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On Today's Menu: Summer Infused Vegetables

As I write this, we are in the middle of some rather uncomfortably humid days here in New England.  The kind of day where you ask yourself “How can it be 72 degrees and everyone is sweating just walking around?” It’s one of those days when you look at the relatively low number of the outside temperature and that relatively low number and the feeling of oppressive heat just don’t make sense. It’s the kind of day when every store you enter has been cranking the A/C to alleviate some of that humidity, and instead has created a totally polar environment which (for some of us) is even worse.

Personally, I don’t mind the heat. Especially now, as summer begins to draw to an end, I enjoy basking in the sun and feeling the warm air on my skin which will soon be hidden under layers of sweaters and fleece. Many of us have feelings of nostalgia for both the long summer days of our youth and the anticipation of the crisp cool days of fall. The changing of seasons from summer to autumn is accompanied not only by nature’s show of brilliant foliage but also the abundance of fruits and vegetables and the fall harvesting of crops.

I like to think about all those tomatoes and zucchinis, all the squash and gourds and ears of corn that, like me, have been basking for long hours in the summer sun. In my mind, these plants have become permanently infused with the gentle warmth of summer. I can smell it as I slice up the local heirloom tomatoes and place them in creative patterns on our dinner plates.  The local peaches that are being made into pies, preserves, wines, or just being enjoyed for their own sake by little children with sticky hands and juice dripping down their chins are absolutely permeated with the essence of summer.  The visceral experience of eating ripe fruits and vegetables triggers our memory and sense of nostalgia precisely because on some other day, in some other year, we ate something wonderful. Something magical. It engaged all of our senses and we were totally present in the moment. And honestly, how often can we claim nowadays to be truly living in the present moment?

I understand that many of us are too busy to think of these things, but I am often also made aware of the large segment of the population who has convinced themselves they don’t even like vegetables.

Everyday, I meet with clients who come to see me for nutrition advice and when the subject of fresh veggies comes up they make funny faces where they squint their eyes, wrinkle their noses, and shake their heads.

“Really?”, I always ask.

Probing further into the subject, what I normally find is that their past experiences with vegetables have been something vastly different from enjoying a fresh local harvest. Things have been either overcooked, poured from a can, over-processed, mushy, stringy, bland, or in some way rendered completely unappealing. At that point in the conversation (and I have to add that many of these conversations have a substantial language barrier between myself and the Vegetable Hater) I usually whip out my iPad or iPhone and start Googling images of things like tuna stuffed red bell peppers, Thai lettuce wraps, frittatas, edamame and corn salads, zucchini boats, fresh salsa, etc. Things that are colorful and lovely and look like how they grew.  Using pictures also allows me to clarify what I mean by radish, cucumber, and jicama.  Once we are on the same page, my client will often look up with a vaguely nostalgic expression on their face and say something like “Wow, that looks beautiful!”

I believe there can be great satiety in beauty. That immense enjoyment can come from simplicity. That preparing our own food which was not long ago being infused with summer and permeated by the sun’s rays can be one of the most inexpensively gratifying experiences available to us. Of course, I have a adopted a mind-set that supports this belief.  I have a daily gratitude practice that keeps me looking for the positive in any given situation. So, when life gets challenging, when cold weather comes, or if I’ve been subjected to too much stress and arctic A/C, one of my personal remedies is to spend time in the kitchen getting back to basics. I’ve found that simply going through the motions of washing, cutting, peeling, chopping, and combining foods that have brought their own personal history into my hands can be a pretty effective therapy session.  As soon as I give myself permission, I can be present, breathe deeply, and create something magical…it might even become something that my own kids will one day look back on with nostalgia.  What will you create today?

**(PS – Need some extra ideas or inspiration? You can check out my CarolynMaul.com Facebook page for recipes, articles, and links to my blog, or grab my cookbook)**

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