March is a bitter month, particularly if you’re a locavore in certain parts of the country, desperately awaiting the first asparagus of spring. We checked in with vegetable expert and cookbook author Mollie Katzen for advice on surviving the last dregs of winter on a local diet.

Simple Steps: Do you consider yourself a locavore?

Mollie Katzen: I hate labels, they’re so limiting. But it’s easy to say yes when you live in Berkeley. Being a locavore here is no big deal, it’s almost better than eating imported stuff. But I travel a lot, and I understand what it is to be limited when seasons are severe.

Is winter a good excuse to make exceptions to your local diet?

You have to ease up on yourself somewhere. If I lived in an area with a more challenging climate, I would impose on myself an 80/20 or 70/30 rule. The other day at my local natural foods store — it’s not a chain, it’s been in the neighborhood forever — I saw organic blueberries for $3.99. I didn’t know where they came from, but I really wanted them and I bought them anyway. They were delicious. To me, local eating is as much about community and economics as it is about the food itself.

What are some good local food items to look for now, in colder parts of the country?

I think parsnips are so underrated, they’re really comforting and delicious. I love my Quite Surprising Parsnips recipe. Your larder vegetables, carrots, onions and potatoes, are key. Dark leafy greens are good now. Kale, I think, originated in Siberia, so it can survive frost. Winter squashes are fantastic — hubbards, butternuts and acorns.

Four months is a long time to subsist on root vegetables. What are some ways to jazz up the usual suspects?

I have this butternut squash and apple soup recipe that I’m really proud of, it avoids cinnamon and goes in quite a different direction.

I like to steam or blanch vegetables, shock them in cold water and then toss them in a marinade. You can serve them cold or at room temperature. And discover roasting! Cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces, or even chunkier, and roast them with olive oil in a hot oven so they get really nice.

Reverting to seasoning can help. Roast your garlic and mash it with olive oil, and add that to steamed vegetables. And maybe it’s time to get into designer vinegars. Spring for a more expensive bottle made from a really good wine. Invest in some roasted nut oils too. They’re probably imported but they’re helping make local foods palatable!

Another possibility is to blanch and freeze vegetables in the summer, but I know this is controversial for some people because of the energy required. You could also start a container garden at home to grow fresh herbs indoors.  

What are you enjoying eating right now?

I’m really into fennel right now. We get Cara Cara oranges in our farmers market. I make a salad of those with finely minced fennel. That’s a winter salad for me, but not for the rest of you! I tweeted about fresh asparagus last week and all the East Coast Twitterers got mad at me. We’re pretty spoiled in the Bay Area.

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The locavore in winter: Survival tips from Mollie Katzen
Eating locally in winter isn't impossible. Mollie Katzen shares her tips on eating well before this year's crops take off.