Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison – Book Review

I first noticed the Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes book on the library “new books” shelf and it immediately leaped into my hands.

I opened the book and while flipping through only a few pages, I knew this book was something special!

I should first mention that I am a big fan of the author, Deborah Madison. Long ago, I bought her famous “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” cookbooks and I’ve also borrowed the rest of her publications from the library.

I knew as soon as I saw her name on the binding, before I even opened the book, that “Vegetable Literacy” would be something that I needed to read.

The book itself is stunning. It’s a big heavy book, with well-crafted binding. It’s even got one of those fancy ribbon bookmarks (aah, the little things that thrill me!). The book cover is lovely photo of pretty garlic scapes, curling and knotting themselves into unique shapes.

The photographs inside the book are artistic, yet meaningful. What I dislike are photos that are added to a cookbook just for the sake of art, or the author’s ego.

Vegetable Literacy includes photos that describe each vegetable whether just pulled from the ground, flowering, or showcased in a recipe. There is no wasted space in this book.

One of my favorite photos is her “bolting” rainbow chard.

It’s truly an encyclopedia of edible plants!

The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each plant “family”, including:

  1. carrot family,
  2. mint family,
  3. sunflower family,
  4. knotweed family,
  5. cabbage family,
  6. nightshade family,
  7. goosefoot & amaranth families,
  8. the (former) Lily family,
  9. cucurbit family,
  10. grass family,
  11. legume family
  12. morning glory family

Each chapter then presents specifics about each plant/vegetable in that particular family, including history, varieties, nutritional benefits, food compatibilities, cooking wisdom, and several intriguing recipes.

The index is extensive so it’s easy to find a recipe ingredient or where a plant is discussed, and I did refer to it when I wanted to read about a specific vegetable.

There are many personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book that clearly validate her longtime love and respect for vegetables that she personally grows, or finds at the market. One story that fascinated me was when she forgot garden carrots one fall, they rewarded her with beautiful flowers the next summer.

The only thing missing is detailed growing advice, which she does occasionally offer, but you’re probably better off with a gardening book for that.

She did inspire me to grow grow grow, and to try new things like keeping my carrots in the ground after frost or until January or February! Can you tell I am suddenly obsessed with carrots! ;)

This woman absolutely knows her stuff!

Some Bits of Plant Knowledge

Did you know that the Carrot family includes parley, fennel, and caraway among others. I had never heard of the herb angelica, which looks like parsley, but the flavor is unlike anything familiar.

Chia seeds are part of the mint family and are a compete protein (didn’t know that!) It is sometimes called the “running food” because just a handful sustained Aztec messengers during their extended running bouts.

Rhubarb grown in a greenhouse usually have rosy-colored stalks and they’re milder and more tender than stocks grown in the garden or in the field. A common mistake is assuming green rhubarb is not ripe, it’s is! Never eat the leaves, they are poisonous.

Buckwheat is also a compete protein, containing all eight amino acids. Buckwheat flour might need more liquid when using in batters.

The goosefoot and amaranth families include amaranth, beets, chard, lambs-quarters, quinoa, and spinach. For some reason, I thought chard was a crucifer vegetable like kale!

Here’s a recipe from the book I found at Epicurious: Doesn’t Peas with Baked Ricotta & Bread Crumbs sound scrumptious? And the recipe photo is divine!

I admit I didn’t have time to read every single word about every single plant, but I couldn’t believe how much I learned, and how much Deborah inspired me.

Read This Book!

Today, I am sadly returning Vegetable Literacy, admittedly a couple of days overdue, with the promise that I’m going to request a copy again very soon, because I didn’t have enough time with it.

If you find a copy of this book, it’s certainly meant to be cherished, and read over and over.

And that’s my Library Monday!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

My Healthy Food Budget: Month of May, 2013

Month of May Healthy Food Budget: $471.52

Wow, yep, way over my $400 budget, but there was surplus of $100 from earlier months, so I’m still under yearly total of $4800 – $5000.

May Food Spending Total $471.52

Dining Out: $79.51
Gardening: $5.78
Groceries: $373.53
Vitamins/Supplements: $12.70

Some specifics:

Whole Foods Market: Pastured step4 chickens were on special at $2.99/lb. I bought a whole chicken and a whole cut-up chicken for a total of about $24. I froze a few of the individual pieces for meals throughout the month, and the whole chicken is still in my freezer.

Tropical Traditions: (2) jars each of coconut oil and coconut cream $38 – that took a big chunk from the budget!

Spent about $27 for farm meat (Open Meadow Farm) but I got many meals from 1lb of ground beefalo and 3lb fresh ham steak, including rendered pork fat.

On the other hand, I spent almost $30 at two farmers markets, with not much to show for it. :(

But NO excuses! I admit spending went overboard, especially the last two weekends, starting with Memorial weekend, wanting to treat ourselves.

