I vividly remember mornings at my grandparents in the north, my dad’s parents, who we visited less regularly growing up. Specifically, I remember mashed-potato cakes in the morning for breakfast, their perfect fluffy rounds composed of leftover mash from the night before. There was something special about the resourcefulness of meals at my grandparents–how my dad and grandpa had trout on summer mornings, freshly caught in a pre-breakfast fishing trip to the creek, how the milk and eggs came from their cow and chickens, and how my grandma’s large garden to the back of the house sustained them long past their garden season.
In those days, we ate fairly similarly at home. But I had more respect for the ingredients that went into meals at my grandparents–even when I still hated the milk, refused to go near the trout, and was just as picky an eater there as at home.
Though I may not have wanted to partake in some of the foods that made up my grandparents’ lifestyle, in that pre-teen phase of wonderment, I loved sitting in the corner chair at the tiny table tucked into the kitchen, watching my grandma turn random assortments into a meal, listening to my grandpa spin yarns about his neighbors, his fingers cozied around his coffee cup, my dad nodding along.
In those early years before computers or smartphones or big screens to numb the mind and overwhelm the senses, I learned the art of quiet observation in small corners of rooms with the adults. In those rooms, where there is nary a sibling or cousin or similarly-aged friend in my memory, I watched, listened, and learned. I have always been fascinated by hands and it is the hands that I vividly remember, making it all happen. Hands flipping the potato cakes in the frying pan, the grease popping and squeaking. The hands swirling and lifting the coffee cup and setting it down again. The hands bringing in the basket of just-gathered eggs. The hands that helped mine push the creaky old elevator button leading to the farmhouse basement for another jar of jam. In observing those wiser hands throughout those early years, I like to think I learned to appreciate resourcefulness, of using what was had, and turning near-waste into something worth having.
I am not so naïve as to think the resourceful way of life practiced by my grandparents and parents then was born out of an extreme desire for some romantic farmy lifestyle. It was a way of life because it was what they knew, it was what they had, and it was how they (and we) survived economically.
William and I mutually agreed to forego gifting each other at many holidays over these past few years and we had to gently explain to friends and relatives why we were not willing to purchase certain items that might have seemed basic. But we didn’t scrap on our willingness to really pay the people who engage in the hardest of hand work to feed us. I am more willing to spend on food than these people I learned from, but I still hold tightly to their lessons on resourcefulness. I choose more expensive produce without complaint–but I damn well better try to use the whole vegetable. I like to think this comes as a result of all those quiet, watchful learnings growing up until it has become simply what I do–and every item we throw away goes somewhere.
When faced with carrot tops, radish or turnip greens, and other random herbs, I’ve spent the last few years finding ways to make them useful. My mom and grandma have chickens to eat their vegetable scraps. I have an ancient–but still working–food processor.
And that is how freezer-containers full of eclectic pesto combinations happened.
All-the-Greens Interchangeable Pesto, adapted from Gena Hamshaw
The Recipe Redux theme this month is freezer meals. Whenever I have more greens or herbs than I know what to do with, I turn them into pesto and toss the container in the freezer. This recipe is one of my favorites because it is so versatile and I can make it using whatever I have. It also makes for a simple and quick meal. Our standard busy day go-to is spaghetti with pesto, but I’ve swirled it into grain bowls, spooned it atop toasts and pizza crusts, and even thinned it out to make a quick and tasty dressing for green salad. Try a few different combinations. Use up those herbs and greens.
- 2 cups tightly packed greens (radish/kale/parsley/cilantro/basil/mint/turnip/etc.)
- 1/2 cup nuts or seeds, toasted
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (large flake) or 2 tsp. powder
- ground black pepper, smoked paprika, or red pepper flakes, to taste
- Place the greens, nuts or seeds, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse to combine until the mixture becomes a rough paste.
- Turn the motor on and drizzle in the olive oil and water. Add the salt, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast, and pulse a few more times to combine.
- Add the optional spices to give it a different flavor spin.
- Carrot Tops, Sunflower Seeds + Smoked Paprika
- Basil + Pumpkin Seeds
- Radish Greens + Almonds
- Mint, Cashews + Green Chile
- Cilantro + Radish or Turnip Greens, Pumpkin Seeds, Cumin, Coriander, Red Pepper Flakes + Lime