Jeff Danziger lives in New York City and Vermont. He is a long time cartoonist for The Rutland Herald and is represented by Counterpoint Syndicate. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
We all want to shop for the ripest fruit we can find. Or do we? In some cases, the ripest fruit is not the best buy. In fact, in some cases it should be avoided.
To understand why, we first need to delve into the complexities of ripeness and maturity. And while we’re at it, let’s think a little about climacteric fruits.
Ripeness and maturity are separate but linked processes. Think of it this way: Maturity is when the fruit has assembled all the building blocks necessary to create flavor; ripeness is the process by which those blocks are assembled into something greater. When fruit is maturing, it’s developing sugar as well as all the chemical compounds that will eventually make it delicious.
Ripening is a little more complicated — it’s a bell curve that begins with hard green fruit and ends with rot. During that process, the cell walls of the fruit soften, allowing the various separate chemical compounds to mingle, turning what was once simple flavor into a perfume that’s much more complex and grand.
Some fruits mature and ripen at the same time. Citrus, berries, cucumbers, and grapes, for example, will only ripen while they’re on the plant.
But other fruits — apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, tomatoes, and some melons — will continue to ripen after they’ve been picked. We call these climacteric fruits (this is a rough outline; botanists take a somewhat more nuanced view).
This is important because one key part of the ripening process for most fruits is softening. And with softness comes vulnerability. Fruit that is completely ripe is fragile and can be damaged very easily.
So there you are at the farmers market, pawing through a wooden bin full of peaches. You’re probably not the first to do this and besides, someone had to dump them in there in the first place.
Do you want a piece of fruit that is perfectly ripe at that moment? There’s a very high probability that it is going to be beat up and bruised.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to wait a day or two, you can pick a piece of fruit that may feel firm now — and thus is much less likely to be damaged — but that nevertheless will become fully ripe without you having to do anything.
There are ways you can speed up the ripening of climacteric fruit (put it in a paper bag, add an apple or banana), but if left alone at room temperature, the fruit will take care of itself.
One big caution — ripening of climacteric fruit stops when the fruit is chilled. So store them at cool room temperature, not in the refrigerator.
Photo: Loren Javier via Flickr
By Doug Oster, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
LISSE, Netherlands — As we’re driving toward Keukenhof, the sweet scent of hyacinths drifts through our bus of 26 travelers. Our tour guide thought we might like to see the growing fields filled with blooming bulbs. She was right.
No one could believe the seemingly endless rows of flowers, the sights, and smells. Think of driving through field after field of Iowa corn. Now substitute daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and any spring bloomer you can imagine. We all scrambled to get photos through the bus windows.
Keukenhof might be the world’s greatest display of spring bulbs. It’s only open for eight short weeks, when the bulbs are at their peak.
Luckily, we were left on our own, as our guide pointed in one direction and told us to enjoy the bulbs. I worked my way around the perimeter of the garden, trying to get a better photo of the flower fields separated from the park by a narrow canal. Michelle Nawaz of New York City stood with her back to the fields as the afternoon light fell perfectly across her face. She meticulously positioned her phone for one amazing selfie.
“It’s beautiful,” she says, turning back toward the carpet of flowers. “The colors are breathtaking.”
Keukenhof is a gardener’s paradise, a place to spend at least one full day, although I wished I had longer. Some beds are massed with the same flowers. When it’s something like hyacinths, the fragrance is remarkable. Since there’s always a breeze in Holland, the scent of flowers was never far away.
Other beds offered incredible combinations of different bulbs, all blooming in consort. It’s the scale which astounds. One bed that stretched for hundreds of yards had been planted with repeating patterns of white daffodils, pink hyacinths, white anemones, and tulips. Behind them ran a parallel bed of orange tulips.
The garden is filled with more than seven million flowering bulbs, including 800 kinds of tulips. The 80-acre park has been putting on the annual display since 1950.
There were about ten of us looking over the gardens together, but I lost my traveling companions as I lagged photographing everything in sight. As the sun dipped lower, some bulbs became luminescent, highlighted from behind as the light streamed through the trees.
