Bright, fresh, plenty of crunch, and adorned with sweet fennel flowers
It's Fennel Week! On Sunday I introduced my new "About" series. This series will shine a spotlight on a vegetable, fruit, grain, herb, or legume in season now. Each "About" series will start with an informational post followed by back-to-back recipes starring our feature ingredient. The first of the about series features fennel- a hardy Mediterranean herb that packs a lot of flavor, fiber, and crunch. This particular dish uses both the fennel bulb and the flowers. The bulbs are slightly more mild and crisp while the flowers give a strong hit of sweet anise flavor. My fennel is only just starting to flower, but I'm lucky to know many gracious gardeners who've shared their abundant flowers with me. This time of year, they shouldn't be terribly difficult to find. Luckily, even if you can't get your hands on any, this salad will still be delicious and refreshing. The tart green apple, the juicy, bitter grapefruit, and the crisp, fragrant fennel compliment each other beautifully among the soft greens. I've been making some variation of this salad for a while now, with it slowly evolving each time. The balance of the recipe is just right for me, but you should know that I appreciate bitterness. If the thought of eating raw, un-sugared grapefruit turns you off, I would advocate replacing it (in both the salad and the dressing) with orange. It should substitute very nicely. The salad will pack well for lunch, as long as you reserve the dressing until you're ready to consume it. It's super refreshing- so if you've got outdoor things to do early in the day, I highly recommend it for an afternoon cool down.
White wine sangria with stone fruit and citrus
I adore spring, but it always seems so fleeting. New growth budding up all around, warm sun and cool breezes, long days, leafy greens- it's a good season. I feel like it just arrive and yet it's already slipping through my fingers, succumbing to the intense summer sun as it charges closer each day. May was very kind to us, but June will not be so forgiving. Today it was nearly 100 degrees. The heat was not just heat, it was an omen. Summer is coming. But I'm ushering in the summer with gratitude this year. I know after a full month or two of 100 degree days I'll be singing another tune, but at the moment, summer means freedom, flexibility, and even vacation- and that is something I welcome with open arms. So what better way to celebrate the last few weeks of spring, than with a refreshing spring sangria? On a the last Monday night of the quarter after an unpleasantly sweaty ride home from work? Yes, please. I'll take two.
Korean warn rice salad with bulgolgi-style tofu, raw and pickled vegetables, and a fried egg
I hold this dish near and dear to my heart. It has traveled with me through many years and places and grown and changed in that time. My first encounters with it were at Blue Cactus in Columbia, South Carolina. I was maybe 20 then and had never been exposed to Korean food in my life. In fact, I'm sure at the time I'd never eaten any authentic Asian cuisine of any kind. I was intimidated. I didn't know what to think of this strange bowl of hot rice, cold lettuce, and unidentifiable pickled things with a big old runny egg yolk sitting on top. What the heck is this thing? Who eats like this? It turns out, I do. Of course, you all probably know that by now, but I didn't know it then. This was totally uncharted food territory for me. The only pickled thing I'd ever eaten was pickled cucumber. This dish was one of the many that began opening doors for me- showing me new parts of food, new ingredients, new techniques. And it certainly didn't hurt that it was served at one of the best restaurants in town. A little hole in the wall place. The food takes forever and it's bring your own beer- but that's part of what made it great. We'd go and spend hours there, drinking some wine and waiting anxiously for our mouth-watering dishes to emerge from the kitchen. If you're ever in Columbia and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend a visit. And I highly recommend the bibimbap.
A fresh, light, spring bowl and full of nutty, green-y flavor!
Yesterday morning before the farmer's market, Chris and I stopped by Augie's coffee for breakfast. The house was pretty barren food-wise so we figured we'd take the opportunity to treat ourselves. I enjoyed a fantastic goat cheese and apple tart and Chris had a little lemon cake. It was delightful. And in the short few blocks between Augie's and the downtown market we passed a sign for the Inland Empire Salsa Festival. Say what?! That's right. Salsa Festival. So naturally after our Saturday morning errands were done, we had to swing back by and check it out. About a dozen salsa samples and a gratuitous basket of pig pen crispy fries later, we found ourselves stuffed to the brim and deprived of all things green (other than tomatillos and jalapenos- thank you salsa verde!). Luckily, between our haul from the farmer's market and what's left in the garden, we had ample delicious spring greens to create this light, refreshing dinner. Which was exactly what we needed.
