Ahh, the farmers’ market…
How wonderful to have the farmers’ markets back! If you are lucky enough to have a market nearby you can plan your menus around an easy weekly visit to their tables full of colorful, juicy produce! Maybe you will even run into a vegetable that is new to you—have you tried kohlrabi yet? Maybe you like beets, but are looking for a new way to prepare them, or you’d like to find a recipe that will entice your family to eat kale. It’s time for a new cookbook! Here are a few recent cookbooks from the shelves of Howard County Library System.
The Farmers’ Market Guide to Vegetables: Selecting, Preparing and Cooking, by Bridget Jones, has been a staple since its publication in 2001. How nice to be able to highly recommend a new title, Vegetable Literacy (2013), by Deborah Madison. At “the vanguard of the vegetarian cooking movement” for over three decades, Madison now explores and celebrates the diversity of the plant kingdom. Her approach is to introduce us to each of twelve plant families, such as the carrot family, the mint family, the cabbage family, and show how ingredients are related and can easily substitute for each other. Each vegetable within the family gets several paragraphs of history and advice, a list of selected varieties, and a bit of “kitchen wisdom” followed by several wonderful-sounding recipes fit for a chef’s repertoire and a tantalizing photo.
Molly Katzen is well-known among vegetarians as the author of the Moosewood Cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and several other vegetable-themed books, including Salad People for preschoolers and up. Her newest is the The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation (2013) and it is lovely! I find the deep eggplant-colored cover and the illustrations and photos more appealing than the “handwritten” style of the Moosewood books. The organization is by categories such as soups, salads, pasta, sauces, etc. She has added a helpful list of the recipes that are “vegetarian” and those that are “vegan.” Katzen’s definition of her cuisine is “a beautiful plate of food, simply cooked, maximally flavored, and embracing as many plant components as will harmoniously fit.” this is one I will be taking home!
Forks over Knives: the Cookbook (2012) by Del Sroufe and others, is a companion to the Forks over Knives book and video. Whether or not you are convinced by the original book and video that you should embrace a wholly plant-based whole foods diet, the cookbook is a great collection of healthy recipes. There are only a few enticing photos, but that leaves more room for the wide variety of recipes. You will probably be introduced to a few new ingredients—be adventurous!
One of the most important categories of vegetables—and perhaps the most confusing and intimidating—is the leafy greens. Mark Bittman is the author of the How to Cook Everything series, the Minimalist column in the New York Times, and several “minimalist” cookbooks. Bittman wants you to enjoy your leafy greens! His Leafy Greens: an A-to-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens Plus More Than 120 Delicious Recipes, written in 1995, when he was an avid gardener, deserved a reprint in 2012. The A-to-Z guide includes dandelions, seaweed and other wild greens as well as the more common collards and spinach. His recipes aren’t only about greens but about how to use them with pasta and proteins. The whimsical but realistic illustrations have also stood the test of time.
What if you are the only vegetarian in your household—or you are a household of one? You may need the advice in Joe Yonan’s Eat your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (2013). Yonan has an easy conversational style that encourages one to experiment and have fun cooking. His advice will help the single cook to shop efficiently and cook without a lot of leftovers.
My last reading suggestion is the whimsical Cooking with Flowers (2013) by Miche Bacher of Mali B Sweets. Bacher is trained as an herbalist but it is her creativity with everything from lilac sorbet to dandelion jam that will inspire you.
Summer is the easiest time of year to get plenty of healthful vegetables in your diet. Try being a “farmers’ market chef” this summer!
Female boomers in the U.S. make up a tad over 50% of the current population. And they are, healthier, wealthier, wiser, and making more lucrative investments than men. At least, according to Stephanie Holland of Sheconomy: A Guy’s Guide to Marketing To Women. But publishers and their authors don’t necessarily pitch to their vibrancy.
Library customers who make up the above statistic come in every summer asking the frustrating question: “Aren’t there any good books out there where the main character is – well – over 45?”
And the answer is: “There are! And you’re going to have a heck of a good time reading them!”
Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray
Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani (both over 60 years old) are rival Boston florists whose families share a decades-old grievance. The fact that no one is precisely sure why or when it began doesn’t matter. In fact, all that Julie can remember from childhood is her father spitting on the floor if anyone dared utter the name “Cacciamani.”
Bitterness between the families only intensified when Julie’s teen-aged daughter, Sandy, and Romeo’s son, Tony, tried to elope. Fast forward almost 20 years: Julie’s divorced, Romeo’s widowed, and the Roseman-Cacciamani feud continues to simmer. Until Julie and Romeo meet at a job fair.
Suddenly, all hard feelings – not to mention the arid climate of post-menopause and erectile dysfunction go out the window — or at least the door of Romeo’s cozy, walk-in flower cooler where the two — well – combust. Hysterical!
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal? If so, consider this well-mannered English confection (replete with hedgerows and high tea).
When his brother dies, staid widower and retired schoolteacher, Major Pettigrew, can only seem to express his grief to Mrs. Ali, a warm and affable Pakistani shopkeeper (and widow) whom he’s known for years. But sorrow has a way of making one ‘see’ someone anew. Especially when there’s a shared delight in discussing Kipling.
