Saturday, July 28, 2007

Simple Pleasures

Most of the time when I write about a meal I've made, it's something a little out of the ordinary: a new recipe, a feast for guests, or maybe an old favorite given a new twist to feature seasonal produce.

I don't usually bother telling you what I'm cooking most nights because, frankly, it's kind of boring. I can eat my old standby of broccoli-walnut pasta for nights on end, and if that's not on the menu, I can usually make do with a simple dish of whatever vegetables are in the refrigerator. Some nights, it's really just a matter of eating something that will be nutritious and filling and really easy, like a big salad or sauteed zucchini).

Sometimes, though, something so simple and unassuming ends up being the best meal of all.

Today has been a very full day, and after all the work in the kitchen, I really didn't want to spend too much more time making something for dinner. (Not to mention that the range was well occupied with simmering salsa and a huge canner!) After looking around and thinking for a moment or two, I decided to turn on the oven and prepare potatoes and zucchini for roasting.

If you keep track at all of what I buy at the farmers' market from week to week, you might notice that I did not buy either potatoes or zucchini today. You're right, these are from last week's trip, and fortunately, they're still in great shape for eating. So I cut them into large chunks, threw in a few cloves of garlic (also in chunks), and tossed them all with olive oil, salt, and pepper before sliding the little casserole dish into the oven.

The timing for the salsa worked out well with roasting the vegetables as the timer went off at fifteen-minute intervals, so after filling jars and setting them in the canner, I pulled out the vegetables and gave them a stir. After removing the salsa from the hot water bath, I gave the vegetables another toss.

After almost an hour of slow cooking and regular stirring, the vegetables came out tender (in the zucchini's case, it was almost falling apart), so I added some fresh chopped parsley and some chunks of feta cheese (not local, but organic) before scooping the lot onto my plate.

I flopped down on the floor cushion I've been using lately to stretch out my back, and as I picked up the book I've been reading this weekend, I savored my dinner one morsel at a time.

It shouldn't surprise me that something so simple could be so good, especially when it involves some of my best beloved ingredients, almost all from the farmers' market. But the combination of slow cooking, fresh flavors, and the simplest of seasonings made for a dish that nearly melted in my mouth. Every bite, every combination of vegetable, herb, and cheese exemplified the perfection of the moment.

Maybe it was due to all the hard work I'd put in over the course of the day, and maybe it was because of the inspiring book I've been reading, but I'd have to call that one of the best meals I've ever had, simply because everything about it enhanced the experience of that one quarter-hour of my life. The salty tang of the feta, the velvety tenderness of the vegetables, the rich golden drip of good olive oil, the breeze from the window, the satisfying ease to my poor aching back, and the thoughtful and thought-provoking words of a woman finding new joy in her life... everything fit together and made the mundane sublime.

I felt so content with the meal and with the world, so relaxed and at peace. And it's not that I made anything really grand or exciting or adventurous... just satisfying.

I'd like to think that this is why we're all here... why I'm writing this blog, why you're reading it, why so many other people are writing about food. While it's fun and interesting to explore new foods and learn more about what nourishes us, ultimately it's about appreciating what is given to us in this life, what sustains us, and what we do to share that with others and to build community. It's about celebration.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't bother posting about such a simple meal, but this one... ah, this one transcended simplicity. And it's my hope that if you haven't already experienced such a deeply moving and satisfying meal for yourself, you will soon.


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