What I Want vs. What I HAVE

One of the things I love about gardening (and eating in season) is that it shifts your focus from what you WANT to what you HAVE.

potatoes, purple and yellow, dug just before dinner

Instead of saying, “Hmn, what do I feel like eating?”, you say, “What do we have? What’s ripe and ready?” and you build your meal around that. And that–as Barbara Kingsolver suggested in this interview–turns everyday eating into a practice of gratitude.

Rather than starting with what I want, I start with what’s actually here.

beautiful heirloom tomatoes: Riesentraubes, Gold Medals, and Amish Pastes

And that’s a pretty beautiful place to be.

(Though I’m sorta getting tired of fresh tomatoes. Which is fine, because they make good tomato sauce.)

Beets! Beets! Beets!

We’ve been a little serious around here what with two days of posts (here and here) on body image stuff, so I think it’s time for something more fun.

Like cake.

I don’t make desserts for every day meals. And I generally don’t bake cakes in the summertime. But you know? Some days, you just feel like having some cake.

On this day, I was harvesting beets to make room for the very enthusiastically reproducing strawberry plants. My son and husband were helping me:

{he's not faking that enthusiasm for the beet, either.}
{my dear husband, the real gardener in the relationship}

So, earlier in the summer, I’d pulled a few beets and grated them, raw, into lettuce salads, where they mingled beautifully with the vinaigrette and brought some lively color and flavor to our (seemingly) endless bowls of leafy greens. You can make a beet salad that’s mostly just, well, beets, but I just wasn’t feelin’ it.

I spent several hours with the beets, boiling them, slipping their skins off cutting them up to put in the freezer, and when I was done, my fingers were stained brownish and I was tired of looking at beets qua beets, so I did something really fun:

I pureed them in the food processor with some applesauce, added sugar, sour cream, some eggs, some vanilla, some flour, some cocoa powder, and some baking soda and made the most beautiful red-tinted cake batter–

And that, of course, turned into this: And we’re back to where we started.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, beets are good for you, blah, blah, blah, antioxidants and phytochemicals and fiber AND–THEY TASTE AMAZING IN CHOCOLATE CAKE, which is the best part:

“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.” (Robert Farrar Capon)

{Hoping YOUR day has some unnecessary goodness in it, too!}

Moment of Joy

Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule’s {this moment}, I’m following a Friday ritual: posting a single photo–no caption, no words–from the week capturing a moment or an idea expressing something related to {family, faith, food; joyful justice & bread of life} —a Moment of Joy. If you would like to do the same, leave a link to your photo in the comments!

In Defense of Frozen Food

“I can’t eat local–what would I possibly eat in January–turnips?!”

Not necessarily. Because whether you grow your own food or purchase locally grown food, you can PRESERVE some of it for winter! And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need any special skills or equipment, unless boiling water is beyond your skill-set and a colander isn’t among your kitchen tools. And you know what? Many, many vegetables are BEST preserved by freezing rather than canning. (Think of the difference between frozen green beans and canned–which is most like fresh?)

True, some of the flavor and texture is lost through the freezing process, which is why you will prepare your frozen veggies differently than you would if they were fresh. You might make a Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, like so:

yum! look for the recipe on Sunday...

But you couldn’t replicate that salad in winter by pulling out the frozen tomatoes. You could, however, put them into any number of delicious soups, stews, and sauces. And, as Barbara Kingsolver points out, since they won’t have traveled any distance in the meantime–they’ll still be local.

“But what about VITAMINS? Aren’t fresh vegetables healthier than and preferable to frozen ones?!”

Actually, very few vitamins are lost in the freezing process. Even commercially frozen foods can be nutritionally superior to their fresh (but imported) counterparts, because food is frozen at the peak of freshness. By contrast, fresh vegetables transported long distances lose a marked amount of vitamins over the course of their trip from the field to your plate.

And as to the question of environmental friendliness, I certainly feel better about buying US-grown frozen broccoli in December than buying broccoli that has been shipped FROM CHILE.

To reiterate–you don’t necessarily have to grow your own. In fact, if you can find a local source for vegetables (and no matter where you live, you probably can), you may get a discount for purchasing a large amount in bulk. This helps the farmer and it helps you–if you know how to preserve the food. For example, local farmstands where I live are currently charging about 70 cents per ear of corn. If you buy a bushel (about 40 ears) it costs $10.

