Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sumptuous Solstice

Saturday, December 22, 2007
Long ago, the answer to the question, "What's for dinner?" was simple. Go look in the garden or the larder. In my adult life, the answer is not so straightforward. The "garden" is often across continents, and the larder is my overabundant supermarket. The choices can be overwhelming, the experts confusing. What to eat? What not to eat? And, in the confusion, the "simple" alternative often has the most pull; fast food. Yuck! No wonder I never really liked food!

But, we have begun to spiral back around to the source of our food. Revolution! Although I have not tended my skill well enough to grow my own food, I do get it from growers I've met and trust. I have been buying a monthly share of Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) on and off for years. It wasn't an easy transition for me, because I didn't have a relationship to food. Leeks? Squash? Broccoli Raab? My vegetables, along with the strange hodgepodge of food that I got from the store, took on a life of its own in the depths of my refrigerator. So what changed? I started reading. I've shared some really interesting resources at the end. I realized that I can't go on supporting the current food culture. However, because I don't have much money, it seemed like an extra expense. But remember the science experiments in my refrigerator? I don't throw out as much food anymore. That saves me a good chunk of money. Our share breaks down to be $15 each week. Not bad, really.

The farm that my food comes from is called Full Belly Farm. Each week we get a box is like Christmas. Everything in the box is seasonal and flavorful. It is truly an offering, and I want to do it justice. I pore through cookbooks and recipes, eyes a-sparkle. Then I make a weekly menu plan and supplementary shopping list. Each item I get is put to use to create new, tantalizing recipes. Each bite fills me with a profound nourishment. And I am transformed.

Although we are blessed with a window of blue skies and sunshine, today I am feeling winter's pull. Yes, even the Breadbasket of the world has its winter. Beginning this week, we will not be getting our weekly box of vegetables. The earth and farmers need a break. I appreciate the connection and deep satisfaction they bring. And, mouth watering, I look forward to the next growing season and the Christmas they bring every week.

Here's a wonderfully carnivorous winter meal from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice. Being a former vegetarian, I know you could cleverly adapt this meal:

Sausage with Potatoes and Cabbage

Serves 2-4

  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, olive oil, lard, or other fat
  • 2 whole fresh sausages in casings
  • 2 leeks, sliced thin, including much of the green part (or 1 large onion sliced thin)
  • 1 small head cabbage (or ½ large head, shredded)
  • ½ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
  • ½ bunch greens (chard, kale, collards; or mustard, radish, or turnip greens), sliced into ribbons
  • 3 medium potatoes (such as Yukon gold), diced
  • ½ cup hot water or stock, or more as needed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup sauerkraut (store bought or homemade recipe below)
  • Sour cream or crème fraiche

  1. Heat the bacon drippings, oil, or fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the whole sausages and brown on both sides.
  2. Add the leeks (or onions) to the pan around the sausage and sauté. When the sausage is cooked through, remove it from the pan and let it cool.
  3. Add the shredded cabbage to the pan along with a pinch of salt and the optional caraway seeds. Continue to sauté a few minutes, until the cabbage begins to wilt.
  4. Add the greens and stir gently.
  5. Add the diced potatoes, another pinch of salt, and the hot water or stock. Cover, reduce the heat somewhat, and steam until potatoes are just tender. Add more water
  6. Slice the sausage into ½ inch thick pieces and add it back to the pan, stirring to incorporate and heat through. You can also leave the sausage whole or cut it in half.
  7. Add plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the optional sauerkraut.
  9. Serve in a shallow bowl with a big dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

And, if you are really an adventurous food alchemist, make your own sauerkraut. This recipe is also by Jessica Prentice. But take my advice, make sure you don't forget about it if you culture it in the dark of your bedroom closet. Whoever lives with you will tear up the house trying to find what died in the wall!

Quick Kraut

Makes about 3 cups

  • 4 cups (tightly packed) shredded cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Put the cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. Using your hands, begin to squeeze and massage the cabbage to release the juices.
  2. Once it is thoroughly wet, add the caraway seeds.
  3. Pack the cabbage into a 1-quart, widemouthed mason jar, pressing down with your hand to release the juices.
  4. Fill a 1-pint, narrow jar (or any jar that has a bottom narrow enough to fit in the mouth of the 1-quart jar) with water and screw the lid on. Place this second jar into the mouth of the 1-quart jar and push on it until the liquid from the cabbage rises above the vegetable matter inside.
  5. Set this on the counter, with one jar nestled inside the other, and drape a cloth napkin over the top. Keep at room temperature for about a week, pressing down on the weight jar at least once a day and making sure that the liquid stays above the vegetable matter.
  6. After a week of fermenting, taste and see if you like it. At this point you can remove the weight jar, screw a lid onto the kraut jar, and transfer it to the refrigerator. You can also experiment with fermenting it for longer as long as you keep a close eye on the liquid level. If too much water has evaporated, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with 1/3 cup filtered water and pour this into the jar.

