Fine Swine & Dandy

We can’t know for sure what great works of literary fiction might never have come to pass if more people were the types to forage for dandelions. But we do know of a few that came perilously close to being lost in transit.

dandelion greens with bacon and pan vinaigrette

Yesterday Umami Boy told our little ones a story. “When I met Mommy, she was very fancy and sophisticated. She read a lot of books that Daddy couldn’t finish.”

Mild panic. I know a set-up when I hear one, right?

“She once wrote a long paper about books called Sula, which I did finish, and Song of Solomon, which I didn’t.”

Oh boy. Not my hardcore race-and-gender phase. I love that man for searching out stories with strong female protagonists for our little girls, but he is prone to the occasional abuse of discretion.

“Actually, this is a story about Mommy and Crazy Uncle Steve.”

Oh! Whew. It’s hard to be the villain in a story with a crazy uncle.

College friend Steve, who inspired us literally to cry uncle, has many talents and will certainly leave his mark on the world someday. Thus far, however, his closest brush with influencing the American literary canon — and close it was — occurred when he jumped his bike off the campus library stairs and nearly landed on Toni Morrison’s chest. Not many people get to see that lady sweat. But she, too, cried uncle that day.

“So you see, girls, a lot of people know that Toni Morrison is a good writer. But Uncle Steve learned that she is also a good…screamer.” (Umami Boy has a knack for cadence, so the preschooler figured out how to join him for that last word.)

I think my role in that story was meant to be Unimpeachable Mommy, reading Whole Books and writing Important Papers while crazy uncles narrowly avoided taking down the academic world as we know it. The thing is, I spent all year on the same campus as Toni Morrison, writing furiously about the importance of those books, and never once screwed up the courage to ask her about them. (I do mean writing furiously, by the way. There is only so much social rage available to a pink-skinned suburban college student with a happy childhood, but I daresay all three-and-a-half people who read that oeuvre were amused by how much of it I squeezed into those pages. Wrung myself dry, thankfully.) Anyway, it must have been a very private sort of social rage, because I never even went so far as to dial Toni Morrison’s assistant with shaky fingers to request an interview, lose my nerve and hang up. I did not apply for her creative writing class. I certainly did not clobber her with a bicycle. Unimpeachable gives you a lot to lose, but it only gets you so far.

Sometimes I wish I were a little less book finisher, a little more crazy-ass biker.

This weekend, though, I proved once again that I really, truly am not. Here is a picture of the preschooler foraging for dandelions from our own organic lawn.

picking dandelions

And here is a recipe for Dandelion Salad with Bacon, which I prepared using dandelion greens safely procured at the farmers’ market.

Dandelion has countless health benefits, a delicious, mildly bitter taste, a tremendous affinity for bacon and a low price tag (particularly if you’re more inclined toward bravery than I, but even if not). Don’t be scared away by the talk of its being especially bitter — it isn’t, particularly at this time of year. Not, of course, that I was scared away for years. The flowers are edible, too — for an example of how bravery can result in muffins, check out this post over at the lovely blog Tea & Cookies.

Dandelion Salad with Bacon

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, via NPR

1 large bunch dandelion greens
½ pound slab bacon or extremely thick center-cut bacon such as Wellshire Farms
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Carefully wash the dandelion greens in several changes of water and dry thoroughly. Tear into pieces if large. Place in a salad bowl.

Remove the rind, if any, from the slab bacon and cut into ½-inch lardons. Or, if using thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces.

Heat a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Pour off all but about 2 Tablespoons of the bacon fat and return the skillet to the heat. Add the minced shallot and sauté, stirring occasionally, for a minute, until slightly softened. Add the mustard and vinegar and stir for about 30 seconds, until bubbling and just the slightest bit reduced.

Pour the bacon and the dressing over the dandelion greens, toss gently and serve immediately.