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: