‘Tis a gift to be simple

It is the simplicity of meals that most appeals to me at this time of year. Complex meals, delicious as they are, better suit the months when we don’t have an abundance of fresh foods at our doorstep.

My partner and I have enjoyed bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, the tomatoes still warm from the sun in our garden and the arugula picked while the bacon is cooking, at least a couple of times a week for the past month.

We’ve had potato salad made from spuds that were growing in our garden minutes before they were washed and popped into a saucepan to cook and fresh eggs from a friend with happy hens, flavoured with whatever herbs we felt like cutting at the time.

Saturday and Sunday have been corn on the cob days, because that’s when we can get it fresh picked. Sometimes we boil the corn (dropped into water at a rolling boil for no more than four minutes) then slather it with butter and salt; other times we grill it on the charcoal barbecue and coat it with a mixture of olive oil. lime juice and chili powder.

Yes, we are left pulling bits of corn out from between our teeth for hours after eating, but the taste of the corn is well worth every bit of inconvenience.

When we were in Wakefield last month, we had a dinner consisting of our potatoes and sliced tomatoes, green beans from our hosts’ garden and boar with leek sausages made a few miles up the road. That meal, which took just minutes to prepare, rivalled anything we could have found at a fancy restaurant.

To market, to market

Kingston has two excellent markets, each offering different local options. Last weekend, I returned from the downtown market with my basket full of green fillet beans, a cantaloupe, blueberries and peaches from Prince Edward County (destined for a fruit crisp) and a large jar of local honey.

On Sunday, while nibbling on hot-from-the-fryer churros, I wandered through the rest of the market, picking up radishes, shiitake mushrooms and raspberries, all of which made their way into our meals over the next couple of days.

For all that The Truffle Hunters – my favourite film of the summer – is about the hunt for the most expensive food in the world (white Alba truffles, which sell for between $6,000 and $10,000 a pound) it was, for me, much more about the lives of the (very old) men who, with their beloved dogs, hunt for those truffles in the forests of Piedmont, Italy.

In this gentle film, we see the men and dogs in the woods on the hunt for truffles; fastidiously cleaning what they find, and trying to get the best price they can from their dealer who, in turn, jockeys to get top dollar from commercial buyers (which is considerably more than sees its way into the pockets of the hunters).

But we also see the simple foods that fill their lives, far removed from the world of the gourmet truffle. One truffle hunter sits down to a supper of soup and bread, with his dog joining him at the table. Another, Carlo, and his wife, Maria, prepare their tomato crop for processing and, later, pour basket after basket of grapes into a crusher. Not a word was spoken between them as they worked side by side, in a routine and with an efficiency and comfort no doubt perfected over many decades.

What’s not to love?

Last weekend, my son spit-roasted a whole lamb, which he had raised and slaughtered, for a party of about 40 people. Before it made its way to the buffet, where it was served with a number of other tasty dishes, I managed to sneak a few bites as my son and partner were carving the meat. The exterior was perfectly crispy and the flesh was tender and succulent. I felt decadent, debauched and absolutely sated.

Writer Calvin Trillin’s food essays never fail to delight me. In a piece called “My Repertoire”, that appeared in The New Yorker a decade ago, Trillin makes clear his fondness for simple foods; at least, if he is to be the cook:

“Opinions differ as to how many dishes are in my Nova Scotia cooking repertoire. Estimates have ranged from three to eight. . . The range . . . has to do with other questions: . . . What constitutes a dish? Does a stove have to be involved? . . . Take my smoked-mackerel pate. There is no stove involvement. Still, I think of it as a dish. . . . I sometimes get requests for the recipe . . . [and] I explain to the curious dinner guest that it’s an old family recipe but that I would be willing to reveal the ingredients. Then I say, “Smoked mackerel. . . You acquire some smoked mackerel fillets and you put them in the food processor.”

Trillin thinks that three ingredients are “about enough for any dish.”

At this time of year, with ready access to local foods, he may not be far off the mark.

I’m already dreaming about spit roasting a goat . . . .

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