The other day X declared that she’d taken to her bed with raw spinach poisoning. A friend noted that X’s symptoms sounded suspiciously like those of the nasty stomach bug she herself had just gotten over, and she had not recently consumed any raw spinach.
X may have been joking, but I suspect she wasn’t. Some days Martha’s Vineyard seems like a parody of itself, and the parody factor runs especially high where food is concerned. Among a certain segment of the island population, food has become the basis of a secular religion, and with good reason: it offers many of the attractions of the non-secular kind, not least a crack at salvation and many opportunities to preach, or at least feel superior, to the non-foodie heathen. Among whom, of course, I count myself.
What follows originally appeared in my old Bloggery on September 7, 2007. September is harvest time on Martha’s Vineyard, hence the anxiety that lurks between the lines.
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The other day I read that we’d all be better off if we ate more fresh fruits and vegetables, and despite the eminent rationality of the statement what it made me want to eat immediately was a chocolate bar. There wasn’t one handy, so I poured another beer.
It’s fresh-fruit-and-vegetable season where I live. I don’t have to go looking for fresh fruits and vegetables: they come looking for me, fresh vegetables in particular, the excess from friends’ gardens. A surfeit of fresh vegetables makes this single girl anxious. They’re a deadline hanging over my head: Eat me before I transform into a gelatinous mess in your refrigerator. The vegetables I buy are generally the ones that keep, if not indefinitely then at least long enough for me to get around to doing something with them: carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli. A couple of days ago I made a big bowl of my favorite salad: garbanzos, soaked and quick-cooked; a medium-size red onion, chopped; a pound of carrots, shredded; two or three broccoli crowns, pulled apart into bite-size florets; a half pound of feta cheese, crumbled; and a handful of raisins. After ten days or so in the fridge, it’ll start to look a little mushy, but it still tastes good and besides it’s usually gone by then.
Notice that my salad doesn’t include lettuce, or anything green and leafy. Fresh vegetables in general make me anxious; fresh leafy green stuff scares me to death. I love spinach, but buying it is like installing a time bomb in my fridge: if I don’t get to it immediately, it’s in there ticking away, wilting and browning and turning gelatinous around the edges. At that point I can barely bring myself to look in the crisper, whereupon the ticking accelerates and the day fast approaches when the spinach I bought in good faith will resemble something that died on the road. There’s currently no spinach in my fridge, but there are lettuce, and fennel, and another leafy thing (chard?), as well as two modest zucchini. Tick tick tick . . .
That’s another thing about fresh fruits and vegetables: they’re labor-intensive. Some more than others, of course: peeling a banana takes no time at all, which is why I’ve usually got a bunch in residence, except when the fruit flies are bad. Grapefruit, on the other hand, is too damn much work. I buy grapefruit juice instead. Ditto spinach: before you can eat it, you have to rinse and spin it, and maybe break the stalks off, and then either put it in a salad or steam it. When I come home from the barn at the end of the day, I’m ravenous, and since I live alone, supper is never ready when I get there. My culinary repertoire runs to the quick (grilled cheese sandwiches, omelets, micro-zapped potatoes) and the long-lived — quiche, casseroles, chili, soup, and the like, which require a considerable initial investment of time but then become fast food for another week or two.
My culinary repertoire also includes, of course, bread. Baking bread is less labor-intensive than it looks, and none of the ingredients are tick-tick-ticking on my shelves: most of them don’t care if I don’t get to them till tomorrow or the next day or two months from now. A thick slice of fresh bread turns a handful of baby carrots or cherry tomatoes into a meal. Baking bread has another advantage. Once people know you bake all your own bread, it never occurs to them that many of your vegetables are frozen and most of the fruit is canned.