Channeling Alice Waters

The secret to eating a nourishing diet is to keep it simple. One of my favorite cookbooks, written by Alice Waters, is called The Art of Simple Food. The title says it all.

I work in a very large institution with a comparatively large number of restaurants and cafeterias. But, frankly, there’s a not a lot to choose from. When I don’t bring my lunch, I usually head upstairs to a salad bar and help myself to two different kinds of fresh greens, a few types of beans, carrots, beets, green beans, sunflower seeds and, sometimes, a hard-boiled egg, plus olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s good, but it can be tedious to eat the same thing every day.

When I bring my own food, however, it’s always a little different. Which is why I usually pack a lunch. But it’s not what you think. I am a spur-of-the-moment kind of cook, not a week’s-worth-of-meals-at-a-time type. It would be nice to be the latter, but there’s just too much on my to-do list to also fit in a few hours in the kitchen every Sunday. After all, how would I write my blog posts? or weed my garden? or take long walks in the park? or clean out the coop? See what I mean? Something’s gotta give.

So here’s how I keep it simple:

I keep a few important tools at my office, including a small flexible cutting board, a small sharp knife, and a plate with raised sides. The plate is more like a bowl, but flat at the entire base, which means that it doubles as a bowl or a plate, depending. The tools are key. I also keep small bottles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt at work. 

Sometimes I bring leftovers, like soups (in a Ball jar) or the delicious ratatouille that’s in the fridge right now, to be heated up in the microwave once lunchtime arrives. But more often, I make a salad right at the office, at lunchtime. A simple salad. Thank you for inspiring me, Alice Waters. The taste of simplicity depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients. Remember that always.

Before I leave for work, I look around for a few veggies. I start with one raw potato, white or sweet. I rinse it well and wrap it in a paper towel. Then I go “shopping” on the counters and in the refrigerator. This time of year, in August, it’s always going to be some combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini. Other times, it might be carrots and celery. Right now my garden is growing fresh summer herbs, too, like chives, oregano, basil, lemon thyme, and mint. I pinch a couple of these on my way out to the car and toss them into my bag.

How does this translate in wintertime? There might be some cooked beets in the refrigerator, splashed with vinegar, and which I have loved since I was a little girl. In the cold weather months, not right now, there might be cooked chickpeas or butternut squash in the fridge, and I might take a scoop of those. In which case I might skip the potato.

When lunchtime arrived this past Friday, I pulled out my vegetables and got to work. First, I put the paper-towel-wrapped potato in the microwave and set it to 4 minutes. Then I returned to my office and got chopping. In no time at all, my bowl was filled with freshly diced tomatoes and cucumbers, and a handful of fragrant herbs. I retrieved the soft, warm potato, sliced it up and added it to the salad. A sprinkle of olive oil and salt, and my salad was ready. 

Sometimes I add some sunflower seeds, which I like to keep at the office for quick snacks, too. And that’s all. Delicious, nutritious, satisfying and simple. Just like Alice Waters says. 

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