cheese is very salty.  Glug in some more olive oil.  Seriously.  A lot of olive oil.  I don't think you can use too much.  At least I never have.  And that's it.  The pesto is finished.

That's the way Julie likes to eat it.  Just spoon that over some freshly-cooked pasta and enjoy. I prefer to make a sauce of it, however by adding a small amount of white sauce (one cup of milk's worth) to the pesto.  Do you see what I did there?  Instead of adding my pesto to the white sauce, I add the white sauce to the pesto, thereby controlling how much the pesto is diluted.  Heat through, but do not boil.  Serve over freshly-cooked pasta. 

Did I mention that I had never tasted pesto before I made it that first time?  I loved it!  What's not to love?  The ingredients are fantastic.  You eat it over pasta.  I couldn't get enough.  I don't know how many batches of pesto I made last summer, but it was a sad day when I pulled the last little container of pesto out of the freezer last winter. 

Today is a correspondingly happy day, however, as it is the day I made my first batch of the 2012 pesto season. Boil some water!  Prepare the white sauce!  Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I didn't know what it was at first, so I went over to have a closer look.  I thought it might be a pile of old quilt pieces.  It reminded me of Julie's double wedding ring quilts, pieced together from the colorful printed flour sacks of the nineteen-forties.  It had that soft, faded look to it.  But when I reached to touch it, it was much heavier and thicker than any quilt I had ever seen.  Why, it was a rag rug.  A really big rag rug, I thought, as I saw that it was one whole piece instead of several smaller ones, as I had originally thought.  I could tell that it was handmade, and the woman at the flea market booth piped right up to tell me, "It's handmade.  Go ahead and pick it up and look at it."  Her husband (I assumed) hurried over to unfold and lift the rug for me.  "How much are you asking for it?" I asked him, although I already knew I would buy it.  "Twenty-five dollars" was his reply, and I was sure.

"Look at this, Ben'" I said as he approached.  "We could put this rug out on the back porch."  But Ben didn't think that was a very good idea, and neither did the lady who was selling it, it seemed.  "Why, that's a work of art, " she said.  "It's handmade.  A lost art, really.  And I just took it to the laundromat and washed and dried it.  Don't let it rest on the ground like that."  (This last part to her husband.)  "Well, I'll take it," I told her.  "Is twenty-five dollars your best price?"  They assured me that it was, and I was happy to pay it, almost not believing my good fortune.  "I don't know where I'll put it, but I'll find a place for it," I told the woman, trying to re-assure her that I would take good care of it, and the rug was mine.  I was thrilled.

The rug was bulky and heavier than I expected as I carried it back to the car.  It smelled clean and freshly-laundered, not in a yucky fabric softener way, but like it had hung outside on a sunny day.  My mind was busy, running through possible places in the house for my new rug, but there was only one place to put it, really.  I wanted it at the foot of my bed.  It would be soft and welcoming under my bare feet.  The faded colors of the rug were the colors of the quilt on my bed and the prints hanging on my walls.  It would - dare I say it? - really tie the room together.

The rug looked even bigger when I laid it out on the floor in my bedroom.  It seemed huge, as big as my bed!  I measured it at 66" x 93" - five and a half feet wide by almost eight feet long.  Every new thing I learned about it made me love my rug more.  Ben lifted the end of the bed up so that I could tuck the rug underneath.  Need I say that it looks perfect there?  I couldn't be more pleased with it.  And in the late afternoon when the sun has warmed the house for many hours, my room smells like clean laundry.  I don't think it gets any better than this.  I wish the woman who sold me the rug could see it now.  I feel she would approve.