Saturday, June 7, 2014

20 Locally Grown Weeks, Week 2: Garlic Scape Pesto

I had been hearing that you can make pesto from garlic scapes for a long time, but this is the first time I tried it. WHY did I wait so long?! It was delicious and the kids really enjoyed it. Dora often complains that true basil pesto is too spicy (from the raw garlic), but garlic scape pesto is milder, and stays green! 

The recipe I found called for pine nuts and parmesan like a traditional basil pesto, but I used what I had on hand. I rarely use pine nuts because they are just so stinking expensive (although they are, of course, delicious). I found cashews to be just right, adding the butteriness that you usually get from pine nuts. 

I rarely measure anything when making pesto - just go for it until the consistency and taste is right (requires tasting as you go). 

Use as you would any pesto - ours went into pasta with halved cherry tomatoes, grilled sausage, and a little pasta water. Mmmm. 

Garlic Scape Pesto (adapted from Food52)

In a mini-food processor combine:

1 bunch garlic scapes, sliced
1/2 cup (or so) roasted cashews (I like the "not too salty" cashew pieces from Trader Joe's) 
1/2 cup (or so) grated Asiago 
olive oil (until it reaches the right consistency) 
freshly ground black pepper 

Keeps in the fridge for a week-ish. 

Bonus: This week I also made Minestrone Soup with Collards and White Beans. I used this recipe, subbing in chicken broth for the water. Also I pureed some of the beans with some water (instead of smashing with a spoon). 

Monday, June 2, 2014

20 Locally Grown Weeks, Week1: Napa Cabbage 2 ways

This post is late. Oops. But let's not let that get us too off schedule - I made a delicious garlic scape pesto tonight that I can't wait to share! 

For now, we'll return to last week with 2 great Napa Cabbage recipes. I know - I'm whimping out a little because Napa Cabbage is such an easy ingredient to work with (I think). It's great sliced thin and turned into a salad or slaw, or tossed into a stir fry with ground pork, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. But I made two different salads last week that are worth sharing here. 

One final note: I am no chef. I am definitely not a recipe writer. I'm a recipe reader, though. I love to read recipes and often do just for entertainment. I've gotten good at (usually) choosing ones that work well, making small adjustments that will suit my family, and adapting them to what we have on hand. So, I'm not promising to present original recipes here - just sharing what's working for us, what changes I've made, and illustrating things along the way. 

Recipe 1: Shredded Napa Cabbage Salad with Radishes, Golden Raisins, and Dijon Dressing (click link to view) 

We had this as a side dish with ... wait for it ... hot dogs and corn on the cob for Memorial Day. The kids thought it was kind of spicy (Napa Cabbage and radishes both have a bit of bite) but I have to say this is one of my new favorite ways to use radishes. I always think radish slices in salad are too much, but using matchsticks was perfect. 

Added bonuses: 

  • While we had the grill hot, I grilled some chicken cutlets to cut up and add to salads through the week. I added leftover grilled chicken to this salad the next day and it was even better than the day before. 
  • This recipe calls for fresh chives. When I have a new recipe calling for fresh herbs in summer, if I don't already have it growing in my garden, I just buy a pot at the store and plant them for use all summer (or longer if they winter over). 

Recipe 2: Next we enjoyed the second half of our Napa Cabbage as a slaw with fish. The original recipe called for salmon, but I'm honestly not a big salmon fan so I used tilapia (sorry - I know there are tilapia haters out there). 

Napa Cabbage Slaw with Curry Dusted Fish (adapted from Martha Stewart) 

1/2 head Napa Cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced 
3 - 4 carrots, shredded 
a handful of fresh mint leaves (don't plant this in your garden. I learned the hard way. I tore it all out last year and it's already back in my garden) 
1/4 cup-ish fresh lime juice
2 Tbs olive oil 

tilapia filets
2 teaspoons curry powder
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 

Combine the cabbage, carrots, and torn mint leaves, then dress with a mixture of lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat broiler. Season fish with salt and pepper, then rub all over with curry powder. Place on a lightly oiled, broil-proof pan and broil until it's done - which means watching it like a hawk and taking it out pronto so it doesn't get overcooked. 

I served this with rice. The next day the slaw was even better, again delicious topped with grilled chicken. 

