Tony, our resident neighbourhood thrifter, has just turned up something useful and beautiful – a celery vase. You might remember Tony from his cameo on The Food Podcast, or that time he requested I make this jelly roll, ‘like the one from his childhood.’ He is a collector of nostalgia, a champion of local artists and always the first to arrive at a yard sale.
My sister is one of Tony’s favourites. He has gifted her many treasures – paintings, ceramics, vintage carpets, a small tray just the right size for serving (him) tea – and now, a celery vase. “This is for you, not Lindsay,” he said in his loving, bossy way. So I’ve only borrowed it, for just a few days.
I place the vase on the counter by the window, away from the back-to-school clutter. I fill it with cold water, wash a head of celery and arrange the stalks in the vase so their soft leaves catch the afternoon light.
Celery vases were all the rage in 19th century Northern Europe when celery was a delicacy, a symbol of affluence. I imagine boys in knickerbockers, matching vests and lace-up boots reaching for a stick of celery from a vase in the parlour, appreciating its crunch, savoury flavour and worth. Instead, I have boys tumbling in from school, sweaty hair falling around their AirPod-filled ears. They don’t see the celery vase bursting with leafy, celadon stalks. They don’t notice the afternoon light. They want packaged energy bars. They want protein, muscles, density and growth. “Gains Mom. We want gains.”*
When the kitchen is quiet again, I push binders aside and pull a stalk from the vase. When I was a teenager I would have smeared peanut butter into the hollow curve of the stalk. Today I pull out a thick, spicy nut butter dressing left over from dinner the night before and spoon a dollop on the tip of the stalk. Then another. It’s a perfect balance of savoury spice, hydration and crunch. Celery is the ultimate team player.
I’m now in the mood for collaboration, so I gather bits of late summer from around the kitchen and make a pile on the counter: peaches, cucumber, Thai basil, carrot, baby greens, celery and celery fronds. I chop everything into matchsticks, but leave the greens whole; those delicate shapes deserve to be celebrated on top of a salad roll. I dip rice paper into warm water and smooth the translucent, now flimsy paper over the cutting board. I lay the greens in the middle, then pile the matchsticks on top, along with a clump of ramen I softened in boiling water. I finish with a few awkward clumps of the spicy nut butter sauce and a squirt of kewpie mayo, then roll it all up, burrito style – my very own energy bars, packed with the delicate beauty pulled from a borrowed celery vase.
*The gym definition of gains: an increase in stamina, strength and plain weight training awesomeness.
Spicy Nut Butter Sauce – a Satay of sorts
⅓ cup almond butter (peanut also works)
Juice of 1 lime – about 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated
¼ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl along with ¼ cup water and whisk until combined. Thin with more water, a little at a time, if necessary. Serve on celery, or in a salad roll, if you’re in the mood.