The most frustrating part was there was not a lot of produce in the house during most of the month, and since we’re “between seasons” I’m having a difficult time finding decent fruit, without spending a fortune on organic.

June starts a new month, and local produce is becoming more plentiful. My plan is less spontaneity at the farmers markets, and sticking to less expensive local farmstands when possible.

Freezer/Pantry Update

Took inventory of my preserves, and I am still in great shape.

4 -1/2 pint blueberry jam with 2 in the fridge as well (new!)
7 -quarts canned tomatoes
6 -pints canned tomatoes
5 -pints applesauce
4 -pints cranberry apple sauce
2 -pints corn tomato salsa
2 -pints tomato jam (very sweet, not sure what I’m gonna do with this!)
1 -1/2 pint apple cider jelly
2 -1/2 cup grape syrup
4 -1/2 pint grape syrup

Plus, in the freezer, I have a few bags of summer corn, dried summer tomatoes, summer cherry tomatoes, and probably a few other assorted tomatoes. I am out of summer green peppers, but I still have a quart bag of jalapenos.

Where I Spent My Grocery Dollars This Month

Whole Foods 118.29 (32%)
MARKET BASKET 56.49 (15%)
Trader Joe’s 39.29 (11%)
Tropical Traditions 37.95 (10%) (coconut products)
Hannaford 29.66 (8%)
Open Meadow Farm 27.30 (7%) (meat)
Newburyport Farmers Market 16.80 (5%)
Ocean State Job Lot 14.01 (4%)
Amazon.com 13.74 (4%)
Salem NH Farmers Market 12.50 (3%)
Seven Acres Farm 7.50 (2%)
Total: 373.53

About My Healthy Budget

My healthy budget goal is to eat seasonal (local if possible,) home-cooked meals while sticking to a $400 monthly budget for all food including groceries, dining out, entertaining, vitamins/supplements, and gardening.

There’s two of us eating (mostly) 3 meals per day. DH occasionally eats take-out lunch at work, & that $ comes out of his personal cash stash.

Homemade Blueberry Jam (Lower Sugar)

homemade blueberry jam

Okay someone please tell me why I feel the need to make my own jams and jellies when there are perfectly good store bought products available?

Tell me that it’s totally worth it because I’m controlling the ingredients and sugar content. And it doesn’t matter that I’m melting over a hot stovetop on a 90° day!

Okay enough self-pity.

Late last summer, I decided that I was going to try to create enough canned jams and jellies so there wouldn’t be a need for commercial product.

Since I started so late in the season, all the cool fruits were out of season (like strawberries, blueberries, and stone fruit), so I started with an easy apple cider jelly, then onto batches of Concord grape jams & jellies.

I’m so proud that I made enough to last us through winter! But spring couldn’t come quick enough as I was down to one last jar of sad apple cider jelly, along with a few emergency jars of Concord grape “syrup” that didn’t quite work itself into jam.

So when Whole Foods Market announced that they were offering organic blueberries for $1.99/pint I knew it was time to start making more jam!

I had borrowed “Put ’em up” from the library and I found a “quick blueberry jam” recipe that utilized Pomona’s Pectin without the need for massive amounts of sugar, so along with 4 pints if blueberries, I also purchased a box of Pomona’s.

I used Pomona’s a couple of times last year. I like that I can use a smaller amount if sugar and didn’t have to worry about making the jam thicken on its own.

So this morning, despite the 90° heat wave, I got my ingredients ready and proceeded to make a batch of blueberry jam while a big pot of water and jelly jars came up to boil next to it.

I was doing really well, following the directions, allowing the jam to come to a boil slowly. I then added the lemon juice, calcium water, and sugar pectin mix and stirred stirred stirred waiting for the second boil.

I kept peeking, and it wasn’t quite there yet, until I turned away for a little too long and splurshhhh, blueberry jam erupted all over my gas stove!

Then it was time to remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before ladling into jars for the hot water bath. When I was finished, I had 4 (eight oz) canned jars and 2 for the fridge.

The other good news was the sticky blueberry mess on my stove was thankfully easy to clean!

Here’s the recipe:

Quick blueberry jam

Based on recipe from “Put em up” cookbook by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Makes about 6 cups (original recipe stated 4 cups, I used 4 US dry pints of blueberries. 1 US dry pint = about 2.3 cups, even after losing some to boil-over on the stove)

This jam is full of fresh blueberry flavor. Because these berries are easy to stem and have no hulls or noticeable pips, it’s a quick project too.

