So do you remember that a couple of weeks ago, I told you that Sarah and I had jointly submitted recipes for Maryland Governor O'Malley's Buy Local Cookout? Well, we just learned that the recipe for Grilled Grape Leaves Stuffed with Pine Nuts, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary was selected to be featured at the Cookout. How exciting is that?!
This means that on July 16, Sarah and I will trek up to the Governor's mansion, cook up some grape leaves, and pour some wine to celebrate the bounty of Maryland agriculture.
Obviously I am thrilled because it is an honor to have my recipe selected and because it will be fun to go the governor's mansion and see what other farmer-cook teams will be serving. But I am also thrilled because I am a fan of the whole buy local idea. So this is as good a time as any for me to sing the praises of our local farms and markets.
As you know if you have been reading these pages, I am a regular at the farmers' markets. In an ideal week, we go as a family to the market either on Saturday or Sunday morning. The children are a great help, whether by sampling the apples to decide which we should buy or by spotting the first cherries of the season. They are usually eager to carry something in their arms or on their backs. And when they are the ones who have selected the box of zucchini or head of cauliflower, they are much more willing to try whatever concoction Gabe and I come up with for dinner.
Local food tastes better, too. Yes, there are occasionally spots on the snap peas or apples, but generally the produce is beautiful and the flavor is much better. Since local food doesn't need to be shipped, it can be picked at the peak of ripeness, and on your table within the day. Most small, local growers are also keenly aware of how fragile the ecosystem is that supports their livelihood, and they tend to use as few pesticides as they think are necessary. So as I wash those apples, I think of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, "Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees."
Aside from all of these practical reasons for buying from local farmers, for me there is a more elemental benefit, too. I enjoy talking to the growers and seeing all that they offer because it brings me a bit closer to the source of our food. I know that for many food is just food, but precisely because it is so primal, for me, having a connection to it is important. If we understand more about what it takes to produce our food, we are more deeply connected to the earth and to one another. Eating is something that we have to do, but it is so much better to eat in a way that is meaningful and brings us together as a family and a community.
I don't know if you all are farmers' market shoppers, too. Or maybe you get produce from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. If so, I'd love to hear from you about what motivates you to buy locally and what catches your eye. And if you're not, I encourage you to check out a farmers' market in your area. This is the best time of year to find fabulous produce.
OK, I'm getting off my soapbox now because thanks to the generous assistance of my father, my husband, and a dear friend, I now have 500 or so grape leaves in my refrigerator waiting for my attention. . . Anyone out there want to give me some tips on filling and folding grape leaves?