Some dreams do come true.

When I was a child, the old Willy Wonka movie fueled fantasies about candy teacups, lickable walls, and chocolate waterfalls. That movie probably helped thousands of dentists buy Rolexes. Good for them. My obsession with sweets faded, but the sight of big candy, cool candy, and lots of candy still reminds me of the days when just thinking about sugar made me giddy.

Recently I placed an order for 5 pounds of cocoa and 11 pounds of white chocolate for the wedding cake. I’d never purchased bulk chocolate before and didn’t quite know what to expect. The package arrived with two big bags of cocoa, pretty boring as candy goes. But the white chocolate, all 11 pounds of it, came packed into one enormous solid brick. When I grunted just to pick it up, I knew I could finally fulfill one of the greatest fantasies of all time—bite into a candy bar more than twice the size of my head. And I have a big head.

Oh no she didn’t.

White chocolate

Oh yes she did!

Just a bite

Wild garlic mustard pesto for the heart.

The Heart of the Matter - Eating For LifeI’ve been kicking myself for not participating in The Heart of the Matter event. This blog may not show it much (I guarantee more buttercream photos before the year is out), but I generally eat a healthy diet to maintain my weight loss and keep high blood pressure in check. When you have a father who has suffered a hemorrhagic stroke due to hypertension, you are constantly reminded of how invisible health problems can destroy a life and affect a family. While heart disease and hypertension are not identical, one often comes along with the other. The same recommended diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and monounsaturated fats will help heal both. It’s with pleasure that I finally participate in The Heart of the Matter and submit my pasta dish for this month’s theme.

Wild garlic mustard pestoThe wild garlic mustard I identified last week without dying tastes like a cross between young garlic chives and baby spinach. The entire garlic mustard plant is edible, including the pungent root. Unfortunately, the roots I pulled up had a hard black center that made it difficult to cut much less clean and use. In the first year of the garlic mustard’s life, the round scalloped leaves hug the ground much like violet leaves. You can see a bit of them as garnish on the pasta. In the second year the leaves develop a notched heart shape and grow from a thigh-high central stem topped with white flowers that drop their petals on the leaves below. The withered petals can look a lot like, um, bird droppings. Calling it “flower droppings” doesn’t make it sound much better. They wash right off. Thank God. Apparently the leaves become bitter as the weather warms, so if you have seen this invasive weed growing like crazy in your area, by all means, harvest some leaves now and toss them into your next salad.

Wild garlic mustard pesto with flowerThe intriguing garlicky flavor of the leaves would lend itself well to blanching and seasoning Korean style, but with basil season a ways off yet, several online garlic mustard pesto recipes caught my fancy. Oily restaurant and store pesto makes me ill within a few bites. Homemade pesto, made with just a bit of intense extra virgin olive oil and as much herb as I’d like, makes me giddy with the taste of fresh summer. Reducing the oil also happens to reduce the fat—an added bonus. A bit of real Parmigiano-Reggiano is so flavorful that just a little goes a long way without noticeably increasing the saturated fat content. But if you’re avoiding cheese, a great substitute is that vegan standby, nutritional yeast. Available in health food stores, nutritional yeast provides many B vitamins, adds a cheesy flavor, and contains glutamate, the flavor-enhancing unami that makes Parmigiano improve anything it’s added to. To make up for the modest amount of oil, starchy pasta water thins the thick pesto into a good consistency.

Wild garlic mustard with pestleA food processor makes this quick work. I used a mortar and pestle because it makes me feel like an Italian grandma and works my biceps. When you’re one of those people who hates lifting anything other than a fork, every little bit helps. Also, a mortar and pestle are easier to wash. The resulting light herbal pesto was delicious tossed with multicolored leaf-shaped pasta. I had the leftovers with julienned yellow bell peppers sauteed in olive oil and a handful of halved raw cherry tomatoes. That was even better. Bonus: This pesto will not blacken like basil and retains its vibrant green color.


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How to find free local food without risking death or maybe a really bad rash.

1. Recall vague memory of your high school biology teacher noting that this widespread weed is edible somehow.

Garlic mustard flower2. Flip through your copy of Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson. Frown.

3. Flip through your copy of Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson again. And again. And again. Frown some more.

4. Go outside with your copy of Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson and stare at the plant. Flip through the book again. And again. And again. Develop permanent line between your brows.

5. Feel sad because you know that later your mother will see your new wrinkle and say, “I told you so,” and you really don’t need that right now.

6. Finally settle on toothwort, eaten for its horseradishy root, even though the leaves don’t seem quite right.

Garlic mustard root7. Pull up the plant and sniff the root. Feel elated when it smells pungent and horseradishy.

8. Look up toothwort on the Internet. Feel discouraged again when the pictures still don’t look right.

9. Come across pictures of garlic mustard, a plant popular in Europe but an invasive species in the Americas. Yell, “Bingo!”

10. Rip leaf from plant and verify slight garlic odor from bruised leaf.

11. Look up recipes using garlic mustard.

Next week: Annie uses the garlic mustard without dying or developing a really bad rash.