by Maria Reidelbach
|Veggie Mandala by Maria Reidelbach.|
Eating delicious food is one of our primal drives, and good food makes me very, very happy. That said, my definition of “good food” has been evolving quite a bit. I used to love munching treats like cheese doodles—and sometimes still do—although in recent years I’ve stretched: I’ve opened up to a much wider variety of gastronomic delights.
It started when I was living in New York City and decided to quit smoking. It took me years, and when I finally quit, the effort was rewarded with a weight gain of almost 25 pounds—for the first time I needed to think seriously about my diet. But the onslaught of advice out there was conflicting, complicated, and sometimes just weird. And I hate dieting.
At the same time, a farmers market opened in my neighborhood. Every week, the street filled with aromatic fruit, gorgeous vegetables, delightful flowers, and friendly farmers with commonsense guidance. Farm stands and farmers markets are a great place to hang out, do a little taste-testing, run into neighbors, meet new people, share recipes, even hear live music and get other locally made products. And being around all those amazing shapes, colors, scents, and textures is exciting in a very elemental way—we are hard-wired by our genes to be happy around good, healthy nourishment. I was seduced. Soon I was carrying home bike-loads of juicy, fresh, seasonal bounty and inviting farmers, fishermen, foragers, and other hungry pals over to my loft for enthusiastic group dinners.
To find out what to do with produce I’d never cooked before, I researched. Michael Pollan’s books awakened me to the idea that a great diet can actually be simpler than what I had been eating. Eating and cooking with unprocessed ingredients (old school: “from scratch”) is surprisingly easy, and whole foods naturally have much more balanced nutrition (less of the bad stuff and more of the good) than food made in factories. I doubled up on the amount of vegetables I ate, began discovering the world of whole grains (which are just as varied and interesting as pasta), and cultivated a sweet tooth for fresh fruit.
Wonderfully, I have found that eating seasonal, locally grown food is way more luscious than anything whipped up by food engineers. The freshest and ripest fruit and vegetables are also the most tasty because that’s when they’re at their peak of sugars, aromatic oils, and juice.
Local fruits and veggies are varieties that are grown for taste, fragrance and texture rather than a long shelf life or durability in shipping.
I’ve discovered that when I stick to locally grown food I experience and enjoy the seasons of the year way more. If I haven’t had fresh asparagus for ages, I look forward to the first asparagus of the season—it is exciting and precious. And later, if there’s plenty, there’s even time for a hedonistic gorge or two. Every season and every crop ripening is a little holiday to celebrate!
Over several years, making the shift to eating more local food changed my life. I had a posse of new friends in well-grounded places, an exciting culinary life, and even though I had given up trying to lose those post-nicotine pounds, the extra weight had gradually just melted away and I felt fantastic. Since then, I’ve become compelled to share this wonderful “new” world and have become a dyed-in-the-wool (ahem) local farm and food activist.
Now, I’m super-pleased to share that the Stick to Local Farms Cookbook, which I’ve been working on for years, is out this month. It’s a good companion to Stick to Local Farms, an annual sticker adventure I launched in 2014 to share the fun and adventure of visiting farms in the Rondout Valley, a lovely part of Ulster County.
The following recipes, from the Stick to Local Farms Cookbook, are fantastic ways to enjoy local produce—easy, delicious, great for you and for local farmers!
Sugar Snap Peas and Sesame Seeds (yields 4 servings)
• 1 pound sugar snap peas, stringed
• 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon toasted or Asian sesame oil
• salt to taste
• Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry pan
• Steam sugar snap peas until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
• Transfer to a bowl and toss with seeds and oil.
• Season with salt.
Aunt Mabel Hillier’s Rhubarb Custard Pie (yields 8 servings)
• 3 cups rhubarb, diced
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 2 local eggs
• 1 8-inch or 9-inch pie shell
• Preheat oven to 400ºF.
• Arrange the rhubarb in unbaked pie shell.
• Blend together the sugar and flour, add the eggs and stir.
• Pour mixture over the rhubarb.
• Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350ºF and bake 20 minutes more. Test center for doneness (it will be firm and custardy).
• The filling is also good with a teaspoon of vanilla added and/or cooked in a baking dish as a custard.
The Stick to Local Farms Cookbook and the Stick to Local Farms maps can be found at many places throughout Ulster and Dutchess counties—more info at Stick2Local.com.
Maria Reidelbach is an author and maker who lives, works and eats in Accord, NY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.