The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks is the latest from Amy Stewart, the “award-winning author of six books on the pleasures and perils of the natural world.” Lest you think this is for imbibers only, a teetotaler foodie, gardener or naturalist will be just as intoxicated by the dashing wit and detailed lore. As a naturalist myself, I have my eye not so much on the dozens of classic cocktail recipes (with original variations) or even the DIY syrups and infusions, but on the book’s main ingredients: style and substance. The book features a combination of conversational tone and scholarly authority.
“The botanical world produces alcohol in abundance,” and the human world has paid close attention to this fact for millennia. The first section of the book explores the fermentation and distillation of “the classics” in alphabetical order, from agave to wheat. The second section looks at the herbs, spices, flowers, trees, fruits, nuts and seeds that partner with the classics, while the third takes us into the garden, where “we encounter a seasonal array of botanical mixers and garnishes” for the final finesse.
Anytime is a good time to start watching birds, and anywhere will do: out the window or farther afield. There is much to see and hear right now. Springtime migration brings temporary and seasonal visitors, while year-round residents claim territory and set up housekeeping. A good field guide helps us identify birds familiar and new, and invites us to learn more about particular species’ habits, habitats and sounds. The National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America by Laura Erickson and Jonathan Alderfer is a prime choice for beginners. The guide limits itself to one species per page and includes key facts, a unique “bird-ography,” a range map, drawings and a large color photograph. And it fits in a pocket, which is perfect for hiking, especially with binoculars already pulling one’s shoulder out of joint. Handier still is the color index, which makes it easy to identify a bird, even on the fly.
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Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat brings the Eat Local movement about as local as you can get. Author Ellen Zachos “presents familiar ornamental plants and weeds with a secret: they just happen to be delicious.” Secret is right—not many of us know that we can eat lawn weeds (chickweed and dandelion), exotic invasives (Japanese knotweed and autumn olive) or redbud blossoms, magnolia buds and the berries on the ubiquitous Mahonia bush (aka Oregon grape). Even our flower beds can be well-provisioned with bee balm, hostas, ferns, spiderworts and other beauties, and I can personally recommend the delicate, asparagus-like sautéed daylily buds. Zachos details which parts of which plants to eat, when and how, and where best to find them. Greens, flowers, fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, tubers and fungi are included. Color photos, descriptions and common and botanical names keep beginners on the path to safe foraging and are accompanied by advice on forager etiquette, dangerous lookalikes and common-sense cautions, like avoiding areas that are chemically treated.