Staying Home to Eat

I live in what must be one of the top ten most snobby foodie areas on the planet: Northern California Wine Country, the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s difficult for me to imagine that we could get any more self- consciously well fed than we believe we are. And we are, well fed that is. We are correct in that respect, although it would be no bad thing if we took the whole eating thing a bit less seriously.

Even so, I was still inspired to take another look at my pantry after reading On Martha’s Vineyard, Using Scallops as Currency in the New York Times last month. I wanted to get a better sense of how much I eat that’s local, in season, and traded or shared. Knowing where your food comes from and how it’s grown or harvested goes part of the way, but it doesn’t keep you from eating food raised half a world away or developing such a sophisticated palate that eating becomes less a pleasure and more an intellectual exercise.

Besides, I think that eating what’s at hand has a sort of egalitarian leveling effect. I wanted to reassure myself that I hadn’t succumbed to the dreaded food-snob syndrome.

I quickly realized it was a silly exercise. For me anyway. Who was I kidding, living like I do in veggie paradise? The growing season really doesn’t shut down around here. If I can’t find fresh local food to eat every day of the week, I’m not really trying. And trying is absolutely the wrong word to use. In this small town, we enjoy two Farmers Markets. One runs year round, the other goes strong from April through October. There are even local cheese makers. In the winter when the Tuesday market is suspended, we can pick up produce from two local farms in the grocery store. How convenient is that?

Some food we do grow ourselves, although very little this time of year. We’re picking lemons and lettuce at the moment from our meager winter garden. (We gave up the so-called off season years ago to the birds. We plant stuff for the winter, we just don’t expect to eat much of it.) But there are peas, spinach and basil, along with other stuff I’m not sure what, sprouting in the cold frame that we’ll be able to put out as soon as the seedlings are big and sturdy enough to withstand the birds. Once warm weather settles in, we’ll be hard pressed to get through all the veggies we grow, and what we don’t grow ourselves we’re often given by other gardeners. We do go to that Tuesday Farmers Market, but mostly just to see who else might be there.

Then there are those very fresh eggs courtesy of our friend Bob Cannard, who keeps chickens in his backyard, three blocks from Sonoma Plaza and just a mile from here. What luxury - big fresh eggs from birds that themselves eat a lot of fresh local produce. And the wine. I almost forgot. Tom has made all the “house” wine for eight or so years now. We have quite a cellar. Local grapes, picked by us, destemmed by us, and fermented slowly in their own time in the kitchen. Truly wild - no sulphites.

There’s another reason I wanted to take stock of the contents of my cupboards. It’s a question I wonder about from time to time: How do we know where we’re from anymore? Turns out the food on your plate can remind you.

I remember now.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
Wild Flavors: One Chef's Transformative Year Cooking From Eva's Farm, by Didi Emmons
Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, by Patience Gray
Plum Gorgeous: Recipes and Memories from the Orchard, by Romney Steele