Dining in the Dog Days of Summer [Elbows on the Table]

Eating seasonally is the simplest way to improve your food and cut down on your carbon footprint. There is a reason why that factory tomato shipped from South America you slap on your turkey sandwich in mid January tastes like gooey plastic sludge. It’s because it isn’t meant to be. Vegetables lose their crisp bite and become limp. The luster and tart sweetness of fruit devolve into bland lifelessness. Meat and fish lose complexity and the texture is ruined through freezing and shipping.

On top of being murderous to the environment, shipping food destroys all freshness in transit. So not only are you a polluting asshole–you’re also eating crap. If that’s what you want, why don’t you just go ahead and chop down a tree, shoot bambi and eat dirt thereby cutting out the middleman, you Jerk?

Summer is my favorite culinary season. Everything is in abundance and fresh. The dull colors of root vegetables, stewed meats and gravy are wiped away making way for bright purples, blues, reds, sweet, tangy and briny. There is something for everyone.

One of my staple recipes, Julia Child’s (slightly modified) ratatouille was made specifically for this time of summer. All of the classic ratatouille ingredients are in season in August: onions, zucchini, eggplant summer squash, tomatoes and peppers. I really just saute every great fresh vegetable I can find into this great dish while adding garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. It tastes great cold or hot and will feed a family for awhile on the cheap.

As far as fruit goes, everything that you love in pies and jams sprouts up in abundance in the summer months. I am not a baker or a canner (baking requires discipline and the ability to follow direction, both things at which I am terrible at), but I grew up assisting my mother, who was one in spades. Several times a week between June and September bushels of cherries, berries, apricots, peaches, rhubarb, and currants would be tossed onto our counter. I served as line cook helping to clean, pit and destem everything that would then be mixed with sugar and canned or baked into pies, turnovers and tarts.

With proteins, you have really two choices. Embrace vegetarianism or open your mind and your heart to the bounty of the sea. Turkey and Lamb come into season in September but until then, it is all about the pesce. Every cajun restaurant has a crayfish feast once a week in the summer. Lobster, sole, stone crab, monkfish, salmon, scallops and squid are all arrive in abundance freshly plucked from the sea. If you get it fresh, all you really need to prepare any of these is a little butter, lemon and white wine. Good fish stands on its own really well.

For the young and urban, being conscientious of where your food comes from does not require too much effort. In most cities, weekly neighborhood farmers markets pop up that deal exclusively in fresh and local fruits, vegetables, meats and fish.
Farmers Markets are a whole other crazy column in themselves so I will not delve too deeply into their mysteries. I grew up going to farmers markets every week; Washington D.C.’s Eastern Market is one of the country’s oldest and most famous open air marketplaces. But I can feel your pain if you just don’t think it is your bag of broccoli. Many marketplaces seem to be full of weird hippies and insufferable hungover hipsters lurking under the makeshift tents of pretentious foodie places. At my local Hollywood market a girl types poetry on call (on a typewriter no less) for a bartered price. (Does it surprise you that her bicycle has a basket? Didn’t think so.) It is fucking irritating. But once you get past the tattoos and the weird holistic medicine healers you will realize that the farmers market  is a way not only to take complete control of where you get your cherries and lettuce, but to learn what food is available any given season. Also you can usually find a damn good fresh doughnut or gigantic breakfast burrito. So give it a try. Pick up something new and weird. Some things you will hate–some things will become your new favorites. But at least it will be better than a factory tomato.
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featured image credit: doc(q)man