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Monday, January 5, 2015

Fresh Produce in the Land of Plenty

(Originally published in The News Review on Tuesday, December 2, 2014) Recipe links: Glorified Cauliflower, Roasted Romanesco, 

A lovely display from Norm Lehne Garden & Orchards
A stroll through the farmers market is like a trip to an art museum, with the added benefit that I can afford to purchase the edible masterpieces I admire. The produce vendors in particular go to great lengths to create esthetically pleasing displays. With an eye for color, texture, balance and detail, fruits and vegetables are carefully arranged in baskets, bins, crates or free form pyramids. The results can be stunningly beautiful. No wonder still lifes of food are my best-loved works of art.
A beautiful Big Lick Farm display
 My dear friend Gloria Johnson is a woman who loves vegetables almost as much as she loves cheese. Gloria and her husband Roland are currently humanitarian missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are thrilled to be in Africa serving people they have grown to love. Gloria is the most enthusiastic, energetic, upbeat person I have ever known (her maiden name is Jolley!) and she's embraced the daily challenges they face with courage, optimism and a sense of humor. One of her only complaints about life in the capital city of Kinshasa is the limited availability of fresh produce and its exorbitant cost. A tiny box of grapes? Thirteen dollars! A single red pepper? Six bucks! In one of her email updates to friends back home, Gloria implored us not to take the abundance and affordability of our fresh fruits and vegetables for granted:

"The next time......you go to the grocery store, Kruse Farms, any other farm, Sherm's in Roseburg, anywhere that has produce!  Please PLEASE hug...(I MEAN IT!!!) the produce person and anyone else within reach.... then... pick up a head of cauliflower and caress it, kiss it, hug it, buy it, take it home, prepare it any way you want then slowly and lovingly chew each morsel and say my name at least 10 times while doing so.   And forever more don't race through the produce section of the store, or farmer's market, just stop, savor every color, every texture EVERY beautiful piece of freshness and thank the Lord that you have it."

In honor of Gloria's wishes, I offer my version of Glorified Cauliflower, a whole head steamed to perfection and covered in a "glorious" cheese sauce. I serve it in a shallow bowl with a large spoon and it looks lovely. (Well, one member of my family says it looks like a brain, but he eats it nonetheless.) If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, you can easily turn them into a creamy soup.

Of all the varieties of cauliflower on display-- white, orange, purple, green-- the most intriguing to me is Romanesco, also called Romanesco broccoli. It stands out from the crowd with it's lime green, cone-shaped head of spiraled florets. (For you mathematicians reading, the number of spirals on a head of Romanesco is a Fibonacci number.) Roasting it with olive oil brings out the sweet, nutty flavor.

You and I are indeed fortunate to live in a land of plenty. We have year round access to more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could ever tire of eating and at prices we can afford. So take your time. Saunter through the market or produce aisle and let your senses delight in the visual feast. Then fill your bag or basket or cart and count your blessings.

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