Thursday, September 10, 2009
The End of Summer
(George Street, Chicago)
I always drag out each season to the last possible minute, and then some. I was still stewing dinners, warm and slow, when June came around. Even though by then winter was long gone. And now, at the last possible minute as the fall is inching it's way in, I finally managed to put together a gazpacho. Last of the tomatoes, the peppers, and the cucumbers for 2009 (at least seasonally speaking).
(I made this gazpacho with some Greek yogurt to cream it up a bit without leaving it heavy.)
As I was contemplating this transition into the orange and yellow glow of autumn, I came across a sunflower, flush with the sun's seeds at the farmers market. Nothing depicts the end of summer quite like a sunflower drooping heavy with it's seeds. I've been watching a patch of sunflowers in front of a lovely house on George Street in Chicago every time I peddle past on my bike and it was just today that I saw that they were not only well over 7 feet tall but that the bigger ones were starting to droop their heads and looked so human I almost expected them to yell hello as I zipped past.
And then I came across one of their cousins at the farmers market, nipped off at the neck with just it's head full of seeds - I've never actually harvested my own seeds out of a sunflower but I have to say it is one of the more pleasurable food activities I have partaken in. Popping each little seed out makes you relish it that much more when you munch it on your mouth. It also will never cease to amaze me how many little tiny seeds fill the smiling face of a sunflower!
When I lived in Beijing my roommate whom I still miss all the time, introduced me to the Beijing variety of sunflower seeds. There were all kinds of flavors and we would sit there for hours crack, open, crunch, crack, open, crunch, crack, open, crunch. It was soothing. It was a lovely way to chat endlessly. She of course had years of experience doing it and was about five thousand years ahead of me in the matter of the crack-open-crunch but I managed to fare well towards the end of my time living there. Crack open crunch. So lovely.
So, sunflower seeds in all their sunny glory - what are they good for? Well, they are very beneficial to the lung and large intestine according to Chinese Medicine. They are also very tonic for the stomach and nourish your 'essence' (all the good stuff: blood/yin, moisture, elasticity). Maybe those "good for you" explanations are too lofty for you. If you want to be more specific, sunflower seeds will treat hyperlipidemia, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and they are great in cases of weak digestion where you still want to get some essential fatty acids into your system. Native Americans used them as a diuretic. They are the perfect antidote for all that good and plentiful summer living, full of grilling and chilling, it's time to substitute all that bounty with a little lighter yet still hearty fare.
While the fresh seeds tasted wonderful raw, I wanted to keep them for longer than a week so I soaked them in salted water for 8 hours, laid them out the next day on a baking pan with a sprinkle of salt, and roasted them for well over an hour at 250 degrees fahrenheit (you will need to test the doneness yourself if you do it at home). Enjoy.