I opened Facebook yesterday and was greeted at the top of my feed by one of those flashbacks. You know, where they remind you that, “however many years ago on this day” something you definitely don’t want to forget happened. Most of these memories, I truly don’t want to forget. Like the time a friend made me drink a (glass) boot full of beer on my twenty-third birthday and I didn’t know I was supposed to drink it “toe side down” and it belched a giant air bubble that sent German Dunkel dribbling down my new blue birthday dress. Or the day our Bourré went for his first real, all-four-paws-off-the-ground swim – age: six, location: Trillium Lake, level of embarrassment when other lake-goers audibly laughed at his very spastic attempts to swim like a real lab: high. Other times, the memories are things I could do without. Times I’ve asked for collective support or prayers from my Facebook community, following loss or illness or the like.
Yesterday, though, the memory brought a little bit of both.
“Exciting news!” I’d scream-typed on the screen, three years ago on April 17th, 2014. “Barrett and I are officially the proud new owners of a cute little 1902 Portland bungalow!” I then proceeded to ask for advice on mowing laws and home repairs because on that day we knew how to do neither.
I read the text and looked at the faces of two younger, more twenty-something versions of ourselves, me wearing a bright red lipstick that’s still my favorite and he in a pair of dark jeans which, incidentally, just bit the dust about a month ago. Because for all of the power tools we’ve learned to use in homeownership and boat ownership, one thing neither of us has mastered yet is a sewing machine. Maybe in our old age.
The house looked eerily similar to how it looked when we left it behind last fall – in need of a coat of paint but cheerful nonetheless. I remember the feeling on that afternoon we’d received the keys to it and posed for the picture Facebook was showing me – that I would never ever, not in my wildest most swimmingly colorful dreams, leave that house. It was our home and Portland was home in a way I had not felt before. My heart felt full of hope, and despite my wanderlust tendencies, we were committed to laying roots right there. In the nearly three years that followed, we traced every block of our new neighborhood on foot. We walked to yoga classes and to our neighborhood park and to wine tastings and to probably every restaurant and food cart that was within walking distance. We walked in the sun, in the snow, in the never-ending springtime rain.
For every foot of front yard space that the Facebook photo had captured in its frame, memories came back miles wide.
The bar just eight blocks to our southeast, with the soft light and the smoky whisky we’d often sip on with friends. The one just five blocks north of us that served the best seasonal slushes. The restaurant four blocks to our northeast, our spot, with the bartender who knows us by name and by beer preference and whose menu never failed to be more seasonally on point, and more affordable, than even the showiest of restaurants in town.
It ached a little to think of it all. Then again, I guess that’s just the flipside of wanderlust. For every scene of bright blue waters or fresh caught crab or sunrises watched with no hurry or rush of life, from the bow of our new-to-us sailboat home, in complete solitude, with no neighborhood anything, there is also an accompanying memory of the opposite, things that still attach us to those earlier, paler, Portland versions of our selves.
With that in mind, let me say more about that restaurant, the hyper-seasonal, laid-back one in Portland with the bartender (hi, Matt!) who knows our names and favorite beers. It’s a place called Grain & Gristle. And when Prestel invited me to be featured in a collaborative cookbook, featuring thirty top food bloggers from around the world, we had just gotten back from a meal there that I couldn’t get out of my head. Do you ever have that happen? You eat something that’s so different, so special, that you just want to have it again and again, in your head and on your plate and even beyond it? This meal was that.
It was also, against all odds, made of green beans.
Green beans really have gotten the shaft over the years, don’t you think? In my kitchen, I tend to make them mindlessly, with olive oil and salt, or to toss them with yesterday’s ham hock and cook them down into a stew if we need to stretch them to feed many people. But this green bean salad was warm and bright and filling and had just the slightest sweetness of summer in the form of a nectarine dressing. But it was a sweetness that was offset from the addition of sherry for smoke, which kept the dish from falling into a too-sweet-like-dessert category. This one was full-blown savory.
I became obsessed with this salad and worked on recreating it in our home kitchen. All through last summer, as green beans poked out from our trellis of our former backyard – damn, I miss that backyard – I plucked them and pulled them and made them into nectarine-dressed salads.
Well, I’m proud and also a little surprised, to say that Chocolate + Marrow blog is now officially in print in Beyond the Plate: Top Food Blogs from Around the World. Two recipes each from thirty different (and insanely talented and thank-my-lucky-spoons-and-spatulas I can’t believe I’m included in this group) food bloggers appear in it – for me the first is one of my reader favorites and the other my take on Grain & Gristle’s Green Bean Salad. There’s also a kind yet probably overly generous introduction that makes my cheeks flush a little when I read it, so I do my best not to look at it when I open the book as well as a Q&A where I reveal my most treasured kitchen utensil, spoiler alert, it’s a utensil that’s also used in hair salons.
It’s nice to have the book finally in my arms, though. Like the Facebook photo from three years ago, it brought memories of earlier times, rainy springs turned into sweat-stained summers, meals, homes. Portland, past. And it feels good to have it now, in the small stack of cookbooks that are accompanying us on our journey through the seas.
Want to win a copy of Beyond the Plate: Top Food Blogs from Around the World for yourself? Just leave a comment below, telling me what place you’ve felt most at home over the years—think broadly—it can be anything from a plane circling your home airport to your childhood backyard to a neighborhood bar. I’ll choose a winner on Friday, April 21 at 7pm EST, just be sure to leave an email in the box so I can reach you if you’re the lucky winner!
- About 1 cup (240 ml) extra dry sherry
- 1 nectarine, cut into chunks
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ jalapeno, seeds removed and roughly chopped
- ground pepper
- ⅓ cup (75 ml) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
- 1 pound (450 g) fresh green beans, trimmed
- 4 ounces (110 g) Burrata or other fresh mild cheese, such as goat or mozzarella
- 1 nectarine, cut into wedges
- 1 jalapeno, cut into paper thin rounds
- ¼ cup (30 g) almonds, preferably Marcona, crushed
- Minced chives, for garnish
- In a small bowl or airtight container, pour enough sherry over the nectarine chunks to completely cover the fruit. Cover and let sit until softened, about 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the nectarines and transfer to a blender; discard the sherry. Add the vinegar and jalapeno to the blender and puree until a smooth paste forms. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then transfer to a small bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the green beans and cook, undisturbed, for 6 minutes or until beginning to blister and char. Stir, then continue cooking another 6 minutes or until tender. Season liberally with salt. Transfer to a platter and top with burrata, nectarine wedges, jalapeno rounds, and almonds. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, garnish with chives, and serve.