the glorious life of a food columnist

I used to think my words were destined to carry heavy burdens, but time has swept along and I find them dancing around in the kitchen, tasting and experiencing and then telling the small part of the world that gets all the way to page 18 in the newspaper all about it.

The pay isn’t much (free newspapers to clip my column out of and send to Grandma down in Connecticut) but I’m going to write anyway, right? Why not write for somebody? Anybody? The people who get past police reports, campaign news and high school sports and still want a little bit more- let me write for them.

This evening found me feverishly wandering over to the grocery store in order to pick up some ingredients to make a last minute dish for a last minute column that was due in 45 minutes. I had already wasted 45 minutes pounding my empty head against a blank white screen, staring at the blinking black line – blinking, blinking, blinking – nothing.

Nothing. I had nothing and about 45 minutes to change it into a real Something.

Dressed in my best ‘don’t-you-dare-leave-the-house-in-that’ jeans and t-shirt, I stumbled across the street and parking lots, running through first lines and meal ideas – I had a general direction to move in, but all the roads seemed blocked. Nothing still. Nothing.

I entered the grocery store and headed for produce and as I took the first step in that direction, inspiration HIT me- and Hard. I stopped in my tracks, rummaged around in my oversized bag and found the only paper in there – an old bookmark. I tore it out of the book it was stuck in and started to scribble right there. I was utterly oblivious to the people coming in after me and having to now walk around the place where I stood fast, mumbling loudly about long underwear and strawberries and writing frantically.

The afternoon produce clerk walked over and said, “Are you ok? You look funny…”

Funny indeed, hunched over and talking to myself while scratching on a paper three inches wide – crazy is more like it.

Welcome to my glorious world of food writing. Sometimes it looks like a well-prepared meal with witty commentary, sometimes it looks like raging insanity.

“Yes, I’m fine – I’m trying to write this column and it’s due in a little bit and what do you think about strawberry vinaigrette? Strawberry vinaigrette and spring greens… does that sound good to you? What if I said burgers, added burgers… or chicken” I pressed. The poor woman seemed intrigued, and terrified all at once…

“Oh yeah it does…” she said. Good enough.

I grabbed the ingredients, rushed home and whipped up my strawberry vinaigrette idea then ate it while I pounded out the column. That really is the best way to write about food, you know, while you’re either cooking or eating it. I hit SEND fifteen minutes before the deadline. Success.

Now I’m going to go do something mindless…

Bring Your Own Dressing

I have good news – the woolen underwear is officially being moved to the back shelf of the closet. You know as well as I that this means Winter has finally left the Green Mountains and we have a brief but blissful run of good weather to look forward to. This isn’t the only sign of Summer to be seen; trees have greened, the roadsides are crowded with the faces of eager wildflowers and town greens and city parks are filling up with tents and stands on the weekends – Farmer’s Markets are back in session.

After banishing the winter clothing, my all-time favorite warm weather activity is wandering around at Farmer’s Markets, and we have some wonderful local markets to wander! This is the time in the season when vendor’s stands are usually overflowing with vibrant, fresh-picked greens in all shapes and sizes; spicy Arugula, mild baby spinach, tender Butter Crunch, the ever-elegant Deer Tongue, and an array of wild greens and herbs – I am terribly tempted to bring my salad dressing with me and dine out ¬†– one salad to go, please! After a long winter of store-bought iceberg lettuce, I am practically starved for fresh greens and the sight of them in lovely rows on market benches makes my heart want to skip a beat, and then dig in for lunch…

If I were going to bring my own dressing (I think this could become a popular way to do summer parties – a BYOD salad bar…) I would definitely choose this one, Strawberry Balsamic Dressing. Not only is it exceedingly delicious, but it’s so simple to make and takes about five minutes – Tops. I call it a dressing, but it’s really more of a glaze, which means that the consistency is such that it really holds onto the greens, making every bite a Flavor Explosion. One of our local markets has recently announced that their strawberries are ripe and for the picking, and how perfect is that? Fresh local greens with a homemade, fresh strawberry dressing -it’s a match made in Vermont Summer Food Heaven!


Spring Greens with Strawberry Balsamic Dressing

1/2 cup crushed strawberries

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 Tablespoon water

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

salt and pepper to taste

A Mix of Fresh Spring Greens

The strawberries, balsamic vinegar and ginger mingle together into a tart, spicy, sweet sort of sauce that perfectly compliments the sturdy texture and often piquant flavor of early greens.

I threw all the ingredients in the bowl of my dear little food processor and zinged away until everything was well blended and then tossed a bit of with my salad greens. Viola! I told you it would be quick! It should be the consistency of a creamy dressing, but it has the health benefits of a vinaigrette, the calorie count being less than 55 calories per serving (2-3 Tablespoons).

This recipe could easily be adapted throughout the summer to showcase different  fruits as they come into their season. Once the strawberries have faded, how about using farm fresh raspberries, or wild blueberries and then ripe peaches? The possibilities are nearly endless.

The salad mix I used included young dandelion greens, baby romaine, two types of oak-leaf lettuce, young swiss chard greens and baby spinach, but feel free to mix your own depending on what the local markets are offering. I have found that if you aren’t sure about the flavor of a certain type of green, the vendor will usually let you have a taste. They are as eager to have their customers enjoy the product as they are for them to purchase it and they love introducing people to the goodness of fresh produce.

So be bold – go wander your local market and see what has sprung up with the fair skies and warmer temperatures. Just be sure to bring your dressing with you when you go!