Holiday season for those who follow the tenets and traditions of Serbian Orthodox church does not end with the big ball coming down on Times Square. We celebrate Christmas on January 7th and usher in a New Year on January 13th, as our church has not accepted the Gregorian calendar. And even though we do not have a habit of making New Year’s resolutions, let alone sticking to them, it always makes me feel good to have that extra time to get my affairs in order, reflect on the previous year, and start thinking about the new beginnings.
2013 started off bright, promising excitement and new challenges, even though I fell asleep well before midnight out of sheer exhaustion, both on December 31st and on January 13th, raising a glass of prosecco surrounded by the love and warm hugs of my family some time in the afternoon, rather than at the last moments of the departing year. There was no countdown for me, no traditional Strauss waltz right after the bubbles slide down my throat, nor heartfelt wishes whispered in my ear. Overcome by many days of fatigue and frenzy, we all succumbed to sleep in our new home, without guilt or regret.
The long month of January is slowly winding down; and I am just organized enough in my new life to reach for some familiar things that always make me happy: my music, my photographs, my books, and my cooking. Most of my books are safely packed in the storage, along with four book shelves that used to shelter them, but I kept a few favorites out of prison, knowing that just looking at them would bring a smile to my face and assure me that everything is well with the world.
One of those books is a cookbook from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest produce supplier in the U.S., conveniently located only a dozen or so miles away in Vernon, California. 50 Best Plants on the Planet is published by Chronicle Publishing and features the writing of Cathy Thomas, an acclaimed food columnist for the Orange County Register, and luscious photographs by Angie Cao. The forward is written by Cheryl Forberg, RD, a James Beard Award-winning chef and former nutritionist for The Biggest Loser.
This book sits on the box freezer in my new kitchen and whenever I need a burst of fresh and colorful, I reach for it. We had several weeks of rain and fog in southern California and our spoiled souls suffer under the tyranny of gray. But I forget about the cold and rain as soon as I start flipping the pages, mesmerized by the beauty of nature’s bounty, so simple and unassuming, yet so glorious and inviting.
This encyclopedic tome features fifty fruits and vegetables which pack the most nutrients, listing them alphabetically. Each selection offers three versatile recipes developed by a team of experts and chefs at Melissa’s Produce, as well as numerous tips for buying, using, storing, and preserving the chosen plants. I was not surprised to find included all-time favorites like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, blackberries, and oranges; but I was definitely glad to learn about the benefits of watermelon, gooseberries, cantaloupe, gai lan, beet greens, and edible chrysanthemum leaves (not the common blooming ones in our gardens – those would be poisonous, as I was cautioned by Cathy).
I don’t need a New Year’s resolution to get inspired, as I had a chance to taste some of the recipes at Melissa’s Produce book-signing party a few weeks ago. The counter in the middle of their glamorous kitchen was laden with colorful dishes bursting with flavor, and it took several trips to sample all the food that Melissa’s talented chefs prepared for us. After our hunger was satiated, Cathy Thomas entertained us with the stories about her childhood, talked about her inspirations for the book, and answered many questions from the attentive and curious audience.
I have received a signed copy of the book, and I already have dozens of recipes book-marked. I am eager to start learning and cooking, relying on the advice of the experts, as well as experimenting with my own creations. I have no doubts that this cookbook will contribute to a healthier and more prosperous new year.
50 Best Plants on the Planet: The Most Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables, in 150 Delicious Recipes is available for sale at Bristol Farms supermarkets. Its hardbound edition is sold exclusively online from www.melissas.com and it retails for $35.00. By April 2013 it will be distributed to all major book sellers in the US. It can also be pre-ordered on www.amazon.com.