Saturday, June 30, 2012

Super late May month roundup

Urgh.  Where did the time go?  With too much travel (and sadly, more to come) interupting my sleep schedule and multiple school deadlines, I didn't get this up when I wanted to.  I had started it so I could get it up on the last day of May, then as it took me forever to write I thought I could get away with mid-June.  Now, it's the end of June and I figure I ought to get this up before June is officially over.  Better late than never, right?

Okay, so, yeah maybe this is a little late, but here's the round up of all the month-long food celebrations for May!  (Here's hoping I can get the June ones up fairly quickly...)


National Asparagus Month

Did you know that asparagus comes in multiple colors?  For the longest time, I thought asparagus only came in green and carrots only came in orange.  Of course, I was wrong on both counts. In the US, asparagus is primarily green, but in Europe, white asparagus is considered a delicacy.  However, the green and the white are the same variety, except the white is grown in the dark.  The purple variety is a different type and has Italian origins.

 During May, I did buy both green and purple asparagus for taste comparison, as the farmer I purchased from told me that purple asparagus was sweeter than the green.  Well, maybe to some people it is, but I couldn't taste a difference.  Plus, I had hoped that the purple would stay purple so I could make some pretty dishes using the different colors of asparagus.  Unfortunately, the purple asparagus became indistinguishable from the green once they were done cooking.  (I simply broiled them in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper.)  Maybe if I just blanch it it'll retain it's color better.

Curious about the number of asparagus farms in your state?  You can find that information here, along with US asparagus production data dating back to the 50s. California, Michigan and Washington are the three states that produce the most asparagus, with California ranking first in asparagus production.  In fact, California produces about 70% of the nation's asparagus supply.  And while the United States produces quite a bit of the asparagus in the world market, China grows even more and holds the number one spot for world asparagus production.  The US has been increasing the amount of asparagus imported into the States so if you're concerned about shopping local, you'll really want to be sure your aspargus is US grown.

There's an Asparagus Fest held every year in Stockton, California, as well as one in Oceana, Michigan and one in Empire, Michigan.  And it's seems that it's not uncommon for cities in Germany to hold a Spargelfest (asparagus festival) every year.  As for the Asparagus Capital of the World?  Well, Stockton and Isleton (both in CA) lay claim to the title, as do Hadley, MA, and Oceana, MI (which even has a movie about it - "Asparagus! Stalking the American Life" which is available free to watch at the link).  Outside of the US, Schwetzingen, Germany, also lays claim to the title.  I'm sure many more places do as well.

If you've ever had to take a bio class where you had to provide biological samples in some labs and the professor strongly suggested you avoid asparagus for at least 24 hours before sample collection, Discovery Channel explains why.

National Barbecue Month

I suppose because it's the beginning of summer, May gets to be National Barbecue Month. So what to toss on the grill?  Well, you could always go with hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs, or brats.  Or kebabs.  Or vegetables.  Or fruits.  It's actually kind of fun to rifle through the fridge and go "Hmm...I wonder what it's like cooking this on the barbecue?  Let's find out!"  (Yes, I've been known to do that.)

Now, if you're taking about the food that's called barbecue - tread carefully.  I've never known a food to incite such regional passions.  Eastern North Carolina barbecue is different than Western North Carolina barbecue and fans of Georgia Barbecue will tell you both taste weird.  Then there's Kansas City Barbecue, and Texas Barbecue, and a whole lot more.  Serious Eats has more on the matter.

Not only does barbecue refer to different types of cooked meat, in some regions the word "barbecue" can take on other meanings.  On the West Coast, it's fairly common to say, "I'm having a barbecue.  Come on over."  Say that in the Eastern South and you'll get a funny look, and then eventually, "Oh, you mean a cookout."  In some parts of the states, you might say, "I just bought a brand new barbecue!"  while in others the proper turn of phrase is "I just bought a new grill!"  Similarly, in some states, barbecue is used as a verb ("Let's barbecue some chicken!) while in others the verb used might be "grill" or "smoke."

