Dishing at Crossroads (+ Preserved Lemons)

I convinced my new friends Aaron and Margot to let me photograph their lunches at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue today. If you tell people you have a food blog, apparently you can get away with a lot of things.

But let me back up.  Aaron, Margot, and I are all part of a group called Leadership Tomorrow, and we were at Crossroads for conversations around neighborhoods and community-building.  We had just heard Ron Sher (the developer/philosopher of Third Place Books fame) talk about excessive consumption and the need for gathering places that add value and connection to our lives.  He talked about bridge-building social capital (as opposed to bonding social capital where people like each other because they're exactly alike) and how Crossroads Mall is one model of that. Walking around trying to decide which of the (non-chain!) restaurants was most tempting, the lunchtime hum was more like a plaza or piazza than the washed-up old strip mall some passerby might take it for.

My picture-taking launched Aaron, Margot and I into an animated discussion about food.  It's not every day you end up mutually referring to page 19 of the January issue of Saveur after only 5 minutes of conversation.  Aaron has been curing his own meat, and described with passion the prosciutto that was developing  a fine layer of mold in his laundry room. Margot has been training in the Seattle rain to ride her bike from Rome to Tuscany in June.  At the end of her bike ride, she's taking private cooking lessons from an Italian chef.  We talked about recipe-cataloguing methods, favorite places to shop, and the (acclaimed) Spinach and Mint festival that's been going on in my kitchen this week.  Somehow, I think Ron Sher would have been pleased.  At the risk of butchering several metaphors at once, food is the Third Place of conversation topics.  Or something like that.

I managed to work preserved lemons into our conversation (not hard to do) and even grabbed a lemon off Margot's plate to illustrate my point.  Margot said she's never had a stranger just take something off her plate before and that I really must be excited about food.  I promised I'd post Paula Wolfert's preserved lemon recipe if they would read my blog.  In addition to being a lemon-grabber, I am also unabashedly desperate for praise and recognition.  Margot, I hope you get constant sunshine on your culinary bike trip.  Aaron, I hope I get to try your bacon someday.

P.S. Bought this magazine at Crossroad's newsstand today and feel two ways about it-- 1) Can't wait to read it with a glass of wine and make a list of all the restaurants I want to try 2) I know I'll be annoyed at the snootiness.  If this blog is ever snooty, please rub a preserved lemon in my virtual eye.

Paula Wolfert's Seven Day Preserved Lemons

4 ripe lemons

2/3 c. kosher salt

1 c. fresh lemon juice

olive oil

Scrub the lemons and dry well.  Cut each into 8 wedges.  Toss them with salt and place and place in a glass jar with an airtight lid (I get the kind with a latch from Cost Plus.)  Pour in the lemon juice.  Close the jar tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days, shaking the jar each day to distribute salt and juice.  To store, add olive oil to cover and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Psst...what does one do with preserved lemons?  Traditionally, just the rind is used and it's usually cut into thin slivers and added to olives, salads (green, grain, bean), salad dressings, pasta, or things like Moroccan chicken.  I often use the whole thing, though, pulp and all.  My mom has put the pulp in Bloody Marys before.  Yum.  If the whole idea of preserved lemons seems esoteric to you, you can substitute lemon zest when people like me call for them.  If the idea just seems mildly esoteric, make a batch.  You won't be sorry.  And you'll feel so smug when you see the little jar of them at Whole Foods for $20.