The Best Food is Everywhere

Forget fancy bags, boxes, cans, and cartons, the best food is everywhere! I can take a quick walk through my neighborhood and see clover, dandelions, sunflowers, begonias, garlic, and marigolds. All are edible. Even the tiny blooms appearing on the arugula in my garden can add a unique zing to a fall salad.

Because I live in a small southern city, I don’t forage for food. Too many lawns are maintained with chemicals and I don’t want to inadvertently find out how many neighbors are armed. But I grew up in a different environment. We ate wild strawberries from the yard, honey from bees that lived under our front porch, poke that appeared by the fence, persimmons from a tree by the red barn, wild blackberries on the Whitaker Forty, and huckleberries from Gaither Mountain.

Every blueberry I eat reminds me that I prefer smaller, darker huckleberries. We picked buckets full and ate them by the handful or in cobbler, jelly, and jam. Okay, now I want a biscuit. Yet, I digress.

There are also gems on my back porch I can safely consume. After I harvest the last of the season’s basil for pesto, the flowers will make a great garnish for pasta! Mint flowers make will make the iced tea and mojitos I serve alongside feel festive.

Speaking of pesto, garlic stems can serve as the base for pesto or be sautéed in butter as a side dish that enhances everything on the plate. If you let your garlic fully flower, the flowers have a mild garlic flavor perfect for salads.

Rosemary flowers can be mixed right in to a dish along with rosemary leaves. They don’t have as much oil in them, so you’ll need a greater ratio to get the equivalent level of flavor.

I would probably use cilantro flowers. I can’t say for sure because I seem to kill the plants every year before they get to that point. Every. Single. Year. But if you are a more skilled cilantro cultivator, you don’t have to let the blossoms go to waste.

My back yard holds other culinary treasures. If you can beat the bees to it, there is clover with its mild licorice-flavored heads and edible tender greens. Some days there are day lilies with their bright melony petals. And, of course, there are dandelions.

As summer wanes, I’ll enhance the back yard options by planting a fall garden. Swiss chard, mâché, spinach, and sugar snap pea seeds have already arrived, but I still need to harvest some carrots and green beans before I’m ready to make the switch.

Several years ago, I had a neighbor who taught at a neighborhood elementary school. He used to marvel that many of his students had never taken a walk through the woods or grown a plant. Many of them walked to school oblivious to the food growing all around them.

Of course, they aren’t the only ones. It’s easy to grab a bag of chips or cookies and forget there’s better food out there. In fact, the best food is everywhere!

https://www.ediblewildfood.com/

Spring is for Renewal – Even in the Kitchen!

Spring is for renewal – even in the kitchen! The winter season is hanging on here and there, but the spring growing season will soon arrive with wild contributions of poke salat, dandelion greens, and lamb’s quarters.
lettuce
Of course you’re not required to eat from your yard. Farmers markets, food co-ops and select grocery stores will fill vegetable bins with leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. Fresh vegetables deserve a fresh presentation now and then and spring feels like the proper time for renewed inventiveness in the kitchen.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to pick leaf lettuce from the garden my grandmother planted at our farm. It was so tender and flavorful, nothing like an iceberg lettuce wedge which I only really appreciate when drenched in bleu cheese dressing topped with bacon pieces. For years, it was the only lettuce I knew. (How lucky was I?)

The vegetables we grew were what we ate. My mom wasn’t going to drive into town to buy different vegetables from the store when we had perfectly good ones peeking through the dirt across the driveway. Of course, we didn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so necessity became the mother of invention. New combinations or cooking methods developed on the fly.

A few years ago when I first purchased a share in an organic farm, I noticed that a similar thing happened in my kitchen. Rather than plan meals and make a shopping list, I was suddenly planning dishes based on the surprise ingredients I received each Friday when I picked up my share from the farm. Not knowing in advance what I would get made the experience feel like a cooking adventure. It renewed my sense of creativity in the kitchen.

Now, when the weather warms, I can’t help but feel an excited anticipation for the arrival of fresh tender greens, small green onions, beets, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. I love the bright colors! I love the flavors! And I love having a chance to think of new combinations!

I was thinking about giving you some recipes next, but that might keep you from the fun of creating your own. I would never want to rob you of fun! Instead, here are the top 8 ingredients I like to have available to pair with fresh veggies:

Avocados
While they’re great for soooo many things, it’s not always practical to keep an avocado in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many I’ve thrown away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the changing level of ripeness.

