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Top 5 Nonfiction Reads

Top 5 Nonfiction Reads

 

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

This is one of the very few books I’ve read more than once. A well-told story with a Socratic style, the characters’ dialogue makes you question everything you never thought you didn’t know. The author spent decades perfecting this masterpiece and I’ll bet that anyone who has read it agrees it changes your view of our culture and the things that are the way they are. It’s strange to start a nonfiction list with one whose main character is a talking gorilla, but I’m not turning back.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

My friend Karri made this print of a quote from the book Braiding Sweetgrass, and released it coincidentally, just as I was reading the final chapters of the book, during all the free time that coincided with the Covid-19 quarantine. So now I have this lovely artwork to remind me of many things like a dear friendship, the world ashift, and the many powerful messages from this amazing book.

Kimmerer’s essays bring you outside into dew-filled forests, and along aching lakesides and singing creeks. She introduces you to trees who you’ll want to have a drink with and get to know better.  Amphibians you’d like to take a sunset walk with.  Her writing delivers a peaceful appreciation for the natural world and a plea for change to respect and adore the non-human players around us.

 

The Land Ethic from A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold

While the book in its entirety is a loving appreciation of the natural world, I recommend this essay in particular and in fact I remind myself to pull it out and read The Land Ethic nearly every spring. A few years ago on a road trip to Texas, I remember stopping to peruse the shelves in a used bookstore in Nashville and feeling panicked at the great number of copies of A Sand County Almanac on the shelf. You’d think I was looking at puppies in a cold animal shelter. “These shouldn’t be here,” I thought. “Why aren’t they in a warm loving home?”

In the preceding essay, Wilderness, Leopold writes,  “The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; ”  Leopold spent many years in conservation work, and he writes with a notably indigenous perspective, with an understanding of the undeniable connection and what should be non-distinction between humans and the rest of creation. I quoted the preceding essay instead of the one of topic here to up the allure; did it work?

 

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

A friend gave me my first copy of the Tao way back in my wandering days. I’ve since acquired and gifted several copies and recently came back into possession of the  translation I’d had back then, which I find to be the best. It’s an ancient yet timeless text, and not to be devoured, but slowly savored.

I came quite close to naming the farm “Spoke & Barrel Farm”, which was pulled from the lines of the Tao Te Ching, but I was informed me that any biz name with 2 words split by ampersand is “hipster” and therefore to be avoided. I later realized there is a local food truck named Smoke & Barrel, so I’m glad I avoided that conundrum.

I think that reading the Tao over the years has helped me to relax overall, especially when it comes to understanding what it means to be in control. In situations that could prove a difficult battle, I can often remind myself to be like water, and flow in the easiest direction, and in leadership to remember the value of humility:

“Why is the ocean king of all of the rivers? Because it lies beneath them.”

 

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I can recall that I  bought The Omnivore’s Dilemma back in 2007 with a half-ounce of presence; I was thoroughly engaged in a phone call while walking through an airport and slid into a bookshop to scoop up a cross-country flight read.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma drew me in, blowing my mind on that flight back home from California; I had begun to read a bit about food and diet, and while real-talk books like “Skinny Bitch” reeled my mind about personal health, Pollan’s writing in The Omnivore’s Dilemma starting my brain cogs spinning about the public health and environmental implications of the foods we choose to eat. I loved this book so much I didn’t stop at the final chapter. I read through the Sources and researched the people he interviewed and referenced; I went on to read more about Joel Salatin and Marion Nestle,  and got myself a copy of Frances Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet” to name a few.

Oh right, I also became a farmer. Working at farmers’ markets and on farms for the last 10 years now I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who were impacted by The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I think the whole industry and market for sustainably and ethically produced food has been impacted in a huge way by this one special book. It’s worth reading at least once.

 

 

Radish Salsa

Ever been told, “you’re blander than a grocery store radish” ? Good, me neither. Radishes are a spring favorite in the garden.  While they’re quick and easy to grow, and fun to harvest,  they’re impatient little buggers. They don’t want to sit in the ground any longer than they’d initially planned, and once plucked, they don’t want to sit around long in your fridge either. So get ’em fresh from your farmer, and serve ’em up fast.

Radish Salsa

Cool cucumber tones down the radish kick in this delicious Radish Salsa recipe.  Serve over salad or sandwiches, or as a chip dip. Enjoy! You’ll need: 2 cups chopped Cherry Belle Radishes ½ cucumber, peeled and chopped ¼ cup finely chopped red onion 2 Tbsp. lemon juice 2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced. 1-2 cloves minced garlic Salt and Pepper to taste Simple Steps: Mix all ingredients well. Chill. Stir again before serving.

