Growing Season Begins!

The first time I joined a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project, almost ten years ago, the kickoff, late on a Thursday afternoon, sent me racing out of the office at the end of the day. The first week’s bounty included lettuce greens, herbs, onions, kohlrabi, radishes. Adults chatted and jacketed children hopped around like hungry little rabbits as we waited for the strawberries to arrive. After a long, cold winter, we all hungered for fresh food.

In her bestselling book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver described an imaginary plant that she called the “vegetannual.” The vegetannual, if there were such a thing, would pass through all the stages of its life over the course of each complete growing season. Leaves, buds,flowers, green fruits, ripe fruits, hard fruits. If the entire garden could be visualized as a single plant, that plant would reveal its first fragile green leaves each spring (now in other words), and pass through all the stages, and then, finally, expire each fall with a spectacular, rainbow-colored gasp of root crops. This is the vegetannual.

The process by which vegetables ripen is as predictable as the tides: Loose leaves come first, followed by mature leaf heads and flower heads. Then young, green fruits ripen, and some of these mature into larger, colorful fruits. Next, hard-shelled fruits ripen, with their seeds tucked safely inside for the following year. Throughout the season, the above-ground greens of root crops draw all their nourishment from the sun as they transfer, store, and grow rich with the sugars and starches that, later, will sustain us through the cold while the garden rests and prepares for the next spring.

For all these reasons and more, it is the leaves that predominate in the first weeks of spring. Lettuce, spinach, chard, mint, kale, and, soon, asparagus. In my own herb garden, lemon balm, thyme, lavender, oregano, parsley and especially lovage grow in abundance. Let me know if you’d like any lovage — please! On the Thursday night following that first CSA delivery, we ate a simple salad of lettuce greens dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs. We drank mint tea. I cut raw kohlrabi into matchsticks, and they were all gone before we even sat down to dinner, eaten by whoever passed through the kitchen. Bowls of strawberries became breakfast on Friday morning. I fried zucchini with the onions and garlic until everything was soft, added some salt and cracked pepper, and then pureed it into a dip for carrot slices and crackers. Not a speck was left.

It is wonderful to contemplate what each week’s harvest will bring. In June, more mature leaf and flower heads, like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, will appear in the gardens. Young fruits will set, and our mouths will fill with snow peas, baby squash, and sweet cucumbers, followed by crisp green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes. In August the more mature, colorful fruits will ripen, and beefsteak tomatoes will come into season. Beefsteaks, the sublime standard to which all tomatoes will forever be compared, muses this Jersey girl. Peppers will ripen to red and yellow. And then, what seems like a long time from here, the weather will turn cool again. Melons, pumpkins, and winter squash will finally ripen. Potatoes, carrots, and beets. Each in turn, each in its time.

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Karen’s Spiced Nuts

My friend and fellow yogi Karen Bush comes up with some of the very best recipes, and this one is guaranteed to make you very popular. You can bring it to a party, to book group, to work to share with your coworkers. You can sprinkle it on your salad and turn a little meal into a spectacular celebration. Guaranteed, everyone is going to love it. Continue reading

Most Manufactured Salad Dressing Isn’t Food

I recently decided that it was time to look at the ingredient lists of salad dressings, whatever that means, so I picked four popular brands to examine. You will be very interested to learn what I discovered. The first ingredient in the first product I picked up, Wishbone Italian dressing, was water. Frankly, that seems like a very expensive way to buy water. And surprising, too, given that Italian dressing consists primarily (and traditionally) of olive oil and vinegar. Not Wishbone Italian dressing, though. Continue reading

Something from Nothing: Gifts from the Compost Pile

Some years ago, when winter was coming to an end and spring was still soggy and cold, I discovered a lone organic potato in my kitchen. I have to specify that it was organic because conventionally grown potatoes are much less likely to root and generate offspring. This sad little potato was dried out, wrinkly, and way past edible. At least six little rootlets were beginning to form on the skin, and so I decided to try an experiment. I cut that little potato into six chunks, each containing a single rootlet. I dug a trench in the garden on the far side of our backyard, and dropped each of the pieces into the trench, about one foot apart. Then I covered them with dirt and waited. Continue reading

Slow Food for Passover and Other Times

This week I’m starting to prepare for Passover, which begins this coming Friday at sunset, and I am reminded of an experience from a few years ago, when I got an email from a neighbor asking if anyone knew where she could find horseradish. Now it turns out that I had planted a horseradish root a few years prior, so I happened to know the answer to her question. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Yoga-Inspired Recipes

During the recent holidays past, I was given the gift of a yoga calendar by my beloved friend Lee. Tearing off a page every morning has now become an especially joyful and expectant way to start my days. Most of the pages are filled with beautiful messages (some of which are so very special that they get pinned to the cork board the next day), or sometimes a special yoga-position-of-the-week. Very occasionally, I find an inspirational recipe. What I find most awesome is all the different kinds of spices, and the fact that roasting them brings out infinitely more complex flavor profiles. Here, below, are the recipes I’ve enjoyed most of all (so far). Continue reading

What About Weight Watchers?

A while ago I got a letter from a reader named Emily, who reported that she had joined Weight Watchers some time back, and found it especially helpful for portion control. Having watched the movie “Fat Head,” read Gary Taubes’s book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” and read Your Health is On Your Plate, she wants to know if she can follow my recommendations and Weight Watchers at the same time. Plus, she wants to know what I eat. Continue reading