Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eating Seaonally (You Gotta Eat Your Greens!)

When I was in Dominica for four months this winter, I had a lot of time on my hands. I also had a lot of crayons and that led to a lot of greeting card making, which led to writing a children's book. The title was There's a Chicken in my Kitchen!. It was about growing up on a farm- through a young ten-year-old girl's (my) eyes. It was divided into four chapters- spring, summer, fall, and winter, with a section in the back with corresponding recipes. There were two vegetable stories per chapter- along with one animal story and one story about the seasons (swimming in the river, dirt and bugs, etc). Spring-time I had a story titled- You Gotta Eat Your Greens! and it was all about... yep, how we gotta eat our greens. And trust me, you might think you're sick of them now- wait til mid-summer and an edible leaf is nowhere in sight.

The other week at the market I met a very nice elderly couple who had just heard about the market and were there "checking it out". They had walked around, viewed the kohlrabi, kale, collards, lettuce, radishes, beet greens, and cabbages and said to me as they left, "We sure are glad we know about this! We'll have to come back when the vegetables start coming in".

Now, before you say anything, don't even try to pretend you don't know what they're talking about. They are talking about the good stuff- the okra, summer squash, cucumbers, and best of all, tomatoes. Now that the weather is sweltering and sticky, we are ready for the food to fit the season. But this is part of learning what the season IS. Although it may feel like August, it's still (barely, but still) June, and we are yet a little way from the rich, ripe overflow of tomatoes and cucumbers. The squashes are peeking through the present greens, and are very welcome. Green beans are coming in, potatoes are being dug, onions are being pulled before the solstice. But still the kale, collards, cabbages, and radishes are hanging to the last threads of cool morning air, and we should make the best of it. The great thing about new foods coming in is that the old ones are completely changed. Brand new recipe ideas pop up as potatoes mingle with the radishes- roasted and tossed with dill, mustard, and olive oil. Summer squash is thinly sliced and added to a cabbage slaw. Steamed green beans and caramelized onions can completely change your ideas about kale. Sauteed zucchini will be mixed with chopped basil and thinly sliced chard that has been wilted in balsamic...

These are my favorite times of food-seasons, when the old overlaps with the new. The flavors of everything suddenly change and open up new ways of not only cooking the foods, but also experiencing the tastes. I love it when spring meets summer and when summer meets fall. It's like a new season comes at the PERFECT moment, just when you think you are tired of the old one, an opportunity comes where you can fall in love all over again. It creates these wonderful little mid-seasons, almost like individual seasons themselves. This would never, ever happen if we could pick and choose what we wanted, whenever we wanted it. Sometimes it is a bit challenging to keep cooking that darned old kale week after week, when all you want is a tomato. But if you stick with it, the rewards are beyond amazing. You grow to really know what the food tastes like, and learn to cook in ways that ten stacks of cookbooks could never teach you. It takes a real commitment to cook entirely seasonally and to not give up on the kale before it gives up on itself. But, as Carlo Petrini said, it is the waiting that makes food taste so good- the longing, the suspense. It is also the dedication of hanging on to the end. True love is never gained without full commitment and joy.

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                 Even if your refrigerator looks like this:

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Here's to the brand new market season!

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