Poppets, do I have a story for you. Four days before my manuscript due date, last Thursday, to be precise, I woke up feeling rather strange. This strangeness got worse all day and by the end of it, I found myself in the hospital with an anesthesiologist pumping stuff into my arm just before some very nice doctors relieved me of my appendix. Ain't that a kick in the head?
I got out of the hospital yesterday and am feeling a little bit like I got hit by a truck, both literally and figuratively. My head's still all woozy and I have the oddest tugging sensation on my insides and the deadline situation makes me want to cry and I really want to take a shower and it would be lovely to be allowed a cheeseburger for dinner instead of broth and boiled zucchini and to top it all off, I can't stop thinking about how, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, my life probably would have ended rather abruptly at 33. (Of course, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, a great many things probably would have ended my life much sooner than at 33, but logic and rational thought are not having a great day right now in the Mind of Luisa, so bear with me.)
I am trying not to wallow too much in the vat of Self-Pity (see Not Being Born A Pilgrim and so on for reference), but abdominal surgery, a missed deadline and the lack of a daily shower is starting to take its toll on your heroine. But before I slide completely off my rocker into the deep end, I need to quickly tell you about something sort of quietly wonderful.
It starts with my balcony, a little patch of white-tiled space nestled into the corner of our apartment building. By some stroke of luck, though it's on the courtyard side of the building and we are surrounded by apartments on all sides, no one can actually look into our balcony, which would be lovely if we were the type to sunbathe naked and as such is just sort of nice because we can have lunch out there in the summer without feeling watched (old Berliners love to watch people) and because I can neglect the plants out there without anybody giving me a disapproving look.
The only plants I have growing on the balcony are herbs, because I hate buying herbs only to see them grow black and moldy in the fridge and because I like my balcony plants to be useful, not just pretty. (Even if I do go and neglect them every now and then). I have high standards for plants, you see. So I've got two types of mint, oregano, thyme (that keeps migrating from its pot to other pots, magically), basil, rosemary, a very sad lavender bush and an exuberant spray of sage. So exuberant, in fact, that it sometimes feels as though it could be growing about half an inch a day.
The sage got to be a bit of a problem, in truth. To use it up, we tried eating a lot of ravioli in sage butter for a while. Surprisingly, that gets tired pretty quickly. So when I stumbled across David's method for using up sage, I never looked back. He first got the recipe from his friend Judy Witts Francini and, folks, it is a secret weapon if I've ever seen one. Now let me be clear: I have always nursed a healthy suspicion of herb salts. Or herb rubs. They seemed like a gimmicky way for chefs to sell products in grocery stores. The idea of cooking with them left me cold. But David has never led me astray. In fact, I'd probably eat a cold rubber tire if David told me that, marinated in Korean chile paste and sprinkled with sesame seeds, it tasted good. (Actually, that does sound good. Sweet cracker sandwich, people, I need some real food.)
So I cut back my sage and rosemary plants, chopped them up very finely with a mess of garlic and a big spoonful of Maldon salt and then let the mixture, sandy and herby and fragrant as all get out, dry on my kitchen counter for a few days. When it was good and dry, I packed it into a little jar and forgot about it. Really!
Weeks later, starving on a Sunday night, we had nothing but some nice bread and some very ripe tomatoes in the house. No cheese, no pasta, no nothing. Rummaging through the cupboards, I stumbled upon my herb rub. On a whim, I decided to quick-roast the tomatoes mixed with the herb mixture, liberally splashed with olive oil. What emerged from the oven was rather difficult to stop eating, especially when we started dragging the bread through the herby, tomatoey olive oil at the bottom of the baking dish. Next up was a pot of beans that I'd cooked into creamy submission, but that desperately needed some pepping up. I spooned the beans into a baking dish, mixed them with a bit of the herb rub, a good glug of olive oil and a few shreds of canned tomato and put that in the oven until the house smelled like a rustic Tuscan lodge (or something). We put pieces of toasted peasant bread into our deep soup plates and ladled the baked beans over the bread and attacked. Dinner was a quiet affair that night, nothing but spoons clanking against plates and lips smacking.
The herb rub has pepped up rice salads and simple roast chickens, a lackluster pork tenderloin and countless pots of beans. I've dipped into it over and over again until, a year later, the jar's entirely empty. Which is serendipitous timing, because my sage plant has gone into overdrive once again.
To sum it all up, people, you need this stuff in your stash. It will make countless Sunday night dinners, when you're cobbling together weird little meals out of odds and ends, that much better. It will make you seem refined and with-it when you mix it with olive oil and set it out for nibbles with some nice bread before dinner. It will help your balcony looking neat and groomed and, best of all, it just tastes so good.
That is all. I feel better already.
Makes 1 small jar
A very large bunch of fresh sage, two to three times as much as the rosemary
A large bunch of rosemary
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon Maldon salt
1. Pick the leaves off the sage and rosemary stalks. In a small food processor, chop up the herbs with the garlic cloves and salt until the mixture is pretty fine. Discard any sticks or seeds.
2. Spread the herb mixture on a baking sheet and let it dry for about three days. Once dry, store your herb in a tighly-sealed in a jar for up to a year.