Thanks for reading! More to come later this week and beyond!! 


Monday, May 26, 2014

the launch of 20 Locally Grown Weeks: our CSA experience

When Dora was a baby, I had a conversation with a colleague whose child is close to Dora's age. He was boastfully telling me how she had never seen Elmo. "She has no idea who Elmo is!" This was because, apparently, he and his wife were the only parents in the history of the world to uphold their pre-baby, "our kids will not watch TV" plans. 

Moments later, our conversation shifted to food, and he explained that his daughter's favorite food was a can of Chef Boyardee. Luckily, my inner voice that had been berating me for the brain damage I had already caused to poor baby Dora by allowing her to watch TV paused just long enough for me to absorb this statement. "Well," I offered, "Dora might know who Elmo is, but she definitely does not know Chef Boyardee."

And so went an early lesson in parenting - we all have different, and equally valid, goals and aspirations as parents. For some people, what their children do (or do not) watch on TV is more important than the toys they play with or the food they eat. There are so many battles in parenthood, you can't face them all. In our family, food wins. Yes, my children watch TV. But, most nights, we eat something homemade. Not saying that is right or better than the alternative, nor am I saying we always eat perfectly, it's just what we choose to try to do well most of the time

One way food wins for us is that we have been members of the Flying Cloud Farm CSA for years - so many I've lost count, but farm owner Annie and I figure it might be as many as six or seven. That's 20 weeks every May through October of Western North Carolina's freshest produce, grown, nurtured, and harvested right from this beautiful mountain land by our friends and neighbors in Fairview. Being a member of a CSA has made me grow and expand as a home cook, and has helped us connect more fully to our home and community. It has helped me get into a routine with shopping, meal planning, and cooking that works well (usually) for our family. And, for the most part, my kids do well with eating their vegetables, in part because they have no other choice. 

I have my faults with this, of course. I'm not a big fan of yellow squash, but they grow plentifully in Western North Carolina. Kohlrabi? Yes, it baffles me. And turnips are low on my list of priorities. 

But, this year, I'm upping the ante on using the contents of our CSA box in delicious and creative ways. I love food, cooking, and photography, so this year I'm launching "20 Weeks" where I'm going to (try) to share photos, recipes, successes, and failures from this experience. Thanks for joining me on this adventure! I hope to share something that you enjoy. 

If you're a social media whiz you can follow this project on Instagram, hashtag 20LocallyGrownWeeks. 

I know. A hashtag for my project. Please forgive me. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

long in time

Dora did not have school again today, so I made up some little math word problems for her. If Oscar has two trucks, and daddy gives him three more trucks, how many trucks does Oscar have? She spent a good part of the day working on these. I have to remember this the next time she says to me, in her whiniest, teenager voice, "I don't know what to dooooooo!"

So, here's a word problem for you: 

Oscar is 2 and a half. Dora is 6 and a half. 2.5 + 6.5 = 9. I have 9 years of kid between the two of them. 

You know what else I have 9 years of? Missing my mother, who died 9 years ago today. 

At first when I realized this today I thought this would be true forever, that every year my children's ages would add up to the number of years since my mother's death. But in doing the math on a piece of paper now, it doesn't. Next year, if I don't include the half years, it does add up (3+7 = 10). But the following year, 4+8 = 12. Someone smarter than I, a mathematician or a statistician, could tell me what, if anything, this means. I guess it's just a little coincidence, a little oddity that happens when stars (or something) align. I'm not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved. It seemed like a morbid, freak-show kind of thing at first, and then it seemed like a bit of a comforting oddity, like the cowlick at the base of Dora's neck that she inherited directly from me. 

Regardless, I guess it's me trying to find some pattern, order, or level of understanding in this chaotic and desolate landscape of grief I find myself 9 years into. It's this crazy, elastic, unpredictable space that comes and goes, waxes and wanes, and evolves in ways I didn't know possible. Nine years later and I still have days where it feels like it happened THIS MORNING. I have days where I can still feel exactly how much dread I felt driving down the driveway away from my parent's house, knowing I would never again return to that place with my mother alive. I have days where my jealousy that my kids don't get to know their grandma is alive like another person in the room, standing in the corner up against the wall, a bit out of sight but there just the same. 

