I have been considering the question of my own destiny along that of my vegetables lately. One of my ponderances is whether or not others consider the destiny of their vegetables. That was a brief one, which ended in the eye-roll emoji flashing in front of my third eye. I am pretty sure no one else does this, certainly not with the same reasoning as me.
I have reached an age where it is actually fun to have your quirks revealed to you. Especially if it is you that discovers them, rather than someone else pointing it out to you in some embarrassing fashion.
A few days ago, within the span of three minutes, I found myself frantically chasing a single black bean around my sink before it rolled into my disposal, toothing the last kernels off of a corn cob after having shaved off rest in long rows, and sorting through each sprig of lettuce in a box that had started to go off—essentially, dumpster diving. I was making a simple tostada-style salad that I planned on smothering with chipotle dressing.
[Side note: I begged for the chipotle dressing recipe from my friend Amber who owns North Shore Café in White Salmon. If you haven’t tried it on their Gorge Bowl yet, you haven’t lived to experience perfect salad dressing.]
It was an everyday occurrence, in more ways then one. First of all, I was making my lunch from whatever I could scrounge in the fridge. Not what you might imagine to be a chef’s standard. Secondly, I was being downright freaky about not wasting each little morsel of food. As I’m flicking the slimy bits off my fingertips I paused and thought: “Really? Yes, you feel guilty about letting it go bad, but really, this?!”
As the church sign said this week on the road up to White Salmon: “A Life Unexamined Is a Life Not Worth Living.” I let this scriptur-ific inspiration seep in and decided it was time to examine this.
It would be nice if I could say that upon reflection I realized a had a moral obligation to consume what has been so hard won on my behalf—the endless toil of the lowly farm-hand, the energy consumed to get it to my plate, etc. Meh, that didn’t really land. Chances are if it is coming out of a can, like the beans, no farmer had their hands on them anyway.
The truth is that I feel for the plight of my vegetables and all the work it took for them to grow and be harvested and make the long journey to that moment. The soundtrack in my mind is: “You poor little things, I can’t let you get all this way just to end up rolling down the disposal.” It seems so tragic. Each little bean has a destiny in my mind; whether their end is with dignity or futility is up to me.
I have to admit, when I spell it out, it reads a bit absurd. You must at least be thinking that this could be pointless and debilitating for me. It has been at times. Like when I was ten and I would lie down and weep inconsolably upon trees that had been felled for my brother’s firewood business. It can be defeating too. Like the one day I dared play hooky at cooking school when we were meant to be tearing live lobsters in half before tossing their still-flailing bodies in a smoking sauté pan. At some point I was going to have to clean a lobster.
Lest I make myself out to be a bleeding heart worthy of pity, the other truth, which is really offered as a confession, is that I can be “tight as a gnat's chuff.” (This is a Scottish saying; ‘chuff’ being the opening in one’s backside.)
I hail from the east side of this country, which has deeper roots in wartime scarcity, depression-era habits and such. And was raised in a family where you either cleaned your plate or you were left whimpering about how much you hate spaghetti sauce until you fell asleep at the table. (Note to self, for future examining: Could this be where you honed your stubborn streak?)
All of this has its usefulness I’ve concluded. And I am thanking the heavens for making this world so that every quirk can be re-interpreted as a gift. When I pick up an ear of corn, I really do think: what is your highest purpose today? How can I apply whatever skills I’ve mustered so that your short life can feel a little more worthy of the struggle? Bottom line: I aim to do right by an ear of corn. Food has that kind of power over me, more than any dogma. I still judge myself harshly if the outcome falls short of the intention, but it is consciousness in the attempt that is important. Is it not? Amen for that saving grace.
If a cob of corn falls short on inspiration for you, start with this not-quite-a-recipe below and see where it takes you. The last of the local (ie, regional) corn harvest is on offer at Rosauers right now. An ear was just fifty-cents when I went in a couple days ago—offering peak freshness and a smug satisfaction for the gnat in you.
CORN SALAD (not quite a recipe)
Husk the corn thoroughly and add the ears to a pot of water that is at a full rolling boil. When it comes back to a boil, time it for three minutes. Remove the cobs and cut off the kernels right down to the cob with a narrow-bladed knife.
Toss with olive oil, halved cherry tomatoes, finely-chopped herbs like parsley, oregano, chives, basil, etc., crumbled feta or goat cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. You can notch this up by wilting the tomatoes in a hot sauté pan for a few minutes.
Take it a little southwestern by mixing the corn with black beans and cotija cheese and substituting cilantro for the basil. Splashing in a bit of lime juice and a handful of finely-chopped onion would be complementary. Grilled corn would certainly add interest, but it can sacrifice sweetness and tenderness in my opinion.