Finally, I ran into Winnie Ritter of Monroeville, who brought three of her daughters with her on the trip. They wanted time in the gift shop and Ritter wanted time with the magnificent blooms. At 82, she is spry and wanted to see as much as possible, but she never complained as I lay on the ground, stood on benches and stopped to shoot even more pictures.
As we stood in front of an impossibly long, curving bed of white and blue hyacinths set off by bright yellow daffodils, we were able to carefully examine the bed and saw a thick row of unopened tulips that would put on a show a week later.
“I’m so glad I got to see this,” Ritter said. “I’m in heaven.”
As we headed back to the bus, I looked behind to see several small beds filled with striped tulips backlit by the late afternoon sun. They were framed by a flowering crabapple tree in full bloom. It was stunning and a fitting end to the day.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the world’s greatest gardens, but Keukenhof stands alone. It’s one of the only places that has exceeded the hype and expectations. I dream of seeing it again and spending a couple days of bliss among this wonderful tapestry of bulbs.
Photo: Doug Oster via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS
By Mollie Thomas, FITBIE.com (TNS)
Now that most of us are thawing from a very cold winter, it’s time to get excited about longer days, blooming trees, and, of course, spring produce.
The season offers some of the most flavorful and nutritious fruits and veggies around — we’re talking pops of red and pink, and greens for days. But how do you know if you’re making the best picks at the farmers market or supermarket? Erin Scott, award-winning food blogger and author of Yummy Supper, gave us some of her top tips for spotting the freshest of the fresh in these early market months.
Asparagus: “When I think of spring produce, I first think of asparagus,” Scott said. Those versatile stalks can be prepared a number of ways: roasted, blanched, grilled, you name it. With asparagus, size doesn’t matter — it’s completely up to your preferences. I prefer the thinner stalks — they taste a little less stringy to me — but Scott loves the thick ones, too: “They’re so juicy.” No matter your diameter of choice, stalks should be firm and snap-able, and Scott said the blooms at the tips should also be tight and closed. She recommends avoiding asparagus that looks dried out — bonus points to markets that store their asparagus in water.
Strawberries and Rhubarb: Likes peas and carrots, strawberries and rhubarb go together wonderfully. Scott calls this delicious duo the “sneak attack pre-summer fruit” — your first taste of sweet, juicy produce before peaches, plums and other traditional summer fruits start showing up in the aisles. Color is most important here. Look for firm fruit and the deepest red with strawberries, and you should be in for a sweet treat. If you’re unsure which berries to buy, ask to taste. “I love that about the farmer’ market,” Scott said — the chance to talk to the farmers, and also to ask about where the fruit was grown and under what conditions. Most vendors will be happy to let you do a taste test. As for rhubarb, both red and green are good choices, and Scott recommends a firmer stalk — you shouldn’t be able to bend rhubarb.
Nettles: This lesser-known green is one of Scott’s favorites — she grows them in her backyard. Nettles have soft fuzz on their skins that will sting to the touch, so be careful when you pick them up. The stinging goes away once you cook them down, so no worries about eating eggs with a side of sore throat. Nettles have a long history of medicinal properties — from soothing joint and muscle pain, to helping with insect bites. Look for vibrant leafy greens — nothing wilted or droopy.
Artichokes: Scott doesn’t discriminate on size with artichokes. She likes them all. To make sure you’re getting a fresh, tasty artichoke, Scott said to “look at the stem — if it looks healthy, that’s a good sign. You want perky and firm.” And this hearty veggie has earned its nickname, the “amazing artichoke.” Studies show that the fiber-rich pick can help with chronic digestive issues such as IBS, flatulence, and irritable stomach. Plus, they’re packed with antioxidants, making them great weapons against cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
Peas: This tiny tender green vegetable packs a vitamin-filled punch. Vitamins A, B-1, B-6, C, and K are all abundant in this little spring pick. Plus they’re a good source of fiber. To make sure you’re getting the best of the best, Scott said “vibrant color and firm crisp texture is what you’re looking for.” Avoid brown spots and, again, if in doubt, ask to taste. Scott said to go for peas that taste sweet and crisp, not mealy. She recommends pairing them with asparagus — a spring romance if we’ve ever heard of one.
Photo: Sharon Mollerus via Flickr
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