By Clotilde Hryshko
In the 1991 movie Raise the Red Lantern, the character played by Gong Li was wife #4 to a lord of a powerful family in 1920’s China. The wives all ate together and they knew each other’s status partially based on the food served. Gong Li’s character always desired spinach and tofu. The movie stuck and replayed in my head for many reasons but her continual requests for this dish became my fixation.
Many years later at the end of a rainy June market we had lots of spinach left. I wasn’t in the mood to freeze it and took the opportunity to finally come up with my version of “spinach and tofu”. I crumbled tofu with scallions in a skillet and cooked them until the water had evaporated. The spinach I steamed in batches and when cool squeezed out any excess water. I added the chopped spinach to the tofu, salting to taste. From there I used this as my filling for egg rolls. It became one of my favorite dinners to make for Father’s Day. I take no credit for how well the tofu and spinach work together. Nor is there any claim to authenticity. I serve the egg rolls with a sesame-chili paste, sometimes adding peanuts.
This year we have had a phenomenal spinach crop and the egg rolls have been made twice. I use 4 ½ pounds of spinach to make 20 egg rolls. Dinner and the next day’s lunch from this effort – that is a seasonal splurge. The goal is always to enjoy and be ok when the harvest is over. Right now we are doing the same with strawberries. Enough have been frozen to carry us through November to May but not quite enough have been eaten fresh to say goodbye. With enough effort we will get there. Done with asparagus, on to peas, and so it goes.
I had the same mindset the other day finishing up my second weeding of the asparagus rows. I thought about how much I depend on knowing each hedgerow for each part of the field. (If I am to the 4th maple heading south then I am 60% there and should be done by 10am.) All these predictions/revisions are continually keeping my mind busy as I proceed down the field with a particular task. We have multiple hedgerows – the maple/lilac mix along the road, the disease resistant elms (3 types) on the other side of the road, the yard with its maple, lilacs, black currants, magnolia, rugosas and lilac tree. I know that Jim knows what birds have nested in each of the trees for the past several springs. I know somewhere all the lilac varieties are written down. I also know I have probably been disappointed by each of these when I’ve looked up to judge where I am in my task and thought I was further along. I’ve been up and down these hedgerows thousands of times. They mark not time but the task.
So hopefully I get through a season of not cursing a particular tree too many times. Hopefully we get pleasantly tired of those treats that appear for only a few weeks. And hopefully we enjoy our food for what it offers and not for any of the social trappings we impose on it and ourselves. (Photos by Marya Merriam)