A Food-Centered Life


April 21, 2020 by Jean

farm fresh foodFor as long as I can remember, I have loved food. I was a child who didn’t have to be called to the dinner table twice (although I wasn’t always enthusiastic about everything on the menu). At some point during my adult years, I realized that people liked to feed me because I was always so appreciative. In my more than four decades of living alone, I have enjoyed cooking for one and eating the meals I prepare for myself. (In my home, a peanut butter sandwich is typically made from home-made peanut butter on home-baked bread.)

In recent decades, I’ve become a “locavore” – someone whose cooking and eating is based mostly on locally grown foods. During ordinary times, shopping for and preparing food is important in my life; I love buying in-season food from local farmers and either using it to prepare seasonal meals or preserving and storing it for later use. But during this time when so many other activities have been cancelled or postponed, I’m finding that food has become my central preoccupation.

I feel a bit like someone living in the kind of retirement home where people start lining up outside the communal dining room at 4 p.m. because dinner is the high point of the day. My trip to a farm 20 miles from home each Thursday morning to buy fresh produce (and maybe even have a conversation with the farmer) is the big event of my week. I begin checking their website two or three days beforehand to see what they are harvesting this week, and I start to imagine the meals I could make from those products. Even so, there are usually surprises when I get there (like the fresh mushrooms that were available last week) that open up additional possibilities.

When I get my haul of fresh produce home, I actually enjoy the ritual of unpacking it all, sanitizing each package, and putting it away. As I do this, I spend more time planning meals to come, deciding what to cook earlier in the week and what can keep until later. Since each recipe makes two or three servings, I often find I have two weeks of meals in the pipeline.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m doing a lot of fancy cooking. My preference is for fairly simple meals, and I have a number of standard items with endless variations that I cook frequently. For example, on a day I bake bread, I will often make enough extra dough for a pizza crust – and there are so many foods that make great pizza toppings. I also make many different types of quesadillas, with whole wheat tortillas that I keep on hand in the refrigerator, an ounce of shredded pepper-jack cheese, and whatever vegetables are currently available (this week, spinach and mushrooms). Or I might make a stir fry with rice or noodles and a mix of vegetables and greens. Frittatas are another adaptable entrée, and there are many, many ways to fix pasta.

And then there are the desserts. I’m still making apple cobbler from last winter’s storage apples, and I have several quarts of wild Maine blueberries from last August’s harvest in the freezer if I wanted to splurge on a blueberry pie. When I want a really decadent dessert, I’ll make a chocolate soufflé. (There’s nothing local about this dessert except the eggs.) Eaten after it cools, it is simultaneously dense and light, with a texture somewhere between flourless chocolate torte and chocolate mousse.

My current obsession with food is bringing me both comfort and pleasure, but I’m also looking forward to a time when I’ll have more interests and pastimes to compete with food for my attention.

4 thoughts on “A Food-Centered Life

  1. Dell Vickers says:

    I, too, am spending more time than usual planning my (alone) meals. I don’t have a local farmer to visit, but I do have my co-op. Having fresh vegetables available, prepping and cooking has become one of my favorite activities. This week I have enjoyed simple but fresh cabbage, collards, and tonight will be broccoli with baked acorn squash and a slice of baked chicken. We are so fortunate to have fresh food accessible.

    • Kelly says:

      Jean, I enjoy reading your blog and thinking about food. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 30 years. There are a lot more options available now and I try to take advantage of that when planning meals for two. One of which is a college professor teaching from home. So right now, meals have become a bit of a hurried rush. I live in a small town near many Amish farms and am able to find produce. Still cold here and had snow showers yesterday. So not much fresh produce. Looking forward to fresh tomatoes and blueberries.

  2. Jean R. says:

    My blog for tomorrow is about shopping and eating in the pandemic too, but I’m not as happy with my choices are you are with yours. I can’t believe you can buy fresh farm produce already! Our farm markets don’t open until May 9th and then they don’t have a lot of variety. Market days and produce stands are going to be different if we still a have to do social distancing then and I’m pretty sure we will be. Our state is being hit hard.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, In the early 1990s, a Maine farmer named Eliot Coleman published a book called The Four Season Harvest which explained how farmers in northern latitudes could grow crops all year round by using cold frames and plastic hoop houses (not heated greenhouses) as insulation. Most farmers in Maine use some variant of his methods, and we can get cool weather crops like greens and carrots year round here. This year-round availability of fresh produce is also the foundation of Maine’s vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene. So, when all the restaurants were forced to close down, there were a lot of farmers who suddenly had crops with no place to sell them. Our fabulous University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service went into action surveying farmers, and within a week, they had put out a map of all the farms that were now selling produce direct to consumers at farm stands. This has worked out incredibly well for everyone; the farmers have not lost income, and consumers who would like to avoid supermarkets as much as possible have other sources of fresh local food (including eggs, dairy, and meats as well as vegetables).

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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