So remember, when eating barbecue in the presence of the cook, always proclaim that it's the best barbecue you've ever had.  If you can find out another regional barbecue that's always compared to the one you're being served, say something like, "This is so much better than ______-style barbecue"
and your host will likely beam and launch into an explanation of the difference between the two.

National Hamburger Month/ 2nd week of May = National Hamburger Week

Well, it makes perfect sense for National Hamburger Month to take place the same time as National Barbecue Month.  And even more sense for National Hamburger Week to take place during National Hamburger Month.  But why did National Hamburger Day not take place during National Hamburger Week?  Well, apparently Memorial Day is also considered National Hamburger Day, so that's a food observance not tied to a specific date.

As I think most people are familiar with hamburgers, I'm not really feeling the urge to talk about them much.  What's Cooking America has the history of the hamburger.  Serious Eats talks about the US hamburger history.  Real Simple has some suggestions for creative hamburger toppings and you can get truly creative with your hamburger at The Counter.  (Seriously, The Counter is pretty cool.  If there's one near you, definitely check it out.)  And did you know you could get cheeseburger in a can?  The next time one of my friends go to Germany, I'll be asking for a can o' cheeseburger.

But since I'm pretty much going to be spending most of my time in the US, I'll be making use of Food Network's list of 50 burgers I have to try in the 50 states.

National Salad Month

Very delicious salad at Cheesecake Factory.
Yes, I go to the CF and I eat salad.
Well, I celebrated this one a couple of times because my three-tier planter is which I grow two different kinds of lettuce was pretty much covered in delicious leafy greens.  (This last week, though, it's been pretty sad because the aphids and leaf miners got to it.)  I've been topping my salad with whatever fresh fruits I have, a couple of tomatoes (sundried or fresh), olives, and carrots. 

Next year, if you want to celebrate National Salad Month, but you don't like the leafy greens, don't despair.  "Salad" can refer to many dishes that are simply cold, typically uncooked vegetables.  Remember the bean salad?  Right now, Whole Foods has a coupon for their Black Bean Quinoa salad.  Speaking of bean salads, there's also balela (available at Trader Joe's if you're feeling lazy) and summer bean salads

Maybe you have an important meeting and are avoiding beans- you could always go with a fruit salad.  Or a carrot salad.   Or a potato salad.    There are so many possibilities!

National Strawberry Month

While my strawberry plant has done nothing but put out leaves, strawberries hit the stores and roadside stands during May. I gorged myself plenty of times in May on strawberries.  They don't seem as cheap this year as they have in the past (shortage? just normal inflation?) but they still are super tasty.

This year's winning recipe at the California Strawberry Festival was a recipe for strawberry lasagna.  "Strawberry" and "lasagna" are two words I never would have put together, but if it works, it works.  And I'll have to try making it someday.

National Chocolate Custard Month

Well, May 5 was National Chocolate Custard Day, so I supposed I kind of already touched on this one.  Again, I think it's wonderful when a food observance day is in the same month that celebrates that food.

I can't imagine eating chocolate custard for a whole month, though.

National Egg Month

Wait a minute...wasn't January National Egg Month?  Turns out both January and May are called National Egg Month.  I've always thought I could easily go vegetarian, but there's no way I could go vegan because I can't ever see myself giving up eggs or honey.  For many ovo-vegetarians, eggs are a primary source of protein.

"The Incredible Edible Egg" is probably one of the catchiest phrases ever to be developed to promote a food product and the website used to promote the egg by the American Egg Board is very well developed.  You can find pretty much everything you need to know about eggs at the website, including recipes.  (Full disclosure: I have received some promotional nutrition materials from the American Egg Board at nutrition conferences/events, and I liked those promotional materials.  I didn't find myself rolling my eyes at the claims they made on their materials, like I do with many other food promotion boards.)

However, one thing you won't find any of the egg promotion organizations talking about is the condition of the chickens in the henhouses.  Purdue has detailed information about commercial egg production.  Confused by all those claims on the cartons of eggs you see at the store?  The Humane Society explains the claims, which may surprise you.  You may think the eggs you purchase are coming from happy, egg-laying hens, but if you look into what the phrases actually mean, you could be surprised.

