“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I think most people associate that quotation with what one does for a living, to pay the bills. However, I tend to apply it also to the cooking and preparation of food.
Many people, perhaps even most people, in modern, fast-moving America consider the act of feeding themselves and their families to be work. And work is largely thought of as something to minimize or avoid whenever possible. Consequently, there is an entire industry devoted to lessening the number of minutes in a day required to keep one’s household fed.
This industry includes not only restaurants but also the deli case, the frozen-food section and a few more aisles of ready-to-eat, easy-to-make food products at the supermarket. And now we can add to those choices several on-line services which promise to-your-door delivery of easy-to-make meal kits. If you dislike cooking, your luck has never been better.
This column, however, is not going to be a tirade against fast food or agribusiness. There are plenty of voices already in that chorus. Instead, this column is going to be a paean in praise of cooking, as an act of joy, as an affirmation of being in this world. I love to cook, and because of that, I’ve never spent a day or even an hour working in the kitchen.
And this love, believe it or not, starts with the first step of preparation, the gathering of ingredients. This is where the anticipation begins, where the theme takes form, where the appetite is whetted.
Living in Napa and being married to a Master Gardener means that some of this gathering can take place in our garden, and that is truly an amazing experience that I never quite get over. But the fact remains that most of the food that we eat is grown and produced by someone else and brought to a market for me to purchase.
So, for me, the first act of cooking is going to the market to shop. For much of the year, that means every Saturday morning, I start my day at the Napa Farmers Market. My wife literally stops me before I walk out the door to review our coming week and our fresh-market needs because she knows me all too well. Once I get there, each and every market stall represents an entire set of potential recipes to try, courses to conceive, pairings to prepare. It’s overwhelming for me. And entirely fun.
Life gets complicated. Schedules aren’t easy to balance. I understand that you aren’t going to solve all of life’s problems by concocting a paella for twenty (although I’m perfectly willing to give that a try).
But by the same token, I am willing to bet that spending an hour strolling through the market isn’t going to make things harder. It will be an hour well spent, an hour of listening to artisans talk about their craft, watching farmers weigh out their harvest, learning how to prepare a completely new species of mushroom from the grower, getting braising tips from the woman who raised the lamb and literally bumping into your neighbors, into the others who call Napa home.
Love your market. Love your neighbors. Love your life.
Free produce bags: Help the Napa Farmers Market go green. Bring 10 used plastic bags to the market’s information booth and receive a reusable mesh produce bag in return. Also, please save your berry baskets and return them to the information booth or to a berry vendor at the market.
Consider the BLT.
Nothing heralds the true beginning of summer at my house like a BLT made with the first vine-ripened tomatoes from the Napa Farmers Market.
Thick-sliced bacon, 1 to 2 slices per sandwich
Sliced tomatoes, beefsteak or heirloom
Sliced bread (try potato rolls or focaccia for a change)
Lettuce (any kind but try exploring different varieties)
Olive oil and wine vinegar, as needed
Preheat oven to 400 degree F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out bacon slices. Bake until the strips are crisp and coated with small, foamy bubbles, 10 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook.
Salt the tomatoes and let them drain in a colander while you prepare the rest of the sandwich. Pre-salting allows the tomatoes to release some moisture and concentrates their flavor.
Toast the bread, then dip one side of each slice in the bacon grease on your pan. This step adds a tremendous amount of flavor and helps protect the bread from getting soggy when you add the tomatoes.
Lightly toss the lettuce with olive oil and a touch of vinegar.
Spread a thin, even layer of mayonnaise on the side of the bread that you dipped in bacon grease. Top half of those bread slices with the lettuce, using only half of it. Top the lettuce with the bacon, then the tomato, then the remaining lettuce. Top with another slice of bread, mayo side down.
Once you have this version down, try some variations that celebrate summer: Replace the lettuce with fresh basil. Replace the tomatoes with fresh sliced peaches. Replace the raw tomatoes with fried green tomatoes. Try different mustards, homemade mayonnaise or aioli.
Chef Demo: Karen Schuppert will demonstrate the recipe for a Pear and Walnut Crumble with Coconut Whipped Cream on Saturday, September 9, at the Napa Farmers’ Market at 11 a.m. The demo is free and a recipe will be provided.