Caroline Barrett

Good Food for Slow Times

Here’s my May 2023 Times Union story. You can see it on their website here, or read below. It goes along with recipes for Hazelnut, Feta and Carrot Tart, Seared Scallops with Green Spring Salad and Iced Fruit Tea Mocktails

Caroline Barrett
Searing up scallops for a spring salad.

A thing happened this spring that slowed me down for a while. It changed life for a good month or so, and while it wasn’t all fun and there were some hard times, I used it as a chance to stop and take a look around, smell the roses, linger over a cup of tea, write in a journal and be thoughtful. The stuff we don’t usually do, because we’re too busy. The thing that slowed me down was a surgery, to fix some of the plumbing, as my husband likes to say. This is a food column and so I won’t go into details, but I’ll tell you this: first, I’m fine. Pretty good, actually. And getting better every day. But the important thing is that I really did slow down, and it felt good. 

I did a lot of walking during recovery. I walk a lot anyway, with my husband, with my dog, with anyone who will walk and keep up with me. I tend to walk very fast, arms pumping, long strides, trying to get in as much cardio as possible. But this spring, there was no arm swinging, only slow, meandering, short walks. I couldn’t take Martha along, because she is big and pulls hard on her leash, so she watched me go with sad puppy eyes. Here’s the thing: the thinking is different on a slow walk. There’s more time to take things in, look around, notice the green splendor of spring. Taking a slow walk on our beloved rail trail, I couldn’t help but notice all of the leaves and their many different shapes. I don’t believe I would have been thinking about leaf shapes had I been walking fast. 

Slow became a way of life for me in other ways, as the doctor instructed me to eat slowly, in small bites, chewing, chewing, chewing. At first, it felt like torture, but that turned into acceptance and finally, appreciation. It went that I could only eat tiny bites of soft food (not fun) and then more textures in larger amounts, but still, slow, careful chewing. It made me want to wolf down pizza and steak sandwiches, French fries and licorice. But, I bided my time and followed doc’s orders. I’m eating what I want now, but still: slow. 

The slow thing has two sides. There’s the slow eating, which will be around for a while. But this time in my life also has allowed me to take my time, cook things that aren’t hurried. I’m getting used to it. I’ve included recipes here that are meant to be enjoyed, prepared and consumed thoughtfully. 

The tart recipe is a gathering and combining of foods I love: nuts, cheese (especially feta cheese) and carrots. I cook and eat a lot of carrots; they truly are a workhorse in the kitchen. Crunchy and refreshing when eaten raw, shaved in salads, baked into cakes and you can braise, sauté and roast the heck out of them, and still, you have beautiful color, sweet taste and whatever texture you desire. And, carrots stand out in all seasons. Here, slender spring carrots are simply roasted and then pressed into a creamy filling made from feta, a touch of garlic and tart lemon. I used thyme leaves for a bit of herbaceousness, but you could use basil or dill instead. Be sure to roast the carrots until they’re fork-tender, so the tart slices cleanly. All of the cheese and vegetables are held with a crust made from ground, toasted hazelnuts. It’s a bit of work, preparing the crust, and I enjoyed the process of toasting, rubbing the skins and pulsing into flour. You could buy hazelnut or almond flour, or make a savory tart crust with wheat flour. Using nuts adds, well, nuttiness, and it goes well with the cheese. This tart is good made a day ahead, and would be lovely to bring to a spring gathering, served for brunch, or wherever people are relaxing and eating slowly. It’s best served cold. 

Next up is a dinner I made for my husband and I, when I was inspired by the rich greens all around us. There’s something about being outside, when it’s just begun to feel warm and there is green everywhere, that makes me crave it on my dinner plate. I paired all the greens in my crisper with fresh scallops, for a quiet dinner. We are seafood and scallop lovers, and I will buy wild-caught scallops for a dinner that’s easy, but feels like a special occasion. It takes some time to dry them out to get a better sear so, unless they’re dry-packed, sprinkle them with salt and then let them drain on paper towels for an hour or so in the refrigerator. I seared the scallops in a cast-iron skillet, moved them over, and then added the assortment of vegetables to the same pan for a quick warm-up, until they turned bright green and crisp, yet tender. It doesn’t matter how much time you have on your hands, cooking a nice dinner for the person you love, and doing it in one pan, is a win. You could substitute shrimp or salmon for the scallops. 

Lastly, I include a recipe for a festive, sweet mocktail. This one was dreamed up because part of my recovery plan is drinking lots and lots of warm water. So I sipped and sipped and sipped. Water can be boring after a while, if that is all you are drinking, and so I pulled out a few tea bags, made some sun tea, and then added lemonade for a touch of sweet and sour, and seltzer for some bubbles. Here’s how to do it: put one or two tea bags in a tall glass and set it out in the sun. After an hour or so, remove the tea bag, divide the tea between two ice-filled glasses, top with lemonade and a splash of seltzer and garnish with some pretty berries or lemon. I believe these taste better when served in a fancy glass. Either way, it feels good to sip it slowly when you’re in the sun. These mocktails make for a great post-gardening afternoon elixir or pre-dinner cocktail hour. You could make them more grown up by topping with Champagne instead of seltzer. 

For a while, I thought that this healing time, the few weeks I was forced to slow down, would change me. Maybe, I thought, I’ll become a person who chews thoughtfully and stops to smell the roses. But, no. I’m nearly healed and already, wolfing (albeit baby wolfing) and swinging my arms to keep up with Martha as she charges ahead. I sure did enjoy the slow time though, and maybe, now and then, I’ll pause to notice the greenery and enjoy a sweet drink in the sun.


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