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Well this is a first. I actually dreamed about this post all night. Seriously. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I was pretty sure I had written it already. Strange. Well, there are stranger things. Like those large, red, globular objects at your local grocery store masquerading as strawberries.
This is what I have to say about California Strawberries. Most California strawberries are the ubiquitous kind that you see in grocery stores all over North America (and probably all over other places in the world too). California produces close to 90% of the strawberries in the grocery store market. They are available all year round. They are large and often spectacular looking. They last forever in the fridge thanks to specialized genetic modifications and a solid dousing in chemicals that you don’t want to think about. They have absolutely zero flavour (okay – a tiny tiny tiny bit of flavour, nothing to write home about) and their carbon footprint is horrific. Here’s a great little story about all of this that follows one batch of strawberries from inception to dinner table. A revealing read.
As with most mass produced crops, the California strawberry has lost everything that makes a strawberry delightful and good. For the sake of convenience and annual availability, the California Strawberry Commission and California strawberry farmers have sacrificed pretty much all that is good about the strawberry fruit. The strawberry, or more accurately, the California Strawberry, is number one on the pesticide charts. And pesticides in our food = not good. Ask David Suzuki. Of course, I would be wrong not to also give a shout-out here to Florida strawberries and also to the Mexican strawberries that have been making a show in recent years. These genetically modified Bad Boys have been soaking in chemical anti-aging solutions just as much as their California brethren. The year-round production of strawberries requires massive amounts of energy and the continent-wide export of product means that many people’s so-called “fresh strawberries” have travelled more than 4000 kilometres to get to their table.
All of which is to say that while the California Strawberry Commission would really like for us to be celebrating their product today, I can’t. The California Strawberry of grocery store fame bears little resemblance to the juicy, flavourful little fruit that only shows up from May – October (if you live here in Victoria) or June – August if you live in colder climes. When I was little, I remember picking wild strawberries in the fields and woods around our house. Each one was tiny, no bigger than the tip of my (very little) thumb, but the flavour was huge. If you scour your local farm markets, you might get lucky and find a grower who still produces the classic strawberry – the original, undoctored variety. The kind that bursts with sunshine and sweetness when you pop it in your mouth. If you find that grower, first fall on your knees before them and kiss their feet in gratitude. And then support their business by buying everything they’ve got and sending all your friends there too! That’s what I do every summer and then I package up pounds and pounds of them so that I will have them in the freezer.
I’m not going to lie. On occasion, in the dead of winter, if I get a major craving and my stash has run out, I will cave and buy me some California Strawberries. They do, vaguely, resemble an actual strawberry and can sort of take the edge off. But really, they’re just not the same. And I avoid feeding them to my son because I shudder to think about what all those chemicals would do to his little body. No thanks to Big Business for making this once healthy food near toxic!
Hmmm … this is the second time in as many posts that I have used the phrase “Bad Boy”. Must be time to watch the movie again… Sorry for the rant and no pictures. But this is how I really feel. I should add the final caveat that some California strawberry growers are the variety of which I referred to – the ones who grow real strawberries and whose feet you should kiss. You won’t find their product in your grocery store because it would never survive the journey. If you live in California and you happen to live near one of these growers, you are lucky! But to be fair, their product is not a California strawberry. It’s a strawberry. Which means it’s good
I ♥ Artichoke Hearts.
I remember when I was a kid that someone (probably my big bro – it’s the kind of thing a big brother would tell a little sister) told me I would die if I ate them because I would choke to death and that’s why artichokes are called art-i-CHOKES. Apparently that is not the case and the name is actually a latin derivative (though the hairy little bits inside the very heart of the heart that we sometimes refer to as the “choke” will make you gag and cough if you eat them because they are actually tiny thistle thorns). I could send you to good ol’ Wiki, but I found this other cool site that talks about the history of this glorious thistle from ancient Greek tales of metamorphoses, to Catherine de Medici (whom the Italians love to argue actually taught the French about haute cuisine – but that’s another post for another day), to the modern mafia. Check it out here.
The artichoke is actually the flower of a thistle plant (it’s very hardy and one of the very few plants around here that the damn deer won’t eat for those who garden). Artichokes have to be washed very well (soak in a sink of cold water with lemon juice so the bugs will crawl out) and are best cooked by boiling in a pot of water that has been salted and has lemon juice in it too. The bottom of the leaves (more accurately, petals) is the edible part – you just scrape off the fleshy bits with your teeth and leave the heavy, fibrous “leaf” behind. And once you get through all the layers of leaves, you get to the heart which is soft and tender and quite sweet. Scoop out the “choke” and enjoy!
The artichoke hearts that you buy, either pre-marinated (ugh) or just packed in water, are actually little baby artichokes. The leaves have not gotten tough and fibrous yet and the choke is pretty much non-existent. So you can eat the whole thing (once cooked of course).
Today I will share with you three recipes:
Artichoke Dip: Mix 1/4 c. each of mayo and plain yogourt with 1 small clove garlic (minced), 2 tbsp. olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, s & p. Dip your artichoke petals and heart to your heart’s content. Caution: dangerously addictive and not good for the waistline!
Marinated Artichoke Hearts: I can’t stand the kind you buy in the jar. They are really heavy on the oil and stale dried Italian spice mix. Yuck. I make my own (though I confess to inventing this recipe after eating marinated artichoke hearts at the Tapa Bar because I loved them so much). Use canned artichoke hearts (plain packed in water – NOT marinated). Drain. Chop into quarters. Make dressing by combining 1 tbsp. toasted cumin seeds (roughly ground in mortar and pestle), 2 tbsp. olive oil, juice of one large lemon, 1 small clove garlic (crushed), s&p to taste. Mix it all up and let sit for a couple hours. See picture of salad, above, for best application (I like to use some of the marinade as my salad dressing). Or you can just eat them plain. Delish and reasonably healthy.
And, finally, the Bad Boy. Sauteed Lamb Chops with Artichoke Hearts. I found me this recipe in the 1988 edition of The Best of Gourmet, Volume III. I have made it with lamb chops and chicken, and I’m quite certain it would be equally delicious with duck (that’s for Della and Eva). I didn’t make it for today as I made the marinated artichokes instead, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share. It’s really easy but looks fancy so you can make it for a dinner party and impress people. It only serves 2 so be prepared to multiply ingredients listed as necessary:
four 3/4-inch-thick loin lamb chops
flour for dredging
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp minced shallot
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. canned [or homemade if you have it] chicken broth
1/4 c. heavy cream
a 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts [I use plain canned ones - see my aforementioned distaste above] drained and chopped.
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves [or applying my usual heavy hand, a smallish handful]
Pat the chops dry, season them with sale and pepper, and dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. In a heavy skillet heat the oil and the butter over moderately high heat until the fat is hot but not smoking and in the fat sauté the chops, turning them once, for 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare meat. Transfer the chops with a slotted spatula to an overnproof platter and keep them warm in a preheated 250° F. oven. Pour the fat from the skillet, add the shallot, and cook it over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is softened. Add the wine, deglaze the skillet, scraping up the brown bits, and boil the wine until it is almost evaporated. Add the broth and boil the liquid until it is almost evaporated. Add the cream and any juices that have accumulated on the platter and boil the mixture until it is reduced by about a third. Add the artichoke hearts, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, cook the sauce, swirling the skillet, until it begins to thicken, and spoon it over the chops. Serves 2.