Last week, I had dinner with my mom. We walked to the grocery store together, less to shop than to get out and enjoy the balmy March evening (ignoring the fact that March evenings aren’t supposed to be balmy). As background, my mom (and most of my family) lives just outside the third-rudest city in America - a dubious distinction at best, and one that often leaves Nor and I contemplating packing up to pursue a bucolic life somewhere else. Someplace where we might be able to let our future kids play outside safely, where we might push them out the door to join an impromptu game of baseball instead of shepherding them to a meticulously scheduled “playdate.” Someplace where people still hold doors for each other and make eye contact just to say hello, and where you can slow to let a pedestrian cross the road without being thanked by screeching brakes and one-fingered salutes.
There is still a hint of that idyllic existence in my mom’s neighborhood – it’s one of the few places in this area where I still see a sense of community, and I saw that as we walked home from the store that night. Passing a neighbor’s house, my mom glanced over and saw the couple sitting on their front porch, clearly in the middle of dinner. “Let’s go say hi,” she said. “They’d love to see you – it’s been years!” Thoroughly conditioned by life in this area to respect privacy and not intrude, I hesitated, thinking they’d think us rude for interrupting their dinner. But as we approached, they stood and happily greeted us with hugs, exclamations, and a glass of wine, not the least bit perturbed that we’d stormed their porch in the middle of dinner. As we chatted and caught up on the fifteen years since I’d last seen them, I quickly relaxed. They continued eating as we chatted – artichokes with mayonnaise, fruit salad on the side. The pile of discarded leaves continued to grow until our wine glasses were empty and my mom and I set off to fix our own dinner a few blocks away.
I was so warmed by that brief encounter, and for whatever reason, the artichokes kept popping into my head. Artichokes are food you can linger over. They don’t need to be piping hot or eaten all at once, and are perfect for nibbling on amidst conversation. One leaf at a time between sentences, finally scooping away the “choke” as you continue to talk, then pushing away the plate of emptied leaves at the very end to finish your conversation and wine. Artichokes are downright neighborly, and no matter where I end up living in the future, I hope to always be the kind of neighbor who eats springtime artichoke dinners on the porch, the better to welcome friends who might happen to pass by.
Rinse artichokes under cold running water. With a sharp knife, cut about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Trim the stem if you wish – I like the stem as it’s part of the heart, but some people find it bitter.
Fill a large saucepan with about an inch of water. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice if desired. Place a steamer basket in the pot and place artichokes in the basket in a single layer. Cover and bring to a boil. Steam for about 30-40 minutes, until a sharp knife can easily pierce the base. Drain and cool until you can comfortably pick them up.
Alternatively, you can cover artichokes with a damp paper towel and microwave for 6-8 minutes (add 4-5 minutes for each additional artichoke).
Serve with dipping sauce of choice – lots of people do plain mayonnaise. I prefer Vegenaise with Dijon mustard or balsamic vinegar. To eat, pull off each leaf, dip in the sauce, and suck the flesh out of the base end. When you get to the heart, use a spoon to scoop out the fuzzy portion (which is inedible, and why they call it a “choke”). Cut into pieces if desired, dip in sauce, and enjoy.