Hamptons Epicure: Welcome to My Garden of Eatin’…

garden gardening
Credit: ventdusud/iStock/Thinkstock

The concept of health through food—“sanitas per escam”—is getting a lot of ink lately. At the center of the movement is Emmanuel Verstraeten, founder and CEO of SPE Certified. Working closely with a nutritionist, Verstraeten and his chefs develop dishes that, he stresses, are both healthy AND delicious. Admirable. Or is it just the latest take on The New Cuisine that hit our shores a generation ago?

“SPE” appears in red letters next to menu items that have met Verstraeten’s expectations. Any restaurant can apply to the program for a fee.

I’ve not yet dined at an SPE restaurant in New York City such as Rouge Tomate, nor have I located a restaurant on the East End that’s signed on to offer “SPE” dishes. An SPE recipe for Wild Mushroom Soup in a recent edition of the The New York Times suggests a certain deliciousness but with two cups of whole milk, well, it ain’t “health food” per se.

While reviewing restaurants I eat and drink omnivorously, but at home I don’t cook with any animal products. Excess mixed with scarcity equals moderation, yes?

I’m undertaking my own approach to “health through food” that’s even more pompous than veganism or corporate recipes—it’s gardening. I’m determined to grow some of my own food this season. I’ve been living in New York State’s most productive agricultural county for years and what do I have to show for it?

Season after season I’ve killed pots of basil. Last year I successfully planted and ignored a patch of mustard greens. They flourished. On this basis, I’m planning a garden of collard greens, squash, pumpkins, leeks, raspberries, snow peas, tomatoes, peppers and herbs—including basil.

I think it’s a reasonable wish list. I’ve done my homework and stayed away from things that would require pesticides like stone fruits and labor-intensive yummies like cauliflower and asparagus. All of this produce is well suited to our local soil and climate.

Did you know that last year Long Island’s hardiness zone was changed from 6 to 7? It’s now possible to grow many more plants. This is huge. Almost as huge as my 6’5” son, whom I’ve conned into helping with the garden by letting him choose what kind of tomatoes to plant—Roma and some purple heirlooms.

This kid can shovel. He’ll likely head our Compost Relocation Division. Global warming is not a good thing, but fingers crossed, it may help my garden grow…

My neighbor Rev. Karen Campbell is delighted to have a “gardening partner.” I’m sure it’ll be good for me—a buddy system, so I don’t get lost. Karen’s into growing flowers. That’s cool. For me it’s strictly grow-to-eat. I’m sure we can agree on some edible flowers like nasturtiums, marigolds, chives or violets.

We’ve brought in DA BIG GUNS and hired Dan’s PapersView from the Garden” columnist Jeanelle Myers to guide us. We meet about once a week. She gives us assignments to complete between meetings. Last week she told us: “You need to map out your garden ON GRAPH PAPER.” So Karen’s husband, the engineer, is working on that. My husband is in charge of guarding the key to our van so I don’t go off and buy a bunch of garden statuary. Jeanelle is helping to design and place our deer fencing. I planted a bunch of seeds in little pots on my kitchen table… Oh no, I just got an urge to collect all the uneaten food in the office and take it home to compost!

Thankfully mint is a weed all over Sag Harbor Village. If all else fails it can still be mojito time in the garden every summer night…

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