“Mom, can we get a bird?”
My mind lapsed to our family doctor’s favorite expression when you were sick and paid her a visit. “Bottom of the birdcage” was her way of describing the ick that would accumulate at the base of your throat. You’d nod your head. Your cold had birdcage written all over it.
“Mom, can we get a bird?” Sam asked again. “A tiny bird. One that sings.”
I couldn’t think about the song, the colors, how happy it would make my little man to have his very own bird. All I could think about was the bottom of the birdcage and who would have to clean it.
“I’ll make you a promise buddy. You keep asking and working on your good behavior and maybe for your birthday we can get one.”
I’m more than happy to play my adults-only trump card, I’ve earned it. You need to play the losing end of enough childhood poker games to play that card yourself. “Sure thing” the adult says. But without the benefit of perspective, little Lord Fauntleroy with his batting eyelashes is unaware that he’s bound to stop asking by the time his birthday rolls around 9 months later.
“What’s that thing ya got there?”
I pointed to the pipe cleaner that he clasped between both hands, Cheerios lined up like little soldiers along its length.
Apparently they’d spent the afternoon building bird feeders in class. In celebration of Earth Day. April 22nd. Jackson’s birthday. I’d been so distracted lavishing my dog with attention on his special day (long walk, brand new rawhide) that I’d forgotten all about it.
What a shame, I usually make some kind of effort to celebrate.
I remember my first Earth Day celebration: climbing all 144 flights of the CN Tower’s stairs in Toronto, which at that point was still the world’s tallest building.
Last year we celebrated with a special Earth Day collaboration with TOMS; we participated in One Day Without Shoes. We walked around the New York City with bare feet. Maybe it wasn’t really around the city. But we did it for a few blocks, from our apartment to the site of the One Day Without Shoes bash.
In a sense, Earth Day is less of a one-day celebration, and more of a philosophy that influences how we choose to live our lives. I buy Earth-friendly cleaning products, use biodegradable baggies for my daily walks with Jack, I reuse, recycle. And most important, I’m conscious about my daily food choices.
Like many, I subscribe to Michael Pollan’s famed recommendation: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. It’s a brilliant summation of what’s good for us, good for the environment.
Although I love eating meat, I’m aware that it takes 16 pounds of vegetation in order to produce 1 pound of beef. The American meat and potatoes diet is land-intensive and even small changes in the way we eat – incorporating more vegetables on a macro scale – can significantly impact our environment.
Beyond that, I feel good when I eat plants. I love their vibrancy, their colors, and textures. I love their flavor – whether raw or gently cooked. I feel an electric thrill when I walk through a farmer’s market and spy rows upon rows of ombré icicle radishes.
Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable to get the same amount of pleasure from both a simple salad and a juicy cheeseburger. But somehow, through years of farmer’s market visits, I’ve changed my ways.
Take this asparagus salad. Asparagus is lovely on its own, especially when minimally fussed….but layer it with all of the crunchy, soft, sweet, salty, sour ingredients that you can get your hands on, and it becomes something extraordinary.
Naturally, it helps to start with perfect asparagus – a winning combination of fat yet tender – forget the weathered old bundles that have been sitting around for weeks at your local grocery store. Wash the asparagus, snap off the woody ends, and give the bases a quick peel. All that it takes to “cook” the asparagus is a quick bath in a citrus marinade, which, like ceviche, uses acid to gently break down the spears.
With such a salad, you can be creative with toppings. Think of your asparagus as you would a baked potato. Nachos. Chili con carne. The more toppings, the better. I used crispy roasted dates for sweetness, salty feta cheese, toasted hazelnuts for crunch, and sour kumquats to balance out the flavors. It’s the kind of dish that’ll give your cheeseburger a run for its money.
Plus, it’s better for your health. Better for the environment. Better for those birds who are better off in a tree than in a cage in someone’s home.
Happy Earth Day everyone, or as Sam put it this week: “that holiday with no cake.”
- 2 bunches of thick but tender asparagus, woody ends snapped off, and bases peeled with a vegetable peeler
- ½ orange
- ½ lemon
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 5-6 dates
- ¼ cup hazelnuts
- 5-7 kumquats, sliced and any seeds removed
- ¼ feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves
- Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
- Place your cleaned and shaved asparagus on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- In a large bowl, whisk the lemon and orange juice along with the salt and pepper. In a steady stream, add most of the olive oil, saving a teaspoon for the dates, whisking to emulsify. Taste again for seasoning, and then add the asparagus, tossing to coat.
- Leave the asparagus for an hour, tossing occasionally.
- While the asparagus is marinating, prep your dates and hazelnuts.
- In a small baking dish, toss your dates with a ½ tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
- In another baking dish, spread your hazelnuts in an even layer.
- Put both the dates and the nuts into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, giving a toss to both about halfway through and removing if the nuts and dates are starting to darken too much.
- Remove the dates and once cool, shred them by hand into smaller pieces.
- Remove the hazelnuts and fold them into a dishtowel, and give them a good rub to remove their skins. Move to a cutting board, chop lightly and set aside.
- When ready to serve, spread your asparagus out in an even layer. Top the asparagus with the crumbled feta, kumquats, dates, toasted hazelnuts, the thyme leaves, and the zest from your half orange. Season with a little more flaked sea salt and freshly-ground pepper and serve.