Ingredients

1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons Pomona’s universal pectin
4 US/dry pints blueberries, stemmed (about 9-10 cups, original recipe stated 8 cups)
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
2 teaspoons calcium water (mix included in the Pomona’s box- I still had a batch in the fridge from last year)

Directions

  1. Whisk the sugar and pectin together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Rinse blueberries and add them into a (nonreactive) sauce pan (I used my 4qt stainless pot) and slowly bring to a boil over low heat.
  3. Continually stir and crush blueberries with potato masher and/or immersion blender (I used both)
  4. Add the lemon juice and calcium water.
  5. Slowly pour in the sugar pectin mixture and keep stirring to make sure it all dissolves.
  6. Return jam to a boil, and then immediately remove from heat to let the jam rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into small jelly jars and either store in fridge for 3 weeks or process for 10 minutes using hot water bath method.

Using only 1 cup of sugar, it’s approximately 17 calories and 4g sugar per Tbsp!!!

I couldn’t resist sampling on a slice of my homemade whole wheat bread!

homemade blueberry jam

“Good for You” by Williams Sonoma Cookbook Review

I just returned the cookbook “Good for You (Williams-Sonoma): Easy, Healthy Recipes for Every Day” by Dana Jacobi to the library and I already have plans to borrow it again!

I am a fan of Williams Sonoma publications, and this was no exception. It offers information as well as recipes, a lot of which are available on their web site.

The first chapter “start with the plant” offers a brief reference to each food group, such as “cabbages & crucifers” which enlightens the reader to the wonderful benefits of bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, napa cabbage and cauliflower.

The book offers a lot of nutritional snippets that I was happy to learn!

Did you know that red cabbage gives you twice as much vitamin C as green cabbage? And that kale beats broccoli in beta-carotene and carotenoid content as well as vitamin A and calcium? And that oregano has the highest antioxidant level of all herbs?

Then there were recipes, which were divided into Breakfast, Main dishes, Sides & snacks, and Desserts. At the end of the book, there are two pages of “Basics” which covers recipes like gremolata, pesto, and homemade yogurt.

Some of the inspiring recipes I found were:
Butternut squash and pears with Rosemary,
Spaghetti squash with garlic, oregano, and Parmesan
and Olive oil chocolate mousse, which utilizes olive oil instead of cream!

I returned “Good for You” to the library only because someone else requested it. Otherwise, I’d be keeping it for another few weeks! It’s worth a check-out for sure! Recommended!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Why Non-GMO Takes So Long

I just read an article from the NYT this morning that does a great job explaining why products with non-GMO ingredients can’t happen as quickly as everyone wants, or as quickly as *I* want! ;)

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/business/food-companies-seeking-ingredients-that-arent-gene-altered.html

Right now, there’s a scramble for companies to obtain non-GMO ingredients, since there are now a couple dozen states that are pending GMO ingredient labeling. Instead of admitting that their products have Genetically-altered ingredients (oh the horror!), food companies feel it’s much better to switch to all non-GMO. I guess it’s like the scarlet “A” of food! haha!

Anyway, there’s still some talk that non-GMO will cost more, but truthfully, once farmers are on board, it’ll all work out eventually, because they will be a greater need for GMO-free products, so farmers will naturally switch…the problem is, it’s not easy to transition, because of the soil. Which perfectly proves the point that GMO is NOT good for farming!

I found it also very interesting that food companies feel that to switch from say GMO corn to non-GMO corn would result in further product testing because of changes to taste, consistency and mouth feel of the product. All along, hasn’t Monstanto been saying that there’s no difference? That it’s safe and “natural” just like regular corn?

The one part of the article that really scared me was that companies could be forced to obtain their ingredients from overseas, which means more food from Asia! I really hope that doesn’t happen! Farmers need to start to transition NOW because it’s going to happen.

One way or another, GMO labeling is going to come! Hurray! VOTE with your FORK!

Library Monday

I thought this would be a light week when I found a copy of the “China Study Cookbook” on the library “new” books table.

But when I visited Whole Foods Market Saturday, I couldn’t resist stopping at the local library and I found a few more fun books to borrow.

The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman – Adding to my Bittman collection from last week (Food Matters and Kitchen Express) I’m always looking for inspiration for low-meat and meatless dinners.

The year-round vegetable gardener by Niki Jabbour – this book’s cover jumped out at me, with her greens surrounded by snow! I was recently in a discussion with my husband about finding a way to re-purpose old glass windows into a cold frame for winter veggies.
Seamus Mullen’s hero food by Seamus Mullen – found this on the new books shelf. Browsing through it, there was mention of Vermont, so I was hooked.
Techniques of healthy cooking by the Culinary Institute of America – I am not usually a fan of “diet” books, but this one was in agreement that lowfat diets just don’t work, and it’s the way you use fat that’s important. So I’m giving it a looksie. PLUS, wow can you believe they’re selling it on amazon for almost $50!!! This is one reason I cherish my library so much!

