Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas

Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas

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In our marriage counseling, William and I learned about family of origin and the long-held beliefs, values, and challenges we bring into our relationship. Like many relationships, the arguments we often have are about money. I have a vivid memory of a late-night ‘discussion’ my parents had when I was quite young, which I wasn’t supposed to overhear. It was about money, of there not being enough to make it to the end of the month, and I laid in bed that night unable to sleep, as if the panic and fear in their voices transitioned directly into my pysche and lodged there permanently.

To this day, I hate thinking about money. I’ve grown to avoid the responsibility of it in our marriage because in doing so, maybe its stresses will go away (logical, I know). I fought hard with William for years about having a credit card because despite his logic that it’s wise to build credit, I couldn’t get over the memories of watching my parents painstakingly climb out of debt from this system, of the shame of growing up eating free hot lunch at school, of wearing shoes that cost $10 from the local budget store when all my friends were wearing the trendy $100 ones.

It is interesting to me now how I never went hungry growing up (quite the opposite with a large garden and ranch) and I never lacked anything I needed. But as soon as I was able to compare myself to others, I decided that I lacked some of the trendy material things my peers had. I feel nothing but deep admiration for my parents for climbing out of a tough place and gratitude for their teachings about wise spending and saving. And I wouldn’t choose to go back and change those early circumstances even if I could. Perhaps because of my parents’ teachings, and probably more out of fear, I operate largely as if I don’t have money and jump to panicky reactions when talking about spending. It tends to create tension and resentment.

I also feel guilty and ashamed of spending on things my parents are frugal about.

 

 

Like food. I prioritize spending on food.

I volunteer for a local food action team whose mission is near and dear to my heart, to promote eating food that is grown or processed locally within a six-county region. The group’s reasons for striving for a more locavore diet are many, and I’m sure every member would answer differently as to why eating local food is important: for the local economy, for the environment, for health, etc. I like all of these reasons and more, but the one that is most important to me is the connection to a place and to a people, to feel as if I am a part of something meaningful, rather than consuming the mass-produced commodity of our time.

 

 

For most people, the largest barrier to purchasing foods grown locally is usually cost. I’ve heard it across the board from individuals I know are well-off to those that surely are not. Like the choice of what we eat, how we spend our money is highly individual and emotional. And though I choose to support people, businesses, and values I believe in, I really strive to eat frugally too. Our action team goal for the past couple years has been to promote eating ‘local on a budget,’ and I have been very interested in this topic.

I often feel like a fraud though, when I even talk about eating frugally or consuming local foods. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not overly rigid about sourcing or labels. We still have olives in our fridge from Greece, tea from China by way of Ireland, and staples in our pantry from all across the globe. A lot of my food choices have more to do with my tendency to explore one or two ingredients in a variety of ways for weeks at a time–and it often leaves less consideration for a budget and a place. William I and have been eating loads of broccoli this last month, for example, and not one of those tasty florets has come from a local farmer. Likewise, my weird current craving for coconut yogurt is not a frugal indulgence. So to help me walk the talk of eating local on a budget, I plan to share a little more of the meals in this space that help me engage in what I believe in. I hope you’ll be inspired to think about the seasonality of ingredients and recall there are persons behind our foods that worked hard to provide that nourishment–and perhaps even explore more of the local offerings in your area.

 

 

This polenta dish features raab, which can also be called rabe and rapini. If you google it, you might read that it is a unique variety related to broccoli; this is not necessarily the case to the farmers and gardeners I know. At this time in the season, all of last year’s brassica crops that have overwintered are finally telling us their time has come, the weather and light are changing, and instead of continuing to produce nice big leaves, they’re putting their energy into flowering and eventually setting seeds. So all the local farmers are selling the last of what these plants are offering as kale, sprouting broccoli, arugula, and mustard raabs. They are tasty, nutritious, and have cute little broccoli-like florets. We are currently in the three-four week window where these plants are available and they’re likely to be found from a farmer or perhaps a grocery store which sources directly from farmers.

Secondly, I used Abenaki corn polenta in this recipe, which comes from a local farmer specializing in grains and legumes. Abenaki is a heritage corn and is quite beautiful when ground, with its speckling of red and gold pieces.

Due to some dedicated farmers, this meal came almost entirely from the two counties I live and work in, and given our food action team parameters of an $8 meal for a family of four, can be counted as ‘local on a budget’ as well. Lastly, it is a meal I’ve made more times than I can count during the late-winter/early-spring months, and it is one I’d gladly make for all my friends.

 

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Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas, serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

3 cups vegetable stock or water

1 tsp salt

1 cup polenta

 

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoons olive oil

½ a medium onion, or 2 large leeks, minced/sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 medium bunches of raab (kale, sprouting broccoli, mustard, arugula, etc.)

