I came away from my vacation in Nova Scotia with a new mission. I wanted to integrate the natural world even more strongly into my daily life than I had been. Nova Scotians appear to be quite ahead of their U.S. cousins with regards to recycling, organic foods, and environmentalism. It's likely that because they have so much under-populated nature left to preserve that they simply aren't as blase as, say, New Yorkers or Marylanders.
Summer in Maryland is difficult weather for me because I don't feel so well in humid and hot climates. I feel languid and irritable. I needed to seek foods that are refreshing, cooling, and easy to prepare with little energy. As I planned my summer cooking strategy I made a trip to a local library to conduct some research on preparing seasonal recipes -- that is, meals prepared with local produce that is currently fresh and in-season.
I set my goal to make at least one seasonal meal each week, using local and fresh ingredients whenever possible. My experiments have yielded some recipes that I plan to use in summers to come:
- Chilled Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Cucumber Herb Salad by Chef Annie Wayte (see below). I really thought this was very successful and easy as far as soup preparation goes. Delicious and different from gazpacho. At my husband's request and in the interests of shorter prep time, I didn't strain the resulting soup, but left it the consistency of stew.
- Fennel Salad with Mustard Dill Dressing by Chef Annie Wayte (see below). I had never seen a fennel bulb before and had to ask the Whole Foods stock clerk where to find it. The bulb is very much like celery and tastes richly anise, even more so than the fennel fronds I'm used to using in recipes.
- I asked my mom for her delicious Celery Seed Cole Slaw recipe, which is not the mayonnaise-laden slaw, but a oil and vinegar slaw. It's tastes lighter which is good for humid weather.
- I made a huge batch of Salsa Fresca. The gardeners of the historic site where I work said I could help myself to the bumper crop of tomatoes, chili peppers, and jalapenos. (Hey, there have to be some perks when working for a non-profit!) Even after my husband and I wolfed much of the salsa down with southwestern main dishes, I still had almost a full mason-jar's worth left to give the gardeners in thanks for their hard work tilling the soil the eighteenth-century way. I'm currently drying the remaining chilis. I have learned just why people have to can their produce when they have too much of it.
There are several local farmer's stands just south of Annapolis and I can also get some local produce or organic produce at Whole Foods. Rumor has it there's a farmer's market in Edgewater on Thursday evenings, but I still need to investigate. I'm concerned that by the time it might take to drive there after work, won't the best produce be gone by 5:30?
My library had a fabulous cookbook which I highly recommend to anyone else attempting seasonal cooking in North America: it's called Keep It Seasonal: Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches by chef Annie Wayte. What I like about this particular cookbook is that I'm not the kind of cook who likes to spend hours slaving in the kitchen. I rarely have time, especially in the workweek to create labor intensive meals. Plus my charming husband prefers simple foods, particularly sandwiches and often salads. Soups, well that's another matter, he likes the thick "stew" variety whereas I'm more flexible in that regard. I like the ingredients she chose, many of which are easy to come by in my climate. She offers recipes for fresh cooking in four seasons. The winter chapter is especially enlightening, because she focuses on root veggies and beans, plus a range of citrus fruits to keep you feeling sunny even during the darkest months. I find her approach refreshing; the ingredients simple and not difficult to find; the recipes easy to follow; and the variety of foods to try in each season inspiring.
I tried several other cookbooks that claimed seasonal affiliation in the titles, but found the actual list of ingredients to be not precisely seasonal. There are also regional cookbooks for seasonal foods in the Southwestern U.S., California, etc. which would be wonderful resources for folks in those areas. I took a Southwestern cooking class about five years ago at L'Academie de Cuisine from Susan Belsinger. Now I've adopted southwestern cooking my personal speciality. Many of the recipes from Susan's class are classic summertime fare. I also have a particular fondness for Mediterranean cooking and Spanish tapas dishes, so I recently hunted for books with those cooking styles.
My favorite tapas restaurant of all seasons is Jaleo. It's a Washington, D.C. institution by now and it's made Chef Jose Andres well-known. Jaleo's food is really that good, especially the paellas, patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, and seafood dishes. I've rarely had any tapas there that did not suit my taste buds. Chef Andres also opened other branches of Jaleo in Maryland and Northern Virginia. He also has Cafe Atlantico in DC where I recently dined for DC's Restaurant Week. Scrumptious! Mr. Andres has a cookbook called Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America that I may purchase in the coming months.
The main results of my experiment in the past month has been confirmation that I can, in fact, live more seasonally by eating available local and organic foods. I feel better and am less bothered by the heat when I'm eating fresh, summertime food. I think we spend so much of our time today changing our environment to suit ourselves that we forget that not too long ago people did not have opportunities to consume any foods they desired in any season. The local economy and finances of some meant they needed to grow their own food and eat what was available. Choice has spoiled us. Foods that are cheap, easy, and fattening shorten our lives and expand our waistlines.
I plan to continue my seasonal cooking experiment as fall approaches. That should not be difficult for me, since I love the fall and I love the aromas and flavors of harvest veggies and fruits. I can hardly wait!
Do you have any favorite seasonal recipes? Any favorite summertime comfort foods or cookbooks? Please share your thoughts with me by posting a comment.