SG601: The Chinese Kitchen Garden with Wendy Kiang-Spray


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Wendy Kiang-Spray is on the show and she's the author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden. And boy, do I love this book.

It’s half how to grow, half how to cook, and half an amazing glimpse into the wonderful Kiang-Spray Family - so that’s 150% worth of yummy, beautiful, love in one book. Plus - it’s a great way to kick off Chinese New Year this week (btw, this year celebrates The Year of the Dog). Right before the holidays, Timberpress sent me a copy of The Chinese Kitchen Garden and all I can say is that it made me smile right away. It’s superb. As gardeners, sometimes we can get a little restless - searching for a new variety - something new to try. When nothing strikes our fancy, we can feel unsatisfied. Sometimes finding something new for the garden is a little like shoe shopping. When I find a great pair of boots or dress shoes, I’ve learned I’d better buy them on the spot - because when I need them, I won’t be able to find them. Bottom line - strike while the iron’s hot. In a nutshell, reading Wendy’s book felt like having a great shopping day at DSW. Just when I was feeling a little uninspired, Wendy's introduction to asian vegetables was a spark and opened the door to growing a whole new cast of edibles. That’s exciting. If you are looking for something new to grow, if you’re a foodie, or if you want to start a kitchen garden this year, this episode with Wendy is perfect for you.

There’s a lot to love about Wendy Kiang-Spray: She was raised a family with amazing culinary and gardening traditions. At one point in her book she mentions that her parents would go to a restaurant one weekend and end up re-creating an even better version of the dish from the previous weekend right in their own kitchen - using ingredients from their own garden. Can you imagine? She grew up in suburban Maryland (right outside D.C.), so she grew up between cultures and that makes her an excellent guide for introducing us to asian vegetables and Chinese cooking. Finally, her book is so much more than just a cooking or gardening book. The food and the vegetables are part of her family history. The stories give the garden and the recipes significant meaning. Without gardening, Wendy’s family would have never survived the hardships of living in China. Without the recipes, Wendy would have only a very narrow glimpse into her own family history. During today’s chat, Wendy will read excerpts from many of my favorite parts in the book. She’ll also share many of the Chinese vegetables — like lotus root, bitter melons, stem lettuce, day lilies, and Chinese cucumbers — as well as traditional recipes that will make you drool. Let me just say, that if Wendy offered up a week of dinners made by her parents (and it definitely included her dad’s famous dumplings), I’d be working really hard to win that silent auction item. There are a few things I’d like to draw your attention to in this Episode:

1. The Garden as a Point of Connection By asking about vegetables, her father would open up about his life in China - offering up stories Wendy had never heard before. Once again, this book is way more than a book about gardening or cooking. In Wendy’s family, you can’t talk about gardening or cooking without affection for, and connection to, her family, her heritage, and her own self-discovery. As a genealogist, that really put Wendy’s book over the top for me. 2. Gardening to Cook on a Grand Scale So many times I talk to folks about only growing what you know your family will eat. For most of us, that narrows down the menu out in the garden to less than 10 items. But, Wendy’s family is much more sophisticated and their garden palette includes over three dozen types of vegetables. An added bonus is that Wendy’s parents have shared their family recipes in the book - some of which have never been written down let alone shared publicly. 3. Delight in the New I can’t imagine you won’t hear about a new vegetable or technique or tip from Wendy today - from blanching garlic chives to making your own luffa sponges. Furthermore, Wendy’s book is organized by season. It's so handy; you’ll learn what to grow in spring and what to cook in winter. It’s time to for you to meet Wendy Kiang-Spray (and her family) - and get ready for a beautiful and approachable introduction to asian vegetables. Ready or not, you’re about to want to grow your very own Chinese Kitchen Garden. For my Signoff today, I leave you with this thought to help you grow... What if asking questions about gardening or cooking could give you a glimpse into your own family history? Who should you be talking to?

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