Summer is the best time to return to a simpler way of life and a good reminder to live with intention and awareness. I am of the opinion that every small thing can make a difference. For yourself and for the world around you. Every tiny plastic bag recycled, every tree planted in your backyard, every minute spent offline, every walk you take, every farm-to-table meal, every trip you take with just a paper map to guide you, every face-to-face conversation with a friend, every additional page you manage to read at night, every little thing that you mend or build with your bare hands. A return to the roots.
This summer I have made it my mission to start cooking again. After having eaten take-out food five days a week for almost a year after giving birth to my son last spring, it was time to take action, make an effort and return to old and healthy habits. I had help from a few good cook books, too. Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, by Einat Admony, is one of them. I had heard absolutely nothing about it when I spotted it in a favourite book store. But browsing it I discovered so many recipes I wanted to try, some of which I had already made in different variations, that I couldn’t leave it behind. I’ve been congratulating myself for buying it ever since. I have managed to try my hand at about ten recipes up until now and each and every one has lived up to my expectations, from Morrocan carrots and spicy grilled salsa, to chicken with the most amazing sauce of apple and tomato juice (my substitute for the ketchup in the recipe, because I didn’t have home-made ketchup and because I always use healthier ingredients whenever necessary). They were not only delicious, but dinner-hosting worthy too.
I initially bought Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie’s Italy, for my parents (my father likes Italian food and Jamie’s zest for cooking, so I thought I would combine the two), but ended up trying out a handful of dishes myself. I love Italian food too (some of the best food I’ve eaten was in Italy) and what I enjoy about Jamie’s approach to cooking is that he doesn’t just share recipes, but the entire, incredible experience of cooking – sourcing the ingredients and recipes from local people while travelling through the real, often rural Italy, making the meal and sharing it with others.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good is my feel good cook book, and the flourless stone fruit crumble and the ginger limeade have become my entire family’s go-to summer dessert and summer drink, respectively. What I really love about these books is that they encourage you to create food with simple, pure and honest ingredients at home.
But the best part was that I got to cook mostly farm-to-table. I should probably mention that the only organic fresh produce I wholey believe in is that from your own backyard (fresh, imported and organic simply do not make sense in the same sentence). “If it’s not within six hours of the restaurant, it’s not on the plate,” is the philosophy of a restaurant I was recently reading about, and, by that, they say they want to show respect for fresh and local food. Jamie Oliver also mentions in his book talking about Italians that “true cooks encourage only local, fresh, seasonal produce”. And if you don’t have your own garden (it is my parents’ in my case), the next best thing is the seasonal, local vegetables and fruit (as well as farm-fresh dairy products and grass-fed meat) sourced from trusted farmers. The bounty of summer affords you as freshly and locally as you like and are willing to try. I think I may have overdosed on tomatoes and basil these months, so I think I’m good for now, and will rely on home-made tomato juice (a key incredient in many of my favourite dishes) to get me through next summer. As for the fact that I got to cook quite often al fresco (on our extended summer holiday in the country), with the vineyard as backdrop, was a real bonus.
On an ending note, I would like to mention another beautiful cook book I am yet to inaugurate, Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián and Beyond, by José Pizzaro. I didn’t purchase it just for the recipes, but because it is more of an exploration of regional dishes, places, cultures and traditions. I usually buy cook books that present food in a wider context. And while on the subject, Song of the Basques is a documentary that has caught my interest. A film about one of the world’s richest and most innovative cultures, their food, sports and fishing history (the Basques were among the earliest European explorers, fishermen, and whalers to venture to the Western Hemisphere), about how we create and sustain identities in our contemporary globalized world, as they are well known for their incredible commitment to language and cultural preservation.
photos by me