Barbara: The Joy of Food

IMG_4982First a note: I’m having a hard time keeping up with weekly posts here on Wellness Wednesdays.  Perhaps I’ll post every other Wednesday and you’ll get more substance.  I wrote a pretty crappy blog earlier today, but I hadn’t one of my rare sleepless nights last night and honestly, I phoned that baby in.

But after writing that blog, I started cooking. It was simple stuff, vegetarian tacos with a new base to substitute for ground beef. It’s my mother’s recipe, with chile beans and softly fried corn tortillas drained on paper towels.* I love them, but I haven’t found exactly the right substitute, and I was trying again. The play of cooking restored me and gave me a better idea for a blog.

If you’ve ever read any of my books, you know that I love food and cooking. I love to cook for people. I love to cook for myself. I love browsing farmer’s markets to find the produce that’s just exactly right this week.  I love puttering around with recipes, inventing new ideas, figuring out how to showcase something stunning, like fresh mission figs or the best cantaloupe I’ve ever tasted (which I found last week, by the way, a Rocky Ford (which is only 60 miles away), as big as my head. It smelled like an afternoon filled with sunshine and hummingbirds and tasted like candy, the very essence of summer mornings) or one of my favorite things of all time, baby red potatoes taken six minutes ago out of my garden.

This week, I harvested the first of my potatoes. I never grew them before I had this garden, but Christopher Robin’s mother sent me potato bags from England a couple of years ago, and told me what to do, and I was hooked beyond all reason. I have figured out that it costs me about 3 x as much to grow a pound of potatoes as to buy them, but it doesn’t matter.  This is why:

It’s a hot sunny afternoon and it’s finally The Day. I carry a colander out to the garden with me and clear a spot of weeds and little rocks. I upend the bag and there are the jewels, purple red potatoes, so pristine, so perfect that you’ve never seen the like in your grocery store. They’re all sizes, from fingernail to Texas Roadhouse Spud size, and all of them are cloaked in that bright, tender skin. I handle them carefully, gently, their dewiness easily bruised and injured. I think about people who never eat potatoes because they’ll make you fat, or because they’re too high in carbs, or because they have a high glycemic index (true), and think we are too far away from our food.  If you pluck an ear of corn from a stalk or dig a potato out of the ground or watch a peach ripen all summer long, just waiting for that one, perfect moment, you are invested and respectful of food. You don’t stuff yourself. You don’t overdo it. You don’t throw it away, knowing there is another bag of potatoes at the store, another pile of peaches, another stack of sweet corn at the market.

We have moved a long way from the true joy of food in our current society.  Part of it is our diet diet diet mindset, but most of it comes from being so far from the sources of our food, far away from farms and ranches, far away from backyards bursting with produce and maybe a chicken, from a barn where there was a cow or a goat who gave us milk, far, far, far from the slaughter of a cow or a pig, an elk or a deer, to see us through a long winter.  We have lost a sense of our connection to food, what it really takes to get nutrition to the table and into our bodies, and therefore, we have lost perspective.

Most of us don’t have the land or the inclination to grow all of our own food (and it’s very time consuming to boot!) but we can get to healthier attitudes and get a lot more joy out of food by taking a few steps to be aware of the food we’re eating.  When you’re cutting a zucchini, think about the plant, then the flower, then the tiny baby vegetable, then the hands taking it off the plant and getting it to market.  Think about your eggs, and where the chickens live.  Think about the peaches and where they are growing and who does what to bring it to your table.  Maybe think about growing some tomatoes on a patio or some radishes or potatoes in a pot next year. Put some potted herbs on your kitchen window, or dig up a few cubic feet of grass and put in some vegetables or a fruit tree next year.

And this week, consider heading out to your local farmers’ market. Pick up some stuff that was in the fields a day ago.  Working with what’s in season connects us to the natural rhythms of seasons, and it tastes amazing.

Have you been cruising the farmers’ markets? What’s fresh and great in your neck of the woods? Do you have something getting ripe right now in your garden? What will you do with it? 

