You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing the abundance of fruits and vegetables you might get from your CSA or the market. —The Mgmt.
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With farms and gardens across the northern hemisphere bursting into bloom, it's the perfect time to kick back and enjoy being a food lover. Ripe summer fruits and vegetables make a vibrant palette for the ambitious cook and an easy-peasy meal for the casually inclined. What could be more inspiring than a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes on the kitchen counter, or more relaxing than a picnic lunch that pairs them with fresh cheese, warm bread, crisp wine and absolutely nothing else?
Isn't it almost unbearably delightful? I think so, too. I'm drunk on the headiness of the season like Ruth Bourdain is high on pixie tangerine zest.
It's a good thing, too—because the sober alternative isn't pretty. Everywhere you look, anxiety about the state of our food system is reaching proportions as epidemic as the obesity it's contributing to. With thousands of opinions about how and what to eat—some inspired, some merely shouted—it's enough to cause a serious case of analysis paralysis at the market. I know I've personally fallen prey to indecision and frustration more than once, and I spend a good part of every day paying attention to the ins and outs of the what-to-eat discussion. It can't be much prettier for the rest of you.
I'm raising the issue for a serious reason, which is that sometimes I get a little worried about the fate of the sustainable food movement. Speaking of heady buzzes, I really, really like some of the changes afoot in the nether regions of the food chain at the moment. But if eater anxiety wrings the joy out of enough people's relationships with food, it won't be easy for all those wonderful, super-secret, magic developments to see the light of day. And where's the fun in that?
Do you know what's a lot more fun than bossed-around, humorless eating? It's remembering to take wholehearted pleasure in our food, and truly allowing ourselves to do so. Life in a state of imperfect uncertainty is nothing new, so as far as I'm concerned, we might as well weather it happily and with bellies full of sour cherries.
In that spirit, and without further ado, a gentle reminder to love the food you're with, and ten small ways to do it.
1. Go Picking
For cheap outdoor entertainment that doubles as both educational experience and healthy dessert, head to your local u-pick farm to pick berries and stone fruits. To find a farm near you, check out PickYourOwn.org and LocalHarvest.org.
2. Then, Make a Crisp
Once you're home and swimming in fruit, make the ultimate in breezy, riffable desserts: a fruit crisp. It's so flexible it even serves as an unapologetic breakfast. Crank the oven to 375°F. In a deep-dish pie plate or small casserole, toss three pints of berries or cut-up stone fruit with a scant 1/4 cup each of sugar (depending on the fruit's sweetness) and cornstarch, plus a big squeeze of lemon juice. In a small bowl, mix together with your fingertips 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats, 3/4 cup flour, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 8 tablespoons butter, and a pinch of salt. Distribute the topping over the fruit and bake until browned and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
3. Cook and Eat with Friends
The desirability and benefits of sharing a meal with friends couldn't be more obvious, but sometimes it's tricky to fit it in as much as we'd like. Next time you're waffling about whether to initiate a get-together, don't let yourself rationalize against it. Host a simple pot-luck, or cook together, so no one gets stuck with too much prep. The time you invest will pay dividends in clearheaded happiness in the following week.
4. Drink a Really Good Beer from Your Region
It's gotten pleasantly possible to find good craft beer in just about every region of the U.S. I'm no brewmaster, but I know that there are five or six really good, easily obtainable beers from my region, whose brewers I suspect I'd like if we met in person one day. And I know that good beer makes people happy. So.
5. Leaf Through the Pages of an Edible Publication
For inspiration in both the methods and motives of cooking locally and seasonally, pick up a free copy of your region's Edible magazine or the gorgeous new book Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods, which draws the best from each region together. These publications strike an inviting, inclusive tone that will make you love good food so much you'll want to marry it.
6. Plant Some Basil
Short of an apartment with zero windows, there's not much excuse to have a working kitchen without a pot of basil and maybe a few other herbs. Don't get me wrong: I had exactly that for many years, so I'm not judging. But now that I know the pleasures of snipping fresh leaves to my heart's content, I can't imagine it any other way.
7. Corrupt a Perfectly Respectable Vegetable
If you find yourself acting overly virtuous in the presence of vegetables, editing your behavior the way you might with a distinguished colleague or elderly family member, try to let loose. Make something ridiculously rich, like creamy kale or zucchini tempura, to break the ice. Afterward, you'll feel much freer to express yourself, which only ever improves a relationship.
8. Try Something Crazy
Next time you're at the farmers' market, buy something you've never tried before or aren't overly familiar with. Let the farmer talk your ear off about the best ways to prepare it. Then go home and give it a try. It'll be delicious more times than not; and if you loathe it, the story will be all the more interesting.
9. But Don't Forget About the Old Stand-bys
Food is a powerhouse of memory and emotion. Let it fulfill its destiny. Cook your grandmother's recipes for your kids. Try to re-create the perfect salad from the restaurant you splurged on, that last night of your vacation. Dip organic baby vegetables generously in the horrible/wonderful onion soup dip you secretly still love. (Share it with your friends—they love it, too, along with David Lebovitz and Kim Severson. Don't you feel so validated?)
10. Share Your Own Food-joy Wisdom with Your Friends
No, seriously. As always, we want to hear from you. If you're the type to think about your food and love it, too, how do you focus on enjoying good food without shouldering the weight of the world? Let us know in the comments.
About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in New Jersey.