Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eating Omily: You're Toxic, I'm Slipping Under

It's been a bakey week in my apartment.  Jealous?  First there was the strawberry-rhubarb crumble, built to simultaneously make the best use of one of my favorite fruits, and use up the the last of the frozen strawberries.  It worked gloriously.  I've been eating it for breakfast with plain yogurt on the side most days.  Then, there was the chocolate silk pie, necessitated by the soft tofu languishing in my fridge a few days past the use-by date.  The pie came out delicious, too, but that's another post.

Let's get back to one of my favorite fruits.  Ah, rhubarb!  Mysterious, tart, floral, astringent, citrusy, complex, and...highly toxic!  What's not to love??  Ok, maybe that's just me being attracted to danger...besides, the rhubarb stalks we eat are substantially less toxic and are probably safe to eat raw!  The leaves that grow at the ends of those stalks on the other hand...those can kill you dead.
So, when was the last time you tasted rhubarb?  Was it in the form of a store-bought strawberry-rhubarb pie?  Odds are all you tasted was strawberry.  People are never brave enough with their rhubarb.  Personally, I prefer a straight up rhubarb crisp, so I can really get right into those tart flavors...rhubarb is also laughingly easy to turn into jam!  Just let chopped rhubarb sit with an equal amount of sugar overnight, then bring to a boil, and keep boiling for five minutes.  When it cools, it will be jam.  Feel free to can it, freeze it, use to ingratiate yourself to anyone who invites you to brunch, spread on toast and waffles, etc. etc. etc.

The wikipedia page for rhubarb offers this little gem: "It [rhubarb] has also become a common nickname for women in Vermont."

Another thing, aside from being toxic and a woman in Vermont, that makes rhubarb special is that it is a rare bird, indeed: a vegetable that is treated like a fruit.  We all make a fuss about tomatoes being fruits treated like vegetables, but they are far from alone.  The entire squash family: zucchinis, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, etc. are fruits.  So are cucumbers.  On the other hand, no other veggie is treated like a fruit the way rhubarb is, and, in fact, in 1947, a court in New York ruled that rhubarb is a fruit because of the way that it's used, even though it is decidedly not a fruit botanically speaking.  Crazy renegade judge!  That, too, is courtesy of the Wikipedia page.

But speaking of rhubarb, because we are, it occured to me the other day that though I offered a sweet Summer libation recipe, I offered nothing for those who might be teetotalers!  Are there any teetotalers left?  Well, maybe you're just on a cleanse and avoiding anything that makes your liver work hard.  Either way, I have a sweet Summer potion for your drinking pleasure, too!

Rhubarb Soda.   Yay! 

Take equal parts water and rhubarb, and add a quarter cup of sugar for every two cups of rhubarb, and half a vanilla bean, if you can be bothered to get one.  Chop the rhubarb into small pieces, and combine all the ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring it up to a boil, then reduce the heat, and let it simmer till the volume has reduced by half, and the rhubarb is falling apart, about fifteen minutes.  Strain the juice from the rhubarb, and you'll see more rhubarb magic: the juice will be a delicate pink, and the pulp will be a warm green!  You can discard the pulp of course, but why would you?  It's tender, and sweet with vanilla syrup!  I like to stir it into plain yogurt for a tasty, tart snack. 

Refrigerate your rhubarb syrup, use or freeze within five days, and when the mood strikes, put ice in a glass, and add one part rhubarb syrup to three parts of soda water.  Swirl your rhubarb syrup around before pouring, to mix in all the little solids that precipitate out when it sits in the fridge.  Yum!  Light, sweet-tart, refreshing, and the color of a ballet slipper.  If you aren't cleansing, you can also mix it one to one with tequila over crushed ice for an incredible take on the margarita.  Do that.

Rhubarb is also precious because it has a short season.  Which is!  Don't miss it!  Buy too much, then blanch and freeze to keep those amazing rhubarb flavors happening all Summer long.  After a taste of this poison paradise, you might be addicted, but you won't be sorry!

[insert Britney's "Toxic" here]

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