It's summer in the city, and I don't have an air conditioner. This used to be uncool, and just one of the infinite ways I was far behind my Manhattan neighbors. Now, thanks to Al Gore, I'm super cool. It's an ecological stance rather than a deficiency. Along the Road to Perfect we must strive to turn any shortcoming into an asset.
It is also Monday. Last night I realized I had an empty refrigerator. Empty in the figurative sense. Void of anything that might make a decent meal, but amply supplied with condiments, beverages, and miscellanea. I ate a frozen black bean veggie burger, which I layered with cucumber slices. Later in the evening, insufficiently nourished, I found myself crankily staring at vacant shelves and chewing on turkey jerky. I fell asleep, dreaming up a wish list for today's trip to the market.
Over the past few years, the way I shop for food has gradually changed. Growing up, I ate a lot of sugary breakfast cereals, powdered mac and cheese, and TV dinners. Not that I'm complaining. Even those foods have a nostalgic appeal. As I grew older, I became more interested in balance. Nutritional balance, yes, but I also derived a certain pleasure from the balance of colors and textures on a plate. I began to shop the aisles of a grocery store like an artist surveys her palette.
It wasn't long before I was swept up in the buzz of "artisan", "organic" and "free-roaming". Naturally, I stumbled upon even more, "grass-fed", "raw", "seasonal" and of course "locally grown". There is no shortage of literature available on the benefits of these changes. Farmers, chefs, nutritionists, environmentalists, and even economists are out there arguing a shift from industrialized food production to a more sustainable approach to food. I highly recommend anyone take a look at the hard facts that are out there. For me, the appeal is a visceral one.
The only thing better than heading to a Greenmarket for your veggies, is picking them yourself. Either option appeals to all five senses: aesthetic sense, environmental sense, economic sense, sense of community, and sense of righteousness. It reminds me of my mother's tomato plants and my grandfather's kitchen garden. I recall the anticipation of a ripe tomato and the urgency of filling up on strawberries before they disappear for another year. Eating seasonally and locally, makes life more unpredictable. It breaks the monotony of a weekly trip to the florescent aisles of the supermarket and challenges the home chef to be more flexible. On every trip, I find something perfect...
Today, it was watermelon, the quintessential summer fruit for a hot August day. In the shade of a green tent, there was a table with side by side crates of two distinctively striped football-sized melons. Size is important, because I need to lug this sucker 100 blocks uptown with all my other purchases. I was making my choice, when I asked the producer the difference between the two shades of green. One is yellow. One is red. Whoa! This is the sort of little thing that brings a smile. Something as simple as a bowl of juicy, chilled watermelon is that much more interesting when I buy one of each variety. So, I did just that. Two watermelons. One red, one yellow. Perfect as is. Delightful with a red wine vinaigrette, fresh mint, and feta cheese. (Shown at right with herb-buttered flounder caught off the coast of Long Island and available at select NYC Greenmarkets)
PS. Other watermelon inspired meals that followed...Apartment grilling, a city living compromise. Lamb-Feta Burgers. Breakfast.