Sunday, July 29, 2007

Real Food

Ukrop's just opened here and we, quite foolishly, went on the day it opened. It was over flowing with people and was quite difficult to get around and see what they had to offer. We tried our best, as we really were trying to get some grocery shopping done as opposed to just being there to browse, to get through the aisles without being in someone else's way. Then we came upon an aisle that was deserted, not a soul on it: it was the baking aisles. This struck us as funny and gave us a laugh (as well as a chance to take a breath and check our grocery list off some). But something else struck us in that moment: nobody really cooks anymore.
It was something I had never really noticed before. I've never been one to understand it when people claim that they "can't cook." That is something that is just completely foreign to me and incomprehensible. But, people don't do it so much anymore, at least not from scratch. And even less often do we sit down and really appreciate the food that we're eating, the (if any) trouble that might have gone into getting the ingredients and preparing the dish.
This really came home to me the other week when I was learning to make a new dish. I have been blessed with a recipe being passed along to me from the best cook I know. It is her crab cake recipe. Normally here I would share it, but I've been sworn to secrecy and so I shall keep. Anyway, we set out to buy the crab meat and were shocked by the price: $27 for a pound!! We bought it anyway and when I told my friend of our initial sticker shock she replied to me "That is why making them for someone is an act of love." And I get that now, it really is. And when we ate a couple of them that night, we savored every bite. We noticed the way the lumps of crab meat were still in the cakes and how delicious it was. We noticed how "real" they tasted.
I had never thought of food tasting "real" or not until these last couple years when we really began cooking things from scratch. We now refuse to use mixes when making pancakes and waffles (even organic mixes) as it is so simple to make without ~ as a side effect we no longer can tolerate the taste of the mixes. Same goes for spaghetti sauce: we made our own last year for the first time, from heirloom tomatoes that we grew organically in our back yard and then canned as sauce. There was no going back to the jar stuff after we ate our first pasta dish with the sauce! We now make not only these things but also butter, ice cream, all of our breads, jellies, and so on.
Another thing we've noticed is the taste difference between "farm fresh" and store bought. I had never really paid that much attention to that until last summer when I was making some Strawberry Lemonade (with Vodka of course) for one of our parties. Everyone loved it and I ended up stuck at the blender for most all of the party because it was getting drank just as fast as I could make it! Everyone kept going on and on (and they still do) about how wonderful it was and asking if they could get the recipe. Honestly, I was quite embarrased by this. Not because I am humble or anything like that, but because it was so simple, I felt like I was cheating making it. Here is the recipe:

Strawberry Lemonade

Fresh Strawberries (if you can freeze them first all the better)
Lemonade mix (like Country Time or something)
Sugar (if desired, not really necessary)

~ Put a couple cups (2-3 probably) of strawberries in the blender. Fill with ice. Fill half full with vodka (if you're making non-alcoholic just use all water, but why would you want to? hee hee). Fill the rest of the way with water. Pour in enough lemonade mix for about 2 quarts (though 1 is ok, this comes down to personal preference). Add a tablespoon or so of sugar if you'd like, again this is personal preference. Blend till smooth.
*Obviously, hopefully at least, when I say "fill" I don't mean all the way to the top of the blender. Use common sense, if you don't, don't whine at me for the mess you will have to clean up.

There, now can you see why I was embarrased? There is NOTHING special or noteworthy about this recipe. But then it hit me, there IS something special and noteworthy about this recipe! The secret, the big secret to getting this to taste REALLY good is: use strawberries that are fresh from the farm! Not the ones you can buy in the grocery store, no ~ go pick them yourself or buy them directly from the farmer! The first time we made this I was using strawberries that my grandfather had gotten off a friend's farm on the way back from the beach. We ran out and had to go to the store to get more strawberries, and the results weren't as good. And no, this wasn't because I was drunk & making them wrong, it was the strawberries, you can really tell the difference. I'm almost afraid to know how much better this drink would taste if I used real lemons to make the lemonade ~ I probably would be aghast at the thought of using the cheapy mix!! (Ok, truth be told, I already am aghast!)
Most food isn't meant to be available year-round. There are reasons there is "winter squash" and "summer squash." There are reasons that fruits only happen at certain times of the year while vegetables happen at other times. When you can use fresh food, from the farm, in season you notice these things. Then, when you take the time to cook your food from scratch, to make it with love, you'll notice it even more. Heaven forbid you take the time to sit down at a table with your family and eat it all and talk about your day!
Real food, real cooking, is something so special. Yes, we eat to live, but with real, good, fresh food that is cooked from scrath and made with love, well I live to eat! It is something that can carry you away, make your problems disappear, make things seem much better, and make you feel much more in love. This isn't the same as eating from stress, this is the joy and deliciousness of food and meals making you spin. Even typing this and thinking about it all my head is spinning, my mouth is watering, and I am swooning.
Show someone you love them, even if it is just yourself, and make something from scratch. Even better, go to your local Farmer's Market and pick out your ingredients there. Even better than that, grow it yourself. Appreciate the food as it grows. Imagine the dishes you will make. Imagine how they will taste. Feel the fruits and veggies, and even meat (you can get that from local farmers too!) and know what they are like when they are raw and healthy and fresh. Then as you prepare something from scratch, notice the aromas coming out. Notice the texture and colors and sounds of things as they change while they cook.
Finally, as you eat it: see if you can taste the herbs, the different veggies or fruits. See if you can notice how much more wonderful it tastes. No wonder cooking is such an aphrodisiac! Love really is the best ingredient! Real Food = Love!

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