I am not a food writer. I am a caterer. When I am lucky enough to travel, it is most often not in a professional capacity. I travel with my family (hubby and 3 teenagers) and struggle (or sneak) to find the time to indulge my inner passion - local foods, markets and hospitality.
I am always on the lookout for creative design,food trends and inspiration. And I am a voyeur - peeking in on culinary experiences, and making notes. Allow me to share my thoughts as I returned home today.
2 weeks, 2 continents.
This trip began in the Galilee region of Israel where agriculture is everywhere, from large-scale operations to small family fields with ancient rock walls. Virtually all meals reflect local bounty. Markets feature current harvest, peak flavors scream out for recognition. It was a wet spring and the fields were amazing shades of green making everything growing more tantalizing then ever. I could stay there forever.
Not only do you know where your food comes from, but the interaction with butcher, fishmonger and baker define the shopping experience. And given the familiarity with which Israelis communicate, it was entertaining to observe the banter between consumer and food professional - somehow the roles become obscured as the advice and opinions were generously shared in both directions.
The same was true in the markets in Barcelona. Though not a market that celebrates local food exclusively, the dazzling array of items and the professionalism of the vendors areoverwhelming. The ultimate taste of a dish has its genesis in the relationships formed here. I stopped for a long time at a meatstall, watching as selections were made, the trimming process was a performance rendering the word "butcher" inappropriate.
The interaction was intensely personal. At moments, I felt like I was watching a courtship -- a romance between purveyor and buyer with this small piece of meat, the object of their affection. Every slice was evaluated. The pace was seductive.(Everyoneelse patiently waitedhis or hermoment.)I could easily close my eyes and smell a gentle sauté or slow roast. I wanted to be invited home for dinner.
The notion of picking up pre-packed meat in the refrigerated section of the supermarket seemed callous if not outright hostile. Where would the passion be - that secret ingredient that separates merely eating from real dining?
And the meat counters were filled with a staggering array of all animal body parts. Even a seasoned food professional like me could not help but stare with dismay at some of the more unusual items on display. Perhaps a sign of our Americandisconnect from our food sources. Who is in love with their butcher?
I came upon a stall - 'verduras' - where the proprietress was in the final stages of arranging her produce. If the carne was romance, this was an affair. How tenderly each item was laid out, almost as if she was bidding each of her lovers farewell "Look your best." My camera was welcomed, how proud she was to be photographed.
The vegetable farmer in me bonded instantly with this woman. I loved her, and her vegetables. I know the feeling of loving each and every tomato, carrot or onion. And though I am an omnivore, as I turned around and stared into the eyes of a bodiless animal head, I thought - ' Nothing died so these vegetables could be here'.
Though I really missed seeing the connections between field and fork in the Barcelona market (I wonder about food miles), I did enjoy the magnificent globe-spanning bounty there for the asking. I devoured a ripe, juicy, giant, delicious peach (4 euros!) but have no clue as to where it came from.
Theconnections between our food and us are to be celebrated. It is a wonderful ritual - to really knowwhat we put into our bodies. How were they grown, and by whom? How were they handled?Where did they come from?
Though we are so terribly busy, to the point that some days a simple nutrient pill might seem alluring, the process of knowing and loving what we eat can be equally thrilling. Savoring moments of flavor and tastes, connecting to farmers and fishmongers adds a dimension to our lives and reminds us of our humanity and our temporal existence. In that moment, we celebrate the earth and pay homage to our environment as well.
Rest assured, I am no saint. By midweek, I will be bemoaning the fact that my children need to be fed 3 times a day. Dinner? Again?
My romance with food and the joy of dining will be eclipsed by the demands of work and practicality. But my heart will forever be in the markets, the fields and the love affair between us.