Ruth Rhodes

Mid-March: The kale has been running riot, coming back to life like a middle-aged man in a new red sports car. The radishes and the peas have sprouted, the lettuce starts are in the ground, and it's a race between the tender shoots and the ravenous snails and slugs.

Everything is now about timing. When will the next storm come? When will we have another run of sunshine?Will I have time this weekend to turn the compost and mow the lawn?

Meanwhile, as we wait for spring to get this show on the road, the local food larder is starting to look empty. Yes, there are eggs.The chickens are laying great clutches now that the sun is spending more time on our end of the Earth.And there are the usual suspects of the winter garden: greens, chard, and herbs that managed to hang on.The rosemary is looking bushy. The parsley is preparing to take over the space assigned to the downcast thyme.The mint, though pale, is gathering forces for an all-out assault on the side of the greenhouse.

But man can't live on herbs and eggs alone.We've made it through the worst of the winter, and the local-eating is getting tough. The desire for variety is overwhelming, and in my case, necessitates the following confession.

Last week at Safeway, I fell off the wagon.Now I don't eat 100 percent local year round.I'm just an admirer of local, fresh organic foods that represent sustainable, healthy, humane, and delicious choices. Still, I really cannot explain how the box of Instant Milk Chocolate Mousse Supreme got into my cart. I remember seeing it in the baked goods aisle. I remember that it was half-off.But I can't remember reaching for it.I must have blocked that out.

Real chocolate mousse is quite a treat. It's made with cream and eggs. I had my first chocolate mousse when I was a kid in a restaurant in Vermont, the original land of happy cows and home to ice cream makers Ben and Jerry. This mousse was so rich, I couldn't finish my serving and we passed it around the table so everyone could have a sample.

The picture on the instant packaged mousse looked similar to the one from my original mousse experience.But then I read the ingredients on the box. As far as I could see, there were no milk or eggs in the mix. The first ingredients were sugar and partly hydrogenated vegetable oil.Cocoa was somewhere near the bottom, after corn starch.

Well, I bought it, so I figured I might as well make it.Thus, I received an object lesson in "instant" foods. I tried to redeem myself by adding yogurt, but that made it worse because the mousse wouldn't fluff when whipped. So I ended up with a vaguely cocoa-tasting yogurt with more trans fats in a single serving than Silly Susie has in the back of her ice cream van. Honestly, the box would have tasted better than the contents.

Lesson learned. Confession delivered. One humble suggestion: put aside the boxes and make something delicious from scratch this weekend to celebrate the coming of spring.