Each time the second grade comes to the garden, I relay a story from Ms. Beetle. Ms. Beetle is a character that the children met last year during their first grade visits to the garden when they heard the Tales of Adventure. Ms. Beetle is a beetle of course, who came to St. Anne's to live after she lost her job downtown as a chef. She retains a keen interest in cooking and looking after her garden friends. Her stories for the children comprise a collection I've named The Memory Kitchen.
In second grade the children cook as part of their job rotation. Each visit they make something different, a recipe that has as its main ingredient something that in season from our garden. During the winter those ingredients were leeks and wild onions. Ms. Beetle adopted the recipe from a book called Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, an accomplished vegetable-oriented chef in London. The title of Ottolenghi's recipe is "Leek Fritters", but Ms. Beetle changed the recipe's name to "Fritrasses" instead.
You can read the story behind the recipe and its name here. The fritters are delicious, by the way!
Happy new year, Second Grade!
Who, among you, likes to invent things? Who feels like they’re always full of great ideas for solving problems in creative ways? Well, I’m proud to say that I consider myself a beetle of big ideas and full creativity. Not only that, but as you might have guessed, I have a big heart as well.
Let me share with you one of the inventions I am most proud of: Frittrasses! You see, dear Second Grade, as you remember I’m sure, I used to work downtown San Francisco in a very fancy restaurant. I had a good life there, working hard, dining well, spending my days with my friendly colleagues in the kitchen. However, there was one little bit of sadness to my life while I lived downtown, and this was due to the fact that in order for me to walk from my home to the restaurant, I had to pass along many streets which were crowded with critters who had no home.
Yes, it’s sad to say, but there is a part of our great city where many critters just like me, or the common garden snail, the slugs, even some butterflies and moths, live out their lives without homes on the streets. If these homeless critters are lucky, they’ll bed down in a park, where at least they’ll find soft space among the greenery of trees and grass. But many of them are old and weak, and must lay their heads at night along the hard concrete, wrapping their bug legs around themselves or weaving a coat of slime to keep warm.
Nights after work I would pass these critters as they bedded uncomfortably down. On occasion I would stop to talk, to offer some company and a listening ear. I often brought food with me from the restaurant to share. One old stick bug, his nickname was Branch, he liked to tell me stories from his childhood, from the time when he was small and flexible, able to climb up any tree trunk and hide on any branch. I asked him finally what had happened to make his old body so bent and brittle. He told me that life in the city had been hard on him, and once, the tree he was hiding in had been trimmed, and he and the branch fell to the ground, the branch landing on top of my friend Branch. That accident left him crippled and unable to climb trees again. Imagine the difficult life of a stick bug who can’t climb trees!
In the mornings I often brought my friends hot cups of tea to make their start to the day more bearable. Daisy, an old lady bug with one broken wing, was usually the first person I saw. She usually slept in a crack near the wall of my apartment, trying to shelter herself from the wind. Daisy gulped her tea down and neatly wiped out her cup, handing it back to me so I could use it again. Daisy didn’t like to talk much, but over several years I learned her story. Daisy had lived her good years with 100’s of other lady bugs in the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. They fed together on plump aphids, played together on the rolling green lawns, slept in the sweet smelling shelter of the tropical flowers. One day, however, just as Daisy was about to settle down and start a family of her own, a large storm blew into town. Daisy had been out that morning, and was too late taking shelter in her normal garden spot. The wicked winds picked her up and carried her toward downtown. As the wind roared around her she held her wings open, hoping to ride the lashing breeze safely down to the ground somewhere. Unfortunately, she was not so lucky. The wind carried her at full speed into the side of a tall office building downtown, breaking one of her wings as it pressed against the glass. She fell to the ground and limped to safety, but has never since been able to fly off to greener places, and so does the best she can downtown.
As the winter holidays approached one cold year, I decided to do something for my homeless critter friends. I decided to knit them each a blanket with which to keep warm and comfortable. Unlike you, I had never learned to knit, and tried to teach myself how to work those needles and yarn into something wonderful.
