This week’s share: Basil, Escarole, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Onion, Savory, Hakurei turnips
Surprisingly, I have little taste for haute couture. I know, I know, you would never guess it when you see how I choose to dress myself. I guess some people just have a natural sense of style.
But it’s true. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot make myself care about the way certain fabrics drape or learn to appreciate really fine stitching around a button hole or give a damn about a playful reinterpretation of some hemline from the 1960s.
All right, maybe I have not tried hard enough. Maybe with more study I could learn to see the value in crafting obscenely expensive, deliberately non-utilitarian clothes that only look good–or at least remarkable–on women with the alien body types in order to impress the famous and wealthy.
But wait, fashion’s defenders say, it’s not just about some pointless self-referential world of privilege and luxury. Fashion trends trickle down and turn up in the most ordinary places. Oh goody. We common folk get to be cajoled into buying clothes we don’t need in a vain attempt to achieve some low budget version of the lives of the fabulous.
Fortunately for me, I do not have to think about high fashion often. Every now and then I flip through the New York Times fashion section to pop up my blood pressure a little, and we do occasionally discuss creating a wedding dress out of various farm materials–row covers and bug netting and the like. But for the most part fashion tends not to intrude into the life of the farm. In fact, I generally only think about clothes at all because I am wet or cold or have torn large enough holes in my trousers that they are in danger of coming completely apart.
So if I am not thinking about haute couture, what am I thinking about? Well, I do spend some time thinking about food. Which ought to be quite different from high fashion. And mostly it is. I have begun to notice, however, an unsettling trend in cooking. There has always been fancy cooking for rich people, who were after all until quite recently the only people who could afford not just fancy cooks, but also meat and sugar and multiple cooking pots and enough cooking fuel to create multi course meals. And for a long time now there have been little jokes and surprises–one thing disguised as or hiding inside another, daring or challenging combinations, and show stopper dishes. But the food itself was still for the most part just food, and it was made by people who were just cooks.
Now the top chefs are stars creating dining experiences for an insular international foodie elite that demands something new all the time and is willing to pay astronomical prices and travel across oceans for it. Colors and textures are splashed around for effect, the lights dim, scented smoke wafts about, restaurants are done up like sets, people make pretentious statements about time and sex and beauty, celebrities appear in the best seats, and something we all need is transformed into an object designed only to satisfy the wants of those who want for nothing. It all sounds oddly familiar. Haute cuisine has become haute couture.
The most sensible reaction would be to ignore this. If these people want to sit around in the dark savoring gelatin olives on scented pillows, let them, and let the rest of us get on with our simple lives of getting dressed and eating. Leave them alone.
But they don’t leave us alone. It seems that roughly half the fun of inhabiting such an exquisite realm lies in making everyone else envious. How else do you really know it is such a great place to be? Especially since the clothes are ridiculous and the tiny portions of foam and powder and scent leave you hungry. Plus, exciting our envy creates sales opportunities, and what, in the end, could be more fun that making us pay for their unattainable lives?
Unfortunately, one of the flaws of our species is the capacity to slavishly obsess over the lives of the rich and famous, a flaw our culture has learned to exploit masterfully. We are as awash in plutography as we are in pornography.
What to do? Well, short of rounding up the foodies and fashionistas and sending them to some remote island with no cell service, we can try to remind ourselves that sometimes just sitting on a rock watching the sunset or having a slice of good bread and a fresh tomato is not just good enough, but plain and simple good.
Vegetable notes: What made the turnips turn white? Well, that’s a little complicated. Naure? Genetics? Turnip breeders? Probably all of the above. A better question, though, would be why more people don’t eat these white turnips? If they did, the turnip’s reputation would surely soar. You don’t even need to cook them. And the greens are tasty too.
I understand that some people don’t like bitter greens as much as I do, but one should make an exception for escarole. It is too good. And if you steam it first and wring out the moisture it loses a lot of its bitterness. Plus you will find it a lot easier to sauté it properly with olive oil and garlic once you have done that. Just be sure to leave some over to have cold on a sandwich the next day with some roast meat grilled sausage or mozzarella and thinly sliced onion.
The mustard greens are best raw. Add them to a salad. or just make a mustard green salad with a ginger-honey-soy-sesame-rice vinegar dressing.