YOU HARDLY get settled into Maria Schoolman's kitchen before you're up again, being led into the backyard garden to walk through a dazzling array of nourishment that is scattered among beds of flowers and bushes. Peppers and tomatoes dance before your eyes as vividly as any fantasy sugar plum and when Maria Schoolman mentions the flavor of olive oil and her family's love of garlic, you suddenly wish it were meal time.
She is a graphic designer, an informal, forthright person who is totally unrestrained in her love of sculpture, eggplant and the large, natural wood table in her kitchen."I grew up in a large farm kitchen with a table like this," she said as she settled into a chair near it. "I love it.We eat here no matter who the company is, unless there is a large group. Then we go into the dining room. My ideal house would have one enormous room so you wouldn't have to leave people behind when you went into the kitchen. But if we take down another wall here, the roof will fall in."
The house, off Utah Avenue in Northwest, has been the Schoolmans' home for 13 years, since Dr. Harold (Hack) Schoolman found it. Dr. Schoolman, deputy director of the National Library of Medicine, is a man of "obsessions" in the yard, according to his wife. He grows azaleas, clematis and other flowers, leaving the vegetables to his wife, and takes responsibility for a large, covered, outdoor fireplace on which he prepares ducks, spit-roasted lamb and less exotic fare in summer and winter.
The secret to raising a successful garden, Maria Schoolman claims, is "benign neglect and a lot of water." Nonetheless she takes over a basement pool table in winter to give some seed plants a head start indoors, and will mulch the garden heavily in fall so it will provide fresh carrots even after snow has fallen. Her food taste runs to Mediterranean dishes, so the garden contains -- in addition to tomatoes, eggplant and peppers -- herbs such as basil and thyme, lemon and fig trees, onions and hot red peppers. There is an infant raspberry patch as well and bushes where blueberries grew, mostly to the benefit of birds this year. Lettuce is available in spring and fall but not in the heat of summer. She skips planting vegetables that need constant spraying or require considerable space.
"I do freeze quite a lot of vegetables and dry herbs, so we do eat something from the garden almost every day of the year," Maria Schoolman said. She calls herself a "lazy" cook who bakes only for holidays, buys pasta instead of making it and serves the same things to company she does to the family. "I just do more dishes if we have company," she said.
"I hate doing cocktail parties, although sometimes we do when there is a group in town for meetings. We try once a year to buy a bushel of oysters and have lots of people over, but usually we have less than a dozen. The people we know seem to love to eat and drink, so our evenings with company are spent at the table. We never need after dinner entertainment. By the time we finish, everybody is tired and goes home."
The foods Maria Schoolman prepares include some that have become quite popular. Gazpacho, ratatouille, pesto, ceviche are all in her repertoire and have been for years. "I don't give a damn if everybody is making gazpacho," she said without anger. "I think mine is better. I've made it since I began cooking and I'm not going to stop now." She uses cookbooks (two favorites among them, possibly out of print: "The Wonderful Food of Provence," by Jean-Noel Escudier and Peta J. Fuller, and a Middle Eastern book called "Scheherazade Cooks"). But she tends to give recipes in shorthand. For example, here is her method for green beans. "Pick them young, never cut them, saute in butter with a lot of garlic. If you have the energy, chop some parsley over them."
Several others follow. MARIA SCHOOLMAN'S GAZPACHO (6 to 8 servings) 2 hardcooked eggs 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled Salt and pepper Pinch sugar 1 teaspoon dry mustard 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce Hot pepper sauce to taste Juice of 2 limes 1 quart tomato juice Garniture: Cucumber, seeded and diced Spanish onion, chopped Green pepper, seeded and chopped Radishes, chopped Egg whites, chopped Hot, buttered croutons
Make a paste of the egg yolks (reserve whites for garniture), garlic, salt and pepper, sugar, mustard and olive oil. Mix Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and lime juice into tomato juice, then blend this into the paste. Refrigerate overnight. The recipe can be doubled. Serve soup in cold bowls or cups and pass garniture items at the table. MY MOTHER'S STUFFED FISH
Buy a whole fish (sea trout, bluefish, rockfish), gutted but with head and tail left on. The fish should weigh from 3 to 7 pounds; allow 2 servings per pound.
Fill a large mixing bowl with the following, in whatever proportions are convenient: Thinly sliced onions, tomatoes, green peppers, sprigs of parsley, chopped scallions and 1/2-inch cubes of butter. A recommended optional ingredient is salt pork. Dice up 1/4 pound or so and render it. Drain the salt pork and put some in 1/2-inch slashes you make along the back of the fish. Stir the rest into the vegetable mixture and season it with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Oil a baking pan large enough to hold the fish. Make a thick bed on the bottom with about 2/3 of the vegetable. Lay the fish on this bed, shove the rest of the vegetables into the cavity and fasten it with toothpicks. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350, remove the foil and cook an additional 10 minutes per pound or until flesh near backbone is opaque and firm. SANDRA DAVIDSON'S LAMB STEW
Try to buy large chunks of shoulder lamb with the bone in. You will also need vegetables in roughly an equal weight to the lamb cut into chunks -- tomatoes, carrots and turnips. Brown the lamb pieces in olive oil in a good-sized saute pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the tomato and carrot chunks, a generous amount of thyme and chopped garlic, some salt and pepper and about 2 cups of dry white wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 1 hour, or until the lamb and carrots are tender. Add the turnip chuncks for the final half-hour of cooking. A SALAD SANDWICH
Finely chop peeled and seeded cucumber, carrot, sweet pepper and scallions in whatever proportion pleases you. Add a goodly quantity of chopped parsley and fresh mint (these are essential) and then toss the mixture with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Stuff the salad into individual pita breads. The sandwich is very messy to eat.