Food Coloring

Among all the colors that food can be, my favorite is green. For the 30 years (as of this week!) that I’ve been married, I’ve been preparing and plating meals for my beloveds—first my man, and then our three sons, and now a daughter-in-law and granddaughter, along with extended family and friends—and it is the rare dish I serve that doesn’t include green. Brunch? Next to the home baked scones with whipped cream, at least a few sprigs of mint from the patio garden, if not a huge pile of sautéed spinach itself. Lunch? Ideally, a mixed-greens salad, or sturdier greens as the foundation for a grain bowl. Dinner? The plans usually start with the greenery: I’ve wrapped burritos in steamed collard greens or broccoli leaves, added bunches of Swiss chard to everything from quiches to smoothies, and softened shredded kale and Brussel sprouts with tangy dressings. Cilantro. Basil. And then there’s the wonder of avocados—creamy, healthy, green. 

In college, my friends teased me for my consistent marveling over the quality of the dining hall’s nightly salad bar—“The lettuce is so green!”—to which they responded, “What other color did you expect?” Well, no fresh, bright greens available in the middle of winter is what I expected, having grown up in Alaska in a family that ate canned green beans as a side unless it was during the two and a half months in the year that our garden was growing. The college dining hall card allowed for unlimited refills at every meal, and it was the first time in my life I had access to all the food I wanted, which partially explains the forty pounds I gained in the first four months of college (more than during the nine months of any of my pregnancies years later, and those involved growing a whole person and placenta). But the salad bar wasn’t the primary source of the surplus calories, which brings me to my second favorite color of food: brown. 

Brown is the color of flavor: Chocolate, of course, caramelized everything, tamari almonds, roasted vegetables (especially chunks of potato), brisket, a good hearth loaf and its toast. Ah—toast, though. Brown is the color of the Maillard reaction, of kitchen chemistry, of the most enticing aromas. Brown rice or white? Brown. Whole grain bread or white? Whole grain. Dark or milk chocolate? Dark. Flavor, flavor, flavor. 

And just to keep things gorgeous when you’re composing a meal, there’s magenta-colored food, including amaranth sprouts and the variable interior of watermelon radishes and the leaking juices from raspberries or beets or purple carrots. I don’t know that I would continue the ordinal list by saying these are among my third favorites, but I do know that magenta is my favorite color, full stop. And creating edible arrangements of color always delights me.