“If all I have is now, where do I look for joy?”-unknown
There is nowhere I would rather be today, than walking this winding, wooded trail with you. The sky is blue and cloudless. Snow sticks in places around the roots of Ponderosa Pines, their trunks uniformly bent at the bellies as if poised for one great, synchronized swan dive into the lake, slick and black and silent below. The ground is dry, too dry for this time of year, but the honeysuckle is in bloom, and California Lupine. At times we are silent, I in my mind, you in yours. I fall behind and there you are–all shoulders and hands and too thin legs. Your straw hat a distinguished touch. Your gait steady and strong. Your pace never falters. At times we are silent but mostly we talk–about the shingles needed to finish the shed face; the places we’ll go (Croatia, Greece, the campsite under a quaking grove of birches in northern Arizona); about naturalists; about nature; and when to refinish the peeling porch table. We speak half sentences to cue old jokes known by rote, no more need for the punchline. We trade anecdotes. We synch our breaths, and our steps, and the afternoon tumbles along unfolding into one endless, honeyed hour. We do not discuss how few shared days remain–what you’ll see in the arctic, what I’ll find in the pines. You call out the names of wild natives, I pick up the perfect stones and we review the contents of the fridge and what we’ll have for dinner–the tender lettuces, a plate of lentils, the last of the very good cheese.
A Plate of Lentils, Plums & Chevre
1 1/2 cups puy lentils
3 ripe but firm plums
1 head endive
4 green onions
4 T hazelnut or walnut oil
2 T sherry vinegar
1/4 cup hazelnuts or walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup good chevre (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, cover the lentils with about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the lentils are al dente, about 20 minutes. Once cooked, drain in a colander over the sink and let cool slightly.
While the lentils are cooking, toast the nuts in a dry pan over medium-high heat, stirring the nuts of shaking the pan back and forth occasionally to avoid burning. When the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned, pour onto a clean countertop or a small bowl and let cool.
Slice the green onions into thin rounds using the whites and the greens. Place in a large bowl.
Slice the plums into thin quarter moons and add to the onions. Slice or tear the endive (depending on how you prefer it) and add to the bowl.
Add the lentils, nut oil, sherry vinegar and a good pinch of salt and crack of pepper to the bowl and stir well to combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Gently fold the toasted nuts into the lentils. Taste again and add more nut oil, salt, and/or vinegar as needed. The lentils will soak up a lot of each of these before finding balance so don’t be afraid to keep tasting and tweaking until all the flavors sing.
Top each plate with crumbled chevre.
Note: If you have time, and especially if you would prefer to have this be a vegan dish, I suggest roasting or grilling the green onions before adding them. You can also char them directly over the flame of a gas range, turning with metal tongs until they are charred on the outside and soft on the inside. This will give an extra level of depth to the flavor of the dish, especially if you aren’t adding cheese.
One More Note: You can make this one day ahead of time and the dish will be even better by the time you eat it. If you make it a day early, don’t add the nuts–which will sog–until you’re ready to serve.