Friday, August 9, 2013

Something To Chew On

For every gardener out there who has planted their blood, sweat and tears along with their seeds, August is payback month. For all those long hours of weeding, watering, feeding, praying while watching the formation of dark clouds over the horizon and trying to encourage their local wildlife neighbors to dine in someone else's yard, the time for reward has arrived.. Tomatoes turn a bright, luscious red, eggplants hang plump and purple, summer squash and cucumbers are shiny green behind bold orange and yellow flowers...ah! Everything is ripe and beautiful and we tell ourselves once again that it was all worth it. We still have much more harvest time to go with the coming of Autumn - pumpkins, apples, winter squash and other cool weather crops. Oh, yes, life is good and bountiful.

August is also the time when I begin to shed my usual persona and turn into a completely different person. From now until Christmas I change into a form unrecognizable to my family. Quite simply, I cook.

Now, just to clear up any misunderstanding, it's not as if I never cook or that my poor children and grandchildren have ever or will ever starve in my presence. I was raised in a typical Italian family which meant that we women all cooked from the time we could reach the stove. Food was much more than just nourishment. Food was also how we showed our love to our family, friends and the world in general. As a card-carrying member of this family I cooked, and cooked, and cooked: dinners, birthdays, holidays, and every day in-between. I always cooked more than we needed because you just never knew who might stop by or how many kids would follow my own children home from school and need to be fed (never mind that they had mothers that were perfectly capable of feeding them ... they were all too skinny, anyway). But after my kids were grown and had flown the next, and my husband and I went our separate ways, I decided to give myself a break. For me, names like Betty Crocker and Good Housekeeping were traded in for names like Swanson and Healthy Choice. Cooking was that which was restricted to what I could pop in a microwave, or boil on top of the stove with the exception of frozen pizza which didn't fit in the microwave (I like a brown, crispy bottom). All that changed when I moved out on my own and stared out the window of my new home for the first time at the backyard ... and was inspired to grow something.

With the coming of the first of the summer crops came the sounds of dicing and chopping, freezer containers to be washed out and reused, spaghetti sauce to make and freeze, zucchini bread to bake and salads, oh, the wonderful, beautiful salads. Beans are picked, corn is shucked, and everything is used. As soon as the mornings start to take on that cool, crisp scent, the one I call "the smell of back-to-school in the air," out come the soup pots and the apartment is filled with the aroma of veggie soup to be cooked and frozen for a cold, winter day when I long for the days of summer and the taste of fresh produce. Even the herbs are dealt with, either dried or frozen, to add zest to my winter feast. No more Swanson for me.

Last year I made the commitment to give up beef and pork. I eat very little chicken and turkey, which I may also phase out, but still eat fish, especially salmon, and some dairy such as eggs, yogurt and, alas, ice cream, my all-time weakness. I have been having a blast researching recipes for using other sources of protein like soy, beans and legumes in imaginative ways. I am currently looking for a cookbook with a title something like "Cooking With Tofu For Dummies," since I love the stuff but have had some less than successful incidents such as a stir fry than came out looking more like pudding. If anyone knows of such a book, please let me know.

Since changing my diet I find that I feel so much better. I sleep better. My digestion is better. I no longer feel lethargic after a meal. I'm discovering new uses for old, standby herbs and new ones I never used before. I've fallen in love with Rosemary. Turmeric is just downright exciting. All this from someone who thought Healthy Choice frozen meals was the greatest invention after sliced bread ... and, oh, maybe Pop Tarts, but that's another blog.

I've also decided that I deserve to treat myself better in other ways. I deserve to sit down at the table in the evening to eat a good, healthy, home-cooked meal off of real plates and not either the black plastic dishes the frozen meals come in, or the kids Dora The Explorer plates. I deserve to have a nice glass of wine out of a real wine glass (the ones I was saving for company ... hey, I'm company, too), and to drink only organic, locally made wines (a plus to living in Upstate New York on the edge of wine country). I deserve to be the worthy recipient of the bountiful harvest even though I only cooked it and didn't grow it myself this year ... except the lettuce and herbs in pots on the porch which the cats liked to nibble on as well; everything else came from the farmer's market or my sister's garden. I deserve to end my meal with fresh fruit grown without pesticides. Most of all, I deserve to treat myself like the Queen of my home because, like the old L'Oreal commercial used to say, " ...I'm worth it."

Now that's something to chew on. Excuse me, but there's a dish of grape tomatoes and some hummus in the frig calling my name.

And so it is.