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Are fast food salads really worth it?
The carrot family supplies (in addition to carrots) parsley, celery and many other edibles. It contains some notable weeds, as well, including bishops weed and poison hemlock, and some equally notable ornamentals. This plant family (now Apiaceae) was until recently named Umbelliferae, which means bearing umbels. An umbel is a structure in which all the flowers on one stem spring from a single point. The most typical inflorescence (think Queen Anne's Lace) is actually a compound umbel, in which many small umbels come together on one stem. Flower gardeners like this distinctive architecture because it contrasts nicely with most other flowers, from daisies to day-lilies. The flowers also attract butterflies and other insects.
Several culinary herbs besides parsley belong in this family: chervil, dill and coriander are all welcome in the garden, and statuesque herbs such as lovage and angelica are really striking. So is giant hogweed, but perhaps only the British, dedicated as they are to gardening, would even consider this as an ornamental. One English author says it is "the largest and most imposing herbaceous plant that can be grown in British gardens but it is only suitable where its dangers are well-understood and guarded against." This invasive charmer with toxic sap can reach a height of 15 feet and is blessed with one of my favorite plant names (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
Purple fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum') is a bit of a weed, too, but for gardeners it's one of those precious plants that provide height — six or seven feet of it, in the case of fennel — without any staking. The purplish leaves are so finely divided, they look like purple haze. It's a good idea to remove the airy, flat-headed, yellow umbels before the seed ripens, or you (and your neighbors) may end up with a hazy purple carpet of fennel seedlings. In Angelica gigas, only the stems and big rounded umbels are purple. The leaves are large and shiny green, and the plant tops five feet, making it an architectural presence in the late summer border. It generally dies after blooming, but seedlings should provide replacements.
A mixed bag of smaller umbellifers have a special place in gardens. Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' is a dark-leafed version of cow parsley. In other words — another weed, but the vogue for dark-colored leaves has made it popular. The seedlings are easy to dig out (though impossible to pull), and most gardeners I know don't consider it invasive. If you are concerned, just cut off most of the flowers after a week or so. They are prettiest when they first emerge, and it's really the plum-black leaves, lacy as a fern, that are the point. Save a few flowers for seed, though, because plants deteriorate after a year or two.
Astrantia major (masterwort; Hattie's pincushion) is perhaps the best of the bunch. The tiny flowers of astrantia are packed together in a cushion above a ruff of petal-like bracts. The green-tinged white or pinkish-white flowers are lovely with day-lilies of all shades (planted between dwarf day-lilies, or massed as a foreground for larger ones). 'Shaggy' is a good white form with extra-large bracts. 'Sunningdale variegated' has leaves with lovely cream markings, less so after mid-summer; and there are several varieties with pink or wine red flowers. Astrantia needs good soil and plenty of moisture. Plants grow about two feet tall, and have a very long blooming season. Astrantia self-sows moderately, but seedlings from named varieties will be less showy than their parents.
Astrantia is easy to find these days. I wish I could say the same of spring-blooming Chaerophyllum hirsutum 'Roseum,' which evidently needs a catchy name to make it sell. Pretty pink flowers in flat-topped umbels like Queen Anne's lace float over bright green, lacy foliage in April. It is divine, especially with pink or black tulips. Chaerophyllum forms a gently spreading mat, and makes a good front-of-border plant. I got mine a few years ago from Northwest Garden Nursery. Come to think of it, that's also where I got my smallest member of the family, Haquetia epipactis, a sweet, yellow-flowered little spreader for light shade, only 3 or 4 inches high. Unlike some of their tap-rooted relatives, astrantia, chaerophyllum and haquetia are easy to divide.
There are at least two annual umbellifers worth looking for. One should be easy to find because it is being promoted as new this year: seed for Orlaya grandiflora 'White Lace' is available from Select Seeds. The other is a pretty blue Australian named trachymene. Both should be welcome additions to the border for their unusual, delicate texture.
Look who's jumping on the health-conscious bandwagon — fast food chains. Once the antithesis of fresh and healthy, more and more fast food restaurants now feature lighter fare. Are those salads worth the four bucks?
For McDonalds, the shredded iceberg McShaker is a thing of the past. The company, post anti-fat lawsuit, is investing plenty of ad dollars to promote its new "premium salads." The new "premiums" all feature a base of spring greens, cherry tomatoes and shaved carrots. From there, the options branch out to Cobb, bacon ranch and Caesar; all with chicken — grilled or crispy. Don't fear the chicken, it is not the same spongy, breaded ball they call McNuggets; it's real meat, with a familiar consistency. McDonalds wins bonus points for carrying Newman's Own dressings, whose profits after taxes all go to charities.
Jack-in-the-Box now features its own line of trendy salads — called Jack's Ultimate Salads. Offerings include Asian Chicken, Southwest Chicken and Chicken Club — Jack is a proud carnivore. Kudos to that company, however, for setting its salads apart by incorporating diverse tastes with ingredients like mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, black beans and corn.
The original fast food salad came from Wendy's and has grown in scope over the years. If you haven't checked out the menu lately, the number of salads added on might surprise you, all under the umbrella of "Garden Sensations." These sensations include two small ones — a side and a Caesar — both on the 99 cent menu; plus four meal-sizes — Chicken BLT, Mandarin Chicken, Taco Supremo and Spring Mix.
It's hard to judge the true caliber of these salads. When you're hungry — and inclined to do drive through dinning — even cardboard and peanut butter seems doable. With these salads there's the appeal of not having to wash and chop every ingredient and it all comes in a lovely plastic container, complete with wrapped plastic cutlery and a personal package of dressing. It really is very appealing and convenient, as fast food goes. For the four bucks, expect a pleasant fast food salad, or to say it another way, a disappointing restaurant salad. These major food chains invested their time and money to formulate a tasty, economical salad the average American would enjoy, so statistically, you're more apt to like it.
The new space has a little stage set up, still in progress like much of the décor. The floors are lovely mosiacs, the walls have richly colored murals and the lonely chairs are cushy and comfortable in the emptiness still smelling of recently dried cement and paint.
Hurdles, like finalized building permits, will keep the place quiet until mid to late June, but soon enough we may be hearing music and smelling fresh pizza pies and coffee scents wafting through those doors.
Asam Ismail is at it again. Bamboo's hard-working head chef will create a Malaysian meal based on the multi-cultural foods of his homeland, Thursday, May 15th. The menu will include flat bread, chicken soup, fruit and vegetable salad, and chicken curry. Reservations are recommended, the price is $25 per person. Call 484-1889 for reservations and more information. — Marina Taylor