• a simple kind of life

    June 23, 2009

    I use to be a big “foodie” in the traditional sense of the word.  I went to culinary school and trained as a pastry chef.  I organized big group dinners for friends at restaurants in New York and London.  A gourmet tasting fair?  I was there.  I also interviewed cheesemongers and artisan bread makers for The Times.

    Then something happened.  Sitting down to a menu started to lose its appeal.  Gradually, my hours spent preparing and making elaborate food diminished.  At the same time, my awareness of nature and how disconnected we are from it became stronger.  Maybe I got tired.  But I’d like to think I woke up.

    When my food choices started changing quite sharply last year – as both a result of my own preferences and the economic downturn – friends had a lot to say.  “But you love food!”  said one.  “But eating out is such a part of your life; how are you going to be social?” asked another.

    My response is always the same: I still love food, and socializing now is more about being social then being caught up in what course I’m going to order next.

    I am now a foodie in a different sense, taking pleasure in simplicity and marveling at how, the more simple my approach to food, the more my taste buds sharpen and can appreciate food as nature intended it.  I’m not putting down gourmands, on the contrary.  If that hadn’t been a part of my life, this part wouldn’t be happening now.

    I’m not the first person to say that as you get more into whole, plant-based foods – especially raw – your diet becomes quite rudimentary.  You, literally, start returning to your roots.  It also means I don’t get bored of things as easily as I used to.  This recipe is probably as complex as I get these days, and I make it a few evenings a week.  I hesitated about posting it since it’s so simple, but simplicity is often easily missed.  It reminds me of a line from an old Depeche Mode song: “Is simplicity best, or simply the easiest?”  I’d like to think it’s both.

    new recipe: better than stir fry

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  • fruit & veggie crunching

    June 19, 2009

    I’ll shop for food over clothes any day.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I tried something on in a store or lusted after a pair of shoes in a window.  But almost every day I’ll find myself eyeing up an avocado or giving a mango a squeeze.

    I spread my food shopping across various sources: farmer’s markets, grocery stores, fruit stalls, and, occasionally, vegetable-box delivery schemes – otherwise known as CSAs in the US.  I used to do the box thing a lot, and in fact even started a catering business around it a few years ago.  But the truth is I just love the hands-on food-shopping experience.  I also got tired of so many onions and potatoes.

    Anyway, I thought I’d do a little price comparison this week.  Because I don’t buy the same things at every place – the point is to spread my pickings out – this is, pardon the pun, comparing apples and oranges.  But it does give an idea of how much I spend, not to mention how expensive life in the UK is.  Still, I can’t imagine what I’d be spending if I were eating out all the time.

    First up, a grocery store trip plus fruit stall fly-by.  Here’s what we’ve got:

    shopstall

    1 mini watermelon
    2 small heads lettuce
    1 box strawberries
    1 box blueberries
    10 flat peaches (utterly heavenly)
    6 vine tomatoes
    1 box cherry tomatoes
    Big bag ‘o carrots
    4 limes
    3 romano peppers (how beautiful are they?)
    5 honey mangoes (be still, my beating heart)

    Total cost: £25.79  ($42.50)  YIKES!

    Still, that’s a lot food.  I should point out that the limes are the only organic item here.  The strawberries, lettuce and tomatoes are all British. Everything else except for the mangoes is grown on the Continent.

    Okay, next up, my farmer’s market trip last week:

    farmers

    1 large head lettuce
    1 large bunch asparagus
    4 beets (for bedazzling smoothies, tops and all)
    2 large bunches spinach
    1 large bag garden peas (fun to peel and wonderful raw)
    1 bunch celery
    9 vine tomatoes
    4 boxes strawberries (not shown, see previous pic)

    Total cost: £15.50  ($25.57) DEAL!

    All of the above are grown a few miles outside London. Double deal.

    Lastly, while I haven’t used them in a while, I thought I’d take a quick peek at the prices at Riverford Organic.  Their fruit and veg box contains:

    broad beans
    cherry vine tomatoes
    kohl rabi
    basil
    pointed cabbage
    portobello mushrooms
    radishes
    aubergine (eggplant)
    strawberries
    cherries
    bananas

    Total cost: £14.95 ($25) including delivery.  Wow.

    Everything except the aubergine and bananas are homegrown.  And not an onion or potato in sight.  Well.  This is tricky.  While the Riverford site states that this box feeds 3-4 people, I wonder who they are basing this on and on how many days.  You’ll also notice that my first picture is heavy on the fruit while the farmer’s market trip leans towards the veg.  This box does balance them out.

    My head hurts.

    I’ve never been good at numbers, but I do know one thing: portfolio.  Rotation, rotation, rotation.  Spreading an investment, whether stocks or stalks, is always a good idea.  And you can always bet on the latter.  Result: I’ll continue to not put all my veg in one bike basket.

    p.s.  I’m curious to know how the prices in the US compare, so if any bloggers there want to do a similar thing, that would be very cool – please let me know if you do.  Happy weekend!

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  • seeds of economic change

    June 14, 2009

    The number 27 bus traces a sguiggly path between West London’s Turnham Green and Chalk Farm in the north of the city.  Riding a 30-minute chunk of it today, I realized that the route was a microcosm for the so-called economic crisis.  It seems there isn’t a single block along the double-decker’s path without an empty or soon-to-be vacated storefront.  As for the businesses established in the physical sense, you could almost count on seeing their windows crying out for help: buy one get one free!

    I’ve always thought the economic downturn is actually a good thing and part of a necessary evolution bringing us back to our roots – both in a spiritual and physical sense.  With instability comes a different kind of certainty: focusing on what really matters, and realizing that very few things actually do.

    I believe we’re entering a move towards simplicity, towards a joy that is not dependent on external factors forever beyond our control.

    How timely to see the release of Up, the new Pixar film about an elderly man who fulfills a life-long dream of moving his house above a waterfall in South America.  Throughout his amazing journey, his house actually becomes, literally, an enormous load that eventually leads him to understand that home is only ever where the heart is.

    The surge in popularity of plant-based foods and what they can do for our health and the planet is not a coincidence – nothing is.  The fact that these foods are more affordable both on a personal and global level points to the genius of universal intelligence.  And by affordable I mean in the long-term; cheap food is eventually expensive – both in terms of health-care costs and environmental damage.  Let’s not forget the “eco” in economic!

    Speaking of seeds, please come back tomorrow for a quick lesson on sprouting – dirt-cheap nutrition.  Seriously.

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