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Roasted Rhubarb

This has been one of the coolest, wettest springs on record in this area. We've had two good gully washers and a lot of small rain showers. The wildflowers rejoice. The trees, however, have been losing their footing.

When a tree falls out here, it doesn't so much matter if someone hears it or not, but it does matter if the tree falls across the road. You see, out here, when a tree falls across the road you don't take a detour because there isn't one. You don't call the folks who maintain the roads (unless it's really bad) because who knows how long that'll take. You either rely on your own trusty chainsaw or a friend who has one, and you clear it out yourself.

There are a lot of things you can say about mountain folk--those people whose families have lived in these hills and hollers for generations. You can say they're suspicious of outsiders, they're reclusive, they're hardened, they're close-minded. But for all that, they're enterprising people, and where would we be without our neighbors, chainsaw permanently stowed in their pickup trucks, always ready for the next downed tree?

The past two and a half years we've spent in these woods have been difficult in many ways. At times, I think we both felt adrift, as if we had been picked up by the scruffs of our necks and dropped in a vast and unfamiliar sea. Often, solitude morphed into isolation, and neither of us were prepared to deal with such profound and total loneliness.

On the other hand, I've seen more incredible sunsets here than I will probably see the rest of my life. I've been able to step into my backyard and go for a hike; walk less than a mile and go swimming. I certainly have mixed emotions about leaving, but leave we shall. And soon.

John and I are preparing for a cross-country move at the end of the month. Moving is never easy, and it brings with it a perpetual feeling of displacement and disarray. You uproot your possessions, stuff them in boxes and set down somewhere else. It all has the surreal feeling of a Sisyphean effort--physically and emotionally taxing work that will be repeated again and again throughout your life.

But we're looking forward to being propelled into a new place that will inevitably challenge our expectations and improvisational skills. We'll find our "forever home" someday, and we'll try to enjoy the process in the meantime.

All the packing and stowing has been punctuated by rhubarb, which is a great mercy. Few fruits pack as intense a punch as rhubarb, with its blushing stalks, great ruffled leaves, and cheek-sucking flavor. I find it a relief to have rhubarb after a long winter of mealy apples.

But now, rhubarb calls to mind something else for which it is perhaps not known. Rhubarb is a perennial, meaning it sticks around. In some cases, it does so for as long as 15 years. It is a marker of home. It is made possible by permanence, planning, forethought. I imagine it taking root at the home I will someday inhabit, perhaps between the garden and the chicken coop.

For now, though, I satisfy my spring cravings with the store-bought stuff, and its character seems not to be diminished by its journey. One of my favorite methods for cooking rhubarb is roasting. Rhubarb, to be such a sturdy plant, tends to melt into a silky puddle when you cook it. This is fine for pies and compotes, but sometimes I'm after a bit more structure.

A high-heat roast with a bit of sugar seems to do the trick. I love pairing orange and ginger with rhubarb. They seem especially apt. But you can use your imagination and do as you please. Serve the rhubarb over ice cream or yogurt, oatmeal, or with shortbread cookies. You might even make it a component of a more complex dessert, such as a crumble or cobbler.

Other articles you might enjoy: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Fettuccine With Salmon and Asparagus, Asparagus With Orange and Hazelnuts

Roasted Rhubarb
Makes enough

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Trim:
           1 pound rhubarb
Toss in a roasting pan with:
           1/4 to 1/3 cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
            Zest and juice of one orange
            1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (from a 2-inch piece)
            One vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped out
Roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 to 20 minutes.

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John and I are stalwart and undeterred cooks. Generally speaking, provided a recipe or project doesn't require expensive ingredients or equipment, we're game.

It's not that we don't have...