Saturday evening, for the first time in a very long time, I was inspired in the kitchen. It has been months since I have had a passionate cooking session. I have roasted many chickens, made salads and side dishes, cooked soups and even tempting complete dinners. But it was about feeding my family or guests, which is different from cooking just for the sake of the ingredients.
It is a combination of several factors - my kids are coming and going this summer, so the school year dinner routine is not happening; I have been working long and crazy hours so the desire to cook isn't there; weekends have been so hectic and there has been little opportunity to putter in the kitchen; and work has been so intensely about food issues that honestly - I would rather order sushi than cook!
Until late this afternoon when something happened. Actually, it started yesterday which began with a day at Katchkie Farm with 3 co-workers. We walked the fields, the rows of flowers and the Sylvia Center garden, did a little picking and chatted with Farmer Bob. I left with an array of mid-summer veggies in tow and spent the next few hours at the Chatham Food Co-op demonstrating our Katchkie Farm products.
My Blackberry was buried deep in my bag and I was able to ignore the vibration from my cell phone. I hadn't planned it that way, but it turned out to be a low-tech day. It was about looking, talking, touching, tasting, cooking, feeding, and laughing. Without realizing that something had happened, I shed the layers of intensity that define my city life, especially in our fast paced, multi-tasking, creative and competitive work environment.
By mid-day Saturday, I was thinking about the Katchkie goodies I had in my possession - beets, carrots, dill, cucumbers, onions, garlic, squash, zucchini, cabbage, scallions, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers & basil as well as the celery and potatoes I picked up from Little Seeds Farm in the Co-op's Friday farmers market.
The morning started with an attack on a very large pile of work and reading including a report from the USDA on Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. It is a 150-page document describing how lower income Americans struggle to access healthy affordable food. The effort that went into defining basic terms (affordability, nutritious and access) speaks to the sensitivity of the problem. The report is deep and very significant in that it recognizes the significance of food deserts/food accessibility and its correlation to health issues. The study was mandated by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. It is a study that is both frustrating and hopeful, as the struggle for healthy food access for all Americans makes it to the national agenda.
I then downloaded photos, which included 2 groups at the Sylvia Center kitchen where we celebrate seasonal foods with an educational curriculum that enlists enthusiasm and great flavors to teach children about healthful eating. Many of our visitors are from the neighborhoods cited in the USDA report. The Sylvia Center kitchen is adjacent to our commercial Great Performances Kitchen - where on a daily basis, large quantities of beautiful foods are prepared and delivered to events and cafes around the city. The proximity of these acts of cooking speaks to the food dichotomy in our country. That we at Great Performances are able to embrace both constituencies means the world to us.
There is so much to accomplish. We need to continue to educate our corporate and social clients on the flavors and benefits of sustainable meals. We need to engage politically to make sure that food security (having enough to eat), and food justice (having access to affordable healthy foods) is in abundant supply to all our neighbors. We need to work on the food systems that deliver our meals from farms and producers both near and far, to ensure safe food that is also healthy for the environment and for the consumer.
I have been saturated with food thoughts, menus and eating, an occupational hazard you might say. So when the urge struck to stop thinking of food as work or mission and just enjoy it as art, entertainment, deliciousness, craft and fun, I did just that.
I began by grilling a chicken with a lot of garlic and onions. I made Katchkie Farm Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan using the perfect eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs that we grow. The Chatham Co-op had amazing eggs and the best ricotta and cheeses from local dairy's. For salads - Cole slaw, potato salad, cucumber & onion, roasted tomatoes, beets with sour cream and dill - all just practically jumped into their mixing bowls. Tomatoes slow roasted in the oven overnight, sprinkled with fresh herbs and olive oil.
I cannot believe my good fortune to be surrounded with such bounty. I have the perfect job - feeding people. Even the products of my home kitchen will find their way to tables in other households. I am burdened by the fact that good and delicious food is a privilege while hunger and limited food access are realities for many Americans. I relish our harvest but will continue to dedicate time and resources to making sure that it is shared.
Organizations to support:
Just Food, www.justfood.org
City Harvest, www.cityharvest.org
Food Bank , www.foodbanknyc.org
Alliance to End Hunger, www.alliancetoendhunger.org
Follow Liz Neumark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GPfood