What I Learned on My Summer Vacation (About Food)

Today is the last day of summer, and while the seasonal harvest hasn’t disappeared from farmers markets and CSA deliveries quite yet, a change is definitely coming. Soon we’ll be slurping up butternut squash soup instead of gazpacho and filling our side dishes with root vegetables rather than sweet corn. With each summer that passes I realize that I’ve learned something new about food, and while most adults no longer get a summer vacation, we could still probably write that proverbial back-to-school essay about what we did that summer — but focused on food. So without further ado, I present my top five food lessons of Summer 2009. Feel free to add yours at the end.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table
Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

1. Beets are delicious. Like many children, I avoided this vegetable like the plague when I was younger, and my parents, who were never too adventurous with their veggies anyway, never pressed me to try them. But my vegetarian sister has been singing their praises for years, and when I got a small bunch in my CSA box this summer, I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t try them. Per my sister’s suggestion, I roasted them in the oven for a spell, and sure enough, their caramelized sweetness was easy to enjoy. Now I realize why so many restaurants have beet and goat cheese salads on their menus. (Oh, and as a bonus, your urine turns pink for a day.)

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table
Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

2. CSA subscriptions are not a 100 percent guarantee. Last year we placed our first CSA subscription and feasted on more vegetables than we could possibly use all summer. This summer, our poor farmer experienced every setback imaginable — drought, cold, hail, equipment failure — which resulted in greatly reduced quantities in our boxes this year. Nothing that transpired was under our farmer’s control and we certainly didn’t blame him, but unfortunately, other subscribers decided that the lackluster crop was a sign of dishonesty or incompetence. Remember: When you purchase a CSA share, you essentially own part of the farm that summer, so you share the risk with the farmer and the other shareholders. Many people forget this point when they sign up with visions of bursting bushels of vegetables, but it’s important to keep it in mind when the season gets started and your box is smaller than anticipated.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

3. It is possible to attend the Minnesota State Fair without blowing your diet. I know, after reading the Heavy Table’s State Fair coverage, you probably think this is complete BS. A few years ago I would have agreed with you. But after attending my fourth State Fair late last month, I realized that I really don’t have to eat everything. Like me, you’ve probably developed favorites and may find it only necessary to have the few things you don’t enjoy elsewhere during the year. For me, that’s the deep-fried pickle chips, and since I shared them with my husband, I only ate about five. Lunch was a pulled barbecue chicken sandwich, which was relatively healthy on the scale of State Fair food, and that was it. No french fries, no deep-fried Snickers, no Sweet Martha’s — and I was perfectly fine with that. I can make better cookies at home and get my fries at a local burger joint, and one deep-fried Snickers was enough for a lifetime. The fact that I was chasing a 2-year-old around the John Deere exhibit for most of the time may have decreased my ability to peruse the other food options, but when we left, I didn’t feel like I had missed anything.

4. Chicken McNuggets are disgusting. Or rather, McNuggets in Juneau, Alaska, are disgusting. My husband and I went on an Alaskan cruise a few weeks ago, and upon disembarking in the capital city, we had only a half-hour to grab lunch before our tour. McDonald’s was the fastest option downtown, and even though we almost never patronize the establishment, it seemed better than nothing. I had been a big McNugget fan as a kid, so I was sorely disappointed by the tasteless blobs of chicken on my tray. Where was the salty, crunchy exterior I had loved? What a letdown. The fries weren’t even that good, either.

5. Poached eggs on greens makes a very satisfying dinner. I’ve been a scrambled eggs kind of girl for most of my life, but my discovery of huevos rancheros a few years ago inspired me to branch out to other egg dishes. When Gourmet included a recipe for poached eggs on savory french toast with baby greens in its May issue, I was intrigued. I usually eat eggs with potatoes or another hearty side dish, not salad, but the combination was fantastic. The warm egg with the runny yolk was the perfect foil to the slightly peppery greens dressed in a red wine vinaigrette. The french toast was good, too, but since that component takes the longest time to make, now I usually skip it and just do the eggs and greens. If you need the carbs, a slice of garlicky grilled bread on the side works just as well.


  1. yoshi

    re: 4. Chicken McNuggets are disgusting.

    I still like them. Outside of a salad its the only thing I would order at a McDonalds. But they have changed. Thanks to the “all dark meat is fattening” stupidity of a few years ago – McDonalds changed the McNugget recipe to only have white meat and they changed the coating somewhat.

  2. Amy

    I have to try roasting beets. I’m not a big beet fan either. Also? Try chopping a fresh tomato, put it in a small skillet, heat it up until the juices are bubbling, then poach an egg in the juices and serve over polenta. Serious yum. I may have to have that for lunch, now that I think about it.

  3. Keith

    6. Yogurt-based marinades are a griller’s best friend. I’ve always loved marinading meats and veggies before taking them to the backyard grill, but this summer I tried various yogurt concoctions and the results are fantastic. The creaminess of the yogurt holds all that herby, zesty, spicy goodness to the food during grilling and gives it its own sear. Lovely.

  4. artsy

    One thing that helps the taste of cooked beets (I just steam them in about an inch of water, as I do most vegetables, until tender)..is to put some cider vinegar on them and a bit of mustard like a dijon- the tanginess of the vinegar and mustard offsets the ‘beety’ taste very nicely. I suppose the goat cheese that is combined with many beet salads in restaurants does that as well. I’ve also been buying fresh herbs like basil oregano and tarragon and chopping them and mixing them into all my salads including with beets–excellent! Some good olive oil of course should always be in there. I steam some chopped potatoes and some onion and add that to the cooked beets and eat the stuff cold for several days, great with a tossed type salad. You can’t….beet it! sorry….:)

  5. artsy

    And, I’m really glad you discovered the poached egg and green combination- I agree it’s great…I think the Provence region of France is into this–I had a cookbook of a guy who cooked for Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas in the old days when they lived in Southern France and poached eggs were very revered for lots of things besides breakfast. This is where it’s worth it to spend a bit more money for some good organic/free range eggs because you can taste the richness of the yolk more intensely in a poached egg.

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