Sunday, March 22, 2009


It’s really quite simple; all you need is a good knife or two, a cutting board, a place to put the scraps, and a bowl. And your choice of fruit.

Today, as I prepared this morning’s bowl of fruit, I thought about a wonderful point made by one of my great culinary heroes, Edward Espe Brown, in his 1997 book Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings: Recipes and Reflections.

You might remember that Brown is the author of the vegetarian “cooking book” (bible) Tassajara Cooking (1973), which he wrote when he was the head cook at the Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California. He is also the coauthor of The Greens Cookbook. If you aren’t familiar with this man’s classic vegetarian writings, you need to be.

Anyway, the point I was thinking about this morning was this: “Are You Worth Fruit for Breakfast?” That’s the title of his small essay, in which Brown tells how he passed through a breakfast buffet line that got him to thinking. There was a lovely bowl of fresh fruit at the end of the buffet. But there was only a small cutting board and a single, small knife for the breakfasters all to share. And no place to put the peelings. Hence, people were only taking the bananas.

Bananas are tidy to eat. The rest—the oranges, the apples, the pears, and so on—require “work.” Brown gently suggests that cooks ought to think about “ways to encourage people to help themselves,” recognizing the need for appropriate work space, disposal for the compost, and tools adequate for the job. “Make it possible and inviting, and all of us are much more likely to do it.”

But then, reflecting on the work of preparing fresh fruits, he muses: “Sometimes we are not sure: ‘Am I really worth sliced fruit today?’” And he answers this question: “Yes, we are feeling good about ourselves today, and we are worth fruit for breakfast.”

He then proceeds to provide some beautifully simple recipes, plus detailed, logical instructions on how to make supremes (you know: those lovely wheels of sliced citrus that lack all the whitish pith).

Brown’s essay must have been mulling around inside my head two Christmases ago when a friend from Northern California sent us a box of fruit for the holidays. We got all kinds of lovely, special things—farmer’s market items. In addition to the excellent orange blossom honey and fresh almonds, we received guavas, Asian persimmons, sweet little apples, oranges, kiwis, and more. I’d never had fresh guavas or Asian persimmons before, so it was like Christmas on top of Christmas.

And they were lovely—fruits are simply picturesque. Think of all the humans in previous centuries to whom fresh fruits were delicacies, worthy of fine paintings.

So at that time, I had an office job, and I decided I was “worth fruit.” Yes, there was a snax machine in the break room, but I was trying to stay away from that. So I made the conscious decision to make it easy for myself to engage in frugivory.

I outfitted my office: A bowl for fruit, decorative enough; I would bring in the week’s supply on Monday and have it basically gone by Friday afternoon. Functional beauty. In my desk drawer, I stashed a small wooden cutting board and a small, decent knife. Elsewhere, a plate (one of those that doesn’t match any of our other sets), a fork, a spoon, chopsticks. Fruits taste different with chopsticks.

At the store, I make it a point always to get a few fruits that go beyond the “usual” for me. Like the persimmons, which taste like sweet pudding, a little pricey, but they elevate the apples and oranges. Or mangos, papayas, kiwis, blood oranges, Cara Cara pink navels, etc. There’s a whole world of spectacular fruits to try, and they keep bringing us new ones.

So, in late afternoon when the “munchies” would hit, when I’d start feeling a little drowsy, I’d carry my implements and selected fruits to the break room and prep my food. Two or three pieces of fruit, sometimes with yogurt as well.

It looked like something zookeepers might throw down on the ground for the orangutans to pick at, but it was pretty good. It certainly fed my craving, and it saved me from the HooHoos, Ding-a-lings, and fried pork hides of the evil snax machine. If you work in an office somewhere, you might consider this as a way to get you through rush-hour traffic, to keep you in a good mood till dinnertime.

Of course, fruit is good for breakfast, too, and it’s usually what I have these days to get me “off to a nutritious start.” I usually top the fruit with vanilla yogurt; adding it helps with my midlife calcium concerns.

So this morning I celebrated the return of the blood oranges at the supermarket. I encourage you to seek them out and give them a try. The produce department is the best part of the grocery store, you know.


Diane said...

ummm... I'll have what you're having. I'm so glad you are keeping this blog. Not to put pressure on you, but I'm disappointed anytime you skip a day! Thanks especially for the Edna holiday post. There are days I evoke her memory just because I need to "hear" her voice.

Julie said...

Yeah, she had such a strong personality, it's hard to believe she's not around anymore. Sometimes, when I'm turning the corner by the patio, carrying a trowel or a watering can, I half expect to look up and see her in the backyard. I'm glad you are enjoying my posts.