Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Spring Harvest Dinner: A Lesson in Waiting
Our Sunday dinner this week was inspired by an effort to eat more seasonally. Here in zone six, asparagus and strawberries are ready for harvest. So I put together a spring-inspired dinner of asparagus soup (that I made with locally grown asparagus), homemade rosemary bread, and strawberries, which I served with a cream cheese dip.
I've been doing some reading lately (more on that later) and it's gotten my wheels turning about being more conscious of my food choices. As I flipped through my meal plan notebook from the past few months, I realized that I ate a lot of asparagus in January. I'll be honest, if you had asked me a few months ago when asparagus was harvested, I probably would have guessed in the spring, but truly, I hadn't really thought about it. I suppose that's pretty much the norm in our modern lives. We can go into the nearest grocery store and get pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want it, regardless of where we live or what month of the year it is.
As I did my grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, I was happy to plunk into my cart a number of conscious spring-time choices; a load of spinach for a mid-week spanakopita, strawberries for sorbet, and lettuce to use in salads and turkey burgers. I was also aware that it was not yet harvest-time for the potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers that I also tossed into my cart, which means that they have likely traveled across more than a few state lines.
In recent years, I've experienced the reward of purchasing seasonal, local produce. It looks better. It tastes better. I feel better about buying it. Better yet, I know where my money's going when I buy it - right into the hands of the farmer who produced it. I had that kind of experience this week when I bought my local asparagus. It was 10 times more flavorful than the asparagus that I prepared in January and I all but laid eyes on the very soil where it came out of the earth.
I learned a lesson. It pays to wait.
My first memorable experience in patience and restraint when it comes to food was with apples. Six years ago I started eating organic apples that I bought from the local health food store. They were so superior in flavor and texture that when I bit into a conventional apple, I nearly spit it out. I was sold. From then on I knew that, if nothing else, I would only eat organic apples.
As the season waned, I noticed the abundance of apples starting to dwindle, until one day I walked back to their usual spot on the bottom produce shelf and found that there were none - something that I rarely, if ever, experienced with conventional foods at the regular grocery store. For a moment, I pondered stopping at that regular grocery store on my way home and picking up some apples there. However, I knew from previous experience that I'd just be disappointed. So that was it. I didn't eat another single apple until early autumn of the following year.
Let me tell you, it was worth the wait.
Cooking notes: For the Asparagus Soup, I followed the recipe in The Big Book of Soups and Stews. I winged it with the cream cheese dip. I mashed up about four strawberries, mixed them with 4 oz. cream cheese, and then kept adding vanilla yogurt until the consistency was right and it tasted sweet enough. The rosemary bread is from the Tassajara Bread Book.