Strawberry Season

Fresh, local strawberries are unbeatable. These tasted like candy, and my Dad actually thought someone had added sweetener. Nope, just Mother Nature at her finest.

For dinner, I made Couscous with Artichokes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Feta. As far as grains go, couscous is one of the healthiest options. With more vitamins than pasta, this semolina-related grain is a smart choice for a light supper. I intended to put spinach in the dish, but unfortunately my mom cleaned out the fridge, including my spinach, minutes before I started cooking. I substituted with cucumbers, though spinach probably would make for better leftovers.

Boil 1 1/4 cups of water with a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Let the couscous sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. (Be sure to check the couscous packaging for any specific cooking notes)

Drain a can of sun-dried tomatoes, then place the tomatoes in a small microwaveable bowl. Submerge the tomatoes in water and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes. Cover the tomatoes for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and chop.

Stir the tomatoes with couscous, add marinated artichoke hearts with the juice from the jar. Add spinach or cucumbers. Garnish with feta cheese crumbles and black pepper.

First Byte: “All I want when I graduate is a lemon juicer”

I don’t have a true background in the food industry, nor do I have a degree in the sciences. I don’t, and won’t, claim any sort of culinary superiority. I’m just a girl learning how to cook. I have much to learn, and I look forward with great enthusiasm to my kitchen experiments, both the successes and the failures.

My Dad always pulled out his camera at the dinner table while on vacation, regardless of if we were at a respectable restaurant or not. He said that his best memories are reinforced by the meals, and subsequently the photos of the meals, that he consumed. I thought this was foolish banter. That is, until I found myself, too, pulling out my camera at the dinner table. Maybe we are an artsy, culinary family, or more likely we are just a family of strange, food-loving, forgetful, amateur photographers.

It is true that culture is greatly based on food and drink. We identify McDonald’s, apple pie and hot dogs with the American culture just as we associate pizza and spaghetti with Italy. Even regionally, food defines cultures, like Boston’s chowder or gumbo in the South. You are what you eat, but also collectively we are what we eat.

We are lucky today that we can stroll down a supermarket aisle and find foods from faraway lands, sometimes places we’ve never seen. I am blessed with many travel experiences thanks to my parents and the fact that I am an only child. I am forever grateful for the memories created while traveling with my family. I have eaten and photographed my way through countries, the requisite of being a tourist. I have also photographed what I have eaten, probably excessively so.

And you would be wrong to think I only take pictures of food while on vacation. Oh no, my camera appears at most food occasions. I’m that girl that everyone gives a weird look, peering over the food like it’s from outer space.

Believe it or not, I sometimes actually cook food myself. I’m a college student, and eating dining hall food is only vaguely reminiscent of real food. To get over this fact, I started bringing my own homemade salad dressings to the dining hall. Nonetheless, home is where the heart is and more precisely, home is where a real kitchen is.

My mother is a wonderful chef, always providing tasty meals for my Dad and I. She is willing to take chances with new recipes, but also has a few recipes always in her back pocket. In high school, a farmers’ market was initiated in my town, an exciting moment for my mother and other cooks in the area. I did not care; I was perfectly content with my peanut butter sandwiches and grapes. But then my friend’s mother spoke to me about running an event at the market to promote locally grown foods. I needed desperately community service hours in order to graduate high school, so I signed up to run the event. Not only was the event a great success, it was also one of the most significant learning experiences of my life.

Before the event, I had no idea what I was eating. Yes, I was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but where was the jelly from? Yes, I was eating some grapes, but they sprayed what on the grapes? Eating locally-grown foods, as I’m sure you’ve read over and over again, has widespread impacts on the economy, your health, and the environment.

Admittedly it is hard eating locally-grown foods year round when you go to college in upstate New York. Winters are harsh and dining halls don’t always have the resources. Eating locally can also be expensive, but in many scenarios the benefits can outweigh the cost.

My awareness of where my food came from spurred a different food awareness. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and was compelled to cut back on the amount of meat I ate. I still eat fish, and hopefully in a sustainable way, but I have not eaten any other kind of meat since last summer. My diet pre-meatless days didn’t contain much meat anyways. My mom cooked chicken or hamburgers, but I only remember once that she cooked steaks. Fish has always been a bigger component of my diet than red meat. And thus, this transition to my more veggie-filled meals was relatively easy.

After realizing that I had enough pictures of food to the point of ridiculousness, I decided to start this space, Em’s Bytes. My trials, tribulations, and travels will hopefully be documented here.