June 14, 2015 by Jean
For me, one of the joys of retirement is having time to cook. I know many single people who dislike cooking for one and only do serious cooking for company. But I enjoy the experience of preparing and savoring a meal just for me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not always in the mood for cooking. Typically, I’ll make 2-4 dishes in a week, each with 2-3 servings, and eat the leftovers on those evenings when I get home late from an outing or when I’ve been out working in the garden and come in too tired to cook.
I am not a gourmet cook who makes fancy dishes with a large number of exotic ingredients and complex instructions. My preference is for simple cooking with good, whole, local ingredients. (One of my favorite cookbooks is Nava Atlas’s The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, a treasure trove of delicious but simple recipes.)
I plan my meals one week at a time, and then do my grocery shopping based on those meals. In any given week, my planned meals will include some combination of the following: repeat dishes that I enjoy, something I’ve never made before, and variations on standard themes like pizza, frittata, pasta and sauce, stir fry, or quesadillas.
At this time of year, my meal planning begins with a visit to the Sunday farmers’ market in the nearby city of Lewiston, Maine, where the best, freshest local produce can be found. I have a CSA membership for one of the farms that sells at this farmers’ market, so I stop at that booth first. I pick up whatever they have that appeals to me and then supplement with items from other farmers.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” CSA members invest in a farm and then get paid back in produce during the growing season; this makes it possible for farmers to support their up-front expenses for a new farming season with funds from their customers rather than loans from a bank. In some CSAs, members go to the farm or to a pick-up point on a designated day each week and get a box or bag of what is being harvested in that particular week. In other CSAs, members are paid back in credits to spend at the farmer’s booth at the farmers’ market. This latter is the type of CSA I currently belong to. Each membership share costs $150 and is paid back in credit with 10% interest (a much better deal than I can get investing my money elsewhere!). This year, I bought 2 shares for a total of $300, giving me $330 in credit to spend at the farmers’ market booth and at some other points of sale for this farm. (If you would like to find a CSA near you, go to LocalHarvest.org and type in your zip code.)
Once I have picked up my produce from the farmers’ market, I can figure out what I want to make with that produce and make a grocery list that includes any needed ingredients. Last week, for example, I picked up four items from my CSA: a head of lettuce and a bag of mixed salad greens (for my daily lunch salads), a bunch of tiny beets with greens attached, and a bag of baby kale. It was also “Seniors Day” at the farmers market, where anyone over 62 could get a coupon worth $2 at any booth. I used this to help pay for a 4 oz. bag of chanterelles from a mushroom farm. The chanterelles were sautéed in butter, cooked with the beet greens, and mixed with beaten eggs to make a delicious frittata. The kale was cooked with chickpeas, olives, garlic and tomato sauce and served over pasta. The beets were saved to be cooked with some other root vegetables for a stir fry.
For the next 2-3 months, there will be more and more goodies available at the farmers’ market each week. Today brought the first of this year’s fresh local strawberries, which has me thinking about strawberry shortcake as well as healthful breakfasts of strawberries, yogurt and cereal. It’s a wonderful time of year to eat and to cook – for one or for more.