Thursday, April 21, 2011

Celebrate the Earth

Today is John Muir Day. If you have watched any episodes of the Ken Burns national parks series or read Muir's writings, you have a sense of what a special man he was and how much we have to thank him for. Our country wouldn't be half of what it is today if Muir hadn't inspired Teddy Roosevelt and others of his time to set aside these wonderful lands for all of us to enjoy in perpetuity. This week, entrance to national parks is free, so take some time to visit a national park near you and give silent (or spoken) thanks to Muir for his contribution to humanity and to the planet.

Speaking of the planet, tomorrow is Earth Day. It's not just a day for the hippie crunchy people to give out reusable bags and teach people how to compost. It's a day to remember that we are but one of many living things on this floating orb in the middle of the universe and that we owe our lives to the air, water and food that Earth provides us. We should treat it better than we do. We should tell other people to treat it better. We should help other people tread more lightly, and we should take a moment to savor what we have, for we are squandering a little more every day. To whom much is given, much is expected. We have all been given the Earth to do with as we please. We should be doing much more to ensure we take only what we need and leave the rest for others. Better yet, we should put in more than we take, for the best gift we can give future generations is something greater than we could ever hope for ourselves.

Earth Day is for everyone. Find your own special way to celebrate.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The jasmine plant on my bedroom window sill is blooming. It smells sticky sweet, like fried dough coated in floral-infused honey, or a marzipan candy. I imagine that I am in the courtyard of a small home in the Fertile Crescent on a warm night. I wear a wide, full flower behind my ear, and I am wrapped in soft cloth the color of eggshells, embroidered with iridescent olive green, rose, and gold thread. My companions and I lounge atop the cool sand on plush chairs beneath strings of lights as we sip sweetened mint tea or red wine and nosh on dried fruits, almonds and bread. Full trees within this walled arena rustle lightly in the soft breeze that offers brief relief from the dry desert heat.

Maybe it was never like this in this land, even before the days of sectarian violence and talks of nuclear weapons, but jasmine's intoxicating scent conjures up imaginary worlds where life is as succulent as the flowers and the sweetness lasts longer than the ephemeral blooms.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Like I need an excuse to cook...

In case you hadn't heard, we just narrowly averted a shutdown of the federal government, the first time it would have happened since 1995/96. As a gummint employee, I would have had a forced furlough, which means all the fun of free vacation days without the fun of getting paid for them. Given that the weather promises to be near 70 degrees and sunny this coming week, you can imagine that I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. I was envisioning sleeping until 8am (so late!), eating a leisurely breakfast, going for a swim in the local indoor pool without having to fight the weekend lane hogs, hiking in some state parks, reading a book, basking in the sun, and cooking some new recipes. This last activity has some practical implications as well as just being fun: I've been going to the gym during my lunch hour, and my post-workout lunch has been half of a turkey sandwich and a salad. But the traditional salad, greens with tomato, cucumber, maybe some crumbled cheese or sunflower seeds, is just getting old. It's spring, and I need some springy salads to repower me for the rest of the afternoon in my work cave.

Luckily, cooking is an activity that I don't need to be jobless to do - in fact, I can afford some nicer ingredients when getting a paycheck. Plus, all those warm sunny days likely mean that my kitchen will be largely ignored, not embraced. So I hit up a recently discovered website (food52) to find some yummy salad recipes. I love this website. They feature the most interesting, appealing, different, and simple recipes that look fresh and tasty, appropriate for a grown-up palate but not fancy or snooty. It could have something to do with the design, too. I'm a minimalist, and this site is just a white page with just the right amount of embellishment, plus the text and recipes whose photos speak for themselves. It kind of annoys me that they're regularly featured on HuffPost, only because I don't want hordes of people to be tromping all over the site. I want to keep it a little bit secret. (I guess the cat's out of that bag now, eh?)

Anyway, if all goes according to plan, I will be making a creamy cucumber salad, potato salad with fennel and shallot relish and bacon, radish and pecan grain salad, and shaved Brussels sprouts salad with red onion, lemon, and pecorino. There might be something with carrots in there too. I have most of the dressing/seasoning ingredients on hand, plus I get to try out some veggies I don't eat often (like radishes and Brussels sprouts, which I will generally eat if placed in front of me but don't exactly pine for). Plus, they're easy to make during the hot humid summer, when one can't possibly imagine using fire for any reason other than to toast marshmallows during a camping trip. Now to find some recipes that utilize the herbs from my windowbox garden - lemon thyme, basil, Italian parsley, and oregano.

I love spring.