seven days until spring

and it couldn't come any sooner! i am a sucker for warm weather. and it's not just the cute cotton dresses, or the mister softee jingle, or those briny ocean waves. what i really also love about seeing crocuses, and longer days, and cleaning out the backyard ... are the first arrivals of the new local spring produce. one of the first to come bursting from the dregs of winter are artichokes. or fartinchokes if you really must know what the mimis call them at home. don't tell me i didn't warn you!

artichokes should be heavy, fleshy, and the leaves should be tight. they don't have to look pretty or unblemished, as the outside appearance of the leaves typically do not indicate its freshness. there are many ways to cook artichokes, but my absolute favorite is steamed. no matter how big, i can always eat an entire steamed artichoke all on my very own, thank you. back in the day i used to eat them with melted butter. but now i just make a super simple vinaigrette, heavy on the lemon juice, with just a bit of salt and pepper. wow. easy, easy, easy, but a great reminder that even sunnier days are yet to come!

tips for steaming and eating artichokes:

1. trim the stem, but not too short, so it can stand upright. run artichoke under water, rinsing the outer leaves and flushing the inside of the leaves.

2. set the artichokes in a large pot of water (about an inch or so covering the bottom of the pot). squeeze lemon juice directly over the artichokes, and add lemon slices (a few juiced), peppercorns, and bay leaves. be generous with the lemon; i typically use about 3-4 lemons. bring to a boil and cover to steam. make sure to keep watch that the water doesn't boil away and add more if necessary.

3. artichokes are done when the outside leaves can be pulled off fairly easily. it should be about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size.

4. discard a couple of the outer leaves if they are too tough. then pull off each leaf, dip into vinaigrette, and scrape the bottom of the leaf with your teeth. with a really delicious artichoke you can usually eat quite a bit of the inside of the leaf, not just the bottom part.

5. once down to the soft inside leaves, pull off and discard. you'll then have the fuzzy choke. scrape or cut if off with a small knife. you're left with the most delicious tasting "heart". dip into vinaigrette, close your eyes, and sail off to artichoke heaven!

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