Still, eggs are pretty awesome nutritionally and, well, just in general for eating and cooking.  Eggs can be used as leaveners in some recipes or as binders in others.  You can be simple and make scrambled or fried eggs.  Or you can use them in dishes like quiches or frittatas which are always sure to be a hit at a brunch.

Gazpacho Aficionado Month

I'm not a fan of gazpacho, so this really wasn't something I was going to celebrate.  Then, I realized that gazpacho isn't necessarily limited to what I consider cold tomato soup.  Marth Stewart has a recipe for a peach gazpacho.  Other websites show that there's also a watermelon gazpacho and summer squash gazpacho.

Maybe I'll give one of those a shot.

Beef Month

I'm not a huge fan of red meat for various reasons.  If I do eat beef (about once or twice a year, if that) I do my best to make sure it's grass-fed.  (The NY Times had a nice article about grass-fed beef a couple of years ago. )  All Recipes has a collection of beef recipes and while the USDA has a collection of beef facts.  And it seems that while many (if not all of) states have beef councils, there are also plenty of national organizations devoted to the promotion of beef.

Bake Month

If these observances were up to me, I'd put Bake Month sometime in the winter when it's too cold to go outside without several layers.  I love baking when it's cold outside because my kitchen is warm and smells good.

Although, I suppose May is a good choice for Bake Month, too.  It's right before the weather gets super hot for most of the US, so it's a good time to bake up some extra cakes and cookies and pop them in the freezer. 

Because when it's super hot outside later in the summer, no one wants to be baking.

1st week of May = National Raisin Week and National Herb Week

Raisins just get a lot of love on the food calendar, don't they?  They've already had a food celebration day and I believe later on they get a month.  I love raisins (I think I just like any dried food) because they're perfect for snacks.  I will sometimes buy the small packages to keep one in my bag.  More often than not, I buy the larger containers or boxes and I measure the raisins into smaller containers.

I also use herbs for just about everything.  I try to avoid salt, so I find herbs add valuable flavor.  Fresh herbs are always nice, so I try to keep a few plants of the herbs I use most.  Even if you live in a tiny apartment, you can find room for a small pot of herbs. (Click here for the "Four Herbs Everyone Should Grow.")

So what do I use herbs for?  I add them to bean salads, omelets, pasta salads, couscous salads, homemade bread and rolls, spaghetti sauce, cookies....  There are hundreds of different ways to use herbs in the kitchen.

3rd week of May = International Pickles Week

Why this one gets to be international while most other days get to be only national, I don't know.  Still, I looked up what constitutes pickles in other parts of the world.  In the US, pickles usually just refers to pickled cucumbers, but around the world, other foods get to star in the pickling process.  Try a Chinese recipe for pickled radishes and carrots.  Or go Mexican and pickle some peppers.  Over at Indian Food Forever, there's a long list of Indian pickles.  Not a fan of vegetables?  Try making pickled fish like the Swedish do.

4th week  of May = American Craft Beer Week/American Beer Week and National Frozen Yogurt Week

While I have friends who are homebrewers and I've made beer for microbiology classes, I'm not terribly knowledgable about beer.  If I like it, I'll drink it.  I had to look up the definition of craft beer.  Turns out everything I do find acceptable is a craft beer. 

Did you know that Beer Advocate hosts a yearly American Craft Brew Fest?  While I'm not a huge fan of beer, I do enjoy going to beer festivals so I'll have to remember to add it to the list of events I should go to.

As for National Frozen Yogurt Week, I already spoke about froyo on Frozen Yogurt Day

Memorial Day Monday = Barbecue Day and Hamburger/Cheeseburger Day

Well, this is a little redundant, especially since this year Memorial Day was on May 28 which is always National Hamburger Day anyways.  How many celebrations for barbecue and burgers are there?

Plus, it seems somewhat wrong to equate Memorial Day as "Barbecue Day and Hamburger/Cheeseburger Day."  I mean, it's one thing for May 28 to always be National Hamburger Day, but to link barbecues and burgers to the a day meant to honor fallen soldiers?  That just feels wrong.

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