Library Monday

This weekend, I borrowed a few more books from the library. What would I do without my library!

Oldies but goodies:
My FAVE!

Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton (and I just noticed that she now has a a new Fruit book!)
The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman- read my review!
Food Matters by Mark Bittman
Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman

New to Me:
Delicious Simplicity by Anna Tourkakis
and Gwyneth Paltrow’s new controversial book It’s All Good

The author of Delicious Simplicity, Anna Tourkakis, was speaking at a nearby library this morning, so I was lucky to find her book at one of the local libraries beforehand. She had a lot of good recipes and ideas. My mother and my mother-in-law both came with me to the talk.

I didn’t agree with everything the author said, but for the most part, she was giving good advice to everyone. I let my mother in law take the library book home so she could look at it. I think she needs it much more than me, and I hope she can get some good ideas from it, especially on grains and salads and such.

Anna made a quinoa salad for us. She cooked the quinoa in chicken stock, which is such a good idea, something I always forget to do! Then she added raisins, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds. It was so simple and delicious. The stock really adds a boost of flavor; even my picky mom liked it! ;)

Salem NH Farmers Market

Drove up to the Salem NH Winter/Spring Farmers Market this morning. It was the last market of the season, so I really wanted to check it out.

There was a good selection of products, but probably not as much as previous weeks.

There was even raw dairy products: cheese, milk, cream, buttermilk, kiefer, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. from Brookford Farm. I was tempted, but I didn’t partake. Isn’t it funny how we become so brainwashed by the govt to be scared of certain food products. Maybe this summer, I’ll get brave enough to try raw milk!

From Arrowhead Farm, I bought some awesome tender young swiss chard and mizuna greens (each batch was $3.75). The chard was excellent in my salad for lunch today! They had a very diversified selection of greens, including tatsoi, mustard, and lettuces. They even sell mushrooms!

I also purchased a dozen eggs from Hurd Farm for $5.

I’m really looking forward to summer! Life is good!

Gardening Diary: Peas, Beets, Greens, Plus 2013 Plans

I planted my first seeds a week ago Monday (May 6th) so I figured I’d better post something, along with some gardening plans.

I had three rows of garden last season, along with countless containers. This season, I’m planning on the three rows, and a few containers.

In the row that grew tomatoes last season, I planted my cool-weather crops.

Peas, Beets, Asian Greens

I had opened pea seed packs from last season, so I used those up first. This time I set up the trellises first and then planted the seeds in front and back of each trellis. Last season, my pea plants were all over the place, and they were a jumbled mess.

So, one small row of shell peas in front of first trellis, and snap peas in back of the shell peas, and then more snap peas in two rows front and back of the second trellis. Next week, for the remaining two trellises, I will plant a new batch of snap peas, to help stagger the harvest times.

shell and snap pea sprouts garden May 2013

From last season’s opened seed-packs, I planted beets on the far right end, and then scattered Asian mixed greens seeds over the middle area.

Asian greens just starting to peek:
asian mixed greens from seeds garden May 2013
Beet greens popping up:
beets from seeds garden May 2013

The oregano plant looks awesome again this season. It’s so easy to grow, and it just keeps coming back. This will be the third season!

oregano plant garden May 2013

Here’s a full shot of the garden:
full view of garden May 2013
It’s difficult to see the first two wire trellises for the peas, but they are on the far left, first row, next to the white trellises.

My plan for the summer is to plant pickling cukes, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, more beets, and perhaps peppers. I had such bad luck with the peppers last year, I am not sure if I want to try again.

I’m thinking tomatoes along the back fence, and I’d love to put the cukes in the front row, maybe dispersed with the greens and beets. I wonder, by the time the cukes are spreading out, the greens will be spent? I’ll have to look back at my last season photos and figure out how big the cuke plants were in late June.

My containers from last season are a mess with all sorts of weeds growing in them. I’m thinking of removing all weeds, dumping all the soil into my wheel barrow, mixing it up, maybe adding some compost, then adding it back to the containers for new plants.

Anyone have any ideas or plans for their veggie garden this summer? Life is good!

I Gave In – Strawberries That Aren’t Local

I usually don’t purchase strawberries unless they are local or CA organic. Today, I caved. Hannaford was having a 2/3.00 sale so I bought one pack. It’s been slim pickin’s around here with apples and oranges going out of season, and I desperately needed fruit.

So tonight we’ll feast on long-traveled, pesticide-sprayed California strawberries. I’m sure they will be delicious, despite my horrible assessment of them! ha!

Local berry season can’t come quickly enough!

UPDATE: The strawberries were good. I sliced them and mixed them with fresh-cut pineapple. There was enough for us to have a bowl for lunch today too!