Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” (the latter of which is on my wish list, if anyone is so inclined…) has written a New York Times article about the upcoming movie “Julie & Julia,” the show “The Next Food Network Star” and the network from which it springs, and about food and the American mentality for it in general. He considers why food, and cooking, have become spectator sports instead of daily endeavors, and concludes that a combination of increasing work hours, ever advancing kitchen technologies, and endlessly multiplying availability of quick and easy processed foods, are leading us out of the kitchen. However, speculating that the instinctive, reptilian parts of our minds that are always subconsciously searching for sustenance are attracted by the appearance of food being made, we like the Food Network with its fancy presentations, competitive cooking shows, and analyses of restaurants. Though this does not surprise me about American society in general, I am trying to set myself apart from this norm. Hence the blog, the backyard garden, the subscriptions to cooking magazines… I try to pick up techniques and inspirations from Food Network shows, though I do admit to sometimes just enjoying watching someone else do the cooking. However, today was something of a proud moment, considering Pollan’s article, which I read shortly after lunchtime. Today each one of my meals included something homemade or homegrown.
For breakfast I feasted on toast topped by pluot-raspberry jam, lovingly preserved by a friend and colleague. It was glossy and thick and sweet-tart with lumps of fruit inside, my favorite way. I like my jams and preserves to still resemble the fruits they once came from, so they feel a little more real.
Lunch was one of my favorite summertime meals. In celebration of our first full size ripe tomato (we’ve had great luck with the sungold cherries so far, but the big tomatoes are blushing only grudgingly), I picked it, carved it into thick slices, and had myself a juicy, creamy, yummy tomato sandwich. I like my bread toasted, with mayonnaise on both sides to hold in the seeds and tender flesh of the tomato. That’s all. Ungarnished. Unfancy. Fresh and delectable.
Dinner was a big triumph. At my best estimate, about 70% of our dinner came from either my garden, or our neighbor’s. Armed with cherry tomatoes, a few yellow pole beans, green onions, basil, and oregano from my yard, and a cucumber accompanied by a zucchini practically the size of a T-ball bat from our neighbor’s garden, I went to work. I blanched the beans since a few of them were quite long and I was afraid they would be tough, before combining them with the halved sungolds, sliced cucumber, and a cup or two of defrosted frozen corn.
I tossed these with a really simple vinaigrette of just red wine vinegar, some sugar, and a touch of olive oil. Salt, pepper, and a small handful of julienned basil, and the salad was done. I set it aside to marinate while I fixed the main event.
The zucchini was so big that I knew the seeds would be fully developed, so I sliced the monster in half lengthwise and scooped out the seeds, leaving the flesh behind. I added salt, black pepper, and a little olive oil to the flesh before placing the halves in a roasting pan. Per a distantly related recipe I found in a vegetarian cookbook, I added a little water to the roasting pan and slapped some aluminum foil over the top before letting them cook for about fifteen minutes, just to start softening up the flesh. Meanwhile I mixed up the filling. After finely chopping the green onions and oregano from the garden, I mixed them into some goat cheese along with garlic powder and Penzey’s Black and Red pepper mix that I particularly like. When the zucchini halves finished their steam, I took them out, filled them with the cheese mixture, and topped them with considerable mounds of fresh white bread crumbs. Then it was back into the oven for another 25 minutes, when the bread crumbs were suitably golden for my taste.
When they came out, we cut off thick slices and ate them with the salad as a side. The zucchini flesh was tender but still had some texture to it, and I was surprised to find that the skin was not a bit bitter. The goat cheese lent a tangy flavor that was, surprisingly, not so strong that it overpowered the vegetable. The bread crumbs were a nice touch, adding a crunchy texture and toasty flavor to the dish. I think when I make this again (our own zucchini promise that I will), I may add some lemon juice or another acidic flavor to the cheese mixture. I generally like my vegetables with lemon, and the goat cheese has a unique tartness that leads me to believe it would pair well with a squeeze of citrus.
Feeling like a ecologically, environmentally, locally responsible citizen of the world, I can’t help but feel a twinge of longing for ice cream… packaged, processed, hermetically sealed… but maybe I’ll settle for a homebaked blueberry struesel bar instead.