Monday, May 23, 2011

Why I Eat Organic Food In Season

We all have our reasons for choosing fresh, natural, organic, local, sustainable ingredients for our family's table. Tabbouleh - parsley salad - is mine. Truly, once you make it with fresh-picked parsley, mint and tomatoes - in-season everything - you cannot go back to shrink-wrapped, out-of-season anything. I'd rather not eat tabbouleh than compromise on fresh ingredients. So we undertake the first tabbouleh quest of the summer with special relish.

These quests began in 1996 when I lived in Galena, IL, an historic village of 2,000 people. It hugs the banks of the Galena River nine miles upstream from the Mississippi River where Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin intersect.

I was hosting a feast to celebrate Lammas - the six-week interstice between summer and fall.

At this turning point on August 1, every flower, every vegetable is at its peak in the short, vibrant growing season that interrupts the endless Midwestern winter.

Everyone I knew in Galena was invited - artists, writers, actors, musicians. We were mostly ex-patria of Chicago and gardeners one and all.

Every blossom in the centerpiece on tables scattered inside and out was fresh, courtesy of Wendy Oestreich who owned an organic farm and nursery with her husband, Grant.

Every dish on my menu was prepared with fresh, organic, local ingredients - hand picked at Wendy's farm, my garden or the garden of one of my friends.

Every bouquet and dish contributed by my guests was also prepared with fresh, organic, local ingredients.

There could not have been a more reverent offering to the gods and goddesses of summer than this fresh feast. My guests could not have been more enjoyable and appreciative. It was truly memorable.

Even after all theses years, two things stand out: the tabbouleh salad. And the missing guest.

At the time, I owned three sets of china.

Throwing a sit-down dinner for a multitude would use every plate, knife, fork, spoon and wineglass in my kitchen. So I was annoyed when Donald Jonjack, a former Chicago journalist, called at the 11th hour to say he'd come. It was Tuesday, July 28 - well past my RSVP deadline. Nevertheless, I reserved a place for him. Three days later, on July 31, Donald died of a heart attack. He was 51 years old.

Despite shock and grief, everyone came. It was lovely night perhaps more intimate because of the loss.

After all my guests were served and seated, I noticed that one dinner plate remained empty - the one meant for Donald.

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