Thursday, August 26, 2010

Letting the Vegetables Decide

There is something to be said for giving up a little control over the food you eat. In fact, one of the best parts of getting a CSA share for me has been the chance to keep revisiting the same vegetables over and over again. If I was choosing them in the store, I might think I should try something new, but instead when the tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis keep coming, I keep finding new ways to use them up.

In the past week, I’ve noticed a return to more simple tastes. With two weeks of tomatoes under my belt, I’m still not sick of them. Tonight I made fried tomatoes. This was another memory dish. As I made them I could almost see my dad frying them up on the griddle and they tasted pretty much the same. I love the way the crispy outside breading contrasts with the almost melted tomato inside. I sprinkled a little sugar on the ends that were too small to fry, and ate them for dessert, like my dad used to do too.

I’ve also been finding new ways to eat my cucumbers, getting away from the cucumber salads of early summer. My newest favorite is cherry tomatoes and cucumber salad. To make this I combine a pint of tomatoes, one chopped cucumber, some torn basil, feta, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

I still do enjoy trying out the new vegetables as they work their way into and out of the lineup, but for the most part week to week, the deliveries stay pretty consistent for months at a time. I like the predictability and the chance to try something new with a familiar vegetable.

My reaction may not be all that surprising according to a book I read earlier this summer, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz. Basically, and contrary to what we might, research shows that people are happier the fewer choices they have to make. With too many choices, even for simple things like food in the supermarket, people begin to expect a lot from each item. With so much hope placed in a choice, the potential for disappointment is enhanced.

For example, in the average grocery store I’d probably have at least 50 different types of fruits and vegetables to choose from, not to mention a number of varieties in each category. Think about the number of tomatoes you could choose on a trip to the grocery store. You could choose Roma, cherry, grape, on-the-vine or probably another five kinds. And that doesn’t include whether you’ll pick an organic option. With all those choices, people are less happy with the one they pick because they feel like they missed out on what they could have chosen, and what they think would have made them happier.

Compare that to my small, biweekly CSA share, which all told has offered me possibly 10 different kinds of vegetables all summer. And I don’t even have to pick the individual vegetables (this slightly rounded tomato versus that tomato with the brown patch). Instead I get whatever vegetables happen to be in the box that has my name on it. There’s no choice at all. That, plus a little nostalgia from some of the recipes? It’s no wonder I’ve been such a happy cook this summer.

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