The Veg Box Chronicles OR What You’ve Missed

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“There’s not enough creative spontaneity in my life,” I said. “I’ll take on a serialized writing project,” I said. I am reminded that “[Wo]man plans, and God laughs.”

We received a box for week three. It had good stuff in it, including a handful of garlic scapes that are still healthy and fresh-looking in their fridge hang-out. We cooked and ate well. A box for week four was delivered to our house, but we were away on vacation so our friends devoured the red and white cherries, fava beans, and plentiful greens. We rushed home early from our trip to a care for a very sick cat and didn’t think to eat food for three days, let alone check in with friends about what they ate while we were gone.

After a lengthy stay in the hospital, our oldest lady cat is somewhat more stable and resting comfortably at home between doses of her two strongly sedative anti-seizure medicines. Yesterday morning I ventured out to the grocery store to replenish some of what my sister calls our “weirdo foodie basics” like eggs, hummus, and lemon curd. And upon returning home, I found a pair of CSA boxes on the stoop.

The Take:

  • Carrots
  • Celtuce
  • Cherries, Red
  • Cherries, White
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Squash
  • Lettuce, Green
  • Lettuce, Red
  • Romano Beans
  • Spinach Greens
  • Spring Onions

Between jet lag, a dramatic inability to sleep for fear the kitty will hurt herself trying to get to us, and all of the post-traveling housework, recipe inventions are going to be light this week, but I have every intention of making these three dishes:

  • A quick bread stuffed with bananas, apples, and cherries;
  • A cherry clafoutis because I last made one in 2008, not long after I found the Smitten Kitchen blog;
  • A stir-fry using up the last leftover kielbasa from our Independence Day grilling, some garlic rice that our housesitters left in our fridge, and an assortment of vegetables: spring onions, carrot thinnings, garlic scapes, a firm green squash, a bit of shredded spinach. (I’ll make a sauce like this one, flavored with herbs from the garden.)

That covers tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be more rested or the cat will be content with less cuddle time by the weekend when it’s time to make a few jars of my spiced pickles. If so, it would be nice to try a simple onion soup or this recipe for Romano Beans with Stewed Tomatoes (since I picked up a package of bulgur at the market). Our yields are growing ever more cost effective, but I don’t want a single thing to go to waste this week.

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $6.47
    • Cremini Mushrooms (8 ounces, $2.49)
    • Limes (4, $1.00)
    • Romaine Hearts (package of 3, $1.47)
    • Sweet Corn (2 ears, $0.18)
    • Tomato (1 large, $1.33)

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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#EatWhatYouGrow: Rhubarb

I have been thrilled about this particular spring, with its chilly mornings and the need for jackets all the way til the first of June. The bleeding hearts, forsythia, hosta, hydrangea, ivy, and rhubarb in my garden have been busting out new leaves and vines and blossoms (where appropriate) everywhere. But with a few truly scorching days wilting my new bean shoots and the potted tomato plants on the deck this last week, it’s obvious that rhubarb season is drawing rapidly to a close. In the space between a few rain drops, I harvested the last of my stalks yesterday afternoon; the woodchuck who lives in a den burrowed into the stone cliff behind our house can have the little nubbins that are left.

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6 tender stalks of rhubarb, the last of our harvest for 2017

But what to do with them? We’ve already made:

  • Rhubarb Compote (with a few extra bits of fruit he likes thrown into the pot for other flavors), spooned over his birthday breakfast waffles;
  • Rhubarb Scones, with every imaginable spread, several weekends in a row;
  • Rhubarb Snacking Cake, because I trust every recipe Deb Perlman has written, especially those she describes as easy;
  • Rhubarb Honey Sorbet, specially made for some loved ones diet-managing their diabetes;
  • Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Banana Bread, because (1) those bananas were going to turn into bread on their own if we didn’t use them, and (2) he ridiculously maintains that banana bread should always have chocolate chips in it.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, described earlier this week.

All chopped, the yield was only about a cup of minced pieces, which I knew would cook down to just about nothing.

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A *very* scant cup of chopped rhubarb.

All of the recipes that looked interesting to me require more than that, so I had to get creative. Verdict: another Smitten Kitchen gem, Rhubarb Varied Fruits Cream Cheese Hand Pies.

He made the pie crust. (I have zero knack for it, even though this particular recipe is foolproof.) I made the cream cheese filling. I made the rhubarb filling. And when I had more than twice as much cream cheese filling as rhubarb, I made another filling from blueberries and apricot. And after several hours in the fridge, and over several more hours of do-a-little-work-then-chill-everything-back-down…

The rhubarb filling was just enough to fill 6 little pies, and they looked pretty sweet both before and after baking. (That pastry recipe really is amazing.)

