We're halfway through summer and the farmer's markets are flush with vibrant fruits and veggies. Sometimes, it's even hard for me peruse the stalls without my sunglasses on, blinded by the dizzying bright colors of beets, amaranth, peaches, strawberries, squash, and more. I’m the jerk with the obnoxiously large tote bag, sunnies snug on my face, music blasting through my headphones as I get handsy with the peppers. Completely unaware of other humans. In my zone, channeling the vibe of every Chinese grandmother who has “tapped” her way to the perfect watermelon. Except I’m fondling the peppers. Yes, I’m that jerk.
Summer’s market-fresh produce reminds me of the colorful bounty Po-Po’s garden would yield, which included sought-after Asian greens I can only pronounce in Mandarin to seasonal basics like cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I loved seeing the ripe vegetables picked and pulled, with leaves still attached and soil bits speckled about. Colors and scents would fill up her kitchen. There would be stems in her hair and dirt under her nails. These were effortless moments that today, would require a a food stylist and Instagram filter to recreate. Po-Po’s gardening was #nofilter necessary.
Hours after each harvest, she’d pull together a multi-colored, multi-course meal. Colors are an important part of the Chinese culinary tradition as they are believed to be associated with the body’s vital organs. Red, yellow, white, green and black represent the heart, spleen, lungs, liver, and kidneys respectively. To truly nourish the entire body, every meal must be balanced with a splash of each color. Po-Po’s dinners were definitely colorful and definitely nourishing.
Po-Po’s philosophies have not only inspired me to be a better cook, but to be a healer and an artist. After all, she was a healer who believed that food can be medicine. She was also an artist who let her dinner table become nature’s canvas upon which colorful dishes would be painted. Above all, she was always a jerk at the farmer's market, taking her sweet time to tap every melon and fondle every pepper.