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Year of Produce: September

One thing about a regular, and more importantly, self-directed, non-client-based project, is that life sometimes gets in the way of getting it done. Life, in this case, was cross-country travel, getting walloped by a flu while on travel and attempting to steal moments to get this month’s produce log designed and posted. A laptop with a mouse pad next to it (I have trouble with a track pad for detailed work) does not fit on cramped airplane tray table.

Download September Fresh Eat log in high-resolution. Below are links to previous month’s logs.

Why Eating Healthily Can Be a Challenge

Life gets in the way of a lot of things while we’re living it. Eating is one of them. Or eating well, as in healthily, not fancily. In a recent New York Times article “Even Benefits Don’t Tempt Us to Vegetables,” the author reminds us what a serving is: half a cup of cut-up or cooked vegetables, one cup of fresh greens, half a cup of cooked dried beans, or, if you must, six ounces of vegetable juice.

The article cites a report by the Centers for Disease Control that found in 2009, only 26 percent of Americans had three or more servings a day (The recommended is at least four to five.). To some, even this might seem like a lot. There are only three meals in a day, I can hear people saying! One serving of a fruit or vegetable per meal. How much more should a person have to eat? Well, to that, I would ask, when was the last time you ate a salad that had only one cup worth of greens? That’s a mighty small salad. A normal salad to me is about three times that amount of lettuce. Toss on half a sliced pear or apple, or other vegetables, and you’ve got five servings right there. A whole day’s worth in one dish!

You can bypass the rest of this rant and get to what piqued my interest this month.

Some claim healthy eating is expensive, others say they have no time to cook, a smaller percentage simply don’t like the taste of vegetables. We’ve got an industrial food complex pitting Goliath “food-like substances,” as Michael Pollan calls them, against the homely David vegetable, who can’t compete with the multitude of flavor-enhancing chemicals.

In another recent NY Times article about Americans’ habit of ordering fries despite all we know about the benefits of healthy eating, the reader comments interested me. Some admitted they simply didn’t know what to do with zucchini, for example. The outspoken ones who say vegetables just “taste yucky” or who decry the government telling them what to eat are lost causes. But the guy afraid of zucchini? He’s the kind of person I’m interested in.

My own mother, who lived in the same house I did with an Italian-American father, still expresses disbelief when I tell her what goes into my tomato sauce. It’s a dance we do. She asks the ingredients. I list them: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, basil. She says with surprise “Is that it?!” Exasperated, I reply like I always do: “It doesn’t need anything else!”

Getting Comfortable with Experimenting

More and more, I realize that cooking (and worrying about how it will taste) is a common stumbling block for people. When I used to cook at a Taste the Place tent at the farmers market, I was always surprised at the responses from shoppers as they watched us cook and as they sampled what we put out. In an environment like a farmers market in a food-centric city, there were many more people than I would have guessed who had never eat Swiss chard or a wild mushroom. When we’d run out of printed recipes, shoppers had a troubled look on their faces. I’d insist they didn’t need a recipe, and gave them the basics, encouraging them to experiment. But people do want a recipe. They don’t trust themselves to create something tasty unless they follow a recipe.

I watched a woman inquiring about fennel one day. She was from out of town and had never had fennel, but was curious. “Would it travel well in a suitcase?” she asked the vendor. That day the fennel bulbs were huge, so told her she should grab one because the big ones go like hotcakes. She smiled tentatively, like she was buying porn. People like the look of bundles of frilly kale. They’re curious about kholrabi. But there is a complicated gulf between them and that pile of greens.

The bridge a person has to walk can be filled with fear of making a mistake, ruining perfectly good produce, uncertainty about what to use if you lack a special ingredient, family memories…you name it. I don’t know why, but I need to chop vegetables, I need to see the colors and textures, I need to hear the crackle and pop of them sizzling in a pan.

I make mistakes, I ruin perfectly good produce, I often lack special ingredient and, boy, do I have family memories.

You have celebrity chefs doing the impossible and the non-celebrity chefs, like moms, aren’t cooking much anymore so they can’t teach the next generation how to feed themselves. If I could, I’d get a really tricked out truck and travel all over the country giving really basic cooking lessons using what could be found locally. And make it fun.

And I’d probably start with soup.


What was cooking this month?

Fennel and baby artichokes accompanied me on a camping trip which got chopped up, wrapped in foil and thrown on the campfire to accompany my friends cedar-plank grilled Sockeye salmon. I put in a little olive oil, white wine, salt, pepper and basil. You can do the same thing in the oven, adding other vegetables as you like. Fantastic. For more on artichokes, see July’s Produce log.

Sweet peppers are wonderful roasted, but these sweet, Dr. Seussesque Jimmy Nardello peppers are a bit delicate for that. They’re wonderful tossed on a salad or pizza.

Peaches and nectarines hardly need instructions if you opt for standing at the counter, biting into a ripe peach and letting the juice run down your chin. More peaches went in a cobbler on the same camping trip and again at my harvest potluck (photo below). Peel peaches or nectarines, puree and then drizzle on ice cream or put into a cocktail. Cut them in half and throw them on the grill after a cookout for a nice dessert served with ice cream.

Watermelon salad with feta, greek olives, basil or mint (or both). Drizzle a little olive oil, add salt and ground pepper. A mouthful of summer.

Tomatoes from the garden got slow roasted because they didn’t taste very good and this method boosts the flavor. I cut them in half, put them cut-side up on a cookie sheet, drizzled them with a little olive oil and sprinkled with a salt. Slow roast at 225 degrees for 3-5 hours (more for larger tomatoes). You go about half way to a sundried tomato, so that there is still moisture in them. I let them cool and then pre-froze them on a cookie sheet before slipping them into ziplock bags and storing them in the freezer. They can then be added to sauce later on, or chopped and used for bruschetta or added to soup. For tomato sauce: I fake canned, which means I chickened out on water bath canning and stuck the jars in the freezer instead. I skinned (drop in boiling water for a minute then plunge into ice water and then peel), seeded (squeeze into a sieve, stirred with a spoon to keep the juice and jelly around the seeds, which is where the flavor is) and chopped the tomatoes and cooked them down for about 15 minutes. Later I can turn the tomatoes into sauce or use in soups.

Italian plums looked so pretty at the farm stand, so I bought a bunch of them to put on the table for the potluck dinner. No one ate them. So I followed my neighbor’s recipe for a quick stewed plum in white wine, honey and some lemon rind. Then I pureed them with simple syrup and turned them into a plum sorbet. The sorbet didn’t turn out great but, then again, I was experimenting. Apparently the most popular of the New York Times‘ recipes is this plum torte.

The harvest potluck was a farewell to summer. Fall is here. Winter is staring us down. The summer here was too short. But what the sun taketh away, the rain giveth. That means apples, pears, turnips, winter squash, chanterelles and more. Bring it on.

Thirty people gathered around sharing all sorts of amazing dishes, from blueberry soup to corn salad to roasted beets to watermelon feta salad to homemade pasta with pesto to blueberry pie.

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