Midtown Raleigh News

50 Weeks of Green is love letter to Midtown

Linda Watson, a self-proclaimed “food evangelist,” is a best-selling author at Quail Ridge Books. Her latest work is set in North Hills and Midtown.
Linda Watson, a self-proclaimed “food evangelist,” is a best-selling author at Quail Ridge Books. Her latest work is set in North Hills and Midtown. COURTESY OF LINDA WATSON

Linda Watson brings romance – and, yeah, the sexy, too – back to cooking, with a wholesome twist.

Watson’s new cookbook “50 Weeks of Green: Romance & Recipes” is a love letter to Midtown, complete with a backdrop of its revitalized urban landscape, down-home personalities and eclectic local-food palate.

Calling herself a food evangelist, Watson dons a signature flowery apron on a mission to teach — and re-teach us — to cook real food to eat and feel, live and love healthy, and to save money while we do our part to support sustainable living and slow global warming.

“We’ve lost one of those great comforts and useful skills, and that’s home-cooking,” said Watson, 58. “We can live happier, healthier and more secure if we’d just get back in the kitchen and cook real food.”

The apron?

“It’s a way of giving people permission,” she said.

Watson’s idea for “50 Weeks of Green: Romance & Recipes,” was borne out of news that “50 Shades of Grey,” the 2011 erotic romance novel by E. L. James, capped best-seller lists to unseat Harry Potter.

But don’t be fooled by the spoof. Watson knows real food, how to buy organic – and save, how to cook for good health - and to lose weight, and how to teach us to do it with little cost or time – and bank the benefits.

She’s been sharing it since 2007 at Cook for Good ( www.cookforgood.com), a blog and electronic newsletter she and her husband of 25 years, Bruce, started after completing the Food Stamp Challenge. For a week, they lived on $1 a day per meal, then the equivalent of public assistance. The biggest challenge, Watson found, was figuring out how to “scrimp and stretch” what they had.

In 2011, Watson published her lessons in her first cookbook, Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet—All on $5 a Day or Less. Four Wildly Good Cook videos show what it tells. After two years, it remains among Amazon’s Top 10 organic cookbooks and is featured in the 2014 Military Finance Guide.

And it’s a top-seller at Quail Ridge Books & Music.

“She has a strong fan base,” said Renè Martin, the store events coordinator, applauding Watson’s well-food contributions to the community and bookstore. “She’s a great asset to the community.”

Fans of Grey will instantly recognize Watson’s heroine in “50 Weeks of Green.” Sophia, who is out of work, reluctantly agrees to go to the Bee’s Knees Farm booth to pick up her friend’s weekly produce box. Her mood lifts amid instant attraction to farmer Roger Branch, who, Watson writes, “is earthy, elegant and curiously private.”

In pursuit of romance, Sophia discovers “the pleasures of organic farming, seasonal cooking, and generous lovemaking,” Watson said, who features 20 local businesses in Green.

As she learns, Sophia shares cooking tips to reduce cholesterol and costs with recipes for Cashew Cream, Flaxseed “Eggs,” and Good Baking Mix. She also shares more than 60, seasonal, “plant-powered” recipes that “surge with Cupid’s own nutrients: glucosinolates in greens, zinc in beans, diallyl disulfides in garlic, and fiber and protein in pretty much everything,” Watson said.

Starkly different from Grey, “‘50 Weeks of Green’ is a romance for the 99 percent,” Watson said, referring to the wealth gap between America’s top 1 percent and Everyman.

“As I read “50 Shades of Grey,” I realized the people being glamorized were the very people I’d been fighting against as a social activist for years,” she said. “Excessive consumption is part of what’s causing global warming and widespread misery on the planet. We should use what we need and share what we can to be healthier in our lives, and to pass on a healthy planet to our children.”

For research, Watson pored over ingredients and politics, farmers’ lessons about locally-grown seasonal vegetables and test-kitchen economics. A book club discussion guide centers on food, romance and politics, too.

“It was great fun to read because it’s about our own Midtown market,” said Karen Bearden, a mutual food advocate and Midtown Farmer’s Market regular. “She sews everything into the book.”

From an “inner frisky” vantage point, Green reminds us “a romantic couple can be generous to each other and supportive of each and still be flat-out sexy,” Watson said.

At 44, Sophia, reflects “really exciting, sensual women around me,” she said. “They’re smoking hot and they’re not some 22-year-old virgin cowering at the feet of a wealthy industrialist.”

“Ladies,” she said, “put on that apron and cook; know you’re showing them love, connecting them with their bodies through the pleasures of real food. Yes, get in that kitchen and get cooking.

“Hallelujah, sister!