*The substitute was the best one so far. Boca ground crumbles stirred with onions and olive oil, then a vegetable bullion cube.  Yes, I know this is not particularly whole-foods or local-food friendly, but one does what one must at times. The tacos are worth it. Here is my mother’s recipe:


40 thoughts on “Barbara: The Joy of Food

  1. I read your mom’s taco recipe and both hers and yours sound delicious. I love tacos. I can even eat them without the wrapper and love them.
    My gardener cousins sent goodies this week. Finally, finally yummy tomatoes that taste like sunshine, cucumbers picked small for pickling, enough corn to freeze a bunch. All good.
    I love to cook when I can be alone in the house so that no one is watching the tv or worrying about what ingredients I’m putting in to my dishes.
    (If anyone wonders why I’m frequently a first commenter on Wed it’s cause it’s a late night of work for me and I’m winding down before sleeping.)

  2. Micki says:

    YUM! My MIL gardens a lot, and we’ve been enjoying the bounty. I think my absolute favorite is a super-ripe tomato, sliced, and on buttered French bread slices — topped with homemade season salt.

    Tacos are right in season, too. We often fry up some onions and green (or colorful) peppers to go with some chicken and homemade salsa.

    Cukes are all over the place, too, and I’m having a chicken sandwich with cucumber slices tonight — a little ume paste spread inside the bread which most people either love or hate.

    I’ll probably make up some ratatouille on Sunday when I have some time.

  3. Mama_Abbie says:

    I decided that I really wanted to grow a few fresh veggies of my own this year, but didn’t have time to get a veggie garden rote-tilled (we have a large lawn) or planted. So I stuck a tomato plant, two yellow squash plants and a zucchini plant in amongst the annuals in the flower garden that borders my front walk.

    Lots of green tomatoes on the tomato plant – can’t wait until they ripen. And after a solid month on male squash flowers, I finally have a baby yellow squash starting and it looks as if one of the budding zucchini flowers will also fruit!

    (Husband had not realized that I had stuck veggies in the flower border and asked what kind of flower the squash plant was the other day.)

  4. When I was a little girl, my grandfather had a huge garden. I’d work out there with him, which means he’d give me a patch of dirt to play in while he worked. But I can’t remember what happened to all the food he grew. Nanny did can a lot back then. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that canned stuff wasn’t still in the fruit cellar when she sold the house.

    I’ve never acquired this love of food. I read all of these passionate food comments, and I have foodie friends who cannot understand why I don’t get this. If it’s a brownie or a cookie, I get it. Other than that, I’m a philistine.

  5. I don’t have a garden, but my neighbor does and she graciously shares all summer long. Right now, it’s zucchini and yellow squash, green beans, and small tender salad cukes. The first tomatoes arrived yesterday. so Hubs and I had roasted fresh veggies and sliced tomatoes and cukes for supper last night. Probably the same thing again tonight in a pasta toss because in the summer, I don’t crave meat.

    Your blogs are delightful, Barbara, and always enlightening and inspiring. Please don’t worry and just continue…you’re doing great!

  6. This is exactly how I feel about food. I love to grow it, and eat it within minutes of bringing it in from the garden. I love cooking it, especially for a bunch of friends. And I highly believe that being more in touch with where our food comes from is vital for both health and happiness.

    I just did my Weedy Wednesday blog post all about my garlic harvest, in fact. I’ll put a link here, even though I’m pretty sure that will throw my comment into moderation 🙂

    I’ve eaten broccoli, the world’s sweetest peas, lettuce, and spinach from the garden, along with the first few tomatoes and some herbs and berries. The cukes are next, and my spaghetti squash is trying for world domination…

  7. Another garlic fanatic here. I’ve been blogging about it too. It really is a fun and easy crop, and very few critters/diseases attack it, which is another plus. Have you seen the catalog of specialty garlics at Filagree Farm? Some of the red versions looked like they’d be fun to have around.

