THE BLOG
05/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Real Food Rehab: Cooking and Eating With the Seasons

It's interesting to me how many people regard cooking as drudgery. I don't get it. To me, cooking is a deeply sensual and highly personal act: the sights, smells, tastes, and tactile touch of it all can almost move me to tears.

Learning how to cook is a great adventure and a good investment. For those of you only interested in assembling healthy meals for yourself, I think it's still important to understand basic flavor pairings, have good knife skills or know the proper way to boil an egg.

In winter, you have more serious, more involved cooking. There are more steps, more technique, more ingredients and more hardware - pots, pans, tools and the like. In summer, because the fresh ingredients are so perfect and at the height of their lusciousness, it takes a minimum of effort to create culinary greatness. For the most part, I use a cutting board, a knife, a peeler and my grill. Oh, and let's not forget the ice cream maker.

But we are currently in between seasons and I'm frustrated and finding it harder to find the satisfaction that I crave. I'm done with winter and its deep, braised, earthy flavors. I want fresh, bright, crisp and light. I want to be sanctified with the season's first spinach and anointed in its apricots. Spring is symbolic of being reborn and that's exactly what I'm looking for right about now.

The spring is a perfect and exciting time for you to be exploring the world of real foods. I want you to experience food at its finest and freshest. If you let it, this experience is going to change your life. The spring/summer seasons are also a great time to ease into the pleasures of cooking and outdoor entertaining because they are so simple and satisfying.

Here's some food for thought: As a child, I don't remember seeing strawberries in the grocery store after summer. Now, unless they're certified organic, or grown by an independent local farm, they're genetically modified to be shipped long distances in all kinds of weather. To me, they're not real. Each fruit or vegetable has its own season and taking advantage of locally grown foods at their peak of flavor is, dare I say, the most life-giving gift you can give yourself.

I believe eating with the seasons is a beautiful way to get back in touch with your own true nature. We evolved to eat with the seasons. It's hard-wired in us somewhere. Starting in May (for us northerners, at least) begins a cycle of pleasures that is colorful, fragrant, seductive, healthy and delicious. I'm going to make it easy, I'm going to make it simple and I'm going to make it accessible for you to find and enjoy the best the season has to offer. The thing you need to know is that I am on this journey with you. There is still so much I want to know about food, about flavor, about technique. There are still so many fresh ingredients I've never used and I'm committed to pushing myself, to break from my biases and self-imposed limitations and grow a little, dammit. So, won't you join me?

The first of the spring produce is starting to arrive. Here's what to look for: lettuces, morel mushrooms, asparagus, spinach and all kinds of tender greens, cabbage, leeks, broccoli and spring onions. I've been eating the lettuces out of the bag in my car on the way home from the farmer's market! Speaking of farmer's markets, they're on the agenda for next week.

My website is now up and a couple of times a week I'll be posting new resources and recipes related to my current articles, so please check it out.

http://www.RealFoodRehab.com

Below I'm throwing in some practical inspiration to help get you started cooking. Start small. Pick one ingredient that moves you and run with it.

• Find a cooking buddy you can go shopping with, try out new recipes with and eat with.
• Check out some of my favorite cooking blogs with simple recipes that are searchable by ingredient.

o http://www.elise.com/recipes/
o http://smittenkitchen.com/
o http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/
o http://www.101cookbooks.com/
o http://www.davidlebovitz.com/
o http://orangette.blogspot.com/

• Take a hands-on cooking class, offer to assist at a cooking school or retail culinary program (such as Sur La Table) for free, or, if you can afford it, hire a personal chef to give you lessons in your home.
• Rent classic cooking show videos on Netflix or from your public library, such as the complete French Chef series with Julia Child.
• Search YouTube and Gourmet.com for videos on learning almost any cooking technique. A few weeks ago I learned how to make ricotta cheese from scratch on Gourmet.com. I cannot tell you how easy, satisfying and delicious it was.

(c) 2009 Dana Joy Altman, Real Food Rehab, inc.