I’m living between two places this summer. They’re only two hours away from each other but I’ve found them to be thousands of miles apart in regards to outlook on, well, just about everything, including my personal approach to food.
In the city, I’m busy. I spend these few days each week thinking about food as fuel. I wonder which fruit and vegetable smoothie combo will get me through until lunch, what dinner will come together quick enough to keep the house cool, how to make this tuna sandwich stand apart from the last, and if maybe just a soda water and lime will ease me into evening, instead of a stiff drink.
In the wilds of the green mountains, I’m busy, too, just busy taking it all in. The egg yolks are so bright and creamy that I stare at them, really stare at them, wondering if yolks this yellow are real. The herbs are plucked from the yard or a nearby farm within a day of use, and they’re so fragrant that a quick brush against my skin will leave a heady mark, like farmers perfume. Sometimes I take the corn shucking or cocktail shaking outside just to take in the view and make the process last a wee bit longer.
Once I get into the zone, what I call my country-life zone, I snap a few photos. The photos aren’t too styled because, let’s be real, that view is enough to make burnt toast look swell. But from crumb-topped pies to piles of hot dogs on buns, everything turns out okay, even great. That’s not necessarily a testament to my cooking; I’m pretty good as cooks come and give myself an “A” for effort more than anything else but I marvel, mostly, at how little it takes to make something that’s inherently good even better.
I generally travel a lot, and not just this summer. Instead of hotel rooms, I rent homes-away-from-home so I can cook and save money and live like a local. Now that I’ve done it for months at a time, I’m changing things up in my real home. Besides pounds of fruit to freeze and herbs to dry, I’m taking away hundreds of lessons from this experience, and these three top the list:
[photo: Vegan Blueberry Crumb Pie]
1. Fewer tools are just fine.
My city kitchen is packed with every possible cooking implement ever created – some purchased and some were wonderful gifts. I don’t use half of them most of the time, and in Vermont, I only employ a small collection of wooden spoons, a whisk, a pair of tongs, a spatula, three knives, a can opener, a wine opener, a cutting board, and a set of measuring cups. My favorite tool? My clean hands. They toss gentle salad leaves and roll out gnocchi better than anything else.
I have a limited set of serve-ware too, like maybe one serving platter, eight plates, eight mugs, eight pint glasses, and eight wine glasses. We use jars, typically used for jamming and pickling, for storage and backup glassware. So you can be sure that once fall hits, everything in my city kitchen is getting packed up and given away. Not my hands, they stay.
2. Good ingredients make a difference.
But you already knew that, right? I always struggle with buying local vs buying quality because sometimes (not all the time, just sometimes) local ingredients don’t taste better nor use better making practices. There are, however, many big egg farmers across Vermont who make fabulous eggs. You can buy them in many of the grocery stores and most definitely at the local farmers markets. But the process of getting my eggs from a local lady who raises her own hens on the side has taken my country life, my entire life, to the next level.
I go see the hens and walk the grounds that they roam. I take the nice drive through the mountains to get them, both ways. I treat each of those eggs like the precious jewels they are, and I’m careful to ration them so we (a) don’t over-indulge and (b) make a great thing last. This is an opportunity I don’t take for granted, and I apply that filter to all my food. Last weekend, I drove through the mountains to pick up a grass-fed steak – it wasn’t convenient but I got to see the steer, see where they hang out, take in the glorious views, and slow down. When it came to cooking time, I treated that steak like the true opportunity, true gift, that it is.
[photo: Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi]
3. Don’t underestimate what it takes to eat well and cook better.
Eating well and cooking better is not without effort, and I believe we should stop thinking it should be easy. Sure, I want every meal to come together in 30 minutes or less, for pennies on the dollar, and with the results that will blow away every Martha Stewart wannabe. But conscious cooking, the sort where you want to make good choices most of the time, requires some planning and forethought.
When I made the switch to a mostly healthy lifestyle, food became my full-time job. I planned every meal, thought about how to get lots of good things inside me, and made provisions to get me through long work days or spans where good food options weren’t accessible. Because I took that time to reset my outlook, summer cooking feels like a breeze (though we all know it isn’t). I keep a few reliable recipes handy for breakfast and dinner. I keep greens on hand for a salad a day. There’s always a pint of fruit for pancakes or cocktails. And on Saturdays, there may be a burger or a hot dog or a steak but be sure that it’s quality protein from a quality source. (By the way, if you want me to write up the food practices that guide me, just let me know. Happy to share those someday.)
[photo: Orgeat Syrup]
Whether the summer or whenever, I plan for my food moments. Perhaps a little planning on my part makes all these dishes look like they came together in a jiffy to you, and a few of them did. I just think it’s time I be a little more real about all that.
My Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes, however, do hit the table fast. I included the recipe below since I make them every single weekend. Sometimes I alter the fruit or the nut milk, but the outcome is pretty consistent: great!
Now it’s your turn! How do you cook away from home? Are there any tips you can offer up to this city-life-country-life lady? Muchas gracias, in advance!
Before you go…
I wanted to share a few favorites from across le Web that bring a little joy to my summer food moments. In no particular order, they are:
Julia Child’s Berry Flan: I made this with cherries and a drizzle of maple syrup upon serving. Next up, peaches!
Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara: Except now I’m using summer veggies like zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.
Vegan Fried Rice: This is a go-to-weekday recipe for whatever veggies lie dormant in the fridge.
Grilled Broccoli: I even watched an old episode of River Cottage that topped it with a lovely cheese sauce. I’ll do a vegan creamy sauce come fall.
Peach Pico de Gallo: Pico every day, any day!
Also, sometimes I post on-the-fly recipes on Instagram, so follow me there for more summer recipes and images.
Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes: 10 4-inch pancakes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons honey or maple sugar
- 5 tablespoons vegan butter (or regular butter), melted and cooled, plus extra for cooking
- 1 cup nut milk (almond, oat, or cashew all work well)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup blueberries, cleaned, plus extra for serving
- Maple syrup, for serving
- In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, and butter together. Add the milk and lemon juice, and whisk until well blended.
- Mix the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients until no flour streaks remain. Don't overmix, the batter may be a little lumpy. During the final stir, stir in the blueberries until coated.
- Add a teaspoon of vegan butter to a pre-heated skillet over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the pan; they should spread to about 4 inches so you can fill your pan up with two or three pancakes. Cook for about 4 minutes and flip just after tiny bubbles form around the outside edges of the pancakes. Cook for 2 or 3 additional minutes. Repeat until you've used the entire batter.
- Serve immediately with extra blueberries and maple syrup.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.