  8. I see how distant people are from their food sources when I share my garden crops in the summer. The recipients don’t quite understand that when the crops are at their peak, the way to plan a meal is to: 1) figure out what’s fresh and plentiful, and THEN 2) decide what to make for dinner, using those foods. They’re stuck in the pattern that the artificial abundance of grocery stores and long-distance transportation of food has created: 1) decide what to make for dinner, and then 2) go to the store to get the ingredients.

    I haven’t gone entirely locavore (although I keep telling myself I should lean more in that direction), but I do try to keep the long-distance-transported foods to a minimum. Like tomatoes in the winter; they just don’t taste good, so why bother to eat them out of season? Gorge on them in the summer, and then skip them the rest of the year. Same for other crops that may taste fine off-season, but really are at their best in the appropriate seasons, so I may indulge occasionally off-season, but mostly save them for when they’re at their peak locally. I think we’ve lost that sense of food (real food, not processed stuff) as a treat, since everything is always available. I’m not old enough to remember when a single orange in a Christmas stocking was a big deal, and I wouldn’t want to go back to that limited access to food, but there’s a lot to be said for that level of appreciation for good food.

  9. I’ve been to the local farmer’s market once since I’ve been here and loved it. Just have to make a habit of going on Thursdays or Saturdays. And I’ve taken on the task of watering the few food crops in my housemates’ yard: blueberries and strawberries and huckleberries, and we’ve just discovered volunteer tomatoes in the sandpit, so I’m going to start watering them. There are small green tomatoes on them (I think they are cherry tomatoes anyway), but like with the other plants, there appear to be one or two ripe ones. I tend to come into the house with a handful of ripe berries every time I water.

    I love food, but really don’t know how to cook and don’t enjoy cooking. I’m still discovering vegetables and need to develop an appreciation for vegies during times other than summer (I live for fresh berries). So mostly, I don’t eat much fresh on my own, but do when others are cooking. And fresh out of the garden is so much different than grocery store vegies, that I learned how to love tomatoes when I found a volunteer Roma tomato plant in the backyard of my first house!

  10. Back when we first started experimenting with gardening, I had some potatoes that had started sprouting in my vegetable bin. The hubs said, well, cut them up (one sprout per piece) and plant them. We forgot about them until a few months later – I was digging, and found potatoes. Potatoes! They were YUM – and I’ve been planting potatoes ever since. I’ve never planted seed potatoes, though – just outcasts from my bin.

    And you’re totally right – we’ve gotten too far away from our food source. I’m LOVING all my tomatoes this year!

  11. Lois says:

    We put potatoes in for the first time this year. Of course by we I mean I handed my husband some little sprouting organic potatoes and he planted them. I can’t wait to eat them.
    I have a part share in a CSA. That has helped get me to try some greens I was unfamiliar with. I still don’t feel too friendly with mustard greens and some of the others but I adore sorrel. My sister and I used to eat this weed when we were kids and what do you know I guess it was wild sorrel. I like what I think of as tart greens not bitter. Arugala + spinach with a some pear and maybe a bit of cheese = heaven.
    I agree with Skye – fresh berries are a reason to get up in the morning 🙂

  12. Therese says:

    I love eating out of the garden all summer! In my garden, the summer squashes have just really come on and edible-pod peas are wildly abundant. I’ve only gotten a half-dozen cherry tomatoes so far, but that’s typical — our nights get too cool for quick or early tomato ripening.
    When the corn finally comes on, I may have to have a stall at the local farmers market because we will have so much. My husband planted that patch and just kept going until he ran out of seeds, and our neighbors had brought over some excess corn sprouts so he planted all that too! The corn plot is a very densely planted 35-foot square.

    Twice so far I’ve gone to the local u-pick orchard and gotten cherries. They’ll have apricots (by appointment!) and then apples & pears this fall. But my own pear trees are nicely loaded, so I’ll be canning some, I think.

    We’ve been adventurous enough this year that we have lambs fattening in the pasture across the street. It’s a communal herd, so to speak, with multiple owners of 1 or 2 lambs apiece. We take turns watering/feeding/putting them in the barn at night (to save them from coyotes).