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And the blueberry version became another story. Realizing how much blueberry-apricot filling and cream cheese filling I was going to have left over, I opted for something different. I rolled out the remaining pie crust for an attempt at my first ever tart with something like a pastry cream filling. I used a small, deep Corningware casserole dish rather than a shallow tart pan, layered the cheese and then the berries into the pastry, and attempted a “rustic fold over edge” that collapsed in on itself in the oven. It’s far from the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and he cut into it for our dessert last night before I could take a picture, but oh my word was it tasty.

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Dessert: a rustic” blueberry-apricot-cream cheese tart

So, rhubarb season is over. Not only did we not waste a single stalk of what we grew, every bite was delicious. This is year three of growing things-humans-can-eat in our little garden, year one of using up every bit of any one ingredient, and year one of loving everything we cooked with it. That’s a very particular kind of success.

 

The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 2

There was more kohlrabi this week.

I probably don’t despise this poor, water-chestnut-type tuber thing as much as I think I do, but I have been filled with commuter rage all week and whatever patience I once held to, tenuously, has long since been squeezed to nothingness in my clenched fists.

I chucked the kohlrabi into the compost bin, hard enough to knock it over.

And of course, the kitten went to town in her new playground of coffee grounds, broken eggshells, and disgusting vegetables that look like toy cat balls with legs.

Neither of those things happened, but imagining them made me laugh, so that’s something. And this week’s CSA share was something else:

  • 1 bok choi
  • 1 celtuce
  • 4 small cucumbers
  • 1 handful of garlic scapes
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 bunch of white radishes
  • 4 small zucchini
  • and, ugh, 2 kohlrabi

Tuesday night, he made a veggie-licious dinner. He grated all four of the zucchini into long, wide noodles, along with a pair of carrots from the crisper drawer, and tossed them with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce and white sesame seeds, then arranged them on a plate with a little quick-pickled cucumber along the side. For the protein, he laid a gorgeous piece of salmon on top, and topped it with another of the spring onions from last week’s share, which he split lengthwise; both were basted with Hoisin sauce.

After the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, we finished the last steps of a batch of particularly awesome Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. It’s a remarkably easy recipe for people who can stick to a schedule, which we can do very occasionally:

  1. Quarter 4 cups of strawberries. In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, combine them with 1 cup of finely chopped rhubarb and 2 cups of sugar, stirring well to distribute the sugar evenly. Cover the bowl and let sit, stirring occasionally.
  2. 8 hours later…
    Pour the mixed fruit into a pot and place it over medium-high heat until the liquid released by the fruit begins to boil. Stir in 1/4 cup of lemon juice and let the mixture return to a boil. At that point, set a timer for 5 minutes and stir continuously, adjusting the heat to keep the temperature high without allowing it to boil over. When the timer beeps, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it sit.
  3. 24 hours later…
    Set the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Set a timer for five minutes and stir continuously. When the timer beeps, ladle the jam into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

    Yield: 5 scant half-pint jars, if your husband sneaks some of the fruit out of the pot between boils, to make a dessert sauce.

Tonight’s dinner will be burritos (scratch that: burrito bowls, since the tortillas are past edible), made with last week’s lettuce; pulled-chicken and -pork leftovers from last night’s BBQ dinner out, combined with a few bites of skirt steak from earlier in the week; fresh avocado; and a salsa that’s about to be put together from two ears of roasted corn (nearly forgotten in the crisper), a roasted bell pepper, a roasted jalapeno pepper, the last spring onion, a small handful of chopped cherry tomatoes, and a small lime.

We haven’t figured out what to do with the rest of our haul yet, but I’ll share it when we do. In the meantime, our cost breakdown:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $7.14
    • Avocado (1, $1.49)
    • Green Bell Pepper (0.58 lbs, $1.15)
    • Jalapeno (0.10 lbs, $0.35)
    • Lime (1, $0.15)
    • Strawberries (2 pounds, $4.00)

By the way, it turns out he likes the bok choi after all–at least when it’s been sauteed with a little olive oil and a bit more of the Hoisin sauce, and tossed with a little leftover rice, and maybe a little leftover turkey. We still haven’t figured out what to do with kohlrabi, but bok choi definitely gets a star at lunchtime.

