resourceful hands, all-the-greens interchangeable pesto

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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.

 

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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
  1. Place the greens, nuts or seeds, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse to combine until the mixture becomes a rough paste.
  2. 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.
  3. Add the optional spices to give it a different flavor spin.
My favorite combinations thus far:
  • 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

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Beets, Tahini, Flatbread + Lentils

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Shannon and Anneke walked in to the kitchen and immediately curled their noses. Bec! You’re stinking up the house. After lifting the lid on the pot, they were even more disgusted. Beets! Gross!

 

An hour later, Shannon at least, was singing a different tune: I love beets! Beets, beets, beets. Let’s eat beets. For months afterwards, the subject of beets made their way into many a conversation, joke, and non-sensical late night roommate Facebook exchange. They even made their way into our school life as Shannon and I sat in our farming class plotting how to make more money than all the other students on our hypothetical farm. Our proposed course of action was growing and selling beets, of course.

 

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I have long since forgotten what sort of meal became of the beets that day when Shannon and Anneke walked in, but I’ve no doubt vegetables took center stage. Anneke, Shannon, and Kaci embraced my fondness for all things vegetable as whole heartedly as any semi-normal 20-something college person could, with only the expected amount of jabbing. My fondness for the full spectrum of produce even made it into Anneke and Kaci’s toast for my wedding.

 

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I’m going ‘home’ in a few days to celebrate family and Christmas and to perform my semi-annual reset in the farmhouse sunroom, where I will take in the dazzling morning light, open spaces, and cows over morning porridge. I’m super excited about a few things, and one of them is having a dinner party with Shannon and our fams. Last time we held a party, I was on a Middle-Eastern-themed-beet-tangent as well, so I made beet hummus and rose-flavored everything. I have come full circle as far as flavor combinations go so these beet flatbreads just might make an appearance. Luckily for me, I will be welcomed in to perfume Shannon’s home with the aroma of roasting beets.

 

Clearly, stinking up our house that winter afternoon was the right thing to do.


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Beets, Flatbread, Tahini + Lentils, serves 4-6
There are many components to this recipe, making it somewhat labor-intensive. All the separate components save the flatbread can be made ahead and then reheated to eat with freshly made flatbread. On a rushed day, use purchased pita-type bread to serve instead. 

Lentils
1 cup lentils
3 cups water
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. cumin
salt to taste

Roasted Beets
10 medium-size beets, tops and bottoms removed 

Lemon-Tahini Cream
2 Tbs. tahini
1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
2-4 Tbs. water (as needed)
1 small garlic clove
Salt and pepper, to taste

Flatbread, adapted from Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread
1 Tbs. chia seeds
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup garbanzo & fava flour
3/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbs. honey
3/4-1 cup warm water

Hazelnuts + Toppings
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
dash of ground allspice
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/8 tsp. salt
Dried dill, for sprinkling
Dried rose petals, for sprinkling

  • Bring lentils and water to boil in a medium saucepan. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  • Halve or quarter beets. In a large piece of foil, wrap all of the beets and roast in an oven, preheated to 400 degrees F, for 45-60 minutes. Check part way through for doneness, by opening up the foil bundle and stabbing with a fork. The beets should be tender all the way through. When done, remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then, slice them into smaller pieces.
  • For the Lemon-Tahini Cream, puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Add additional water or lemon juice, to reach the desired taste and consistency.
  • In a small sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add spices and bay leaves and cook until the spices start to smell warm and toasted, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts and salt. Set aside.
  • To make the flatbread, soak the chia seeds in the ½ cup water for at least 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the flours, flax seeds, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, honey, ¾ cup warm water and chia-mixture. Stir together and then add this liquid mix to the dry ingredients. Stir until it comes together with a wooden spoon. The dough should be fairly wet, so add more water if needed. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. While the skillet is heating, divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll out each one on a counter, using brown rice flour to keep it from sticking. Each piece should be roughly 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about getting them perfectly symmetrical. As each piece of dough is rolled out, transfer to the skillet and cook on each side for about 4 minutes. Some of the edges will brown and crisp up; this is normal. As each flatbread is done, transfer to a warm oven until they are all cooked.
  • To serve, spread tahini cream onto the flatbread, top with lentils, sliced beets, and hazelnuts. Garnish with rose petals and dill.