Dora, in her old age, has become increasingly perceptive about my feelings about my mom. Simultaneously she is also very curious about death, I think, and talks a lot about Grandma Carol in heaven, about how much I miss my mommy, about how sad she is not to meet her, and about how sad she will be when I die. She has even suggested that, when I die, I'll get to see my mother again. I know much of that is her mirroring my emotions - after all, she has seen me cry openly about my mother on many occasions - but I also have to believe that, in some way, this open dialogue she and I share about grief and love between mothers and daughters is influencing her own understanding of love and it's power. I want, I need, her to believe that our love lasts forever. 

I believe that it does and, also, I struggle to believe that the love between my mom and I lasts forever. I know mine is still going strong, but I don't always feel whether or not that love is getting picked up on the other end, or that it's being returned. I have faith and I'm a Christian and all that jazz, but when you lose someone you love like this - well, you WANT to believe they're on the other end of the love you send to them. You WANT to feel them watching over you, you WANT to sense their presence. But, my friends, it isn't that simple - at least not for me. She's no Casper on my shoulder. She's in my heart, yes, but I seldom - if ever - feel the love coming back to me. I want to believe that she's out there in the universe or in heaven or in God reflecting that light back to me, but, honestly, the signal ain't coming through. 

And here I am in that rubbery landscape of grief and I've found a whole new area I didn't know existed. That's what's so shitty about death - the person still living simply has no proof of whether the deceased still loves them. We want to believe it, we really do, but the flow of love from that other person feels like it ends when they do. 

So, I want and need my little Dora - and Oscar, when he's old enough to talk about it - to know that MY LOVE for them lasts forever. That our love will keep us connected no matter what. That when we are separated by death, our hearts remain fused, our love goes on into eternity, our light shines between us forever. My own mother, though she had many great qualities, never talked about her own death - even when she was terminally ill. This was a conversation we never could have had. As a mother myself, I know how much she loved me, but she never said, "Carrie, even when I die, our love lasts forever." I really wish she had. 

Grief is a rubbery landscape and also a place where we continue to look for answers, even when we know there are none. We look for something to make sense of, even if it's that our kid's ages somehow mysteriously add up to the number of years of loss we've experienced. I keep turning over the rocks, keep looking around for some clue. I cannot make sense of this, but at least I keep asking. At least I keep feeling it, at least I can still cry about it. If I lose that, well, then she would be even more lost to me. If I ever stopped exploring this landscape at least a little, it feels like I'd be closing the door on my relationship with my mother forever. Feeling the sadness, at least, feels a little like life, and a lot like love. 

9=long in time

May my connection to you, mama, be long in time...

Always, your girl 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

It was a perfect fall afternoon here - cool but sunny, windy with a bright blue sky. We're in that space where Mother Nature straddles two seasons, where the leaves skitter by on the pavement while the orange Mexican sunflowers continue to bloom in my garden. It was cool enough tonight for a warming meal, and warm enough to grab handfuls of fresh herbs from the garden after walking the dog. 

If I were Italian, I could call these Nona's Meatballs. But, I come from a line of skinny German, Welsh, and Irish people, with a bit of Cherokee tossed in. Nonetheless, these are the best meatballs I've ever made, good enough to write down. 

For this recipe, I use my mini-food-processor several times. You can do this stuff by hand, of course, but I love that little food processor - I use it all the time to shortcut chopping onions, for example. A knife works fine too! 


Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

1 pack plain Melba toast (4-5 crackers)
a few sprigs each of fresh thyme, oregano, and basil 
1 small onion
4 small garlic cloves
grated Pecorino Romano
1 egg
1 pound ground beef 
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree 
1 28 ounce can tomato sauce 
1 pound spaghetti 

1. Toss the Melba toast into the mini-food-processor and pulse until crumby. Or, smash with a heavy rolling pin. If you don't want to do this, substitute bread crumbs (I didn't have any on hand, and found the Melba toast to be really delicious). 

2. Pull all of the leaves off the herbs and toss together in a small bowl. It's fine to leave the basil leaves whole for now. Using the mini-food-processor, finely chop the onion and garlic. Scoop out half of the onion/garlic mixture from the food processor and set aside in another bowl. Toss in half the whole fresh herbs, and pulse again to make a finely chopped mixture of deliciousness (garlic+onion+herbs). Set aside the leftover chopped onion/garlic and remaining whole herbs for the sauce. 