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The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 1

In September 2014, two months after I first moved from the City House to the Country House, we passed our pick-up-in-Manhattan-every-Thursday CSA share to friends who lived uptown, rather than cope with the steeplechase of office-in-midtown to pick-up-spot-on-the-UWS to train-station-in-East-Harlem to Country-House-in-Connecticut. I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since, but suburban CT assumes that tasks like Farmer’s Market shopping and CSA collection happen Monday through Friday during the workday. Not so much for us commuter-types, alas.

Luckily for us, an enterprising little business realized that the gap was an opportunity, and we discovered a CSA program with a weekly home delivery of fruits and vegetables, with a significant advantage over the other: no obligation to volunteer at the pick-up point. (I like community, and I like volunteering, but I prefer to be able to control the scheduling of mandatory hours.)

Anyway, back to our CSA. This past Tuesday was our first delivery day, and wow, am I loving having such a fabulous early haul to celebrate. In the first box, we received:

  • A bunch of spring onions
  • A bunch of green garlic (with scapes!)
  • A bunch of French radishes
  • A bunch of kale
  • An enormous pile of greens that he thought were maple leaves; they are, it turns out, a variety of spinach
  • Two gorgeous heads of green leaf lettuce
  • Two small bok choi
  • A big fistful of chives
  • Two small kohlrabi

That’s a lot of green for two non-vegetarian people to eat in a week, but we’re making the best of every delicious bite.

The chives were finely chopped into a rich creamy bowl of butter, which was whipped until all of the herb was incorporated, then wrapped in cling film and rolled into a tight cylinder, and chilled through in the fridge. Amazing on fresh bread, but even better when used to butter-baste a steak.

Garlic scapes and spinach were combined with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and herb- infused olive oil to make a smooth, fragrant, and super fresh-tasting pesto. It will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge, and we’ll use it as a thickener and flavor agent in sauces and dressings, as well as a sandwich spread.

The green garlic and kale went into pasta dishes – separately.

Much of the garlic’s stem was too woody to be used, but we sliced the bulb very finely, and sauteed it with some tiny, tender asparagus tips in olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper. The mess was then covered in petite-diced tomato and a fistful of fresh oregano cut from the garden, and the flavors melded over low heat while the pasta cooked. We tossed the sauce with fettuccine and parmesan, and ate it by the forkful (on Thursday) while watching an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on Hulu.

On Saturday, we cooked the remainder of that fettuccine, and served it with the Kale, which was tossed with a chicken breast that had been marinated in Italian dressing before a quick stir-fry, and halved cherry tomatoes, then stirred into the pasta with Ciliegine mozzarella and a heaping spoonful of our freshly-made Pesto. Our bowls were empty before the Signature Bake of Cake Week had been judged on S4E1 of The Great British Baking Show.

We passed both kohlrabi to our neighbor, since she expressed interest in a vegetable I can’t stand, and it’s likely that the bok choi will be composted since neither of us enjoy eating it. But the rest of our take is currently spread across the kitchen counters as he works on dinner: a Frittata with onion, asparagus, tomato, mushroom, and Wisconsin cheddar, served with  Hasselback potatoes, a green salad made of some of the lettuces, and pan roasted radishes (olive oil, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce).

The lettuce that remains will be tossed into a salad (tomato, cucumber, olives, and crumbled cheese left over from a party platter we made last weekend, dressed with some balsamic vinegar and a hint of the pesto). I have no idea what we’re doing with the rest of the onions, but they’ll have to be the star of Monday’s supper.

And since I’m a data nerd, I’m tracking what we spend on produce during CSA season, to be sure that we’re being careful stewards of our bounty. This week’s costs are:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $12.60
    • Red Seedless Grapes (2.74 pounds, $2.66)
    • Asparagus (0.77 lbs, $3.07)
    • Cherry Tomato (1 pint, $3.29)
    • Cucumber (1, $0.59)
    • Blueberries (1 pint, $2.99)

Hardware, Soft Crust

Painted in WaterlogueAlthough I like cooking over charcoal, the half-hour or so it takes to get the coals ready is often too long to wait–especially during the summer, when we frequently get home late in the evening. Her parents gave us a gas grill as a birthday gift. It isn’t one of those gigantic cook-for-an-army models with a footprint that would cover most of the deck; it’s a funky little number that looks like a flying saucer. Although it can be used on a picnic table, ours sits securely on its companion-model stand (which will fold to take very little garage space once the grilling season ends). It can be used with a small propane canister that connects directly to the intake valve, but her folks recommended we use it like they do–with a full-sized tank connected by an accessory hose (which, like the stand, was included in the birthday gift).