The Big Picture + Rainbow Salad

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I’ve been keeping journals since I was at least 10 and I’ve held on to each one, lining them up on a shelf, displayed prominently in our living space. Every once in a while, I pull one off the shelf and read through a few pages. Some are light and comical. Others are filled to the brim with quotes and encouragements, the next with lonely prose. They provide a glimpse into the mind of a typical teenager/21yearold/postcollegegirl. Whatever the mood, they give me incite into the journey towards my present state of mind.

I get a kick out of the 2003-04 journal. Its pages encapsulate the internal chatter of a high school girl–the stream of consciousness about various crushes, the silly happenings that mean nothing and consume her days.

Next there is an entire journal of syrupy poetry that can rival any T. Swift song. It slams me back in the moment of that first year in college, those neighbors and dates I had so quickly forgotten.

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Then there is the 2007 journal and my heart breaks for that girl. One after another, the pages ring out her longing for affirmation, even as the experiences she captured illustrate it was so obviously there, for the taking. That girl couldn’t see her friends, her family, her peers reaching out to her, proclaiming their support, admiration, respect. She couldn’t see past her own insecurities and struggles to figure out where she stood in the grand scheme of things.

Looking back, I feel a world apart from that girl and I’m glad she made it through. As I read through the pages again, I also feel an uncomfortable nudge of awareness. Just as we are all works in progress, that girl of 2007 hasn’t entirely conquered all her battles in the now of 2014.

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I still push and expect too much of myself. I want to accomplish it all, get everything right, make the process seem effortless even though I’ve kicked major ass to get here. I’m overcome by self doubt in the moment of making a decision and put off making big ones, big life changing ones, for months and years, all the while stewing about them. I seek clarification that I am enough.

When I talk to my friends and peers, I am reminded I’m not alone in these feelings. I’m reminded that it is okay to fail, good even, and optimism and determination go a long way in helping to get back to work. Progress is slow and there’s a big picture. Life is lived in each moment on the way to our destination.

You can be transformed. Not overnight, but over time…We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now.  -Scott Jurek
 

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As I reflect back on the journey–the life phases spilling out over the pages of my journals, I’m better able to see the progress, the intricate beautiful details that make up these moments we are in. I’m better able to pause, grab a deep hug and a cup of tea, and celebrate this phase–this spot in my timeline–and stop worrying so much about the getting there.

Today I’m telling the girl of 2007 and the lady of here and now–and you, my friend reading this: You are loved. You are enough. You don’t have to have it all together. Focus on the step you’re on. You will get there.

You can be transformed. That’s the big picture.

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Rainbow Salad, Inspired by Green Kitchen Stories
This salad is a celebration of what is in season and available where I live right now. I often make salads like this one that contain whatever vegetables are in the fridge or are available at the farmers market. This one has carrots, fennel, and easter egg radishes along with spinach, mint, and parsley. Fennel stalks, left over from another meal, are particulary good when chopped like celery and roasted. Reserve the frilly fronds and use them as a garnish. 
 
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
1/4 cup uncooked wild rice
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
Stalks from one fennel bulb, chopped into 1-inch pieces, fronds reserved
3-4 carrots, peeled and chunked
1 bunch radishes, quartered
1 drizzle balsamic vinegar
1 drizzle extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup raw walnuts
2-4 cups spinach leaves
large handful parsley
handful of mint leaves
1-2 Tbs. raw honey
1-2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4-1/2 cup of quick-pickled red onions
more balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
  • In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups water and rinsed brown and wild rice. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes until cooked. Set aside to cool.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a baking dish, combine fennel stalks, carrots and radishes. Drizzle and toss with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until nearly soft. In the last five minutes, toss in the walnuts, and let them roast together with the vegetables. Take from the oven and set aside to cool.
  • In a large serving dish, toss the rice mixture, garbanzo beans, roasted vegetables, and the remaining herbs, leaves, and additions. Add more honey, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top with diced fennel fronds.
Quick-Pickled Onions
1 large red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar, maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar
  • In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, bay leaf, cloves, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add the onion slices, stir, and remove from the heat.
  • Once slightly cool, transfer the mixture to a quart jar or another glass container and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours before using.
  • They will keep for about a week and can add an awesome tangy flavor to all sorts of things!