Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

Apparently Mary is growing tiny people in her garden...

   In the waning days of April, our thoughts turn towards the garden. Actually our thoughts were turning toward the garden as soon as the seed catalogues came in the mail and we started dreaming about making our own version of Mozza's squash blossom pizza, vegetable fritters of all kinds, fresh tomatoes, zingy radishes, multi-colored carrots....mmmm...just thinking about it now makes us itch to get out the potting soil and rake. Patience is needed in gardening. You have to wait until the last frost wanders through and then there's the occasional hail storm or heat wave that can truly wreck the garden. We're not even going to mention the deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, birds and whatever other animal that decides to nibble their way through your vegetable patch. 

   So, while you wait until that perfect weekend to start your planting, here are some great books about vegetables that will satisfy your appetite....

photo from Amazon
   To sum up Michael Pollan's book, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Simple, right? The book expands on those seven simple words with sound advice. You don't eat foods third graders or your great-grandmother wouldn't be able to pronounce or have a clue as to what they are. You should avoid foods with added anything, or foods that claim to be something that they aren't. I can't picture what a xanthan gum or mono-anything plant would look like, so I am certainly not going to be eating it. You should avoid foods that will never rot, foods that are served through a window, or foods that are made in a plant (foods that are a plant are okay). 
    Now some of you are probably thinking that this is impossible or saying that you like that Big Mac. The key to everything is moderation. But, do you really think that eating something that makes your milk turn a different color at the breakfast table is a good thing? 
   Pollan's rules also included that we should try and eat more like the French. Think about it, wine and bread and all those fancy pastries; but when was the last time you saw an obese Parisian? They key to the French diet is more in portion sizes and not snacking during the day than it is to what the actual product at the dinner table is. Also, that they stop eating when they are full. This isn't like when you were growing up and had to finish what was on your plate. 
   The main message we took out of it is this; You should enjoy your food and the experience of preparing it. Eat at a table with actual silverware and plates (small plates, do not use a platter for a dinner plate). Eat with friends or family. If you can, make your meal and sweets from scratch. You will enjoy them more and savor them. Lastly, don't obsess over ingredients or calories. You can break the rules every once and awhile. Food should be enjoyed. 

Photo from Amazon
   Rebecca Rupp's book, "How Carrots Win the Trojan War" gives those mostly forgotten or hated veggies their day in the sun. She traces the vegetable patch from asparagus through the lowly turnip from antiquity to the present with sense of humor and level of detail that could only come in handy to the most haughty gardener (or a rather strange night of Trivial Pursuit). Here's some of our favorites....

The red stripes in Betsy Ross's flag were dyed with beet juice. The cabbage inspired water-reppelant sprays. Queen Anne of Denmark challenged her ladies in waiting to see who could make a piece of lace as fine as the flower of the wild carrot (she won and the flower was named after her). Lettuce was used to make early versions of latex. Some people think that it was the potato that led to Eve's downfall. The jack-o-latern comes from a man's botched deal with the Devil. Radishes in Ancient Rome could grow up to 40 pounds and were used to punish those who committed adultery. Spinach is slang for  "stuff and nonsense". The tomato was considered poisonous by many due to it belonging to the nightshade family. The turnip may be unloved by most, but what how many other veggies have their own Brother's Grimm tale? 
   All in all, the book is a fun romp through history and may even give you a recipe or too (if you have some spare pigeons laying about. 

photo from Amazon
Lastly is Nigel Slater's "Tender", which managed both to be a cookbook and a how to in the garden. Note that Nigel is English so there are some vegetables that are absent from the plate. This is a great book for the gardener who is starting out. There is ample instruction on how to plant, where to plant and feeding/watering tips. The recipes are delicious too! The chocolate beet cake with creme fraiche has hardly any of that earthy taste that shows up in most beet recipes. There is a pasty recipe that would be right at home in Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games series (the pasty was taken down to the mines to appease the spirits, and for a fine lunch). 

  I will be sure to update with garden pictures and recipes. Happy planting!

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