The A’s Have It

There are lots of very satisfying things about spring. The flowers begin to pop out. The weather is mostly lovely. Here in the East Valley of Phoenix, weather in March is spectacular. Not yet hot and almost always sunny. People are driving around with the tops down on their convertibles – something they cannot do in the summer when it’s too hot.

In Colorado,  there is always the possibility of a spring snowstorm. Still, even in Colorado, there are probably more nice days than not starting in March.

My first three-day dill pickles of the year!

My first three-day dill pickles of the year! They’re about a minute old at this point.

But one of the best things about spring is the emergence of some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are luscious, red, and juicy. Pickling cucumbers are starting to appear in Arizona grocery stores. Pretty soon the sweet Vidalia onions will begin showing up on the store shelves, and they are ever so delicious to grill.

A fruitBut let’s give it up for the three A’s. Although you can get avocados all year round, come March, they are not only delicious but they are inexpensive. Artichokes…two bucks each. And what can I say about fresh asparagus? Why, I make asparagus probably four times a week, and each time I smack my lips with satisfaction.

At the grocery store the other day, the woman who checked me out was young – and not just young compared to me as many people are. She was, I would say, barely in her 20s. She still had braces on her teeth, though that doesn’t necessarily say much. I had braces on my teeth when I was in my 40s.

But she was quite puzzled by a couple of my vegetables. She looked at my leek as though it was from outer space. She called over to the next check stand, holding the leek carefully with her thumb and her forefinger as though it would bite.

“A leek,” I said patiently.

And because I was so patient, she then pointed to my artichoke. “What’s that?” she asked, her face aghast.

Training, Store Managers. Training.

“An artichoke,” I said, still patient. And this particular vegetable she really should pick up carefully, as those leaves have quite pointy ends, as you may know if you’ve been poked.

I have absolutely no reason to be snotty about her lack of knowledge of these vegetables. I had literally never heard of an artichoke until I was an adult, or very near. Artichokes were not in my mother’s vegetable repertoire. (As an aside, despite the fact that my mother was a very good cook, nearly every single night she opened a can of vegetables for the family. I think that was a 50s and 60s thing. The only fresh vegetables we ever ate were corn on the cob and green beans in season.)

My family’s very first experience with the admittedly hard-to-figure-out artichoke was with my dad’s sister Myrta, who offered it to us one night at her house for dinner. Despite the oddity of the vegetable, every single one of us was immediately hooked. And I believe every single one of us prepares artichokes the way Myrta did – cooked for an hour or so in water with a garlic clove. Served with a side of butter.

As an alternative – pull off a large number of the outer leaves, slice the artichoke in half, clean out the “choke” in the center and cook it on the grill. Very Italian. But I don’t like it quite as well as the old fashioned method.

I’m pretty sure I had also not tasted an avocado until we moved to Leadville and began eating Mexican food. Avocados, like artichokes, were love at first bite. My entire family loves guacamole – haven’t met one we dislike. But I also love to slice up an avocado, a delicious ripe summer tomato, and either a red onion or a couple of scallions, drizzle it with a good deal of olive oil and squeeze a couple of limes over the whole kit and caboodle, along with salt. Yum.

We did eat asparagus as a child, but, well, OUT OF A CAN. When I bought my first house after my divorce, the first spring following our moving in, I noticed unusual sprouts coming out of the ground. It took me quite a while to realize that the sprouts were asparagus spears. I was so freaked out about IF and WHEN I should harvest them that I missed out on the whole thing.

As I mentioned above, I cook asparagus for myself four or five times a week. Bill is not a fan. That’s okay. More for me. I drizzle it in olive oil and season it with season salt or Montreal seasoning and either grill it or roast it in the oven. I want some right NOW.

Enjoy vegetables in season when they taste the best and are the least expensive. When the price goes up, the flavor goes down.

Happy Spring!