When I think about food, and I think about food a lot, I am usually imagining sitting down at a table with a big plate of it in front of me, ready to harvest, right down my gullet. But nourishment is never so simple. Food consumes me far more than I consume it.
First, there is the daydreaming about food: dishes of pasta puttanesca, fresh vegetable curries, sweet corn cakes and peach pies floating through my thoughts and distracting me from whatever else I may be attempting to do. Soon I push all other work aside and begin plotting my food strategies for the day. Food is really a lot of work, if you want to know the truth. At least in my house it is. First we’ve got to dig up the front yard, then go and buy seeds and plants to stick into the ground at just the right time, and nurture them, weed them, feed them, and water them. Then, when the time is right, we’ve got to go to the Farmer’s Market to buy fruits and vegetables because all the ones in our garden have been eaten by rabbits, groundhogs, deer, insects, and birds; really, we’ve pretty much provided a smorgasbord for the whole natural environment. We’ve become the neighborhood organic restaurant, a five star bistro catering to all our little friends, acting as gourmet chefs, waiters and bus people, and they don’t even have the courtesy to leave any tips.
Somehow the farmers at the Farmers Market seem to avoid these pitfalls, or maybe they just have much bigger plots of land, so they can feed the animals and still have something left over to sell. Or maybe they are murderers. This is a distinct possibility and not really something I want to talk about with Farmer John when I am examining his sweet corn. “Did you have to kill a raccoon in order to get this corn? Or did you just arrest him and put him in a raccoon penitentiary?” Actually, I’m beginning to believe that Farmer John did use one of those Have-a-Heart traps to catch some of his local animal bandits, and then released them in my neighborhood, to ensure that he would have plenty of customers again this fall.
I love all the fresh produce at the market, along with the jars of pickles and jams, eggs from Socialist chickens and Libertarian geese, cheese made with the help of cows that freely give their milk, as a service and kind of like paying rent to their farmer stewards. I feel really good when I buy my food directly from the farmers, and so I try to do this as much as possible.
But this means that I have a refrigerator and cupboard full of uncooked food, which is, for the most part, unhusked, unpeeled, unearthed, still pretty filthy if the truth be told, and sometimes crawling with little bugs, which I’m sure adds to the nutritional value of the stuff. But it is not ready to eat. Minimally, it needs to be washed and chopped, and in most cases, peeled and cooked.
So, we get into the next stage of our time with food: making it edible. This usually requires a search through about 15 cookbooks to find the perfect recipe to use up all the great deals we got at the market – the baskets of tomatoes, giant fennel bulbs, ground cherries, arugula, five different colors of squash. We buy things from the farmers that we’ve never seen before at the supermarket, and really have no idea how to prepare or eat until suddenly it’s dinnertime and we’ve got to figure it out.
We work our way through these cookbooks until we get so hungry we just start peeling and chewing, or parboiling, frying, steaming, baking, sauteing, so many ways to make a huge mess in the kitchen. When we’re done, we still have way more food than we can eat, so then we start desperately calling around to see if friends want to come over and eat dinner with us, and if they can’t, if they might know anyone who is sick or just back from the hospital so we can unload some of our giant pots of soup and vats of pickles, and slices of three colors of watermelon on them to make room for the rest of the food from the market that we still haven’t figured out how to cram inside the refrigerator.
When all this is done and arranged, it finally is time for that original daydreamed fantasy: a huge plate of delicious, fresh, incomparable, homemade, homegrown food. There is nothing better in the world, and this is what makes all the time spent in the pursuit of food worthwhile. Unfortunately, this part of our food episode is over very quickly, and we move into the “I can’t believe I ate all that” stage, and the unbuckling of buckles, unsnapping of snaps, and the groaning of groans that accompanies the end of most meals around here. Along with the accompanying guilt about how we’re never going to lose any weight when we can cook like that.
Then after a suitable period of lethargy, it is time to clean up from the massive food tornado that has swept through our kitchen, dirtying and disassembling and displacing every single piece of cutlery, dish, pot, pan, mixer, blender, and frying pan, covering everything with a film of oils, sauces, shards, crisps, ends, peels, drips, lids, spices, towels, recipes, and stains. The clean-up seems to go on for hours as we repackage all the leftovers, carefully put every ingredient and condiment back in its proper place, wash each of the accoutrements that make great food great, and finally hang up the aprons and towels, flick off the lights, and waddle off to a peaceful spot in the living room to contemplate …
What should we make for dinner tomorrow?