Saturday, June 23, 2012

Farmers' Market and Loving Food (again)

When I was 16 years old and newly drivers' licensed, I would wake up at six in the morning to shower, put on a pretty dress, and drive down to the Saturday market to buy produce.  I often arrived before the market opened, so I would sit serenely on a nearby bench, waiting for the puffy eyed farmers to welcome me over.

I used to be so passionate about food and cooking.  Somehow, however, having a spouse who usually gets home from work at 9 p.m. and who is pleased as punch to eat a quesadilla or, if that's too much effort, a slice of cheese and a beer for dinner, and often getting home late myself, famished after a long day, has turned me into somebody who is fairly ambivalent about food.  Yes, I love to eat.  Yes, I would love to sit at the table, candle lit, to a glass of wine and a real dinner more often.  But I have a confession.  I've moved from being somebody who painstakingly plans out every meal of the week, prepares the appropriate grocery list, then (here's the kicker) actually cooks those meals to somebody who may have had chips and guacamole twice for dinner in the past week.  And I might also have had cheese and crackers at least once.

In some ways, this move toward easier meals has been a blessing.  Yes, I used to eat better dinners.  Yes, I used to experiment more with food.  Yes, I used to love that food more.

But, looking back, I was also a leetle obsessed.  Come on.  Sitting down with all of my cookbooks every single week, making an elaborate meal plan, waking up at six on a Saturday to grocery shop, then cooking said elaborate meals every single night, having a slight panic if we happened to go out to eat on a whim, leaving the meal plan askew?  I used to call cooking my passion.  I wanted to turn it into a career.  But now I see that, although I was certainly passionate about it, there was more than a bit of compulsion involved.

I've started noticing that the people I knew in high school almost always make reference to my cooking when I run into them these days, and I realize now that, as a shy person who moved to a new state in the middle of high school, cooking was the way I found to connect to people.  Handing somebody a cookie is easier than saying, "please be my friend."  And it felt wonderful, after almost a year spent alone finding my footing in this new place, to have an excuse to interact with others.  I clung to cooking and baking because feeding people accomplished something just being myself didn't: it got people to talk to me.  When they loved my food, I could convince myself that what they really loved was me.  Maybe I had to walk away from it because I had to realize that I was a worthwhile friend whether or not I had a tin of cookies to hand out.

The friends I have now have no idea that I used to be the kind of person who would host a week long fundraising bake sale on my own.  They have no idea that I used to read cookbooks for fun.  When I have them over for dinner these days, they aren't shocked when I offer them store bought ice cream for dessert.  And I love that about them.

I have more time to develop and indulge other passions these days.  Food doesn't rule my house and, truth, it's kind of nice to be more relaxed about the act of eating.  It's indescribably wonderful to have the freedom to decide that cheese and crackers sound much more appealing than chicken piccata and a beautiful salad, and to act on that decision without a second thought, without any guilt or shame.  It's been freeing to become the kind of person who doesn't flip out when she has only two servings of produce in a day, to know that it will naturally balance itself out.  I like this me more.  She is more loving, more compassionate, and more fun.

That said, I sometimes miss that old flame.  Maybe because I have built a coterie of such lovely, true friends, and maybe because I am at the point in my relationship with food that cheese and crackers carry equal virtue as kale salad, it feels safe to tiptoe back into the world of exploring and loving food.

Over the past several years, I've gradually fallen out of the habit of shopping the farmers' market.  I've gotten busier, and too often it's just simpler to buy produce at the grocery store, especially since I'm usually doing my big grocery shop on Saturdays anyway.  Produce has become just another thing on my grocery list, and many weeks, uninspired, I throw a few heads of lettuce and a bag of frozen broccoli in my cart and call it good.

But a little inkling has been creeping in that maybe, maybe if I treat produce, maybe if I treat all food as something more, maybe the act will create the feeling.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I went to the farmers' market today.

And I can't make any promises, but there is hope.

I remembered artichokes.  Why do they seem so much more precious when there are only 17 of them for sale, set rolling about on a table, rather than stacked into a uniform pyramid?

I remembered how wonderful it feels to stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers, scooping handfuls of green beans out of a plastic storage bin.

I remembered that raspberry red does not refer to the color of the berries sold at Costco.

And I remembered how getting into a warm car in which three bunches of basil have sat, filling the interior with their pungency, is instant, visceral bliss.

Farmers' Market,

Thank you for reminding me that life is abundant.

Much love,


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