From time to time during the wet summer heat of Washington I wondered why nature made summer the best time to eat. Many days here are so hot and the air so heavy that we don’t feel like eating some of the most wonderful foods that exist like pork shoulder or roasted potatoes or desserts with heavy cream. In addition many families are on the move during the summer and that makes shopping for food more difficult for them. So too often they must settle for take-out.
None of that affected me in the middle of this year as I spent half of July in Carmel California.
I confined myself to a cottage sublet to me by my friend Phyllis Theroux, owned by a friendly couple who have lived for a long time in Carmel Valley. My home for two weeks has two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen and it was enough for me. Outside my door was a large grapefruit tree, a little outdoor patio, and a sensational view.
That patio was perfect seven hours a day between the time that the fog lifted at 9:30 am and returned at 4:30 pm. During those seven hours the sky was bright blue every day and the temperature warmed to 75 degrees. Evenings required a sweater.
I wasn’t particularly active during the month as I had gone there to try to finish the middle of my book – the part that describes my food experiences in Washington during the early 1960s and the rise French food here during the Kennedy Administration
I worked each day as long as I could and when I stopped working I went to a pilates class in Carmel-by-the-Sea and walked in the town. It was an idyllic two weeks
The food I fixed for myself there was somewhat different from the food I prepare here for others. It was very, very simple like the food here. I like simple food but this was food stripped down, usually two or three ingredients; and I didn’t eat much bread as I could find no good bread. If it were not for my life-long self-imposed diet curse and my determination to write I could have made great food as the ingredients around Carmel were always very good.
I was on the coast of the Salinas Valley, a huge American farm region. There seem to be no seasons in that part of California. Strawberries grow not only in the spring as they do in Washington, but all the time. And apricots have flavor. I could shop for virtually everything I ate at two farmers markets – a small one in Carmel Valley on Sunday and a very large one on Friday morning at the Monterey Peninsula College. I could have gone to any one of a number of others like the ones in Pacific Grove and Salinas and in Carmel-on-the- Sea.
I returned to Washington before the peak of our growing season. During our summer, there are wonderful tomatoes and beets of different sizes and colors. Peaches, melons, blueberries, summer squash and green beans that actually have flavor, and corn.
The Saturday Van Ness market, a block away from the bakery, is only a few years old and gets better and better with more and more famers selling more and more produce. I go there on Saturday mornings as does Robert Dalliah, our savory kitchen’s chef, and we look for what we want to buy. Then at the end of the market, some of the farmers drop off for us to buy what they were unable to sell at the market. We buy as many tomatoes as we can get and can them and make sauce both of which are sold on our shelves into the autumn or as long as they last. And of course we put the tomatoes into our summer sandwiches and will do that as long as the tomatoes last.
But however good the produce is here, I am sorry to say that it all really tastes better in California. Carrots are sweeter, peaches are juicier, the centers of strawberries are red not white. Nature is kinder in California and I took advantage of its kindness, wishing I could do that for a period longer than two weeks.