Slowly but surely, their world begins to eclipse everyone – including small-minded neighbors and self-serving relations. Everyone but them.
There is nothing, Simonson reminds us in this endearing tale, like the rich patina of mid-life love.
A Year by The Sea by Joan Anderson
And finally, not fiction, but a sobering memoir. And by a grown up, now 64.
While 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed, (Wild), may have clue-lessly walked the Pacific Crest Trail in toe-pinching hiking boots, and thirty-something Elizabeth Gilbert showed readers the way toward becoming a pasta-eating yogi in Eat, Pray, Love, memoirist Joan Anderson chose a far less glamorous path to self-discovery.
In her mid-fifties, her husband of many years informed her he was taking a job offer out of state – one that would necessitate selling their family home. Joan’s reaction, after a pragmatic assessment of her life (or rather shelf-life as wife and mother) was not what anyone in her family expected. She headed for Cape Cod.
There, a dilapidated summer house would become her unlikely ‘muse’ for the next twelve months. The best part of Joan Anderson’s life was far from finished.
I only think about olive oil when I really want fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, and I generally just pick whichever brand at the grocery store looks the fanciest without being too expensive. Of course there’s a whole world behind the scenes that I had no idea about! It turns out that I should be treating olive oil more like a fine wine – carefully chosen to exact specifications with the flavor, quality, age, and origin in mind.
Tom Mueller’s Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil is more than just a risque title, it’s an eye opening “journey through the world of olive oil” covering the oil’s history and traditions, plus fun stuff like rampant fraud in the industry and the popular Turkish sport of oil wrestling.
There are eight flaws which can be found in olive oil:
- muddy sediment
The presence of just one of these flaws barrs the oil from being graded as extra virgin. According to Mueller, many olive oils are labeled as extra virgin despite not meeting the standards legally imposed for such an assignment. Lots of these oils actually fall into the poorest category created by the International Olive Council (an intergovernmental agency instituted by the United Nations – this is serious business!): lampante, meaning “lamp oil,” which by law is unfit for human consumption and must be refined before being sold as food. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel great knowing that this is what I’ve probably been using.
Why does it really matter? The taste suffers, for one. Further, excess refinement, aging, or mixing with other oils removes a lot of the health benefits that lead many to the use of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in the first place. Mueller explains that “real extra virgin olive oil contains powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories which help to prevent degenerative conditions (p. 7)” and those properties are actually found in the same substances that give the oil it’s integral flavors. High bitterness and a velvety texture are signs of tocopherol, squalene, and hydroxytyrosol – antioxidants – and a peppery sting the back of the throat is a sign of oleocanthal – an anti-inflammatory (p. 104-5).
Desirable aspects of a good EVOO are a balance between bitterness, fruitiness, and pungency (peppery). Choosing a quality EVOO involves quite a few factors, but Mueller provided some tips for us laymen to follow if we can’t quite get to Italy to pluck olives off the tree ourselves:
- It’s very perishable, so try to find it as fresh and close to the mill as possible – hey, the more local your food is the better, why not olive oil too? You want to protect it against light and air, so darker colored bottles are better if you can’t find it fresh.
- Look for a best by date around two years away, as that should indicate that it was bottled recently. A harvest date is even better, and if there is one look for dates from the current year. Quality EVOO will be good for around 18 months to two years after it’s harvested and pressed.
- Check the label for the specific grade: extra virgin. Ignore buzz words like pure, light, and first or cold pressed; as non-regulated terms they mean nothing. Even “pressed in Italy” and similar phrases are misleading as olives from other countries are imported and bottled in Italy before being re-exported with an Italian flag on the bottle.
- Remember, different olive oils are good for different uses. A robust, full-bodied, or “early harvest” oil will pair well with strongly flavored food while a mild, delicate, or “late harvest” oil will work better with less flavorful foods (Mueller suggests it for chicken, fish, or potatoes).
I can’t wait to find a specialty oil seller now so I can experience the difference between quality EVOO and the stuff I’ve been using – I suspect I won’t be switching back.
Female boomers well into their middle-years are unfazed by much. They’ve lived and seen it all – except (and frustratingly often) when it comes to themselves as the main character inside those sherbet-colored book jackets that the Library of Congress keywords “men-women-relationships-fiction.”
Escaping, at any age, into an addictive read is good for the psyche (less calories than M&Ms) and a woman’s right. But if AARP membership is looming, and the main character is once again 22 and trying to come to terms with a hole in one of her Jimmy Choos, not so much.
“Once in a while,” my 56 year-old hair dresser remarked recently, “I’d like to see me reflected in one of those beach reads. I mean, I may be an ‘old hen,’ but I can still make soup!”
Well, here are some books that may make her shout, “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!”