Some Resources


The Future of Food

The GMO Trilogy


Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson


Local Harvest

Saturday, August 4, 2007


We were in rush-hour traffic limbo between suburbia and an anti-war protest. Our greasy spoon waiter looked like he'd been transplanted there from a hallucination as he nervously giggled through our order. He entered our ticket into the computer and pivoting back, asked us what we would do if it was the end of the world (whatever that meant to us). We all talked about it and he said, "You ask me why I ask," (we didn't)--dramatic pause--"No reason." There was a moment of innocence where we were all naked together. Bemused, we all set out for San Francisco. At the rally, a guy approached us, and we got into an intimate discussion on what is freedom and what is the root of war and how can we co-exist, considering our differences. None of us really had an agenda beyond listening to each other. We found out later that he was a communist. My little sister (being homeschooled with a Christian curriculum) turned to me and said, "Sis, he's a communist? My books describe them almost like demons. He was nice." There are those moments, when the world as we conceive it drops away, and we are as children, meeting each other.

These are my heroes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

With the Heart

I remember, growing up, hearing that elephants had small brains—that they were unintelligent. There were even jokes about elephants being afraid of mice! Over the years that's been disproved. Yet even today the myth prevails that animals (and children!) don't experience pain or discomfort. Or at least that they're not likely to remember it! I think that minimizes their experience.

Why, just the other day on the t.v. show Mythbusters, Adam and Jamie were testing the myth that goldfish only have a three second memory. People justify giving them such small fishbowls because, by the time they make it all the way around, the scenery will be brand new again!

Jamie first trained his fish to associate a certain color with food. I think it was orange. Once he had accomplished that, he set up a system of separators in the tank with orange holes in varying levels of the walls. This created a maze. At the end was their food. Now, they'd have to be motivated by their memory and conditioning long enough to make it through the maze—and they did! Well, this is not "hard" science, but from my observations, they hit on a truth: that goldfish are smarter than we give them credit for.

So what about our other house pets? What credit do we give them? Sure, having pets gives you a greater understanding of their intelligence and emotional capacity. But do we really consider their needs? Or are they just there for us? They are descendent from wild creatures and share some of their ancestors' characteristics. So let's look at dogs. They were descended from wolves. Wolves are pack creatures, and this is a degree of sociability. What about cats? Besides lions, most are solitary creatures. How does this translate in our pets?

I used to be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind pet owner. I'd make sure they had food and water when I left for work at 7:30 and gave them love when I returned at 5:30. What did they do all day? I wasn't there, but they slept, probably. All I knew was that they were healthy and happy when I got home. However, now I work at home, and that's changed my vantage point tremendously. Now, at 7:30, I can tell when people have left for work by the sounds of dogs' plaintive howling in the neighborhoods. I can see that my cats, through domestication, are much more social than I had thought. In fact, they follow me around the house all day and either "talk" to me when they want to be pet or sleep near me. And one cat, who used to be very antisocial and ill-tempered, has become affectionate!

So, I'm not advocating against pets. They are great teachers. Among other things, they teach us unconditional love and that the world is not homo-centric. However, I don't even work at an animal shelter, but I have crossed paths with numerous abandoned animals. It makes me both angry and sad. Just because animals descended from wild ancestors doesn't mean that they can return to the same life in our modern jungle. They have been domesticated and tamed. So, what I am advocating for is to think before you get a pet. It is a reciprocal relationship. Can you create the environment necessary to fulfill their needs? If they are social creatures, and you will be gone most of the day, can you get two? Do you have the patience and time to train them and socialize with them? If they become ill, can you care for them? Are you willing to be responsible for them for their life spans?

In The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, the fox says it best when explaining to the little prince what taming something means….

"My life is very monotonous. I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back to the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat….One only understands the things that one tames. Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore….It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye….Men have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."

Can you really respect and advocate for these creatures who do not speak our language? Our pets may be teaching us this universal language of the heart. Are we ready to listen?