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Better Food and Less of It

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I call it conscientious carnivory, or sometimes, moderate omnivory. It means eating better food and not too much of it. We always eat fruit and vegetables in abundance, whether or not they are local, seasonal, and ecological, but for meat, ‘better’ means grass-fed, pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and humane. If you’re willing to eat frozen meat—and we are—you can eat better meat year-round. Really good vegetables are another story.

Here in New York City, summer came at last. I find I have a lighter appetite, and for even better food. Although I cannot give up treats like chocolate, actual junk food has ever-smaller appeal. Nor am I hungry for our winter weeknight supper of grass-fed beef stew (made with chuck the day before) with a side of carrots braised in cider or mashed potatoes with milk and butter.

Instead I ordered great heaps of wild salmon as I do every season. Most of it comes frozen, and it’s in great shape, rock-solid, when it arrives. This time we also got some short-season, fresh King salmon. On balance, I’m happier with the frozen. If it’s wrapped properly, it keeps well in a home freezer, and I can’t tell the difference, taste- or quality-wise. There is a great fuss made of salmon species. I’ve now tasted the rarest King (aka Chinook), Silver (aka Coho), and Sockeye (aka reds), side by side many times. I can’t find a significant difference between them, so I think I will save my money and order the less-fancy ones. The reds have measurably more antioxidants, if you’re counting. You can decide for yourself if King is king. We also order various white fishes, which I tend to use in soups and curries, salmon roe (which Julian loves—think salty peas), and plenty of canned salmon and American tuna, the smaller kind with less mercury.

All of which brings me to summer cooking, if I’m cooking at all. Often as not we have a Cobb salad, a chef salad, or a salade Niçoise—even for company. At some point I have to roast a chicken or poach the chicken breasts and softly boil the eggs, but otherwise, it’s no cooking at all, just assembly of various toppings, from salami to blue and other cheeses, especially Gruyere and cheddar, a full meal organized around a whole lot of lettuce. When I am (literally) cooking, it’s fish or roasted chicken, plus a host of local vegetables, for which we must praise Nature and Farmers. They are so superior in flavor to the long-haul kind.

Speaking of local vegetables, I’ve concluded, sadly, after years of taste tests, that no farmer near us can grow and pick and sell a better green pea than the frozen ones at the supermarket, which I buy with impunity year-round. In our region, local snow peas and sugar snap peas are always worth it, but local shell peas are usually over-mature (picked too late) and too old (not fresh). Both things make them inedibly starchy. Score one for frozen foods. We buy frozen organic peas, for pennies more than the chemically-grown kind. My excuse for frozen peas used to be that Julian likes them, but in fact I love peas with butter, peas with olive oil, peas with mint, even boiled peas with salt and nothing else. Which reminds me of a childhood verse:

I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life
It may not make my peas taste good
But it keeps them on my knife

Actually I love peas dressed in anything but honey. I especially love them next to a hunk of pink salmon. People are nervous of cooking fish, but salmon is easy. I put a little butter and/or olive oil on it, salt it, and bake it for 15 minutes (or less) at 350 F, so it’s still pink in the middle. We eat it with capers and more butter, or with crème fraîche which is almost unrecognizable after all the dill I chop up and mix in, not that I don’t love plain crème fraîche just as much. I seldom bother to pan-fry it and stink up the apartment; I save that treat for restaurants instead. That leaves the vegetables, which are mostly sautéed zucchini or Swiss chard, often with garlic scapes or fresh garlic, since it’s June, and, of course, a green salad. In May and June, we ate plenty of asparagus, usually with a poached egg and grated Romano cheese, and now I’m tired of it. If we’re out at Small Farm—that’s our new 37 acres in New Jersey, complete with a bullfrog pond and precisely one crop, involving two tomato plants—instead of fish, we’ll grill rib eyes, either good local stuff or shipped from Niman Ranch, and eat the same large quantity of good vegetables along with the red meat and red wine, too.

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