“I don’t like broccoli … and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
President George W. Bush.
Well, thank heavens, that particular era is over and a vegetable garden now stands conspicuously on the White House lawn.
Yes, eating your vegetables is not only considered politically correct these days, but also healthy, environmentally sound and — well — pretty cool. Which brings me to an event that you might enjoy attending this weekend. It’s on Saturday, June 14th, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is in Marritt Hall at the Ancaster Fairgrounds. Called “Veggie Fest” the day is billed as a vegetarian, vegan and raw food festival and includes lots of scrumptious food, free samples, free admission and free parking. There will be demonstrations, yoga on the lawn and speakers (Katie Cyr, a tea sommelier, for example and Victoria Moran, bestselling author of Main Street Vegan, to mention only two). For further information and directions, see http://www.veggiefesthamilton.com/ And the Weather Network promises that the rain will be finished by Saturday.
Monica LaVella is the originator of the celebration. She explains on the website that she and her husband and young children had been vegetarian for a year and a half and had visited “Raw Stock” in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Toronto Vegetarian Festival in 2012 and wanted to bring some of the same ideas, support and resources to Hamilton. She hopes that meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans and raw foodies alike will share in this awesome event as “we all want to lead a more healthy life and have a more healthy planet.”
But you don’t have to be a vegetarian to love eating your vegetables. I grew up in a home with a large kitchen garden in the yard and the garden was my father’s hobby. (He didn’t play golf.) As soon as spring came, he would rush home from the office, exchange his suit and tie for overalls and be out toiling in the garden for hours until reluctantly stopping for dinner. (I’m sure that all of the manual labour stood him in good stead, since he lived to be a healthy 93 years old.) Anyway, as a child, I was introduced to the pleasures of eating freshly picked crispy radishes, sweet, succulent peas, vine-ripened tomatoes and juicy, tender asparagus. I know it all sounds very idyllic seen through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, but I’m very happy to say that, with all of the great markets in the Hamilton area, I can still enjoy the best of these earthly delights — at least in the summer.
I did find out that, apparently, there are some poor souls who have been dubbed “super tasters”, whose taste buds are so sensitive that they can detect bitterness in vegetables and, thus, refuse to eat them. I am definitely not in that camp. I think, in fact, that it might be harder for me to give up eating vegetables than to stop eating meat (although I have no intentions of doing either). But I’m also certain that one of the most enticing things about vegetables, along with their flavour, is their appearance — the strange and striking varieties of shape and colour. I admit that a big, fat, greasy pork chop is a wondrous thing, but let’s face it — it’s not very photogenic. Artists have been excited by the formal qualities of vegetables (and fruit and flowers, also, of course), manipulating the shapes and colours into entrancing still lifes for hundreds of years.
But some of the simplest compositions are my favorites: for instance, these asparagus stalks, painted by Edouard Manet in the 1880’s.
The two small paintings have a well-known and charming tale attached to them. The first painting, the bunch of asparagus, was sold to a patron for 800 francs. When the buyer sent Manet 1000 francs, the artist painted the second lone stalk, sending it to the buyer with a note saying, “Your bunch was missing a stalk.”
It’s fascinating how the two canvases have been painted in completely different styles. The first is a very naturalistic, traditional still life with a black background like earlier Dutch still life paintings. The single stalk has been dashed off in Manet’s own impressionistic style, quickly and spontaneously, with lively brushstrokes that weave the colours of the asparagus into the dappled marble table top on which it is precariously placed. I am lucky enough to have seen the second painting in an exhibition many years ago and can’t help but agree with a critic who noted that the second painting added the element of “life” to the still life painting.
Anyway, if you do go to the Veggie Fest, be sure to take your camera. And here’s a recipe for ratatouille that makes the most all of that local bounty. I should mention that there is a very complicated and very delicious recipe for ratatouille that is probably much more authentic in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” This is a much simpler and still delicious version.
from the New York Times Cookbook, ed. Craig Claiborne
1/3 cup olive oil
2 or more cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, sliced
2 zucchini, well scrubbed
1 small eggplant
3 tablespoons flour
2 green peppers, seeded and cut into strips
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp capers
1) Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onion is transparent.
2) Meanwhile, slice the squash and peel and cube the eggplant. Flour the pieces lightly.
3) Add the squash, eggplant and green peppers to the skillet, cover and cook slowly, about one hour.
4) Add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, until the mixture is thick. Season with salt and pepper. Add capers during the last fifteen minutes of cooking. Serve hot or cold.
Great for lunch, appetizer or as a side dish. I love the recipe writer’s admonishment: “Add garlic according to conscience and social engagements.”