    It’s all a lot of work, but a long day of gardening beats an hour at the gym!

  13. Kelly S. says:

    Ripe in our garden are green beans and peas. One pepper was harvested but more are coming. It will be a bit yet for the tomatos, but there are some green ones on the plants. We’ve already gone through the lettuce and bok choy. The bunnies ate most of the carrot tops and the cucumber vine.

    We’ve been to the local farmer’s market 2-3 times so far and plan to go again.

  14. I love food. I love growing it. I love farmer’s markets. I don’t think that I over eat because I am not connected. I think that I over eat because it is my drug of choice. I will over eat brussel sprouts and/or lima beans.

    At any rate, I planted wax beans down at mom’s this year. They were bush beans instead of pole beans (thankfully) and they are delicious. In fact being in Southern California, mom and I plan to plant some more in mid-August and see what we get in October.

  15. cleo says:

    I’m lucky enough to have two farmers’ markets within walking distance in my very urban neighborhood, plus two farmers’ markets near where I work downtown – something I try not to take for granted. My parents live in a far suburb (practically the ex-urbs) and their local farmer’s stand is on an actual farm, plus they have a farmers’ market in town.

    Actually growing food is a bigger challenge for me these days. I do most of the gardening for our condo, but it’s all ornamental stuff in front of the building. I’ve attempted container gardening with dismal results. A group of college students renting down the block have planted corn and other vegetables in front of their building (with their landlord’s approval) – I’ve been watching their progress all summer. The gardening realist / pessimist in me is pretty sure they won’t get enough sun for great results, but I also have a feeling this is a case where not knowing what they can’t do, plus youthful idealism, will take them pretty far.

    You asked about what’s ripe now – I’m excited about the sweet corn, blueberries and sour cherries (three of the best reasons to live in my part of the Midwest, imo). And last week I found the biggest, sweetest apricots at one of the downtown markets. They were a revelation.

  16. stephanie says:

    We always use the farmer’s market in the summer and I’ll buy anything they want to try – mostly in hopes that they’ll enjoy veggies more than I do – and because I think it’s important to support our local growers.

    This summer Comfort also asked for a garden. I let the girls pick out what they wanted to plant. I didn’t research anything or care if it would work together and it turns out to be perfect.

    We have kale, kale and more kale. Comfort loves it right out of the garden. I’ve also made kale chips. DH has eaten it sauteed and we’ve even blanched and frozen some. The 5 plants I put in the ground are still going strong!

    The okra I planted has just begun to produce. I don’t eat it or care anything about it so I didn’t know what to expect. All I should say is that this is rudest plant in my garden:)

    My greatest lesson from this garden is that 5 cantaloupe plants is likely too many. We are diligently awaiting our first ripe melons, but if the bloom count is anything to go by then we’ll have about 200 melons by the end of the summer. Clearly the cantaloupe has enjoyed the very rainy summer we’ve had.

  17. wendy says:

    Good news for diabetics is that carisma potatoes are low GI. Afraid I don’t know any more about them than that.

  18. It’s so weird that we’re talking about this. Just two days ago my homeschool moms were discussing the diminishing importance of oranges in the Christmas stocking! I’m 42 and when I was a kid in rural KY it was still a big deal.

    We were closer to our food, though. If we didn’t can it in the summer, we probably didn’t eat it in the winter. At least not until I was in my teens.

  19. Diane Russom Harrison says:

    When I was a little girl, I had an honorary Grandmother who I called “Mimi”. When Mimi was 14, her family brought a young 15 year old boy to the USA from Sicily to marry her. I truly loved “Uncle Pete” as I called him. Every night when dinner was finished we would go across the street to his garden plot and he would talk to me in Sicilian about the plants, how he would prepare them to eat, what he would plant next. I loved that special time with him and he always gave me some fresh item to eat right on the spot.
    Sidenote: 18 years later I was taking a course in Italian language at university. When the professor first called on me to read a paragraph out loud, he assumed a very puzzled look on his face as I read. When I finished he commented that he was very curious about my accent because it was the first time he’d ever had a first year student speak Italian with a strong Sicilian accent. After all those years, Mimi and Uncle Pete were still with me!

