Flowing with asparagus

Flowing with asparagus

A view of the spring garden

I live just outside of a major city, drive my (hybrid) car nearly every day, and generally live what could be considered a modern, urban lifestyle. But I have committed in a few small ways to staying connected with the rhythms of the earth, despite the flow of life in the twenty-first century.

A couple of years ago when we purchased our house, we decided to uproot most of the grass in our backyard and replace it with wooden frames filled with rich, dark soil. With a few gardening books, some basic tools, and a lot of sweat, tears, and lessons learned, we have managed to grow a bounty of greens, carrots, beets, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, and more. Believe me, you don’t really know what a carrot tastes like until you pull one out of the ground, brush it off, and take a bite. It’s heaven.

But for me, what’s more important than a handful (or sometimes, on a good day in July, a bowlful) of fresh food is the opportunity to connect so intimately with the ground – the earth – and its sustenance. When as part of our modern flow, we can simply grab a bag of dirt-free, pre-carved carrots or a bright red tomato when it’s snowing or – the horror – asparagus in September, it’s hard to stop and remember how the whole process is supposed to work. It’s an incredible exercise in mindfulness. And I really like getting dirty!

I adopted a tradition a few years back related to asparagus in particular. It’s unquestionably one of my favorite vegetables, and it’s characteristics make it the holy grail for me. It shoots out of the ground in mid-April and appears for maybe six fleeting weeks at our Saturday morning farmers market. And with few exceptions, this is the only time we eat it – and we eat it voraciously. This past weekend, as we walked into the market in a cold drizzle, there they were – the first beautiful green bunches. I bought two big round bunches and we sunk our teeth in last night. It was heaven.

The first asparagus of the season, waiting to be devoured

Admittedly I buy lemons, bananas, avocados, and some other decidedly non-local produce throughout the year. But there’s something magical about a vegetable that’s not supposed to grow except for during this very brief period, and the rest of the time is forced out of the ground in the southern hemisphere and flown many thousands of miles to reach my grocery store. It just wouldn’t be as delicious in April if you could eat it all the time, and so I choose to only eat it when the earth tells me I should.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who thinks about vegetables as much as I do. Maybe you never find yourself contemplating mindfulness in the context of asparagus, and that’s fine. But I invite you to find yourself a little bit of dirt, even if it’s just a pot, dig your hands around in the soil, and learn something about how the food you eat grows (by the way, you can’t grow asparagus in a pot, and even if you plant it in the ground, it takes three whole season before it produces any edible shoots). Even if you can’t grow your own food, go out and meet some farmers. And set an intention to be a bit more mindful about what ends up on your plate and how it got there.

I have lots more to share on this topic, so stay tuned for reports from the backyard garden and the role of carrots in my daily practice of yoga. In the meantime, if you do head out to the farmers market and pick up some asparagus (DC folks, now’s the time!), here’s my recommendation for cooking it.

Basic Grilled or Roasted Asparagus

  • Hold one of the asparagus stalks firmly and snap off the thick woody end – it will tell you where to break it. Repeat with the whole bunch.
  • Brush the spears with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Grill on an outdoor grill until lightly charred. Alternatively, you can roast in the oven on a nonstick baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender but still crisp.
  • Serve immediately. Savor every bite while it lasts!
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