Put up a pot of salted water to boil. 

3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Then, stir in the garlic/onion/herb mixture, about half of the melba toast crumbs (or a little more) and a small handful of grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beef and smash it up with your hands until mixed. Meatball recipes always say "don't overmix!" and I have overlistened to this advice. Take it easy, but don't be afraid either. Divide into 16 or so evenly-sized meatballs. 

4. Heat a few Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Sautee the remaining chopped onion/garlic for a few minutes until fragrant, then add all of the crushed tomatoes in puree and about half the tomato sauce (or more, if you like it really saucy). Season with salt and pepper, tear up the remaining basil leaves, and toss the fresh herbs into the pasta. Totally fine if they are just torn up and uneven. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add meatballs, spoon sauce over, cover, and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through (10-15 minutes). Add a bit more of the tomato sauce if you feel like it needs it.

5. Cook the spaghetti while the meatballs are simmering. When all is ready, toss together, top with some more cheese, and enjoy! Tastes especially good when the kids ask for seconds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

light of my life

There are things in this life that can't be fathomed or understood or even truly seen until you experience them yourself. Swimming in the ocean, falling in love, eating a really great meal, biking a beautiful trail, losing a parent, having a baby. I remember being pregnant the first time, the first day I found out, lying in bed awake that night, terrified by the fact that somehow this baby would have to get out of my body. I devoured birth stories and information for the next nine months, only to have my own unique and completely unexpected (and amazingly beautiful) birth experience - unlike any I had read about. 

Then once you have the baby, you are completely unprepared for how you feel - the intense love, the terror, and the exhaustion. I cried that first week at every meal, thinking that my days of enjoying food without a crying infant in my arms were over. And as every parent knows, there is one comment you will hear over and over and over again once you are out in public with your new little one, your ticket into the parenthood club. "Enjoy it while you can, it goes by so fast!" is helpfully offered to you by every grocery store clerk, elderly man in church, and austere businesswoman on the street. Anyone whose child is at least a week older than yours will offer this advice.

Tonight, 6 years after I first entered the world of parenthood, blinking my eyes as I emerged from the darkness into bright light, while clutching my newborn babe to my chest, I can tell you this is absolutely true. It goes by in the blink of an eye. One day you're trying to get your worn out eyes to focus on the beautiful face of your newborn and the next you're struggling to carry her long, lanky body to bed. One day you're trying out rice cereal and the next day she's trying out make-up. You can't even imagine it until you see it for yourself, until you watch the way it all unfolds in the mere blink of an eye. 

I suspect though that we parents experience the lives of our children in this time-compressed way for a reason. It serves a physiological purpose, for sure - intense growth and development is a normal part of the life of babies of most (if not all) species. But maybe it happens this way to protect our hearts a little, too. There is so much intensity in this love, so much power in it, maybe we have to keep moving through it fast so as not be consumed entirely. Maybe the days have to burn past like rays of the sun so our hearts don't combust, don't catch fire like dry blades of grass. Maybe it's like running across hot coals, where you save your feet (a little) by going as fast as you can. It's just too much for any of us to handle, so we have to get it over fast - like ripping off a bandaid. 

It still hurts like hell, though. My heart breaks a little as I watch both of my kids grow so fast, feel there grip on my hand lessen just a bit each day. I hope I've done a good enough job. I hope I've savored it enough. I hope I've written about it enough and taken enough photographs. I hope I will always remember every detail of the day Dora was born, looking through photos of her birth and remembering what it felt like. I hope I'll always remember how, right before she was delivered, everything seemed to pause. I looked out the window and saw the afternoon sun glowing against the mountains, realizing that the world was still going on outside, even if it felt like time and space had stopped for my little, growing family. I hope I'll always remember the smell of the top of Oscar's head, or the way he sounds when he says "mama". I hope I'll still be happy when all of this is said and done, when the kids are grown and moved away. I hope I'll be the kind of mom they want to come home to, whose cooking they miss, who they call regularly without being reminded. 

