Another Day in the Country

Tried anything new lately?

© Another Day in the Country

I’ve always been pretty adventurous in the vegetable world. Growing up with the staples of life being potatoes, corn, green beans, carrots, and peas, I’d pretty much try eating anything that didn’t have a face or a mother.

I first tasted collards and kale, right along with turnip greens, when I met a friend from the South. With a little lemon juice, they were ok. This latest craze for kale has left me a bit cold, but like a true food adventurer I did try making kale chips. It’s nothing I’d walk across the street for — edible, just not particularly satisfying.

Of all the greens that are now popular, spinach was really the only one I was very familiar with. My mother made a wonderful spinach “loaf,” which in more modern vernacular would probably be classified as a soufflé. But other, more exotic greens weren’t on our menu board.

When it came to salads, cabbage slaw was common, and lettuce was iceberg head lettuce most of the year and leaf lettuce early in the spring from our garden, before it got bitter. Wilted lettuce was my favorite. It kind of boggles the mind to think of all the different kinds of greens—romaine lettuce, bibb lettuce, endive, and arugula—that have become commonly available.

Celery always has been an everyday vegetable for salads and for flavoring stews, along with good old onions. Jicama is a new one. I remember the first time I ever heard of, or tasted, jicama. I was in Mexico, and children were selling it along the roadside.

“How could these be good?” I wondered.

They looked like huge, overgrown turnips. The subtle taste eluded me, and I still don’t think they have much flavor, but the crisp texture adds some interest to a salad. I was surprised when I saw them appearing on our supermarket shelves.

Different kinds of grains have been my latest food adventure. It started with buying a $15 package of pasta at a farmers market in California last summer. The pasta was so good! I was no longer content with ordinary pasta off the market shelves. So I said, in my family’s tradition, “I can make it myself.” Thus began my search for pasta ingredients, which led me to spelt flour.

Spelt is a non-hybrid primitive relative of our present day wheat. It dates back more than 9,000 years. Right there on the package I read that because of its high water solubility, it’s vital nutrients are quickly absorbed into the body. It makes wonderful pasta. I’m really into non-hybrid foods these days.

My cousin Janet, the gourmet cook, introduced me to quinoa. I’d read about it but never tasted it and discovered it was a delicious grain, similar to bulgur wheat when put into a salad or served as a side dish. I’m still at that experimental stage, trying to figure out if quinoa really will become a staple in our diet or just an interesting oddity.

Chia seeds are another relatively new grain on our menu horizon. I’d heard of chia seeds only during the hippy era, growing them briefly in some kind of little ceramic pot, like wheat grass in an Easter basket. But snacking on chia seeds is something new.

In an experimental mood, I bought a package of them yesterday, opened the bag and put a handful in my mouth as I would consume sunflower seeds. According to the package, they have a “nutty flavor,” which, like jicama of old, I found difficult to discern. These tiny super seeds have three times the antioxidants of blueberries and more calcium than milk. They are a better source of protein than beans or soy and a great source of fiber.

Supposedly, undoubtedly, most certainly my latest experiment with food — the tiny chia seeds, which purportedly are a nutritional powerhouse, “tasty” in beverages, salads, and soups — left me wondering. Really? Someone likes these? And with several tablespoons full being a normal portion, how long do they take to chew?

I did discover that they absorb moisture, expand and take on a life of their own in your mouth. And how the heck do you get them out of your teeth?

Oh, well, it’s another day in the country, and after all this experimentation, I’m sure that I feel healthier!

 

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