At 11 o’clock on Sunday, the stands at the local farmers’ market are abuzz not only with the greedy wasps that land on the juiciest ripe peaches. Shoppers with large cloth bags tucked under their elbows stroll leisurely along the lane, their eyes lit with pleasure as they inhale the fresh, colourful scents that surround them. Late summer’s harvest bounty is on full display. There is nothing demure about it. The plump eggplants and oversized zucchini are sensually bathed in light in golden straw baskets, the vendor knowing all too well that before long, they will be picked up gently by large warm hands that will appreciate their weight. The vegetables will be admired by eyes that will grow hungry at the sight of the deep velvet aubergine and green colours. They will feed many a mouth at today’s dinner.
“Mommy, can we buy strawberries?” the eldest Wanderlust Junior’s eyes smile at mine as we pass the perfectly shaped heaps of shiny berries glistening in the sun. It occurs to me that I can actually smell them from several feet away in the open air. I yearn to taste those berries.
The next moment, my gaze darts to the florist’s stand with its smorgasbord of colours, and I am inevitably pulled toward them. Beautiful food and flowers are two of my beloved simple pleasures.
“Sunflowers! I want to buy sunflowers!” they are the youngest Wanderlust Junior’s favourite. Amidst scarlet gerbera daisies, they will be the perfect delicate decoration for our small round dinner table.
We buy 250 g of freshly roasted coffee beans to bring home for Mr. Wanderlust. The after-lunch espresso fills our home with an irresistible aroma. I mean it! I rarely drink coffee these days, but I give into the temptation of a delicate cup after our lunch of freshly baked bread with smoked trout, soft chevre, and a salad of spinach and multicolour baby tomatoes drizzled with a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, coarse Hawaiian sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, with those succulent strawberries for dessert. Simple. Delicious.
Last week, I read Elizabeth’s Bard 2010 memoir Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, in which she documents her move to the city and exploration of its culinary delights, the recipes for many of which are also shared in the book. As a Francophile, this book had been on my To Read list for the past few years, and I was glad to finally pick up a copy from the local library. I was familiar with recipes for several of the French staples, and ratatouille is on my annual rotation for the harvest season.
For dinner, I slowly sauté coarsely chopped onions in a generous amount of olive oil, gently moving them around the skillet until they are translucent and their sweet aroma cascades through the kitchen. I add chunks of aubergine, red and yellow peppers, and beefsteak tomatoes. I omit the zucchini today, since my preference is for the more flavourful smaller varieties, which weren’t to be found at the market this time. I sprinkle the beautiful medley with sea salt, black pepper, and a couple of pinches of oregano. After a few more minutes, the ratatouille is ready, the vegetables simmering in a perfectly thickened sauce. I serve it alongside fresh young potatoes coated with melted butter and chopped chives from my garden, then add a few pieces of leftover chicken breast. For dessert, we enjoy a yogurt cake made with ripe local nectarines (see photo above). The yogurt cake is a staple in many French homes, easy and quick to bake with basic ingredients that are likely already waiting in the pantry of the fridge. I enjoyed Bard’s version of this classic and will return to it over and over again.
I have long been a fan of French cuisine, and not only for the recipes and variety of dishes. It’s the French attitude to food that inspires me, with an emphasis on slow cooking and eating, enjoying every bite. This style of food preparation and consumption celebrates each meal, whether it is a dinner served in honour of a special occasion or a simple lunch for one. I must say that weeknight dinners in our home tend of be rushed, but even then, I do my best to make every serving appear beautiful on the plate, presented with gratitude and tenderness. Weekend dinners are an opportunity for us to slow down, linger, and reconnect once again.
The weekend trip to the farmer’s market is itself an occasion, inviting us to browse, to caress, to close our eyes and smell the peaches, the tomatoes, to delight at the warmth of the corn nourished by the late August sunlight as an image forms in our minds of what we will prepare and serve for dinner. For me, a grocery shopping trip often feels like a chore, which is a perfect invitation to move slower, more mindfully, with complete presence as I purchase provisions for the school and work week. An excursion to the farmers’ market is different. It does not require coaxing. Later, after we return home, comes the meditation of stirring the onions in the skillet and observing their changing colour, listening closely for the subtle sizzle of the hot oil, breathing in the sweet scent. I smile as I adorn the table with flowers that tell their own story while eavesdropping on our pleasant dinner conversation. The entire experience is slow, intentional, inviting all our senses to join in the dance.
What’s not to celebrate?
Do you enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market? How do you cultivate presence while shopping for groceries and preparing meals at home?