I hope, most of all, that these babies know how much I love them. I tell them both every day, over and over and over again. But here's the thing about life - they won't know. They can't, not until they have babies of their own. When my mother died, I called the bookstore where she last worked to tell them. The man who answered the phone, the store manager, said, "you were the light of her life, you know?" I knew that then, but not really. I didn't really understand it, didn't really know what it meant, until August 4, 2007. That day, my heart broke open, and the light of my life arrived. 

Happy 6th birthday, beautiful girl, light of my life. I love you more than you can possibly understand for now.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

in a spring garden

This is the first year I've really felt good about my garden. Now, that being said, I have a few caveats. One is that I've enjoyed many, many small successes in gardening over the years: morning glories that took off at my apartment in Athens, Ohio; potted plants cheering many a front porch and entryway; a thriving peony transplanted from my dad's garden. I've got a few really hardy, flourishing lavender plants (my favorite herb), and my day lilies are pretty spectacular. The other caveat is that, though I'm pretty happy, we have a long way to go. We're reworking all of the landscaping right now, replanting the beds on the side of the house, and converting our backyard to sod and a fruit garden (it is currently gravel). The work appears to be endless. 

The difference this year is that I'm accepting that it's endless. If I do even one small gardening thing each day - even if its just deadheading something or making sure everything is watered - that's enough. All these years I've been frustrated and felt inadequate because I expected too much of myself, thought I'd have results and a full and productive garden in way less time than its taken.

There's a reason I've been so unrealistic. My mom was an exceptional gardener, and my dad still is. I grew up selling vegetables with them at the farmers market, way, way, WAY before selling at the farmers market was the cool thing to do. We sold tomatoes, beans, peppers, lettuce, herbs, and flowers, flowers, flowers. My mother grew many varieties, but some favorites were zinnias, snapdragons, globe amaranth, nicotiana, statice, cosmos, purple coneflower, sweet Annie. She would cut flowers Friday night and early Saturday morning, arranging them in old coffee cans and olive oil tins for sale at market. We would drive the flowers into town in crates in the back of our squeaky red and white Blazer, the whole car filled with the scent of plants, blooms, and earth.

With this as my backdrop, I thought I'd be a natural. After all, I literally grew up in the garden, eating raw green beans straight from the plant.

So when my first vegetable garden was an utter failure - choked with weeds, leggy and unproductive tomato plants, cucumbers and zucchini that cross-pollinated into a mushy, flavorless mess - I felt like I'd lost out, like some gardening gene that my mother surely had was lost in translation. Incidentally, her father was also a master gardener, champion roses still gracing the borders of homes he hasn't tended since well before his death 30 years ago.

Today, though, sitting in the shade, enjoying newly bloomed peonies, day lilies in full leaf, coriopsis covered in buds, I noticed Dora playing in the dirt. It struck me that perhaps gardening skill isn't what's inherited, but instead what we pass down is the desire to garden, the need to put our hands in the soil, the willingness to take a chance. It has never occurred to me before that my mother probably also had gardening failures, that there was probably also a time in her life when she wondered if Carl Brady's gardening prowess has skipped a generation. It was so freeing and forgiving for me to imagine that, to realize that perhaps there was a day, in a spring garden so many years ago, when my mom thought, "I feel good about the garden this year, finally".

It is so easy to see in ourselves only imperfection, while seeing in so many others all of the things we wish we could be and cannot. Consider this for a moment, though. In your chosen field, or in the field of your passions, imagine the master, the one you most admire, the one who appears to have it truly figured out. There was a time when they didn't know what they were doing either. Even the master was once the apprentice.

I don't know why this thought was so surprising to me, but it was. But what 's so great about it is not only that it allows me to forgive myself the garden failures, but it reminds me of my mother's humanity as well. And as I am finding now, as one whose mother has been gone for 8 years, those glimpses of her humanity are a precious and far too rare pathway to reconnection. If I can, for a moment, imagine us having the same shortcomings or uncertainties, then we are together again, even if for only a brief sliver of time. 

The new side garden will be planted soon - cleome, nicotiana, peonies - all things my mother grew. Dora and I will go out in the foggy morning to water our new plants, all of them stretching up to the heavens with spindly green arms and pink flowers. We will tend to them with gentleness and imperfection. We will spell out their names like memories.