Blue Rodeo by Joann Mapson
If you’re like Maggie Yearwood, and limping away from your car wreck of a marriage, what better place to ease the pain than the ancient mountain village of Blue Dog, New Mexico? That’s Maggie’s mid-life plan anyway – especially as the move now puts her closer to a school for the deaf – and her embittered son. More than that, she seeks isolation as the only possible cure to her artistic impotence. At least, until a little Navajo/New Age Karma puts her in the path of luckless sheep rancher, Owen Garrett. Gritty and chile bola hot, Mapson’s second novel is filled with distinctive voices who have weathered life and love, but are ready to go around a second time. Messy, sexy, and true.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker
It all begins when Joanie Pilcher’s ex calls to say his 20-something girlfriend is pregnant. If that isn’t the icing on the cake (which already consists of an opinionated live-in mom, Ivy, and an angry adolescent daughter, Caroline), Joanie doesn’t know what is. Maybe her therapy group will – although their whining and complaining is secretly getting to her as well – not to mention, her boss who keeps reminding Joanie how lucky she is to have any job at her age. Meanwhile, bewildered Ivy tries to grapple with a world suddenly moving at warp speed. Walking into a boutique, the saleswomen inform the septuagenarian that she may be too old to appreciate their merchandise. Ivy’s kiss-off? Shoplift a scarf – which promptly lands her in jail. At the same time, Caroline, who suffers the realization that she is invisible at school, channels this rage into dying her hair pink and convincing herself that she has multiple personality disorder. All of which begs the question: can this wacky dynasty be saved? NPR commentator Ruth Pennebacker delivers with an ending that’s both predictable and satisfying. Like milk and cookies.
Sorry for those of you who thought I was talking about the hand-held, email-pager thingy. As far as I know, there are no known health benefits to those devices. No, I’m talking about the good, old fruit. There have already been some great Well & Wise pieces extolling the virtues of berries, but I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the blackberry in particular because: 1. its season is almost over (yikes!); and 2. it holds a special place in my heart.
You see, I grew up in a pretty suburban neighborhood that was on the border of a pretty urban neighborhood. We had our fair share of backyard “fauna” as far as squirrels and bunnies and birds go. And there was plenty of lovely (though yard friendly) flora too. But the only edible plant that ever grew in our yard (other than dandelions) was one scraggly blackberry vine or bush. (Was it a vine or bush? To the Internet!) We had one blackberry cane or bramble that would faithfully produce a handful of delicious blackberries every summer. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was huge to me as I grew up in a time where microwaves, instant meals, and fast foods were “innovations.” So, in retrospect, this sad little bush/bramble/whatever (I think I’ll stick with “bramble” as it sounds more fairytale-ish) may have helped keep me alive.
I might be exaggerating a little, but blackberries are insanely good for you. Check out this Huffington Post blackberry morsel. And, in a book already highlighted by our own Farmers’ Market Chef, blackberries are named as one of the 50 Best Plants on the Planet! Cathy Thomas’s book also illustrates how they can be among the 50 tastiest too with recipes such as blackberry gratin, cherries poached in red wine with blackberries and mint, and breakfast quinoa with blackberries. I plan to try all three recipes.
But, back to my childhood memories: if this scrappy little bramble of goodness can spring up and survive in my childhood home, then it has a pretty good shot of being a hardy grower for others. In fact, it is featured in Vertical Vegetables & Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart, so anyone might be able to capture a little bit of home-grown health. My kids and I are growing blueberries and strawberries in pots this summer; we might have to add a blackberry bramble to our little vegetal menagerie (if not for culinary and health reasons, then for sentimental reasons).
As one of the editors here on Well & Wise, I get to read some of the neatest stories online and in books. One of our writers, Anna, shared a great blog post with me earlier this week which speaks to the unspoken etiquette of greeting fellow runners during their runs. It’s clear, through my own novice triathlete experience, that the recognition, encouragement, and community surrounding running is as welcoming as it is unique. If you are afraid of running, don’t like running, or just don’t know anything about running, I highly recommend you check out The Courage to Start and Born to Run. These books just might change your mind about the sport altogether. Below, Anna shares her encounter with runners at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC.
Around mile five, we had to cross a bridge over the Potomac River into Arlington, Virginia. As we were crossing over, the runners coming back were encouraging us with high-fives and words of encouragement. The runners were doing high-fives all the way across the bridge! It was such a tremendous feeling to know that we weren’t alone in our quest to finish! I wished that I could have taken a picture, because it was one of the most tremendous experiences I’ve ever had as a runner. -Anna L. Downing
Have you ever had an experience like that while running? Let me tell you, it’s hard not to feel good about being out there and staying active when you’ve got runners giving you high-fives, friendly waves, smiles, or compliments like, “Looking good!”
John Bingham, “The Penguin,” is a runner who has pretty much capitalized on his own couch-potato turned multiple-marathoner story. He’s a beloved columnist/writer/athlete/awesome-guy-in-general – and his anecdotes will make you laugh, smile, and sometimes cringe. Plus, he’s pretty much the poster boy of inspiration for those of us (myself included) who wouldn’t necessarily be picked out of a crowd and called a “runner.” This book is packed with practical advice for beginner runners and is an awesome story of a normal guy who figured out what it means to run with a smile.