We love it. It heats quickly and evenly; the cast-iron grates are sturdy and easily cleaned; and the saucer’s “wings” are convenient for holding prep items.

But we’re not the only ones who are fond of it. For the second time since May, I went out to start dinner only to find that something had chewed a hole in the hose.

The big-box home centers in the area couldn’t help me, but I found a replacement hose made of stainless-steel mesh at a old-school hardware store. Helpful Hardware Guy said, “Yeah, we sell a lot of these. Something drips on the rubber hose, and a critter thinks it might be dinner.”  I’ll remember to wipe down the hose from now on, but even if I don’t, the metal mesh will give any prospective diners a toothache.

Since it was a sunny Saturday–unusually warm for mid-October–I used the now-functioning-again grill to make lunch. Grilling pizza is remarkably easy, and much faster than baking it in the indoor oven. I’ve had too many occasions where the pie won’t slide off the peel and makes a horrible mess in the oven. This one was perfect, with a crust that was both thin and delightfully chewy.

Helpful Hardware Guy Grilled Pizza

Stretch your favorite pizza dough into a thin more-or-less round. Brush the stretched dough with a little oil, put it oiled-side-down on the grate, close the lid and bake for about 2 minutes.  Remove it with tongs—it lifts right off without any sticking!—and brush the uncooked side with a little oil. Off the grill, turn over the crust. Put sauce, cheese, and any other desired toppings on the grilled side, and return it to the grill. Close the lid, and bake for about 5 minutes more.

Thanks to the Helpful Hardware Guy, we may not ever make pizza another way.

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Adaptation

Painted in WaterlogueAdaptation is a tricky business. What you change, or omit, when going from one medium to another may be the very thing that someone else loved about the original. What you add may be the ingredient that spoils the stew. Ask her sometime about the film versions of the Harry Potter stories. (But don’t do it if you don’t have time for a lengthy and passionate response.) Sometimes, though, the adaptation can surpass the original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a campy, silly film; the TV series of the same name is delightfully fun but deepens the metaphor of adolescence-is-like-living-on-the-mouth-of-hell. Sometimes both can co-exist admirably: Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories aren’t diminished by the existence of the musical Fiddler on the Roof—and although the stage version by necessity leaves out many details from the original and alters others, the result is a coherent and highly satisfying work of dramatic and musical literature.

She loves muffins. Well, not all muffins; she’s not indiscriminate. Her favorite is an orange-cranberry muffin from our local market. Muffin is perhaps the wrong word; they’re shaped like small loaves, and come in a package of six. I like them, too, but find them a little too sweet, and a little too moist. I don’t mean to say that they’re not properly baked, but that they almost fall apart when you slice them. And toasting? Don’t turn your back on the skillet; they’ll burn in a heartbeat. But she likes them a lot, so as the weekend approached I planned to pick up a package.

And then it was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t. And she wanted to get started right away making applesauce from the half-bushel we’d bought at an orchard last weekend.

I made us coffee and tea, and helped with the peeling and coring—and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make orange-cranberry muffins, if only because we don’t have muffin tins. But we do have a loaf pan, and I know that it isn’t far from muffin to quick bread. So I compared a few recipes, thought about what I found lacking in the market’s cranberry-orange muffins, and set to work.

I used dried cranberries soaked in orange juice; substituted whole-wheat flour for a quarter of the usual all-purpose; added a quarter-cup each of old-fashioned oats and walnuts; and increased the liquid by a third and the leaveners by half. And, at risk of making anyone think I was trying to turn muffins into health food, I made a glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Zest
1 orange

In a measuring cup or small bowl, soak for about half an hour
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
in
1 cup orange juice (start with the orange you just tested, and go from there).

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together until light:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
Then add to that same bowl
1 egg
Mix until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir just to combine. Add the cranberries, zest, along with
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. 

If you want to gild the lily, mix together
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp orange juice (add more, a few drops at a time, until just spreadable)

Spread the cooled loaf with the glaze. Or don’t, if you’re feeling noble.

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This bread is heartier than the muffins—denser, but not heavy, just not as light as boxed-mix cake. It’s not a replacement, not a home-cook’s duplication of a store-bought item; it’s an adaptation.

I prefer Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to Shaw’s Pygmalion, but that’s just me; if you like your Eliza Doolittle without songs, I won’t complain. If you want to debate with her the canon of Arthurian legend from Le Morte d’Arthur to Camelot, I won’t have much to add to the discussion, but I’ll happily serve coffee and tea while you do. And maybe muffins. Or perhaps an adaptation.