Crispy tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese and topped with salsa and vegetables
Two weeks ago I was in Mexico. More specifically, in the Yucatan Peninsula- in and around Meirda. I went with a team of professors to host a soils workshop at the Autonomous University of the Yucatan (UADY) and to visit some sites for a new research project. I spent an entire day touring agroforestry systems, milpas, and Mayan home gardens. It was lovely. There was a gorgeous variety of fruits available and a host of native spices. Yucatecan cuisine is quite unique- punchy and flavorful, acidic, easy on the heat in the dish, heavy on the heat in the salsa. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not like Meixcan food I've had before, yet reminiscent of it. This garden tortilla pizza is also reminiscent of Mexican food you've likely enjoyed before. And it too, calls upon a few native Mexican ingredients. However, unlike Yucatecan food, this dish could not be farther from traditional.
A crunchy, yolky, bitter, fresh, crisp spring panzanella that comes together in no time
Something really exciting is happening right now. Spring. Going to the market when the season changes is one of my very favorite things. Just as I'm starting to tire of brussels sprouts and broccoli (that's a ridiculous statement- who gets tired of broccoli?) the asparagus, peas, and young onions appear. To everything- turn, turn, turn - there is a season - turn, turn turn. And that season is turning to spring before my eyes. Everything is waking up, leafing out, and getting down to business. I hacked down most of the winter garden to make way for summer. The weather here is already starting to feel like summer, so I'm fast-tracking all of the garden preparation. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. After hitting the market this morning though, I wonder what great treasures I mat have unknowingly cast into the compost pile. During our Saturday morning market shop, Chris came across a big bundle of arugula flowers from Sage Mountain Farm. Arugula flowers (which are abundant right about now) are the most unexpectedly delightful thing I have tasted in a while. Only slightly bitter and surprisingly nutty. I grabbed a bunch and some dandelion greens and knew what I'd be making tonight.
An ode to gardening, harvesting vegetables fresh from the ground, & the feeling of contentment it brings
When I'm in the garden, I both forget and remember who I am. I forget the more superficial and temporary aspects of myself and remember what it is to be a human being- alive an aware- observing and interacting with the world that was born from the earth instead of the one we've built up within ourselves. My senses are swarmed with stimulation. The smell of jasmine, rosemary, lavender, and sweet asylum. The sound of hummingbirds, bees, gnats, and crows. Newly sprouted leaves, the first sign of peach blossoms, pockets of brightly colored flowers coming into full bloom... It's hard to express how it feels when you've spent hours with dirt between your fingers and sweat dripping down your back. When the sun starts to set and the air begins to cool and you look over this land that you feel such a partnership with... I've been working with this yard for nearly five years. I've struggled and I've failed- I've made innumerable mistakes- but I've also had my fair share of triumphs and well-thought, well-executed choices. And for as much reading and research that I do about gardening, nothing has been a better teacher than observation (and a fair share of trail-and-error, of course). I go out and walk around my yard every day and I observe. What's happening to what and why? If I do (a), how does it respond? And over time, all this observing has propelled me into this really lovely synchronicity with my little garden ecosystem. I am a part of it and it is a part of me.
Crispy sweet potato chips smothered with peppers, carrots, and spicy peanut dressing
Lately things have been feeling weird. Up until the past few days I haven't really felt like myself. And although I have a list of reasons about a mile long why, all those reasons are just bits and pieces of the same driving force. Change. All summer long I worked carefully to achieve a delicate balance. I enlisted new routines, I tried many different approaches to working, I reflected and assessed the strengths and weakness of my days... But now things are just different. The morning routine I proudly settled on by the end of summer is no longer applicable to most of my week. My delicate balancing act of priorities has toppled into a giant mess as a slew of new responsibilities and obligations have been tossed into the mix. My initiative to maintain progress on all of the things most important to me has devolved into a simple system of "what do I have to do immediately, what do I have to do really soon, and what have I been putting off for so long that I can actually justify bumping it up on the to do list?". I won't say my summer of seeking balance was all for naught- it was an important exercise. But life isn't like some project were you work really hard, execute your plan, buffer out the imperfections, and presto: Balance! Contentment! Keep that on the shelf for later! Life is fluid and dynamic. It's always changing and you can try to hold on to your plans and schedules and ideals when the tides shift, or you can go with the flow. And this fall, the current is strong, the waves are massive, and after a few frustrated months of stubbornly trying to swim up stream, I just threw my hands up into the air and let the flow of the water do the navigating.
Hi there! I'm Cara- plant ecologist, gardening addict, and whole foods enthusiast. My whole life revolves around plants, including my kitchen. Join me here at LWM each week as I post local, seasonal, plant-based recipes and write about my never ending quest to find balance and tranquility in this crazy little world.