Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Something for a Rainy Day

Even I am hesitant about gardening in the rain.  I think it's the cat in me, but I really hate getting wet (unless it's on purpose and I'm in the pool!)  There's nothing I love better on a nice rainy day than curling up with a good book, so I'd like to recommend one to read for those all-too-frequent Pittsburgh Spring Showers!  Although I've been known to read books about gardening cover-to-cover, it's not a gardening book I'd like to recommend right now.  But it is a book about eating and our current food supply, and I hope it will give you even MORE incentive to grow your own food.  The book is Harvest for Hope:  A Guide for Mindful Eating, by Jane Goodall.  

Jane Goodall has been a hero of mine since I was a kid watching National Geographic nature specials on TV.  She's that gentle, unassuming former secretary of Louis Leakey whose discoveries about chimpanzee behavior redefined our concept of what it is to be human.  Her studies showed (to the chagrin of many) that we are not as far removed from our primate relatives as we'd once thought.  Perhaps even more importantly they also helped us to realize that we are not separate from all the other creatures that inhabit this planet, but are indeed part of this whole fragile ecosystem that we share.  It's not surprising that after decades of devoting herself to the study of chimpanzees, Jane Goodall has become a humanist. She realized that to save her beloved chimps she needed to be attentive to the humans who share their environment.  This book is an extension of that attention, and in her gentle, unassuming way, she raises issues that we should all be aware of about our current food problems, and provides some simple, and very do-able things that each and every one of us can do to help solve them.  

Want to learn more about the food we eat?  Read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.  Read Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.  And have a listen to Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly podcast from Canada.  It's about time we reconnected with the thing we have our most intimate relationship with . . . our food.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Free Pickin's!

It's a bit early for any real harvests from the garden yet.  I've snitched a few baby chard leaves and the tops of my fava bean seedlings for a salad, but that's about all my garden has produced so far this season.  But there's a free harvest out there waiting in the wings of our community garden. . . knotweed! The garden is surrounded by groves of Japanese knotweed, an invasive weed that was brought in (like so many other invasive weeds) as an ornamental.  Unfortunately it has done so well here that it's crowding out native plants and is considered to be one of the world's worst invasive species.  What can we do about it?  Eat it!  Yes, Japanese knotweed is edible, but only for a very short time, and that time is now.  It's only the new, tender spring shoots that are edible--in a few short weeks this fast-growing weed will be much too woody to eat.  

Japanese knotweed shoots are similar in appearance and speed of growth to asparagus, but in flavor they're very similar to rhubarb.  Pick nice fat shoots when they're a foot tall or less, strip off any leaves, and use it as you would rhubarb.  Today I'm making a knotweed crumble. Knotweed shoots are hollow, so use a bit more per recipe than you would rhubarb since it shrinks down more as it cooks.  It's also slightly less tart than rhubarb, so I like to add a little lemon juice.  I first learned about eating knotweed from "Wildman" Steve Brill's website, which includes lots of recipes and great information about the plant (along with lots of other great foraging advice).
So, do your civic duty and harvest some knotweed shoots, and get a free meal in the bargain!