The word on our cover came to mind several months ago while I was sorting through a greater-than-usual number of dessert recipes as possible content for this issue. Was it just the season’s sweet berries and stone fruits—nature’s ready-made desserts—demanding the limelight (so to speak)? After all, we do have plenty of fantastic vegetables that are harvested now, and why weren’t they making similar demands? Caught in a web of indecision, I asked artist Caroline Gould to choose between a savory and a sweet recipe to illustrate for What’s in Season. She replied, “I am biased because I love drawing desserts.”
A perspective favoring the pleasurable continued to operate as I edited Haley Pollock’s story. It describes the reactions children bring to “grown-up foods” when allowed to explore in a lighthearted, self-determined manner. Likewise, Joshua Burman Thayer’s story on gardening with kids was modeling the glass-half-full approach to garden chores. I was struck by the prevalence of words relating to positive emotion that Josh used in describing children’s responses to interacting with nature: joy, delight, excitement, love, and wonder. It made me think about how kids anticipate and even expect that there will be pleasure in daily experience.
What causes us to downplay our expectations of pleasure? Is it an adult’s accumulated history of disappointments? The weight of our responsibilities? A fear of overindulgence? And is it even healthy to let go of that anticipation? Or to give up dessert, as I have done in recent years?
I found myself sounding out friends on the subject of pleasure (and dessert) and noted that a majority in this unscientific sampling were all for pleasure (and dessert).
The decision to make pleasure a stated theme for this issue finally took hold one evening very late in our editorial process when my friend, author and yoga teacher Kimber Simpkins was helping me cook and eat some red abalone. The small, farmed mollusks, which had seemingly miraculously appeared in my community-supported fisheries share from Real Good Fish, had me feeling both honored and intimidated. I had eaten abalone only once before: It was years ago, when a rather large one appeared at my feet during a walk on a Marin County beach. I was with a friend who had grown up near this location in the days when people still dove for these creatures, and he felt we should take the offering and eat it. On the plate, it was tough, and I could barely perceive any flavor in its flesh. I choked it down just to give the old mollusk its due respect.
On this recent occasion, however, the texture of the abalone was just right, and the flavor offered multiple levels of umami, alternately resembling bacon and the most succulent mushrooms ever. As we delighted over a cascade of sensations through dinner, Kimber talked about the research of Nishanga Bliss, a local holistic health professional who has been investigating the role of pleasure in food experience and its implication in nutrition. It was on an impulse that I asked Kimber to do the fascinating interview with Nishanga.
Summer, a season of flowing abundance, is a perfect time to open ourselves to the experience of pleasure.
Cheryl Angelina Koehler