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Fried Rice Recipe

Dried up old rice in the fridge. Why’d you make such a big batch, fool? All that good food going to waste… Never again! I have at least four ideas to freshen up your old rice and here’s one of ’em:

Fried Rice Recipe

This has become one of my favorite late night ‘more-than-a-snack’ type things. I usually go way overboard cooking rice, knowing that the leftovers will coax me to make fried rice. And while you could essentially make it with fresh rice, you’ll find most recipes recommend the stuff that’s felt the rigors of a few days of life in the fridge. For starters, in my case, while the original batch may have been plain rice, it’s far more likely that it contained any of the following: raisins, dried cranberries, onion, orange peel, cilantro, or parsley, to name a few suggestions. See anything there that wouldn’t make fried rice better anyways? Didn’t think so.
chopped vegetables
chopped vegetables
This is a great place to mix in so many things you’ve acquired from your local friendly farmer. The recipe below calls for chopped vegetables. Try any mix of the following: carrots, beets, daikon, snow or sugar snap or whole peas, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, pepper, celery, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, kohlrabi, and even cooking greens like collards or chard. By the way this recipe is vegetarian, if you care. Prep time: 5 minutes Total time: less than 20 minutes You’ll need: 4 cups  cooked rice, 3-5 days old. 2 eggs 3-4 cups chopped vegetables 1 thumb of ginger, finely chopped (optional) 2-3 tbsp cooking oil (I prefer coconut or sesame in this case) Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)  to taste, about 2-3 tbsp Red Pepper Flakes to taste, if that’s your thing Simple Steps: 1. Bring the oil to medium heat in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the rice, and a splash of water (and the red pepper flakes if you so choose). Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. 2. Crack the eggs into the pan and scramble immediately. It’s fine to get the egg and rice mixed up, it’s all going to the same place! 3. Add in the vegetables and stir to combine. I prefer my vegetables  crunchy, so 2 minutes is plenty. 4. Add the Bragg’s and cook another 1-2 minutes. 5. Serve it up! Keep the Bragg’s out, along with some Sriracha or hot sauce of choice for personalized fine-tuning.   Fried rice will keep for several days in the refrigerator, much better than it’s formerly known self, “rice.”

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Embrace Your Lazy

Yes, this is your farmer speaking. I’d love to tell you I eat only fresh local or homegrown organic healthy this and and that fairtrade nonGMO but listen, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be any time soon.  Join me, accept it, and make a strategy for lazy days… with the possibility that today could be one of ’em.

Box Mac & Cheese

dandelions with mac & cheese
dandelions & garlic scapes with mac & cheese
  This is my favorite guilty lazy meal. But I feel better, and stretch the meal further when I … Add veggies! While the pasta is in the colander, add the butter to the hot pan. Once it has melted, chop up and toss in any of the following: -greens (kale, collard, dandelion, chard) -snow or  sugar snap peas -green beans -garlic scapes or scallions -peppers -broccoli -you get the idea.

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Mirepoix

You already eat it all the time whether you know it or not. Pronounced /meer – pwah/ , this is a bundle of flavor made all out of veggies that your local farmer probably grows for you.  

Mirepoix

Before I started farming (my past life, as I call it),  I didn’t typically maintain a stock of onions in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I I worked on a farm and harvested fresh onions that I even began to realize how much I need them around, how versatile and impactful an onion can be to a soup, a burger, a pizza, and the list, along with my heart, goes on and on. If you still need convincing, let’s let that old romantic and wordsmith foodie, Pablo Neruda, take the stage for a moment with an excerpt from his Ode to an Onion:

“You make us cry without hurting us. I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are more beautiful than a bird of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet, unmoving dance of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives in your crystalline nature.”

  But you didn’t come here to snap your fingers at a poem. I promised a recipe. Let’s get to it. Mirepoix is not really something  made to stand on its own. It’s a starter for soups, warm salads, and the like. As  an eater of little animal protein, I frequently eat legumes like lentils and split peas, and a mirepoix base is a great start to a legume soup.

mirepoix with split peas
Mirepoix with split peas

You can make a large batch of mirepoix and save it in the refrigerator for a week or freezer for longer to use in future dishes. If  I have the trifecta of carrot, onion, celery in store, as well as some sort of legume , I’ll make up the rest as I go. Let’s use an example of a 6 serving split pea soup. I prefer using grapeseed oil in this recipe, as it’s good for high heat cooking and has a fairly neutral taste.

You’ll need: 
1 medium onion
2-3 medium carrots
2 stalks celery
3tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp salt

Simple steps: 1. Chop the onion, carrots, and celery into 1/2″ pieces. 2. Bring oil to low heat in a soup pot. Add onions and a bit of the salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. 3. Bring the heat up to medium and add in the carrots, celery, and remaining salt. Cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes.
Now, choose your own adventure! If you’re dealing with lentils or split peas, add them in the pot at this point; The goal is to lightly toast and flavor the legumes – it’s pertinent to stir almost continuously to avoid them burning. Be ready to add in the broth or cooking liquid  in 2 minutes or less. You can add in any other spices at this point too, to open up their flavors.

Meal Prep Ideas Make a bigger batch of mirepoix and add it to these quick meal ideas:

  • Cook couscous (5 minutes), quinoa (10 minutes),  or rice (more minutes) and add in mirepoix.
  • Saute greens (like kale, collards, dandelions, or chard) in oil and salt. Splash in a dash of lemon juice at the end and toss with mirepoix.
  • Shredded chicken served over mirepoix.
  • I’ve said mirepoix so many times it’s starting to sound weird. Is mirepoix a word or did I make it up? Not sure at this point.

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