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July 2013

Foraging Makes It Taste Better

Smitten KitchenOrangetteDinner: A Love StoryRemedial EatingThe Wednesday Chef. Eating from the Ground Up. These are food blogs that I read as much for the back stories, as I do for recipe ideas.   So when I sat down to write about a salad and how a walk made it so much better, I automatically tried to write in a collective version of my favorite food bloggers' styles.  I remember doing this rather well in college French when given the assignment to write in the style of Emile Zola, but then I was only immitating one author.  And more importantly, today I prefer to sound like myself.

So I set that version aside and asked myself, what do I want to say about this salad?Scissors food project 072611
A couple weeks ago, my partner Z and I invited friends over to break in a new game that he'd received for his birthday.  Our friends took care of drinks and dessert, Z picked up an assortment of sushi and I made the Corn + Avocado + Cilantro salad from Real Simple magazine. 

Sort of. 

Through the "magic" of modern food shipment, you could make this salad any time of year, but right now, in the heat of the summer is when it truly should be made. Local and in-season make a difference in the flavor, especially when a recipe only has six ingredients, and two are givens (salt and olive oil).  

You start with the corn.  Grab a cloth sac and get ye to your local farm or farmer's market for summer's gold.  I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of a farm stand where tomorrow's corn harvest can be seen over the shoulder of the cashier as you pay today.  With its wrapper of green and jaunty tassles, corn is the only food that nature wraps like a present.

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On the way back from the farm, stop at a grocery store and pick up avocados and limes, unless of course you live somewhere that grows these foods.  One nice thing about avocados, is even though they do not grow in the northeast, and therefore have to be shipped long distances for our enjoyment (a "sometimes" food rather than an every day staple), there is no loss in flavor.  Avocados do not ripen until removed from the tree, so unlike many other fruits and vegetables which are picked early to benefit the shipping process, but arrive with just a shadow of their potential flavor, avocados taste great several thousand miles later.

The final ingredient in the salad, as published, is cilantro.  I neither like nor dislike cilantro, which means it's not growing in my herb garden, and I don't want to pay for a bundle and end up with a pile of leftovers.  I was walking back from Wilson Farm when I bent down to nibble on some lamb's quarters growing by the side of the trail.  The first bite is nearly tasteless, but then there's a wave of green, much like the taste of a cucumber with the peel left on.  I decided to replace the cilantro in the recipe with wild lamb's quarters

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The walk home became a scavenger hunt.  Whenever I saw a sprig I plucked it and added it to my sac of corn, feeling quite triumphant.  Though lamb's quarters grow abundantly along the edges of farm fields, they are harder to find in wooded areas (like the one I was walking through).  What does grow there, in abundance, is wood sorrel.  This slightly vinegary herb is often mistaken for clover, but wood sorrel's leaves are tiny hearts, in that yellow sort of green associated with spring.  I tried a bit of lamb's quarters with a sprig of wood sorrel and smiled.  This tasted world's better than cilantro.  In no time I had enough greens to complete the salad.

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 When I got home I gave the greens a careful wash and whirl through my salad spinner.  I'd been careful to gather plants several feet away from the path, since it's a popular dog walking spot, but you never know. I ripped off the leaves and set the stems aside to add to my garbage pail vinegar (but that's a story for another post).

Corn + Avocado Salad

  • Shuck 4 ears of corn.  Either boil them briefly or cook them on the grill, turning them frequently.
  • Once the corn is cooked and cooled, place an ear in a bowl and carefully cut off the kernels.   Repeat with remaining ears of corn.
  • Chop one avocado and add to the corn.
  • Add lamb's quarters and wood sorrel leaves.
  • Pour in lime juice to taste (a tablespoon or two).
  • Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil.  
  • Add a pinch of coarse salt.
  • Mix gently and serve

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 If you'd like to learn more about cooking with wild foods, I recommend Didi Emmons book Wild Flavor's: One Chefs Transformative Year Cooking from Eva's Farm.  She has a whole section on lamb's quarters (also known as goosefoot).  Russ Cohen's Wild Plants I Have Known...and Eaten is a great introduction to foraging in New England.

 


Berry Picking - A Walk for the Nonwalker

I'm suspicious of people who say they've changed their boyfriend, girlfriend, life partner...  This ability to mold the other person is usually claimed by the woman in the relationship. For my own peace of mind I have to suspect they're overstating their achievements, because the only other option is to accept that I am seriously lacking in this important skill.   I'm not quite ready to concede that.

Exhibit A.  For more years than I'd like to admit, I tried to convince my partner that going for a walk is a fun activity.  I wasn't trying to create a daily walk-buddy.  I didn't expect him to take up walking as his preferred form of exercise; my goal was reasonable (in my mind at least).  Let's just go for a walk together every now and then.  It didn't take. You won't see us taking an after dinner stroll.

 

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You may, however,  see us using ambulatory power to reach our local frozen yogurt vendor.  The outing is all about the goal.  The walking is a means to an end, barely worth mention or notice, at least to half our party.   Yet we both come home smiling (and that's only partly due to the joy of mocha chip melting into a pretzel cone). 

 If you too have found yourself in the position of trying to coax a nonwalker to join you, or maybe you think you ought to take up walking but your heart's not in it, may I suggest berry picking?

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I mean it.   A trip to the berry fields isn't going to bestow any sort of aerobic benefit, but a walk with another person is often more about the socializing than the exercising, so that's OK.  Here in the northeast the distance between the barn/farm stand where you pick up your bucket and the actual field can be anywhere from a quarter to a full mile.  The longer the distance the more chance that some sort of hayride or golf cart will be offered to you.  Decline the ride and you have your walk. 


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And once you've reached your destination, wander the rows, see which ones have the most easily accessible fruit.  This is especially important if you're picking something with thorns.  You don't want to risk a thorn to the underarm as you reach, tippy toed for perfect berries just beyond your reach.  Trust me.  I know what I'm talking about.  

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A trip to the berry fields may not make you (or anyone you bring with you) take up walking on a regular basis, but you're sure to smile as you ride home, fingers stained, teeth full of seeds and a bucket of berries at your feet.

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***In case you're local and curious, the berry photos were taken at Russell Orchards Farm Store & Winery in Ipswich, MA and  Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, MA***