Now I keep Wholly Guacamole avocado minis on hand. I can use them in anything requiring mashed avocado without worrying whether they’ve gone bad.

Goat Cheese
The light creaminess of goat cheese won’t overpower even delicate garden flavors.

Boiled Eggs
Keeping a few boiled eggs in the refrigerator comes in handy for salads and casseroles as well as pasta dishes.

Fresh Ginger
Grated fresh ginger is delicious with beets or green beans and can give salad dressing a kick.

Mint
Any fresh herb could make this list on a given day, but today I like mint. Tomorrow, who knows, I may like cilantro.

Mirin or Rice Vinegar
Mirin is a rice wine with a light sweet flavor. Both mirin and rice vinegar add light acidity to a dish or dressing.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I buy hulled pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven with a little olive oil spray and salt. They bring a satisfying crunch and earthy flavor to salads. They’re great by the handful too.

quinoaQuinoa
I like the texture of quinoa. It works great as a base for a Buddha bowl or a salad and it has a higher protein-to-carb ratio than rice.

With these ingredients, or your own favorites, you’ll be well equipped for a variety of spring culinary creations. Inspiration for combinations can come from anywhere — accidentally tasting two things together on your plate, a dish you’re served in a restaurant, something you remember from childhood, a recipe you want to vary, a cooking show, a painting — literally anything!

This is the kind of post that makes my sister crazy! She would be much happier with an actual recipe. I want her to learn to play with flavors. Mostly, I want her to have the pleasure of discovering something new, delicious, and totally unexpected that she created. I want that experience for all of us! It feels so great on so many levels!
I feel so grateful that spring offers the bounty for such opportunities over and over and over again! It truly is a time of renewal.

https://www.eatwholly.com/products/chunky-avocado/wholly-chunky-avocado-minis/

Stretch Your Greenbacks with Forgotten Greens

When you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, you can stretch your greenbacks with forgotten greens! It’s hard to grow up in the South without eating greens. They’re a staple in every home cooking, soul food, and barbecue restaurant and many grandmother’s kitchens. Most cooks have a favorite green. Some prefer collard, some mustard, and some turnip. When you generically refer to greens, it’s assumed you mean one of these three or a mix of them.
carrot
Often overlooked are the other greens that abound in Southern homes. We consume beets, radishes, carrots, and celery on a regular basis. Most of us have added kale to our menus, and many of us enjoy kohlrabi and bok choy in the occasional stir fry. In an effort to eat fresh, local food it’s more and more common to buy these vegetables from a community garden, neighborhood farmer’s market or CSA (community supported agriculture) produce coop.

If you shop in these venues, you know that the vegetables aren’t always uniform in size and shape, they may arrive still covered in soil, and most of them will have beautiful green leaves attached. It’s tempting to quickly chop off the leaves and discard them before cleaning beets, carrots, or radishes, and many cooks in my family do just that.
radish
I’ll admit it takes more time to clean and shred the tops, but you can also end up with a delicious mix of greens just by saving what you’d normally throw away. This weekend, I cooked a pot of spicy greens using radish, kohlrabi, and bok choy greens, plus some Swiss chard. That’s not a special mix. It’s just what I had on hand. As is true of most combinations of leafy greens, they’re delicious together.

Of course, you can also use these tops in a salad or soup. Unfortunately, I don’t really like cabbage tasting greens in a salad, and I’m unlikely to make soup in the summer. But thinking of edible vegetable leaves in the way I think of turnip greens gives me another avenue for preparation. Seasoned with chicken stock, onion, garlic, dried chile peppers, salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, these greens have wonderful depth of flavor and a peppery bite.

I’m not sure how collard, mustard, and turnip greens came to be the standard for greens, or why my grandmother never used the radish greens or carrot tops she grew. I do know that I can stretch my greenbacks by broadening my definition of greens to include beet, bok choy, broccoli, carrot, celery, chard, dandelion, kale, kohlrabi, and radish.
greens
And by cooking the greens attached to my vegetables, I gain another vegetable to serve, stretch my food budget, and include all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make leafy greens an important part of a healthy diet. I also reduce my food waste. That makes me feel good.