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Springlike

21 March 2009

[First strawberries of spring, March 2009.]

It’s spring.

I went back to the Fillmore Farmers’ Market this morning after a too-long hiatus (baby, I’ll never cheat on you again, no, I swear) and it kind of blew my mind. I wandered around in a half-daze, dazzled by the new strawberries, asparagus for $2 a bunch, radishes plump and bursting. I went to my favorite guy and could not help telling him “It’s beautiful! All of this!” because, honestly, it was: crinkly bunches of red and green chard, spinach by the handful, celeriac rugged and stained with dirt, fat carrots cuddling up to each other in wide baskets, leeks, green green green in wide swaths across the tables.

“Thanks,” he said. “That means a lot.”

“No, seriously,” I said. “It’s all gorgeous. Wow.”

Then he told me this year he’ll have fingerling potatoes, all kinds, and I felt like I’d dissolve into the rain right there. I love fingerling potatoes and the farm from which I used to buy them doesn’t come to that market anymore; I’ve been sorely missing them for well over a year. Now, however, if I can just hold on ’til the end of May my longing will at last be requited.

My haul: one bunch asparagus, one avocado, one basket strawberries, new potatoes, one cauliflower, small bit of spinach, one bunch Italian chard, one bunch radishes, one carrot, a few broccoli, one dozen organic, fresh eggs. This all cost me about $20 and the kid from whom I bought the asparagus thanked me cheerfully for coming out in the “sprinkles.” I think I loved that kid.


[First asparagus, March 2009.]

Oh, it’s spring.

It’s spring and chilly here in San Francisco and the sky is spitting down rain but I ran six miles anyway and talked to my best girl in London and did some writing and it was a good day. It’s spring and three years ago yesterday I moved back to California and the Obamas are putting a garden in the White House and I celebrated both these momentous occasions today with a bowl of asparagus and spinach soup.

When I read the NY Times story the other night that the first family will plant a garden at the White House for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II I nearly leaped out of my chair. I’m sure I’m not quite as excited as Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, or those guys who drove a bus around the country advocating for a national garden, but I’m pretty darn excited. I love the impetus behind it, as reported in the Times:

“While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern. … Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs. Virtually the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said with a laugh.”

This is the Edible Schoolyard taken to Washington on a grand scale, and it’s a powerful statement about the change needed in how we view food in the United States. It’s unbelievably fantastic that eating seasonally has been put in the spotlight by one of the most powerful people in the world and I can’t help but to hope it will trickle down to the greater population. Of course it’s impossible for every family to have a garden — I am mentally planning out my own plot for the day I have a bit of land to plant on but unfortunately that looks to be a ways off as I’m firmly entrenched in the city — but the idea of eating local, seasonal produce is the most important one. Even if we can’t grow the stuff ourselves it’s still very possible to take advantage of this concept by visiting your local farmers’ markets or even just making sure to buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables at the grocery store by looking at the labels.

It’s such a simple concept, really, to eat as people did for centuries by the turn of the seasons but along the way somehow it got trampled by the busy-ness of life and we forgot. The garden at the White House is a reminder that it’s important — so important — in terms of the environment and our own health.

In this spirit I came up with a sort of tribute to spring this afternoon — a bowl of vivid greens, punctuated by creamy white beans for a bit of protein. I used the first beautiful bunch of asparagus of the season (I tend to eat a whole lot of them around this time because they’re just so … gorgeous and exactly right), a bit of spinach and not much else. I left out the dairy and flavored my soup only with salt, pepper, and thyme; it was just right for this cold, gray day. March is not exactly going out like a lamb this year but there’s still a week left for it to sort itself out.

And it’s spring! Tomato season suddenly doesn’t feel like an impossibly far-off dream and everything is pretty much smooth sailing from now into the slow slide of summer.

Even if today felt like this

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

– Carl Sandburg, Fog

Asparagus and White Bean Soup

1 bunch asparagus
2 cups spinach
1/2 onion chopped

1 cup white beans drained and rinsed
4 cups water or vegetable broth
salt and pepper
pinch thyme (optional)

Sautee the onion in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 5 minutes until the asparagus starts getting tender. Add the spinach and more water if you like, then cover and simmer for five more minutes. Add the salt and pepper and thyme if using. Remove from heat.

With a stick blender or in a food processor blend the soup until smooth. Add the beans and return to the stove to reheat gently.

  • Jessica 18 May 2009 at 10:41 am

    Hi Nicole:
    I am following your blog here for awhile. I love your healthy, decadent lifestyle, and errant mention of Blue Bottle coffee… Incidentally, a place recently opened down here in Venice – Intellgentsia – to which the LA Times linked BB coffee in comparable quality… (Now I have a closer option for me than BB.)
    So, I made this soup – had many leftovers, but felt the need to blitz an extra cup of white beans to thicken it somewhat.
    Perhaps my asparagus bunch was too skinny or the spinach cups not as tightly packed?
    At any rate, it was lovely. All the Best!

  • Robin 30 March 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I’m so jealous of your farmer’s market adventures, my local market opens on Friday and I’m about to pull my hair out in anticipation.

    Your bounty and your soup sounds amazing.

  • L*Joy 25 March 2009 at 9:47 am

    spring is springing. I made my first strawberry rhubarb pie of the season last week, and took a moment of simple reflection on how lovely the spring truly is.
    keep on relishing it.

  • Kasie 24 March 2009 at 8:42 am

    I, too, am so excited about the reappearance of farmer’s markets! I have my eyes on several in Atlanta that I just love and look forward to visiting each spring.

  • Lisa 22 March 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Oh my word. I’m going to be completely honest here and tell you that 1) I want to eat every single last thing you bought — I cannot tell you how much I’m craving all that freshness, and 2) I am, for the moment, thanking my lucky stars I don’t farm in California!! We are juggling so many things already — my head just about explodes when I think of how hard those farmers have been working for months in order to have that gorgeous delicious bounty ready for you now! Just amazing. Three cheers to them, for real. (But I’m staying in Virginia.)

  • justrun 22 March 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Ah, we’re still quite a ways from farmer’s market here… but a girl can dream! :)

  • Whitney 22 March 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I was so excited to read about the White House garden. Such a great example to set for the country.

    I can’t wait for our farmer’s market to start, sadly it will probably be another month still.

  • Stefanie 21 March 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Such a nice early spring post, Nicole! I am still waiting patiently for our local farmer’s market to start in May! (http://www.thegrowersmarket.com) I look forward to seeing my favorite strawberry girl, fresh honey gal, garlic guy, carrot, tomato, and squash friends….and the greatest cheese lady! (http://www.dedrickscheese.com). In the meantime, I hope to see one more beautiful morning with a light snow dusting tomorrow…and it could be a perfect day for your soup!