Spring

asparagiWe bought our house in Umbria ten years ago this past summer.

A couple of months after the sale was completed the former owners, Bruno and Mayes, came over for lunch. And as the lunch lingered, as lunches in Umbria do, Bruno interrupted himself in mid-lecture on the glories of Roman pasta.

“Asparagi,” he said calmly. He got up from his chair, crossed over to the wall of our ancient wood-burning oven and snapped off a pencil-thin spear of wild asparagus that was hiding in and among the other grasses.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “April is the time. You’ll see hundreds of contadini in the fields and by the side of the road, harvesting them. Here, taste.”

I bit off the end of the slender stalk and chewed on it a bit. It was raw, of course, and a little stringy but the taste fairly attacked me with its vibrancy. Wild asparagus is way wilder than tame asparagus.

“Just imagine,” I thought, “how it’ll make my pee smell.”

With that noble scientific quest in mind, I immediately began to search for more. I looked all around the forno, where Bruno found his and then up the hill toward the olive trees, but there were no more spears to be found.

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kalemixLet’s talk about spring greens, specifically baby kale. I am very excited that baby kale is finally making it into mainstream supermarkets. I’ve seen more of it just in the last couple months, since I first mentioned it in a blog post back in February. Mostly I am excited because baby kale is a much more versatile veggie than mature kale. It is also tastier, more tender, and a whole lot more palatable. Roy and Farmer both eat the stuff without blinking.

I’ve never been a big fan of the tough leaves of huge, curly-type kales, and in fact, when I wrote Fast, Fresh & Green four years ago, I insisted that everyone par-boil kale before using it in most other dishes, or confine it to soups and braises. I still think it’s a good idea to soften kale first before adding it to pastas or gratins, but now I don’t necessarily freak out when I see chefs and cooks “sautéing” raw kale. With a young or tender variety, a simple sauté is just fine. (But try “sautéing” the older, tougher leaves and you will still have something pretty chewy on your plate.) I’m even embracing kale salads!

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herbsI love herbs. I grow them, I cook with them, I eat them and sometimes just smell them for instant links to memories and tastes. Growing up in Hawkinsville as a child, our farm provided space a plenty for me to dabble in herb cultivation. It was there, on our farm, that I first learned what organic gardening was, though I did not know my “organic gardening” was “organic gardening.” I knew our cows ate our grass, drank our spring water, and breathed our surrounding air. So, I knew, somewhat instinctively, that their manure was just good… basic, natural fertilizer – the byproduct of the cows’ natural digestion. What better fertilizer, compost amendment, and soil conditioner could there be?

But what truly struck me was the saying, “you are what you eat.” Since my cows were eating our natural grass, I knew their manure was safe. Same theory went for their meat and milk. Of course, I composted the manure and thoroughly washed the produced, but that simple, basic cycle of good things in, good things out stuck with me and I still believe it today. Those tomatoes, melons, herbs, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and corn were just amazing, and nothing beats a farm fresh produce basket!

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meyer-lemons.jpgSpying bright yellow Meyer lemons in the refrigerated produce case at my local natural food co-op never fails to give me a lift. This occurrence usually takes place in March, my least favorite month of the year in northern Minnesota with its dull gray skies, dirty slush, and sometimes, snowstorms that, by this time, no one wants to experience.

I grabbed several Meyer lemons last week, brought them home and arranged them in a shallow white bowl with the kumquats that also came home with me.

After enjoying their burst of brightness in my kitchen for a couple of days, I knew it was time to use them up. I was ready to make some little tea cakes, tiny loaves infused with the juice of Meyer lemons.

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peas-toastIt was one of those days.  I had run all over town doing errands when suddenly it was 5 o’clock and I remembered that the fridge was uncharacteristically empty.  I got home, ran up the stairs, ran into the kitchen slightly panicked (the Mom must be fed) and saw that the Farmers Market Fairy had come.  Really. That’s what Linda calls herself.  And in that moment I could have kissed her.  

For years I had to be in the studio at KCRW every Wednesday morning for interviews so that meant I missed the Santa Monica market every week.  Until Linda came into my life and started shopping for me.  Now she’s my biggest luxury.  Sitting on my counter were fresh strawberries, kumquats, spigariello, spinach, green garlic, CHERRIES!, Roan Mills bread and peas.  Shelled peas, no less.  

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