Friday, February 13, 2009

A Midsummer Night

A recollection:

Mid-summer one Saturday evening last year, we were invited to a dinner party in Purdy's, New York. The host was a journalist who I've been reading since I was about 19 years old.  To my happy surprise on arrival: he and his wife were also locavores.

Also dubbed the 100-Mile Diet, in which a person only eats foods grown within 100 miles of their home, a locavore cuisine  promises the freshest, seasonal produce at meals. 

Except the dinner prepared at this 100-year-old impeccably renovated farmhouse was more like a menu of the 10-Feet Diet.

His very cool, lovely wife was not just a great hostess but also an expert in landscape gardening. So flanking the horse farm in the back of the house (all 100+ year-old homes seem close to the road as keeping with the integrity of the era when these homes were first built) was a huge working garden where everything from tomatoes and spinach to swiss chard, cabbage and sunflowers grew.

Plus, we were arriving at harvest time. Indeed, it was the reason why this dinner party was chosen for this particular evening: to dine with friends on the foods ready to be plucked. 

I can't express how thrilled I was by this plan. No overdone gourmand attempts at fine dining that, underneath it all, is just good food drowning in butter or "exotic" cheeses.  This meal would live up to its expectations based on the finest, fresh ingredients, lightly enhanced but never swallowed up by a sauce or a spice.
Yet, one foods not prepared for this menu yet grew wildly in the garden? The delicate zucchini flower (see above). This point was plainly pointed out by one of the other guests who explained how yummy fried zucchini flowers can be. It is a simple dish if you can get a hold of these blossoms off of a zucchini plant. Here is how this one guest suggested to make them:

"Dredge the flowers flour after dipping them in lightly beaten egg yolks. After letting the excess yolk and flour drip off, dip the flowers in a heavy pat of heated vegetable oil for about two minutes.  Then place the fried flowers to dry somewhat on a platter lined with paper towel."

This sounded like a healthier side-dish better than any French fries. And here's why: 

Like the vegetable zucchini, the best known summer squash, its flowers are high in beta-carotene and the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, both linked to better eyesight. Furthermore, the flowers are high in folic acid, a B vitamin than we just don't get enough of in our diets. The white potato has very little, if any, of these compounds.

Perhaps it is because we were all fueled by such a fantastic dinner (the husband, I may add, cooked primarily; his wife grew the food, after all), but not a single guust was sleepy, groggy or pissy after dinner. In fact, we followed up with an impromptu guitar and singing session on the back porch. But even that was not the finale.

Rather, with a full moon's rays illuminating our path, the night concluded with a return trip  to the garden where, like kids in a candy store, we got to fill grocery bags with whatever produce we could pull or dig up from the garden. As the end of summer harvest, there was an abundance of riches out there to bring back to the City. 

So I rode back to Grand Central with my nails dirty with soil, a tummy satisfied with leafy greens, and two shopping bags of fresh radishes, kale, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers, roots dangling and dirt flying be damned. 

It was one of my favorite nights in the world.

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