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This week I’m vacationing with the inlaws and outlaws at their farmhouse in Maine. It’s a wonderful old place with a barn and two big gardens that are usually in full swing by now, overflowing with giant squashes and cucumbers, unruly arugula, jalapenos, feathery stalks of dill, sunflowers. But it’s been torrentially rainy this summer and there’s hardly any squash right now, so don’t worry about locking your car. In fact, the only abundant crop at the moment is cabbage.

“I’m hoping you brought your recipes,” my father-in-law Jim said, chuckling. He’s one of about five folks who read the blog loyally.

Jim chided me about a prior post on turnips, told me I’d forgotten the simplest preparation of them all. He then proceeded to put on a clinic, pulling a few uncharacteristically small, bumpy turnips from the soil and shaving them down with the mandolin. He passed the crisp, bitter wafers alongside a little ramekin of soy sauce at cocktail hour and they were just right with the dark salty dressing. The uber-simple prep meant the cook was never really missing from the action.

Meantime, if you’ve got a favorite way to prepare cabbage, we’d love to hear about it.

We’ve been on the road again, this time gone to the Wyoming backwoods where my husband ran in a trail race. So much about the trip was classically Western, from the vast green valleys, swollen rivers, and dirt roads to the smoky bars and bikers covered in blue tatoos. The rural West is old familiar territory for both of us, but things seemed different this time too.

Like that the winning runner was an organic farmer.

Like that in Livingston, Montana, pop. 7280, there’s a bustling farmers market and an organic coffee shop. That the top headline in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle yesterday was, “Want to go green? Join the waiting list.” And that Missoula has a cozy new spot called Biga Pizza, which sources most ingredients locally. What a find! Here in Seattle, local food tends toward the upscale. But Biga felt less precious, more democratic. Even if our pizza of morels, fresh ricotta, basil, and bay oil should have been called Yuppie Delight. And even if the pizza crust, with its hint of sweetness and tangy hit of sour starter, was made from organic Montana flour.

The two of us got very full for $12 plus tax and tip. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Local food for the people.

Awfully good when you’re carbo-loading, too.

Much of Texas is farm country, and there were all kinds of wonderful things in season there — watermelons, canteloupe, and peaches from Fredricksburg, which is in the hill country west of Austin. There were local pecans and candied jalapenos. Every small town had a ‘meat market’ run by old-style butchers.

But there was something very different about the whole experience. Like the Ford F250 trucks parked in front of every junior mansion. The scarcity of sidewalks and parks and even trees. The scorching high-90s temps that drove everybody indoors, into climate-controlled rooms. I got a lot of stares one afternoon when I went for a run. It was all a good reminder that eating locally is just one part of the equation.

We’re in Texas this week for a family wedding. The timing is completely wrong — we’re missing the nicest weather of the season in Seattle right now — but I’m trying to have a good attitude about it. We’re eating some delicious barbeque, for one thing. And the air-conditioned hotels and rental cars help me appreciate life in the green Pacific Northwest. Plus there’s nothing like a little time lapse to see how much the peas, nasturtiums, and just-sown beans are growing.

This week I ate in Pittsburgh, being there for work.

I prepared for the trip by scouting out the boards — the wise masses haven’t steered me wrong yet. Within walking distance of the hotel I sampled lentil-corn fritters and paella; after a presentation to the big shots I went for spicy sausage and tomato linguine, the pasta handmade and cooked perfectly.

When I travel I’m just happy to get decent calories without busting the bank. But this time around I noticed how buttery the paella was, the stinging saltiness of the tomato pasta, how I couldn’t drink enough water to keep up. The fats and salts really felt cumulative. I needed a vegetable chaser but there was nothing on offer.

Yesterday, between workshops, a colleague described for me preliminary data she’s collected in her recent research on weight regulation. The brain scans light up all over the place when her subjects stare at photos of burgers and chocolates, she said. The scans are silent when it’s fruits or vegetables they’re looking at.

The smart money says these responses evolved during starvation times, but I can’t help wondering how much of it is what we’re accustomed to eating, what we’re trained to like. I’ll always remember Pittsburgh for the rivers, the stained glass, and for how badly I craved a fresh vegetable. Our evolved eating habits must have something to do with why I look at a plate of grease and salt and long for a good salad instead.

Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.