Real Cooking

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
Not too long ago our country home was a peaceful sanctuary slumbering in the quiet solitude of winter. But then the rains came…and came and came.

And with the rain, there suddenly came a tapping….

“As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-only this and nothing more.”

Sorry, I’ve always been a big Poe fan.

Actually, when the tapping started, I knew exactly who our “visitor” was.

“Keith,” I shouted. “Come in here and listen to this.”

I was standing in what we call the sunroom, a part of the new addition we had built onto the back of our house.

After three days of continual rainfall, my farmer-husband wasn’t in the best of moods. Choring cattle in the rain and mud will do that to a person.

As he entered the room, a rythmic tap, tap, tap sounded from up above our heads. Outside, the steady rain pounded against the side of the house and through the windows we could see the trees swaying in the wind.

Keith listened for a moment and said something about a piece of insulation coming loose. The winter weather had set in before we had gotten all of the rockwork done on the outside walls exposing the unfinished sides to the weather.

“I’ll have to go out and tack it down,” he said with a sigh.

“I don’t think it’s insulation flapping around,” I smiled a knowing smile. “It’s the woodpecker.”

Ah…the phantom woodpecker.

Since we put up the new addition, I have told Keith about the woodpecker that swoops out from under the overhang every time I open the doors that lead to the deck.

“You had better get that peak finished and covered up with rock before that bird makes a home up there,” I would admonish my husband.

But because Keith had never seen the bird, had never had to duck and cover as the thing flies out from its home in the eaves, he would always give me a “yeah, yeah” type of answer. I really think he thought I was imagining the entire thing.

“Woodpecker in the attic, right. Bats in the belfry more likely.”

But now, as we listened to the continual rat-a-tat-tat coming from the ceiling, I had his full attention.

“It’s been raining so hard and for so long that the poor thing can’t go out and find a tree to work on,” I said sympathetically. “So now it’s pecking on the rafters.”

As soon as the rain stopped, Keith and his dad, Bert, started laying rock up the sides of the addition. They have strict instructions to humanely remove our feathered friend from the attic before putting the final stones into place.

No bird is getting walled up alive at my house. Isn’t that another Poe story?

Now that the sun is shining and the temperatures have grown milder, we haven’t heard our bird tapping of late, but the frog chorus has begun its springtime choral. Judging by the sound, I think a few new members have been added since last year.

Our property is surrounded by water on three sides, and the croaks and the ribbit-ribbits coming from the creek and the pond are at times almost deafening. They sing an incessant, froggy song building up to a crescendo at about eight o’clock every night.

The huge bullfrogs, with their clear baritones, haven’t joined in as yet. Maybe it takes them longer to wake up from their winter slumber. Perhaps the rains weren’t a signal for them to start their springtime song.

That’s OK. The cardinals and the bluejays are making up for them. Every morning at dawn, a male cardinal sits outside my bedroom window and greets the sun with his song. It’s lovely, it’s mesmerizing…it’s annoying at that time of the morning.

Howling coyotes, frogs, raccoons rummaging through the garage (who left the door open?), singing birds, chirping crickets, hooting owls, barking dogs (at the raccoons rummaging through the garage), mooing cattle…whoever said that the country was quiet and peaceful never lived out here.

Every animal on God’s greening earth is looking for a mate at this time of year and they go about it so noisily.

Aahh, it’s springtime in the country.

* * *

Spring has sprung. Time for asparagus and strawberries, new potatoes and legs of lamb. I love spring.

Asparagus and Mushroom Salad with Shaved Parmesan

1 pound medium to thick asparagus, ends trimmed

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, stems trimmed even with caps

4 medium radishes, halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise

2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 bunch watercress, coarse stems discarded

1/4 pound piece Parmesan cheese at room temperature

With a sharp knife, cut asparagus diagonally into very thin slices and transfer to a large bowl. Halve large mushrooms. Slice mushrooms very thin and add with radishes to asparagus. Toss salad gently.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard and salt. Add oil in a stream, whisking and whisk until emulsified. Drizzle dressing over asparagus salad and toss gently. Grind pepper over salad.

Spread watercress on a platter and top with asparagus salad. With a vegetable peeler, shave half to three fourths of Parmesan into curls over salad, reserving remaining cheese for another use.

Cook’s notes: OK, to my knowledge, you aren’t going to find watercress anywhere in Marion County. Substitute another type of green. I would suggest Arugula, but you probably won’t find that either. Romaine lettuce might be your best bet.

I would also suggest that you blanch (that means cook ever so slightly in boiling water, perhaps 30 to 45 seconds) and then cool the asparagus before using it in the salad. Blanching brings out the beautiful green color of the vegetable. Be sure not to overcook, as you want a crunchy, crisp bite.

By the way, you do know that when I say, “trim the ends of the asparagus,” that I’m only speaking of the stemmy end, not the head. Right?

And please don’t even think to use the dried Parmesan cheese that comes out of a shaker can.

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