The sky is grey and a cool breeze whips through the tree branches. I watch from my apartment window as they wave back and forth, as if in slow motion, tender spring blossoms quivering. The rain pelts the window, “tap, tap, tap.” “Come in, “ I invite her. On Sunday I enjoy her company like that of an old friend who has been away for too long. Rain is rare in Boulder, Colorado. Snow, however, is a frequent visitor, often overstaying his welcome, as winter becomes spring. This year is off to a dry start, and summer in Colorado will be very dry- dessert like. The unexpected rain shower is a welcome guest I embrace, inhaling her perfume of wet grass, savoring the sound of each drop like laughter between friends. She takes me back to my childhood in Arkansas, where humidity was a constant companion and rain poured readily from the sky. These are good memories of green country fields cloaked in fog, sopping wet clothes from a surprise downpour, and playing in puddles.
I’ve always had a thing for the dark and broody, melancholy mood of a spring storm passing through. These days I savor the naps, cuddled up in a mess of blankets- me and the husband, our little dachshund snuggled between us. I listen as he breathes in and out deeply, and the dog snores softly. I am the last to drift off.
When we wake, the rain is still with us, singing softly. I put the kettle on. “Won’t you join us for some tea?” I ask her. She does not say no. Her presence is a peaceful, calming one, and we spend the day pottering about the apartment. He, watching telly, and me in the kitchen. I’ve got some artichokes and a couple fresh, pearly halibut fillets. The moment feels very much like spring, and I decide to cook a simple dish of braised fish and vegetables in chicken broth. I immerse myself in the task of preparing the artichokes, peeling the stem, cutting away the outer prickly leaves, and scooping out the fuzzy thistle. The rhythm of the raindrops lulls me into a meditative state as I peel, chop, and slice. In less than half an hour we’re at the table, slurping broth and delighting in the sweet, flaky fish. Suddenly it’s quiet, and we realize our Sunday guest is gone. For a moment, spring was at our table, and we savored every drop.
Braised Halibut and Artichokes
2 globe artichokes
2 slices of bacon, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 5 ounce halibut fillets, skin removed (ask the fishmonger to do this for you)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped mint
freshly ground pepper
1. Prepare the artichokes. Fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with water. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the water, and drop the lemon halves in the water. Use this bowl of acidulated water to keep the artichoke leaves during prepping, which will prevent them turning brown. Use a serrated knife to cut off the top quarter of the artichoke. Rub the top of the artichoke with the cut side of a lemon to prevent browning. Peel off the leaves from the bottom of the artichoke and cut off the stem off at the base. Using your fingers (carefully) or a paring knife, take off all the outer leaves of the artichoke. These leaves are tough and will not tenderize with cooking. Use a spoon to scoop out the hairy inner choke. Separate the tender inner leaves and drop them into the acidulated water. Set the bowl of water and artichoke leaves aside until ready to cook.
2. Heat a heavy, non-reactive pot (such as an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven) to medium heat. Add the diced bacon and cook for about 4 minutes until browned and the fat rendered. Toss in sliced shallot and sauté 1 minute more.
3. Drain the artichoke leaves and pat dry with a paper towel. Toss the artichoke leaves into the pot with the bacon and shallot. Stir to combine and then pour in the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cover the pot, cooking for about 10 minutes, until the artichoke leaves are just tender.
4. Season the broth with 1/4 teaspoon salt and place the halibut fillets in the pot. Slice the 1/2 tablespoon butter in half and put a piece of butter atop each halibut fillet. Cover the pot with the lid, and let it simmer five minutes more, until the halibut is just cooked through and flakes easily with a fork. Just before serving, garnish with chopped mint and freshly ground pepper. Serve with boiled potatoes or pasta.