Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Following The Harvest
Probably the best thing that has happened inside my head (there's a lot going on in there--you wouldn't believe it) since I began changing the way I think about what we eat is that I'm not doing as much aimless wandering about in the grocery store, or randomly browsing the internet trying to figure out what in the world is going to be for dinner every night. Instead, I find myself thinking, as surely people before me have since for, well, ever, in terms of what's available. Let that sink in for a minute. Of course, everything IS available, but what, by all reasonable parameters, should be? What time of year is it? What's for sale in the outdoor markets and roadside stands? If you live in a temperate zone, what are your gardening friends and family members bringing to you by the armloads? In Arkansas right now, tomatoes are ripening, cucumbers are overflowing their beds, and we're entering high squash season. Greens are mostly gone, and my lettuces bolted so quickly that I never even had time to harvest them.
Being a total gardening n00b, I have to rely on the indicators mentioned above--if I don't see it somewhere, I don't really know what's in season. I've grown too accustomed to NOT noticing "what time it is," so to speak, and too complacent in the artificial abundance of the piles and piles of waxy, bland fruits and vegetables stacked up in their sterile, water-misted, fluorescent-lit bleachers at the grocery store. And I haven't really found a comprehensive seasonal timetable that shows me when to expect what, or at least in what order. If you know of such a thing, shoot me a link.
I've managed to go to a brand-new, and quite small, certified local farmer's market every other week since its grand opening this spring, and if I show up early, there I can get an idea of what's what. Some things, like strawberries, rhubarb, and greens, are long gone. Arkansas heats up early. Others, like tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots, are just getting started, so the offerings are of small, young produce of those varieties, and not much of it. When one lovely couple priced their beautiful baby carrots for me, I looked at the bundle on the table, and said, "I'll take them all." We munched on them for days, cooked them up as parts of one-dish meals, and fed the tops to the chickens. I'm looking into other ways of storing them, aside from blanching and freezing, because as I understand it, being root vegetables, they should keep, if only I knew how to do it.
feeding himself. Back to the point--less meat. In the first place, it's much harder to find cruelty-free sources of meat, and in the second place, when you find it, it's going to be expensive, at least compared to what you're used to paying for the mass-produced meat and poultry you've been consuming. As our chickens, not being Frankenchickens (more on this later), will be nowhere near butchering size for some months, I have bought organic, pasture-raised chicken. An 8-lb. bird cost me $15, which really isn't that bad...but you better believe that I used every bit of that bird I possibly could. I believe we got 4 complete meals out of it.
This is a cause-and-effect which strikes me as wholly appropriate. When something is hard-won, hard-sought, or dearly bought, well, you put more thought into what becomes of it, and make more of an effort not to waste it, don't you? And I think that's as it should be. I cannot imagine the countless numbers of vegetables and fruits that have rotted away in my refrigerator crisper and countertop bowls over the years...I'm sure it would be shameful. But ask me if any of my farmer's market bounty has gone to waste. No way. I looked too hard, got up too early, paid too much, or all three, to let that happen! And I also, realize, looking back at our last week or so of dinners, that at least half of them have been meatless.
Before, I really felt it necessary to serve a standard meat/veg/starch plate to my family--I didn't always do it, but I always felt the need to do it. That's how a meal looked "right." But since having access to a variety of fresh, flavorful foods, I've just been cooking up what I have. What's available. What looks good. And knowing that it balances out over time, nutritionally, which is more in line with how we're designed to operate--balance over time. Which is why I didn't feel guilty serving entire meals based on just one or two components. Those tomatoes at the top of this post? The ones that aren't ripe yet? Those were dinner one night, as fried green tomatoes (full recipe here). I made some garlic & cheese biscuits to accompany them, and served them with cold ranch dressing. The monochromatic plate looked wrong at first, but boy-howdy, it tasted right.
That weekend, I'd also come home with an armload of fresh corn, because mine is still in its infancy (and I won't have enough for more than a few meals, anyway). One day, Bella and I just had fresh-steamed corn on the cob for lunch, all by itself. It felt like such a radical act! The cob with the green holders, without a molecule of corn left on it? That's Bella's. She ate it typewriter-style, like one of those cartoon crows.
The rest of the corn, I shucked, washed, and cut off the kernels, stopping for just a moment to take the husks, silks, and the little green worm that was nestled in the top of each shuck, to give to Bella to take out and treat the chickens. Chickens are fantastic garbage disposals, and very much appreciate both corn-husks and little green worms. Did I mind the little green worms on my produce? I imagine that if, a couple years ago, I'd brought that corn home from Kroger and discovered a worm, I'd have thrown an indignant fit and returned it in a huff. This time, I just took in the sight of each little worm with a smile, as proof of the unsullied life of that corn crop. It takes several ears of early corn to yield 4 cups of fresh kernels, but I kept at sawing them off until I had enough to mix with fresh yogurt, eggs, and cornmeal and make this delicious fresh-corn spoonbread. This was served as a meal all by itself one night, too, and then the leftovers as a side dish with the next night's meal (recipe link will be in place momentarily).
Tonight, Alex declared that he didn't want anything to eat (which was a LIE, as it turned out), and Bella asked to cook the tiny new potatoes and small sweet potatoes we'd gotten at the farmer's market. I did consider, for a few minutes, thawing some chicken or venison to make a "main" dish, and then I thought of all the times we've eaten baked potatoes for dinner, and just peeled and chopped the sweets, washed and halved the news, tossed them in olive oil with herbs, garlic, and salt, and roasted those bad boys until they hollered for mercy.
OK, they didn't holler. But they DID caramelize, which has gotta hurt. I served everyone a plate full of the roasted potatoes, with a sprinkling of grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream, and it was soooo good. Bella gave that meal TWO thumbs up. Have I told you that Bella is now rating my meals as if I'm a gladiator, and she's the emperor? Yeah. She holds out both fists, and creates a suspenseful moment in which you wait to see whether you get one thumb or two. Tonight she tried to fake me into thinking it was a one-thumb-up meal, then shot that left thumb in there at the last minute, with a huge laugh, and her "I had you goin'!" face on.
Oh, and Mr. I'm Not Hungry? After dinner (which, if you recall, he supposedly didn't even want), he asked me to make him a smoothie. Which I did. Because I'm easy like that. But he'd better not get used to it. So now he's peacefully sleeping, full of anthocyanin. If he were awake, he'd be able to see better in the dark! Tonight's smoothie was all local and organic, some farmed, some foraged: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, tart cherries, and liquid stevia to sweeten. My smoothies bring all the boys to the yard.
Are you following the harvest this year? What are you serving in observance of whatever bounty you may have? Got some can't-miss recipes to share? Please do! No, really. I could use the help.