Spring has stung, I mean, sprung

Whenever I tell someone about our fall mushroom foraging adventures I get this wide-eyed look of bewilderment and a guaranteed, “Really? Weren’t you afraid of getting poisoned?”

I get a similar response when I mention that we’ve been eating nettles, “Really? You mean the stinging kind?”

I suppose eating off the beaten path has never made me nervous. Besides, nettles and wild mushrooms aren’t exactly as risky as eating fugu or scorpions.

So when my foraging friend Carol brought nettles to work last Spring I was game at giving them a try. She put on a kettle of water to boil, reached for a pair of tongs and gingerly transferred the tender hairy leaves into the teapot. After dousing the leaves with scalding water and steeping for a few minutes, we sipped on a deliciously green, grassy, nutty elixir. I managed to get my hands on some more and made an emerald green nettle risotto and delicate risotto pasta.

Chock full of nutrients (Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium), nettles are just too healthy to pass by. Especially if you forage, because then they’re nutritious AND free.

Now that Spring is once again upon us, the boy and I are looking forward to gathering our own nettles for some more springtime feasting from the forest floor. Don’t worry, we’ll wear gloves.

Flemish Asparagus and a Glass of Cava

There are celebrities, then there are celebrities. Real celebrities. The people in your life that are not necessarily famous but shine brighter than any Hollywood star. I’m lucky to have folks like that in my life. People I can embrace and soak in all their generous energy and grace.

My sister-in-law is one of those celebrities. She’s one of those people that gives endlessly, asks for little and is grateful for every moment. A true star in every sense. Because we don’t live in the same city, time with her is precious and we can never have enough time to fit in all the things we want to do together.

We did, however, have a chance to sit down to lunch late last spring…in Antwerp. Belgium. Two sisters who live a continent and an ocean apart. How often does this opportunity arise? We had to celebrate with a plate of Flemish asparagus and a rosy glass of cava. Perfect food for celebrities.

Flemish Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
2 hard cooked eggs, finely chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 or 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper

Lightly steam asparagus to your liking. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on white asparagus, you’ll need to cook them longer until they’re very tender.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. 
Once your asparagus is plated, add the hard cooked eggs to the butter and warm gently. Season the butter mixture with parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Adorn the asparagus generously with the egg and butter sauce, garnish with paprika if you like and serve right away. Cava optional but highly recommended.

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side dish

“Hello Rhubarb. Pleased to meet you.”

I didn’t grow up knowing rhubarb. I imagine that it simply was not something my family new anything about. I remember reading about rhubarb in my teens and thinking, “Oh, why would one bother eating something so tart and stringy? Meh.” I wasn’t really intrigued, the way I was with artichokes or sushi or Indian food, none with which my family was familiar either.

As a young adult I ventured out to Ontario to complete a year-long internship program in a small town. It wasn’t really a small town, but being a “big city gal,” I felt stifled in this small city. I truly believe, though, that everywhere you go, there is something charming and lovely that you come across. It was hard to find this something charming. The house I rented was lovely–about 90 years old with stained glass windows. And the southern Ontario thunderstorms were grand. But I was still waiting for something to really charm me.

Then one day in the cafeteria I spotted little dishes of rosy rhubarb crumble. And I was intrigued. I bought a dish with my hard-earned, measly stipend and tucked in. My tastebuds jolted with the tart, herbal aroma of the rhubarb, cut gently with chunks of sweet apple and soothed by the crumbly brown sugar topping. I was hooked. How could I have missed out on this all my life?

I’m making up for lost time now. Rhubarb is one of the first signs of Spring and hails the promise of longer, warmer days and a plentiful growing season. I scoop up great armfuls at the market and at our community garden and transform it into culinary delights to enjoy now and later in the year.

Sometimes later acquaintances make for lifelong friends.