— Jenny Neill


Why am I starting a new blog series called “Dunged?” Perhaps I am keeping company with an immature crowd online. Or, at the very least, a certain segment of my social media buddies prefer scatological humor. Maybe it’s because sometimes in order to re-use the refuse you have to deal with a little feces. So many products we take for granted as coming from factories and labs got their start in the dung heap. And much of how we care for our world and our health has to do with how we deal with our crap.

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“You guys need to be having fun back there!” Those were our eating orders straight from the mouth of Penny De Los Santos, food photographer and instructor. I first met Becky Selengut, the sassy chef known on Twitter as @ChefReinvented, in person in May. It was cold and rainy. We huddled under a blue awning over a picnic table with a hole in the middle.

Jenny Neill and Becky Selengut at Oyster Roast Shoot for Penny De Los Santos Food Photography Workshop on Creative Live. May 15, 2011

Becky Selengut and me at the Oyster Roast Shoot

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view of vineyards from trail between Vernazza and Corniglia in 2003

Vineyards viewed from trail between Vernazza and Corniglia in 2003.

I didn’t plan on writing about travel this week. I was going to tell you I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this month. (Hey, looks like I just did!) Thing is, I kept coming across the subject of Cinque Terre and photos of the damage done to it by torrential rains while doing novel-related research. So like any distractable and procrastinating writer, I went looking for more news, more photos, more information.

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After surprising me by surviving the winter, my celery seedlings turned into a prolific miniature stand of stocky plants. Each stem sprouted plentiful fans of leaves, all a deeper green than their grocery store counterparts.

When the temperatures dipped to an unseasonably low point for a few nights, I noticed a few were bolting. Tasting a sample of a few plants confirmed it—the stalks were too astringent. But the leaves still had enough freshness to try using them in a salad. That fine line between clean, watery “green” and “spicy with a bitter tone” proved to be a challenge in creating an appetizing dish.

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Flavors intrigue me. That’s what got me into restaurant work in the first place. I’ve spent much of the past decade learning about and tasting wine in order to pair it with food. It took a little longer for that interest to spur me to experiment with cooking in my own kitchen.

The idea of making something as simple as a salad used to paralyze me with uncertainty. Some of my early forays into making up my own recipes were disasters: mushy pasta, broken sauces and dressings, or entrees with serious seasoning problems. Being around chefs taught me some valuable lessons.

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