Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do the right thing

I've been having a lot of opportunities to feed some of my favorite people lately, at least a few each week: wine dinners, soup dinners, impromptu dinners, the occasional weekend brunch. (These are above and beyond the weekly dinners with my buddy Mitch, who not only lets me take over his kitchen but also has a working TV and doesn't make fun of me too much when I urge my favorite characters in Lost not to listen to Ben! He's not to be trusted! Oh. Sorry about that, I get excited.) I have been making an effort to experiment with as much local, seasonal, organic produce as I can these days. I feel proud to be supporting local producers, but beyond that I love the challenge: my days are filled with roasting beets, sauteeing sunchokes, inventing new ways to incorporate potatoes into, well, whatever I can (there are so many potatoes, in fact, that I have sometimes secretly snuck them into friends' handbags and backpacks), baking apples, braising rainbow chard, and figuring out what to do with things I had never cooked before, like rutabaga (I like roasting these with honey). It's like Iron Chef... without the fabulous cookware... or competition. (I win.)

A few of my recent dinner guests have apologized nervously, sometimes sheepishly, for having brought something that was not local/seasonal/organic (let's just call it "LSO" -- I'm feeling silly typing it out every time). It's prompted a number of interesting conversations, along with apologies from my side for giving the impression that any friend gracing my table with their presence -- or some food or beverage that they have been kind enough to contribute -- would be unwelcome. Goodness!

As much as possible, I have been trying to stay as close to LSO* as I can in my own cooking. It's not always possible. I mean, if I happen to have a bottle of good Armenian cognac around, I should use it, right? (It was a gift and I discovered that it is great to flambe with. I'd like to dispel any images of me guzzling it.) I also have a soft spot for lemons in my water. Sure, I buy lemon juice, but it's not the same. And I drink a lot of water, so I generally buy lemons by the bag. I make concessions. French wine, say, or coffee, coconut milk, almonds. When I deviate from my LSO model, I make the decision to do so deliberately, and I'm okay with that. (Incidentally, my cousin Sonia mentioned that she'd heard somewhere that, environmentally speaking, a bottle of French wine often has a smaller carbon footprint than a California one, since French wine is shipped rather than flown. I should look into this, though, and see if it might be the case for my favorite South American vintages as well. I love California wines, too. And Italian ones. And... well, I don't want to give the wrong impression so I will stop talking about wine here.)

I think the trick is something that I hear most often in the context of my yoga class: mindfulness. Basically, it means being aware of our thoughts and actions. Making the best choice for ourselves at the time, being gentle and forgiving with ourselves when our choice isn't ideal. Like when I need fresh lemons in my water. I'm not moving to Florida. (I do try to buy organic when I can, at least.)

*See how catchy it is? You read it first here, folks. Someone call the OED!


  1. Wine from California is usually transported by truck or train, flying is too pricey for most wines. This page does a calculation if you are interested, where they do look at one premium bottle shipped by plane. Apparently we should buy wine in larger bottles, maybe that goes against trying not to look like an alcoholic though.


  2. Thanks, David. Cool site. And box wines... guess I shouldn't have given my parents such a hard time about those after all.

    The obvious solution: buy wine by the barrel. (Or bike to the vineyard -- check.)

  3. Sing it sistah! I also try to stick with LSO most of the time, but it's easy to get too caught up in perfection; in the end, just do what you can, what makes sense, and if lemons make you happy, then lemons you shall have, no need to rationalize, justify, or create your own guilt-trip about it.


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