So what do you do with those hypothetical ears of corn? This method is the simplest and easiest and applies to many, many different vegetables:

1. Dip prepared (ie, trimmed and cut) vegetables into boiling water for 3 minutes.
2. Immediately dunk into COLD water and rinse to stop the cooking.
3. Pat dry with clean kitchen towels and pack into freezer containers/bags.

I was given a vacuum sealer, but it's in storage in California. That's what I get for moving 5x in 8 years...so these are just plain ol' freezer bags.


Ellen asked whether I have a dedicated freezer. I do–it’s one we’re borrowing from church, since they’re not currently using it. If that one wasn’t available, I’d be shopping around for a second-hand freezer, for sure. They’re quite energy-efficient (since they are opened only once in a while). Of course, space for a freezer is not always in great supply, especially if you live in an apartment (which I have done most of my adult life.) So this defense of frozen food may be somewhat unfairly biased toward home-dwellers. However, the basic point–freezing food isn’t hard!–still stands.


That’s it! You can readily get more details in this book or elsewhere on the net. (UPDATE: lovely tutorial here.) Or you can ask me! (Not that I’ll know the answer, but I’d be happy to hear about whatever preservation adventures you may be on…)

Oh, and some of my favorite winter recipes take frozen vegetables very well. You can see them here!

And the best part? When you’ve frozen your own veggies in summer and fall (whether home grown or grown locally by someone else), you get a bit of a taste of the warmer months during the colder ones. And that’s fun!

Cucumbers, Pickles, & Immigrants

Our little garden has produced plenty of cucumbers this year, though they’re drawing to an end now. We’ve been eating lots of them just like this:

salt, freshly ground pepper, dill; olive oil & red wine vinegar, with & without tomatoes

Because a truck crashed through our yard a few weeks ago, there have been plenty of work ‘guys’ (as my kids refer to them) in and around the garden recently. Most recently, a crew of landscapers came to plant new hedges in place of the ones that were uprooted in the accident. And while they were there, I caught sight of them eating some of my cucumbers.

Now, what you need to understand is that I watched these cucumbers grow from lovingly selected heirloom seeds, referring to the plants all the while as my “seed babies.” After realizing that no people had been hurt in the crash, I was greatly relieved to see that my photosynthesizing ‘children’ were fine, too. So finding that my cucumbers were being ‘stolen’ by the landscapers made me scowl at first.

cucumbers and string beans, vining together. I'm scowling because I can't reach.

But of course, I already have more cucumbers than we can eat fresh. I’m putting away the extras for another season, and, as I said, I’ve been given plenty more fresh cucumbers absolutely free. Truth be told, I’m even getting a little tired of fresh cucumbers. But there it was–a reflexive selfishness.

And then I remembered two things:

1. The men working in my yard–immigrants all of them–live on very little. From reliable sources, I know that many of them typically live on white rolls, bananas, and Gatorade. For many of America’s working poor–them included–fresh vegetables (let alone organic heirloom vegetables) are a luxury. A cool cucumber, eaten in the shade of the vine on a hot day when you’re working hard in the dirt–that must have been a really refreshing treat.

2. The Book of Ruth. (What?!) Yes, Ruth. Ruth, the ancestress of David and ultimately of Jesus, was a Moabite–a foreigner in Israel who met and exceeded all standards of kindness and generosity. And Boaz, her benefactor, did the same–though “law” only required him to let her take from the edges of the field, he instructed his field hands to leave out plenty of good grain for her to take. Both gave more than they *had* to. The result? Blessing, love, fulfillment; a respite from famine and exile.

3. (Ok, I lied, 3 things)–that God makes all things grow. Yeah, I fertilized, planted, mulched, weeded, watered, and fretted and prayed over my plants, but beyond all of this, there is a mystery that’s way beyond me. And it just doesn’t feel right to hold that too tightly.

Can I love my neighbor and begrudge him a cucumber? Who’s the impoverished one then? Me. So I do this with some of my cucumbers–

and give some away, and leave some on the vines for the work crew. Because I’m a “good person”? No. Because I want the joy that comes from holding the mystery lightly, and giving freely from what’s been given to me. Because THAT fills me with joy.

Which makes the cucumbers–and pickles–taste even better.