Some of you are falling asleep at your computer as you read this… because perhaps you do not yet recognize the awesomeness of such a set-up. But if you have ever walked through a bustling farmer’s market and gotten a little bit of a happy-buzz from the dazzling combination of the earthy scent of just-picked vegetables, early-morning sunshine and kaleidoscopes of flowers, chances are you’ll get where I’m coming from. Our CSA brings the beauty of the farmer’s market into a more intimate place in our family’s life. Thursday nights are a celebration of real food in our home. Our children actually get excited about corn-on-the-cob and pickling cucumbers and, yes, believe it or not, Chard! I mean, they won’t actually eat the chard but they get excited about it.
Last night was not our first CSA pick-up but it was, so far, the coolest. The farming season, just like the Tri-training season, started late in Michigan this year because of all of the rain. Apparently it’s just as hard for beans to flourish as it is to ride a bike in torrential and seemingly endless downpours. So, our first pick-ups were full of Kale, Lettuce, Zucchini & Yellow Squash – and A LOT of them. But last night, there were much bigger choices – Potatoes! Cabbage! Corn! Garlic! Cucumbers! Green Beans! Peppers! Romaine Lettuce! Broccoli! You wouldn’t believe how exciting just putting vegetables into a bushel basket can be! The woman next to me in line laughed at our shared excitement over the Chard and said, “I know! Doesn’t it just make you giddy?”
But what makes me even giddier (can you tell I’m an easily excitable person?) is setting all of this fresh, local, organic produce on my kitchen counter and dreaming up all the things I can do with it. This is also the moment, by the way, that I wish I had my niece Ashlee’s gift with food. I love to cook and I strive to always cook with love but my niece Ashlee makes food into art. It’s a beautiful thing. There will, undoubtedly, be more on that later. For now, back to my dreaming…
We are not vegan so I don’t start and end with the vegetables themselves. In my conjuring of recipes, I start by looking around the kitchen at what grain we have readily available and then what forms of protein I could add to that. I’ve been waiting to try these gluten free brown rice tortillas I bought last week. I had a hunch that they would make great, easy, thin-pizza-crusts. And, though, I’m trying to avoid dairy these days (as part of a hormone-balancing regimen), we did have some excellent pizza cheese ready to go. The farm-fresh basil, yellow squash, wilted chard, banana peppers all seemed like yummy toppings. So, the Green-Meanie Pizza was born in my hungry little brain and about 15 minutes later was actually waiting patiently for consumption on my plate.
While working on the pizza, I also boiled the corn to go with my children’s grilled cheese sandwiches (Yes, we are pathetically, still those parents making two different meals at every dinnertime to satisfy our children’s picky, and not altogether sophisticated, palettes) and made our new puppy, Shylo, his dinner as well. Now, here is the miracle of food and of cooking with love: ALL DAY, ALL summer actually, our family has had a very difficult time finding balance. I’m still not entirely sure what the deal is. Last summer my husband and I came up with a schedule that allowed us writing time, date time and lots of fun time with our kids where we could actually focus ON our kids and not half-focus on them while half doing other stuff. This summer, not so much. There are never enough hours. There is always too much to do. The kids always want to play on “tech” (which we limit like tyrants but it still creeps in!). Yesterday was no exception. And, because I was gone on business all day the day before, I actually consciously thought I would make the effort to focus solely on them all day yesterday but it simply didn’t happen. There was an email that had to be sent, a phone call that needed to be made, a lesson that had to be gotten to, an event that had to be attended and by the time CSA pick-up came around, I had yelled at them to be quiet, go to their rooms, or leave me alone probably a dozen times. Ugh. Re-reading that makes me sad. But… getting back to the miracle of food and of cooking with love: from the moment we pulled into the parking lot to the moment we finished dinner, all of my attention was on my family. Simply preparing this delicious, fresh, and (mostly) nutritious dinner for my family slowed my brain, concentrated my attention, and brought me back to my REAL life.
It’s crazy. Every single day I think of new ways to improve my life or my self (I’m like that, get it from my dad, always thinking, my son has it too) but the fact is everything I need to live my life fully and well, my parents already taught me. And when I think of the years I stupidly went through life thinking that all of their lessons were useless and detrimental, it makes me want to kick my own ass.
Wherever he lived, my father created and kept huge, thriving, beautiful gardens. It was one of the most talked about subjects at his funeral. He was a diligent, hard-working gardener who, in the summer, always had bags of zucchini and peppers and tomatoes to give anyone who visited and in the fall, often had pumpkins for his grandkids to carry off. I spent days of my life as a child “working” with him in his gardens. When I was a young preteen and teenager, the time I had to spend watering and weeding pissed me off. We lived in the suburbs of Detroit. No one else I knew had gardens or grew their own food! No one else’s mother canned or had an extra freezer where they kept all their frozen tomatoes and venison from last year’s deer season. No one else I knew ate food for dinner that their father had grown and picked with his own hands. Can you believe it – at that time, I thought it was so gross! Some Sunday mornings we would eat steak and eggs. The steak was always venison and we would eat pan-fried morel mushrooms over it. Guess where we got the mushrooms. My brother, Mitchell, the eagle-eyed mushroom hunter in our family. He just knew the places in the forests of Michigan to go and find them. He just knew where to look. I was 25 years old before I even realized that morel mushrooms are somewhat of an expensive delicacy. I thought they were just fungus growing in people's backyards. So, my brother hunted the deer and the mushrooms, my father raised the vegetables and my mother brought all of these gifts through to their edible state for us. And rather than thinking how special, how incredibly lucky and blessed I was that no one else I knew had such an amazingly resourceful, hard-working and down-to-earth family, I was jealous that my dinner didn’t come from a box in the form of frozen tater tots and fish sticks like all of my friends. Should I be sorry it took me so long to realize how great I had it? Or should I just be thankful I figured it out now rather than worshipping the processed, frozen food idol the rest of my days. I am sorry… but I won’t dwell too much on that. Mostly, I’m thankful. I’m so thankful. I’m thankful that my parents instilled in me a respect for whole, real foods and gave me the skills I needed yesterday to slow down and love my family and recognize what is real and important in this altogether far-too-short life.
It is my guess that my own kids – just like most kids – won’t realize they're thankful either until it’s far too late to tell me. My mother used to always sign-off in her cards and letters to me with “I love you more than you will ever know.” I know now, Mom. I know now.
Please forgive me my gushiness. There’s been a lot of death in my family in the past several years and two weeks ago, my youngest brother, Robert – maker of the greatest no-bake cookies anyone has ever tasted – passed away as well, at 49. His death and death in general is so heavily on my mind that I can’t even really make it the actual topic of a post. It’s just going to come out right here, awkwardly, at the end of a post about my CSA and my Green-Meanie Pizza. Of course, Robert’s death and death in general deserves more attention than that but right now I’ve got to let it stew.
Right now, I want to turn my immediate attention to life -- which is what the CSA brings us every Thursday night; fecund, green, voluptuous life spilling over with the nutrients my family needs to keep us whole and healthy. Right now, I just want to be grateful for every day I receive that gives me another chance to focus my energy on what really matters.
May you too cook and eat with love!
Vaya Con Dios!