May is my birthday month, and so one that always feels a bit more sweet. I celebrated that sweetness with some musings in our member email on ways to fold honey into picnics, and plan to spend my birthday itself celebrating the sweetness of this season in a beautiful cabin up in the Tennessee mountains.
In recent months, I've been pondering a lot on the push and pull between sweet and sour. Initially an exploration related to food, and our desire in many cases to find balance between them (as with this shrub recipe), I came to the conclusion that for some dishes at least that balance makes all the flavors sing (again, as with shrubs).
But in some cases a perfect balance of flavors is unachievable or perhaps even undesirable: Think for example of the ever-popular Sour Patch Kid candies with their citric acid bite, or cloyingly sweet candies like Werther's caramels.
Neither are my personal choice, but both have devoted and regular markets: An example of how, from time to time at least, we crave one dominant flavor rather than balance.
As is so often the case when talking about food, the movement between balance and homogeneity we find with our tastebuds can translate to our larger lived experience. While oftentimes we crave balance, it sometimes feels out of reach, a feeling many of us can relate to in the last year.
I talked about this in my piece on how librarians during pandemics past and present serve their communities, but how finding balance in that work can be a real challenge.
And sometimes we really want to just deep dive into one feeling and let it carry us along, like those moment when we crave a big slice of cake or one of those cloyingly sweet caramels.
I had such a moment recently after reading this piece on gardening, a reminder that "nature wants to happen. Don't stress about it."
Armed with the permission to let go of perfection and garden-related anxiety, I spent an entire day basking in the joy of planting seeds and tending seedlings, tuned to the moment rather than the outcome.
But always, our hearts, and our tastebuds, are discretely attuned to the balance between sweet and sour: Recognizing the persistent presence of sweet moments and those that leave your eyes watering, always seeking to balance them and, sometimes, having a moment where we can revel in sweet bliss and goodness.
As we humans continue to explore how food both reflects and diverges from our larger lived experiences, turning to other creative expressions, like literature, can be one way to find clarity.
This piece explores food's significance in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, noting: " found a central theme: the question of what man (specifically gendered man) is doing here in America, what he’s cooking up, and how it nourishes him. In this system, eating chowder is on the side of our better nature, and eating whale is on the side of our worst..."
As part of thinking about balance, I've been pondering on the concept of terroir, and how (as in our lives) a "balanced" dish varies depending on where and when and by whom it's eaten.
Balance and context meet everywhere, from the natural world's impact on Celtic Irish culture to "the best cheese in France."
Balance includes self-care, or as I coach my writing clients, considering both activity (work) and calm (rest), considering each within the context of the other. Some favorite reads/listens in this area this month include this piece on how cooking and baking fill a void and benefit us, from social interaction to getting creative juices flowing.
One final note: It's nice to see published pieces that connect to the work happening here at Root.
Interest in our online food waste course, Preserving Abundance, continues to grow as more and more people turn their interest to saving money and building a healthier relationship with the earth.
I've loved seeing this focus as a part of larger cultural discourse, including in Ikea's new food waste cookbook.
Our Herbs and Art CSA boxes are starting to burst with the bounty of late spring, from fermented blackberry leaf tea to tinctures and vinegars and our much-beloved fermented seasonings (which we don't sell anywhere else).
We're already mapping out our summer boxes, and can't wait to share them with you.
Candied rosehips: The perfect balance of sweet and sour
In high school, I first visited the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, which included in their first menu a genius (but costly) condiment and snack: candied rosehips. Left out on the tables for guests as a complimentary treat, the rosehips were so delicious that they were downright irresistible, and the teahouse quickly stopped serving them because of the high price tag associated with buying rosehips in bulk and giving them away for free.
If you don't have rosehips, you can find them from retailers like Mountain Rose Herbs or at Middle Eastern markets. The candying process is simple, and the results addictive. I often use vanilla-infused sugar to add a bit of warmth, but regular ol' granulated sugar works just fine here, and you can play around with adding your own flavors. This amount serves 4-6 people.
-2/3 c sugar
-pinch of sea salt
-1/4 cup water
-1 cup dried rosehips
1. Add sugar, water, and salt to a flat-bottomed pan (I used a medium skillet)
2. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a hard ball when dropped in ice water (Read more about candy-making stages here.)
3. Toss the rosehips in the pan, and toss to evenly coat. Work quickly, since the sugar will start to harden once you remove it from the heat.
4. As quickly as possible, transfer the rosehips to a baking sheet that has been coated with butter and sprinkled with sugar. Make sure they are in one layer (rather than piled up on top of each other) for cooling
5. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.