I went at it for hours and days, and dear Second Grade, you should have seen me: all tied up in knots, yarn balls rolling everywhere, needles flying and poking my thighs, blisters on my finger tips, and nothing that looked even close to a blanket. Knitting was proving very difficult for me indeed.
I began to worry that I would have nothing to offer my kind, needy friends for the holidays. I knew what they needed: food and comfort, but my knitting was a complete mess and would prove hopeless as a gift.
I took to my kitchen and began to cook which always made me feel better. I had eggs and flour and spices and milk. I had just a few leeks in my cold storage. I decided to whip up some leek fritters for supper. The cooking process brought me great joy, and before I knew it I had six plump leek fritters on my plate just waiting for me to enjoy them. They looked like a little stack of yummy pancakes just sitting there.
The sun was setting as I began to feel full. I decided to take my two extra fritters downstairs to give to Branch and Daisy. When I got to Daisy she was just packing her things away near the crack, preparing to lie down for the night. When she saw the fritter in my outstretched hand, she took it with a smile and said “Thank you! This is wonderful!” I was just about to apologize that it was no longer warm, when I saw with surprise that she laid my delicious leek fritter on the ground and proceeded to lay her own body on top of it.
“Daisy!” I exclaimed. “Why, what are you doing? That’s meant to be your supper!”
“My supper!?” answered Daisy. “I thought it was a new mattress to lay my weary back.” She continued to lay on top of the leek fritter, with a contented smile on her face. “You know,” she added, “this does smell might tasty” and she leaned her head to the side and took a small nibble. “I’m eating my mattress!” she exclaimed with glee, “and it tastes so good!”.
I stood there not sure what to make of this. “Well, goodnight Daisy,” I said. “I’m off to see Branch now.”
“Mmmm, bye,” Daisy chewed and dozed, all at once.
When I got to Branch, I held out the fritter to see what he would make of it. He took the plump little pancake out of my arms and laid his right down on the sidewalk. “A green mattress” he sighed. “How kind of you. And it smells so good I could eat it!”
“Well, Branch” I replied, “You can.”
And this, dear Second Grade, was the beginning of my new food I call “Frittrass”. You know, half fritter, half mattress? Once I saw how much Daisy and Branch loved their frittrasses, I made more and more for all the homeless critters in my neighborhood. I noticed that each frittress lasted about three nights, before the critter ate so much of it that there was no soft part left to sleep on. I saw many frittrasses that were eaten into the exact shape of the critter’s body, so that it was still just barely a mattress.
These frittrasses were my golden deeds, dear Second Grade. I made frittrasses for as long as I lived and worked downtown. Here at St. Anne’s, we manage to find each critter a home, no matter how needy he or she might be. We all take care of one another in this garden, so I haven’t needed to make any frittrasses. But do you know, this holiday season I got my recipe out and made some to take downtown, for there are still many critters there who have no soft place to call home.
Dear Second Grade, I realize these frittrasses will be too small to keep your big bodies comfortable, so for now, I thought you could just make some for eating, in honor of this season of Golden Deeds.
Enjoy them, and please think about ways you can be of help to others in need.
Leek Fritters: makes about 16 small fritters (from Plenty)
3 medium leeks, trimmed and washed
4 green onions, finely chopped
oregano, sage, and thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
2 whole eggs
2 cups plain flour
1.5 tblsp baking powder
1.75 cups milk
2T unsalted butter, melted
1. Cut leeks into 2cm (1in) thick slices. Saute the green onions and leeks in a pan with half the oil on medium heat for 10 minutes, or until soft. Transfer to a large bowl and add the herbs, spices, sugar and salt.
2. Fold egg whites into the vegetables.
3. In another bowl, mix together the dry ingredients with remaining egg yolks, whole eggs, milk and butter into a batter. Gently mix it into the egg white and vegetable mixture.
4. Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil into a large frying pan and place over a medium heat. Spoon about half of the vegetable mixture into the pan to make 4 large fritters. Fry them for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and keep warm. Add more oil to the pan, if needed, and repeat with the remaining batter. This amount should make about 16 fritters.
5. Serve warm with a squeeze of lemon.