Friday, 24 May 2013


I am craving the bounties of spring.  I am yearning for the freshness, the juiciness, the flavors of summer.  I am looking at my calendar and going to the farmers market and wondering why beetroot and butternut squash continue to adorn the stalls.  I am trying to reconcile the realities of the British climate and the particular bounties which it produces with my friends' Instagram photos of the markets in Los Angeles, brimming with nectarines, avocados and berries.  I am jealous.

But why?  Really, all I have to do is head to my nearest supermarket and all of these goods will be right at my fingertips.  Yes, but at what cost?  Imported from how far?  How nutritionally depleted?  Eating seasonally and locally is so gratifying.  Nothing beats the taste of impeccably ripe produce, the feeling of chatting face-to-face with one of the farmers who helped cultivate it, the knowledge that you're directly supporting your local economy.  And eating seasonally and locally can be incredibly challenging as well.  We love, we crave, we have histories with certain foods.  Every single week, my shopping basket contains bananas.  I mix them into my oatmeal, use them as a base for smoothies, freeze them to make healthy ice cream, mash them up with nut butter.  I don't know if a single banana has ever been grown in the UK.  The bananas I bought this week were imported from the Dominican Republic.  And yet, tinged with guilt, I continue to buy them.  And every Saturday that I am able, I go to my local famers' market.  I am conscious and I am a work in progress.  

I recently discovered another cafe that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with.  Called L'Atelier, its menu is simple yet elegant.  While perusing the chalkboard-displayed eats during my first visit this past April, I was immediately drawn to the fig, ricotta and honey salad.  But wait -- fresh figs?  Really?  They were definitely not in season.  Would they be ripe, luscious, tasty?  How far had they travelled to get here?  Despite my guilt-tripping food consciousness, I wanted this salad.  I ordered this salad.  And I promptly devoured this salad, relishing every second of it.

Crisp and peppery from heaps of mixed greens and a hefty sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper.  Sweet and creamy from dollops of ricotta and generous thick drizzles of honey.  Crunchy and nutty from toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.  Colorful and decadent from slices of soft and fragrant fresh figs.  This salad hit all the right notes.  It wasn't particularly seasonal.  It probably wasn't local.  But it was nutritious.  And delicious.  And one of the best decisions I made that day.

Developing and expanding my education about the myriad reasons why it is so important to eat seasonally and locally has been invaluable.  It regularly influences my food-related choices--of where I shop, what I choose to purchase and put into my body, and when.  But we are not 100% consistent beings.  We are works in progress.  Sometimes, we want bananas in the UK and figs in April.  And that's okay too.

Fig, Ricotta + Honey Salad with Pine Nuts + Pepitas
Inspired by L'Atelier, Dalston UK
Serves one

3-4 heaping handfuls mixed greens (arugula, baby chard, spinach, watercress)
1 fig (fresh & ripe!)
2 1/2 Tbsp. ricotta
1/2 lemon, zested
1 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 Tbsp. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed)
1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove
fresh cracked black pepper
2 tsp. runny honey

1.  Place greens in a large bowl.
2.  In a small skillet, toast pine nuts and pepitas over a low heat until fragrant and slightly browned, 5 or so minutes, shaking the pan often so they don't burn.
3.  Slice the fig into quarters (all vertical cuts), and then halve each quarter vertically. 
4.  Mix the lemon zest with the ricotta.
5.  In a small jar with a lid, combine the olive oil, balsamic, and a few grates of the garlic clove (not even half; it's pungent!).  Shake well.
6.  Add figs, pine nuts, pepitas, and dollops of the ricotta to the greens.  Sprinkle with a few generous twists of freshly cracked black pepper.  Toss with the oil & vinegar dressing.  Drizzle honey over everything.

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