Good food is all about . . .

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I met a 10-year-old a couple of weeks ago who told me in all seriousness that if he were offered a choice between doughnuts and salad, he would have to go with salad. He volunteered that tidbit after telling me that he liked all vegetables, especially salad greens. I had asked about his favorite lettuce, and he answered “Romaine” with no hesitation.

We were standing in the demonstration greenhouse of DFW Aquaponics Farms in Burleson, Texas, where I was photographing lettuces, chives, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes in various stages of development. I had heard the young boy talking with his dad about how delicious the produce looked, even though many of the plants weren’t yet mature and the tomatoes were still green.

I’m not sure that at age 10 I even realized that there were different varieties of lettuce. I ate salad, I think, because at that age I ate most of what was put in front of me. It was simple food. I grew up during the days of family meals served at home, punctuated by an occasional sandwich at the downtown drug store soda fountain as a Saturday treat.

I vividly remember the taste of those sandwiches, and the special delight of a fountain Coke! To this day I occasionally long for a real fountain drink, rich with syrup and bubbly from the seltzer.

I also remember that home-cooked food varied by the season. Winter brought soups and stews, spring and summer were filled with fresh salads, bright peas and juicy watermelon, and fall was full of crunchy apples, and tasty pumpkin, squash and spices.

Because I was a city girl, I knew little about growing food. But I knew that when the right season rolled around, there were ways to judge the ripeness of fruit and vegetables.

However, had I been given a choice, I am certain I would have opted for a chocolate chip cookie, a scoop of ice or even a just-picked strawberry over a ripe carrot or a stalk of fresh romaine, no matter what the season.

Today, like that 10-year-old, I too prefer salad over doughnuts, although ice cream is still as tempting as that fountain Coke.

I have learned what I am sure my farm-raised grandparents knew: Freshly-picked and locally-harvested food tastes good. It’s that simple. It’s immensely satisfying to create a salad or an entire meal from what one has grown.

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Today, because of greenhouses and modern technology, it’s possible to grow fresh food — including salad greens and seasonal produce, year-round in many different locales.

I am not still not committed to growing my own food, but I certainly understand the motivation. Luckily, at least in my area, farm stands, local markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) are increasingly popular. Fresh, seasonal, locally-grown, non-processed food is available. It’s a good time to experience the joy — and the flavor, texture, color and fun — of good, fresh produce any time of year. It’s simply better.

I am delighted when spring arrives and local farmers markets spring to life with colorful carrots, new potatoes, bulbous onions, butterhead lettuce and showy Swiss chard. Later I wait for the melons to ripen and still later I search out the most beautiful eggplant and squash — as much for their vibrant color as for their taste!

Food is always an adventure — whether picked from the garden and prepared at home, created by an award-winning chef at a renowned restaurant, or purchased from a trendy food truck at a community festival. I continue to learn new things about food and about people, no matter what the occasion or where in the world.

It was here at home that I learned another lesson about food. Kudos to my 10-year-old “teacher,” and to his dad for showing him the way.

Teach them young, they say . . .

The trip(s) not taken . . .

I had a calendar alert on my phone yesterday. It reminded me of a flight: 3.35 p.m. “tomorrow” to Toronto. I had crossed out the note on my desk calendar, but neglected to update my electronic devices. Seeing the reminder brought a tinge of regret.

The flight to Toronto this afternoon would have been the first leg of a journey that I had booked as an anniversary present to my husband. This end-of-April jaunt was to take us on to London, and then to Athens where we planned to spend a few days before embarking on a seven-day cruise to ports in Greece and nearby islands.

We were to board Majestic Princess April 30, during the maiden season of this new “royal class” vessel built especially for the China market. The ship is distinctive, bearing the stunning new blue and white Princess “Seawitch” logo on her bow, as well as her name in both English and Chinese. The Chinese name translates to “Grand Spirit.”

After a month or so in the Mediterranean, she will head to her permanent new home port of Shanghai, following a route that will take passengers through the Suez Canal, then on to exotic ports throughout the Middle East, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taipei, Japan and Korea.

Because she carries more than 3,500 passengers, several thousand guests will get a sample of her spirit and a taste of her distinctive food offerings while she is still in the Med. The maiden season is a way to “test the waters,” so to speak, to assure that ship and crew work in harmony and that all systems operate the way they are meant to function.

Not just another big ship

At almost 1,100 feet long and 224 feet in height, there is no doubt that Majestic Princess is a floating city. But scattered throughout the 19 decks, in addition to formal dining rooms, casino, pools, bars and performance stages, sports courts and promenade decks, there are numerous dining spots with palate-pleasing options.

This ship introduces Harmony, a specialty Cantonese restaurant, as well as La Mer, a French bistro, and international food stations that promise flavors from around the globe. A central buffet, according to the description, is designed to offer something for everyone with an “East meets West” assortment of “comfort food” from varied cultures. We were eager to fill our plates with Japanese satay and Asian noodles, and then move on to treats like Chinese buns, French crepes, and Italian gelato.

In addition, this new ship has interior signage in both English and Chinese, boasts a noodle and soup station as well as a dim sum and lobster bar. There’s a 24-hour International Cafe for quick bites or sweet treats, and a comfortable pizza cafe that serves made-to-order individual pies along with beer and wine by the glass.

We looked forward to sampling the food; and we were eager to be at sea amidst the clear waters and the natural beauty of the Greek islands. We were excited by the prospect of being aboard during the ship’s inaugural season. The anticipation brought back memories of our own cruising days, the combined anxiety and thrill of untying the lines for the first time. First days on any vessel are memorable.

We also had booked a cooking class in Athens, a short sail around Rhodes, and tours of local farms and wineries on other islands. A month ago we were counting the days. Where better to go for a short cruise than Greek Islands in the spring? New experiences in an ancient land — it seemed perfect.

The Best Laid Plans

In a previous post I wrote about a planned long weekend in Paris — the Paris in North Texas, not the one in France. We had a wonderful time there, but this cruise was to be the real anniversary gift that we had given ourselves.

Alas, four weeks ago tomorrow, my husband fractured a major bone in his foot and found himself immobilized in a full boot cast. He is still under doctor’s orders not to put any weight on that foot. Even though he is able to get around via crutches and scooter, the doctor nixed any thought of a long flight. Indeed, being aboard the mega ship would have been difficult, even with the availability of a wheelchair; it would have been impossible to walk up to the Acropolis, to board a tender, or to navigate Greek island cobblestones and inclines.

I had a fleeting urge to find another traveling companion, but we canceled the trip.

What Comes Next?

Majestic Princess was delivered to the cruise line during a ceremony at Fincantieri Shipyard in Montefalcone, Italy on March 30. She embarked on a quick maiden voyage to Rome with a group of invited guests the next day. Subsequent itineraries allowed her to show herself in most of the major ports in the Med. I have been keeping track of her whereabouts!

She has been to Barcelona and Gibraltar, to Toulon and Naples, and to Messina, Sicily and Kotor, Montenegro. She is about to complete an itinerary that takes her from Barcelona through Rome and on to Athens. 2017-04-26This morning she was at sea, bound for Corfu.

She will be ready to greet new passengers beginning about midday April 30, and is set to embark at 7 p.m. My husband and I will not be there, but you can bet that I will cruise along, if only in spirit, to all the ports she will visit. Due to modern technology, I can actually view her progress via 24-hour bridge-cam.

Even though we’re sitting out this sailing, I have no intention of staying home for long! But, trips in the near future will most likely be closer to home.

I’ve been thinking about Athens. There is one, you know, in North Texas! And it’s less than a two-hour drive away.