Working with the Land, Playing in the Kitchen

Dog Soldier Press (2020, 269 pp.)

A transplant from the extreme Northeast, the land of wild turkeys, maple syrup, cranberries and shellfish, Minton has made her home at the Squash Blossom Farm in Ranchos de Taos for the last 20-some years. Her rich-in-heritage cookbook blends these wildly different culinary traditions in marvelous ways.

The bounty of her 2-acre garden in Ranchos appears in each section of her work — from appetizers and condiments to soups, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry and fish, and desserts — fashioned in recipes that are certainly tried-and-true, having been prepared over generations by her family and friends, from back East to the Southwest.

As a bracing example, check out the Borshch (her spelling), a robust Russian-Ukrainian concoction of beef and vegetables such as turnip or rutabaga, and beets, of course — a dish author Minton grew up eating in the 1950s at the Putney School in Vermont, where her father was director and her mother taught architectural drawing, and where the author met her future husband, Ty Minton, a biology teacher.

Next to the minestrone, there are soups of fennel, onion and squash blossom (Minton’s speciality), but the “green soups,” made from leafy greens in season, puréed thickly with scallion, apple or carrot, garlic and ginger, promise to be the bomb in this neck of the woods.

Let’s move to the chapter on grains, seeds, beans and nuts — as in my humble opinion, you can’t eat too many beans and nuts. Minton’s background also includes training under nutrition experts such as Rudolph Ballantine, Shunryu Suzuki, Deborah Madison, William D. Kelley, and extensive work in tai chi and starting community-supported agriculture (CSA) groups. She advises in the different kinds of grain, best choices for baking and offers a cleverly adapted recipe for cassoulet, winking at both Julia Child and Craig Claiborne.

The desserts showcase the international sense of this author, from the adapted Winter Solstice Pfeffernusse (New Mexican style, with red chile pepper nuts) and baklava and Kuchen. Now a grandma, Minton keeps the recipes simple so her grandkids can help, and the photos with the wee helpers are plenty cute. At the back are biographical essays on her background and methods.

Minton touts her work as a “passionate connection,” and it certainly is a melding of many antique traditions — the best kind of culinary experimentation, drawing from the here and then.

The Ecology of Herbal Medicine

Univ. of New Mexico Press

“Let us shake off the fatigue of disheartening environmental news and come to a place of informed and passionate action,” writes Dara Saville, a geographer and instructor at Albuquerque Herbalism. In this manual chock full of practical and personal experience in the “living landscape,” she urges the reader to fall in love with the abundant plants and weeds of our Southwest environment — because only then can humans connect with and properly care for them.

The plants in the wild landscape “have stories to tell,” Saville writes. They tell of ancient oceans, hidden water sources and the changing earth, and they “help us integrate new kinds of knowledge about the world.” By listening to their stories, writes Saville, we become deeply attuned to the places they grow and to our own place in them.

Keeping in mind the vast deleterious effects of the Anthropocene — or the current era of dominant human activity — in terms of climate change, the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increased levels of nitrogen in the soil, the spread of invasive species, the disturbance of fires and floods and the rise of new habitats such as farms and cities, notes Saville, many wild areas are in “ecological flux.” She first looks at three plants in the changing Southwest environment, their “stories” and how each has responded: creosote, bee balm and yerba mansa.

After sharing her personal stories with these plants, and the key role of weeds, she gets to the meat-and-potatoes section of the book, the materia medica, or medicinal plants based on their importance, both ecologically and culturally, to the landscapes of the Southwest. These are 39 medicinal plants, in alphabetical order, from yarrow (Achillea mellefolium) to yucca, that feature prominently in the Southwest landscape.

In the end, the author exhorts: Let the land become our teacher.