  20. Cathy M says:

    I grew up in western PA on part of the old family farm. My dad had cows and chickens and my grandparents had sheep to keep the grass and weeds down around the barn. We all had large gardens and depended on the veggies for most of our needs year round. I remember working in the garden and helping wrap meat from a butchered cow to put in our freezer. I knew exactly where my food came from.

    I learned by my parents’ example to enjoy simple meals of home grown food and to eat moderate amounts of food.

    Thanks for a post that brought back childhood memories of eating peas from the pod in the garden and juicy home grown strawberries warm from the sun. Of course that also brings back memories of those nasty, squishy, yellow bugs that got smooshed all over your hands when you were picking green beans. 🙂

  21. Deborah Blake says:

    I haven’t seen that collection, but I have grown some lovely purple-ish varieties. I never had a problem with pests or diseases until two years ago, when some kind of dreadful fungus got to it. Seemed okay when you harvested it, and a little while later, most of the heads turned to mush, as if you’d roasted them. Tragic. (It happened to some friends too–no idea what caused it.) I had it to a lesser degree last year, despite all new garlic planted in a new spot, but so far, with any luck, this year’s harvest seems fine.

  22. Micki says:

    (-: Yes. We get the soft pickled plums, and I pop out the seed, and chop it up with a knife. It’s said to be an acquired taste — I really like the soft, sweeter plums, but I’m not impressed by the hard, unripe ones.

    FTRecord, they aren’t really “plums” — they are some sort of native Japanese stone fruit, and I’ve never heard of anyone eating them unpickled. They are supposed to have tons of health advantages, and many Japanese put them on rice in a lunch box to keep the rice from going bad.

  23. Micki says:

    Thank goodness for frost. With the long sunlit days of our latitude, all those squashies really would take over the world if they were resistant to cold . . . .

  24. Redwood Kim says:

    My stepfather grew up on a farm, and I grew up in his suburban take on it. We raised chickens, rabbits, and the occasional turkeys and pheasants for food. We had huge, huge gardens with squash and tomatoes and peppers and corn and onions and all sorts of stuff. Plus there were peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, lemon, and fig trees. All summer long, I’d go pick out and pick something fresh off of the tree. It was amazing.

    We have a small container garden, but we have limited sun and plenty of deer and other gardenloving fauna. We also have a farmshare and loads of farmers markets around. Nothing will ever match going out in the cool morning and grabbing a nectarine straight from the tree, or eating a warm, ripe fig, but I make do. I make do.

    And now you’ve got me thinking of all the ways that man taught me to choose my fruit, including melons. I’m really good at it. 😉 He’s been gone 20 years now – I miss him.

  25. We have a garden that my husband puts his heart and soul into. We have apricots, plumgs. lemons. oranges. limes. mandarins. grapefruit, mission figs, apples (we will soon see if the grafting took). They are all young trees but are producing this year except for the blood orange. Hmmm on that one. Also an olive tree but not olives yet. Vegetables include beans, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, and then there are a multitude of berries and also grapes. It’s a lot to keep up with! We get our eggs and milk from a nearby farmer.

  26. Carol says:

    While I had my foot surgery yesterday, husband went to the nearby Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, which is huge and fabulous. I don’t know entirely what he got, but he mentioned baby eggplant (when roasted, with preserved lemon, they taste like candy) and brussels sprouts. I will be eating well while I convalesce!

  27. Chris S. says:

    I’m not sure that it’s only distance that disconnects us; I think time is also a culprit. Upthread Therese said: “It’s all a lot of work, but a long day of gardening beats an hour at the gym!” That sounds wonderful. But I don’t have a whole day for gardening.

    I do, however, have half an hour to drop into a local farmers’ market. And the luck to live in a city chock full of them, every day of the week. Right now, I’m all about wild blueberries, and crunchy fresh peppers.

Comments are closed.