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Ramps are All the Rave and Onions Make Their Annual Debut

Feb 01, 2016 05:46PM ● By Lesley Stiles

Rain, beautiful rain, and there’s so much of it to drench parched fields and valleys, green up gardens and woods, and gorge rivers and lakes with life-giving moisture. While up in the mountains for New Year’s, it was amazing to see more snow than I’d seen in years, blinding and majestic, with the promise of a massive, drought-breaking snow pack that could push our reservoirs to capacity come spring and summer in the wild west. I don’t know if I can get used to my shower without the space-taking bucket banging into moistly tender toes.

In our February gardens, life begins anew, pushing through previously clay baked, rock hard, crackling beds of soil, now sodden and heavy. Once again, the life cycle prevails. Winter crops react joyously when sprinkled almost daily by El Nino, especially with our somewhat warmer temperatures. Lush greens thrive along rich and thick vines of snow peas and bushy, vibrant, winter thriving herbs, such as parsley and cilantro. Fluffy, creamy-hued baby cauliflower heads poke through layers of leaves, diligently avoiding bugs under their mischievous cover and secretly maturing nicely. Miniature cabbage heads, green and purple and tightly woven enough to produce a lovely thump when tapped, stir anticipatory excitement with visions of near future tangy coleslaw, shot through with orange carrots and vermillion scallions napped in lusciously creamy lemon vinaigrette. Broccoli is just as delicately compliant next to burgeoning beets and lengthening carrots. You have to love a winter garden.

Onions make their annual debut in the garden and on market tables in rainy winter. Allium tricoccum is a North American variety of an extraordinary treat, AKA ramps, or wild leeks. Perfectly crossed sweet onion and tangy garlic flavors characterize this bulb-forming perennial with long, flat, smooth green stalks, tapering down to burgundy, purple-tinged, diminutive bulbs, bursting with life. Ramps have become the darling of the chef’s circles, causing table frenzy in late winter hitting farmers’ markets, signaling balmy futures and visions of asparagus, strawberries, and cherries following quickly down the pike after a chilly season of citrus and broccoli. Part of the rapidly growing popularity of the ramp can be attributed to an extremely high in demand, very short foraging season. The mystery of this vegetable is that it is not quite an onion or garlic, but encompasses the best of both flavor profiles. After thorough cleansing, ramps are sublime simply tossed in salt and olive oil, placed on a first-of-the-season hot grill. Wafting smoky scents intoxicate as much as the inevitable consumption of the ramp will. Dipped in a light beer batter and deep fried, the ramp becomes an impossibly unimaginable, yet colossal combination of French fry and onion ring, defying taste bud logic as excitement builds in your mouth uncomprehendingly and your food driven self eats it anyway. Pickling in light rice vinegar, sugar, and sea salt brine over night adds dimension and a tasty garnish to any charcuterie served. Sliced and tossed into light, buttery, scrambled eggs invoke sighs. Being the first to discover the mischievous alliums among your food loving peers adds adventure and excitement to your hopeful quest towards ramp love and adds to impending spring excitement.

Rain exercise outdoors is not only excessively possible, but fun! We have our choice of steep hills with really interesting and cool houses to covet as you trek up. Despite heavy mud visions on shoes, don a raincoat and get your fanny out there. I don’t know about ya’ll, but holiday cookies and candies were astoundingly unrelenting to me this year, adding just a bit of extra unwelcome resistance to any movement I incur, and this has got to go. Walking it off in our amazing Diablo Valley, in lovingly welcome rain or not, is just sane. Move it and lose it! Happy New Year!