2 cups cooked garbanzos

juice from ½ a lemon

pinch of salt

 

Directions:

  • Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan with the minced garlic. As the garlic starts to sizzle, add stock or water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until the mixture is very thick, about 30 minutes. Add additional salt to taste.
  • Meanwhile, remove the longer stems from the raab and chop into 1-2-inch pieces. Slice the leaves and florets into longer 3-4 inch pieces and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized pan, toast the red pepper flakes for 30 seconds or so over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions and cook over slightly lower heat until they begin to caramelize. Add the raab stem pieces and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes more. Then add the raab leaves and florets and let wilt, untouched for a couple minutes before stirring together. Add the garbanzos, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Stir and remove from heat.
  • Serve in a bowl, all together.

 

Simple Weeknights with Sun Basket

 

I’m sure I learned quite an extent of where and how my food is produced growing up on the ranch, but it wasn’t until I graduated high school, began working on others’ farms, and explored the full extent of farm and food systems that I was able to cement my understanding that just about every farmer, no matter how ill we might think their production practices, believes wholeheartedly in what he or she is doing, and is putting their heart, soul, and of course body into the work. For a couple summers in college, I had a wild hare to go adventuring, so sought out farmers from Vermont, Iowa, California, northwest Washington, etc. in which to work. Somehow, I never quite made it to those places, as even then I guess I knew my calling was not in becoming a farmer.

 

 

During that search for adventure and learning, I remember one distinct phone conversation with Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm, in Guinda, California. It was the summer before I began grad school, a pursuit I was admittedly on the fence about. During that phone conversation, Dru shared about the importance of agricultural educators, of which I was looking to become, and we sort of mutually came to the conclusion that since I was still planning to return to school in the fall, something in the program was drawing me over the farming venture. It’s kind of funny now to realize that one phone conversation with a nice farmer I’ve never met resolved a lot of internal uncertainty about a career path which advice from friends, family, and mentors was not able to clear up.

 

 

Even though I have since stepped away from agricultural education in the formal sense, I put a lot of store in farmers: Farmers that will have me eating turnips right out of the ground at the beginning of my first visit, farmers that will re-name the agronomist’s scheduled farm tour as Rebecca’s Farm Tour, and then spend a whole summer having me traipse along behind, explaining little details all the day(s) long, and farmers that will offer a random girl some career advice over a long-distance phone call.

 

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When Sun Basket, a new healthy meal kit service that delivers organic ingredients and delicious, easy-to-make recipes for cooking at home, contacted me about sharing some of their meals on my blog, my first desire was to look into which farms they source from. While they source from a number of farms, ranches, and sustainable fisheries, I was excited to find that Full Belly Farm happens to be one of them. Having already had a good phone chat with one of Sun Basket’s farmers was quite a nice treat.

What I like about Sun Basket, other than their super quality ingredients, is that their recipes are created by their chef who was formerly the head at a James Beard award-winning restaurant. The meals are special but not too fancy for weeknight cooking, diverse, nutritious, and always feature seasonal ingredients. There are also gluten-free, vegetarian, and paleo options each week to choose from.

 

 

Sun Basket has an in-house nutritionist, the meals take approximately 30 minutes from prep to eating, and all the ingredients are sustainably sourced from the West Coast. Keeping the need for a little more local sourcing in mind, Sun Basket meals are available to those living in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho. A subscription includes delivery of three recipes per week for two, four or six people. William and I tried two dinners and their new, two-breakfasts option. Both dinners easily stretched beyond two servings to make three to four meals for us.

We tried Indian Red Lentil + Chard Stew with Naan, Honey-Ginger Tofu with Roasted Bok Choy + Forbidden Rice, Piña Colada Smoothies, and a Baby Kale Scramble with Chermoula. Our absolute favorite was the red lentil stew (William was a big fan of the naan), but I now have all the recipes and will gladly make each one again. With every recipe, the extra mile was taken in the seasonings/herbs/sauces to make it taste special. The fact that those seasonings, herbs, and sauces all came pre-measured and prepared helped to cut down the cooking time significantly. In essence, every recipe calls for a little prepping of veg, a little hands-on cooking, and a lot of flavor at the end for the effort.

 

I can now say I’m a big fan. I recommend Sun Basket to my friends and family trying to eat a little healthier throughout the week, and I’ll recommend it to you. If you live on the west coast, Sun Basket is offering $30 off for your first week of service. Subscriptions are weekly and you can cancel any time, so you can even try it once and then decide whether you wish to continue. I guarantee, it’s a nice treat to not have to plan, shop for, and prep meals.

 

$30 off Sun Basket
Get $30 off your Sun Basket order! Organic ingredients from the best West Coast farms and easy, healthy recipes delivered weekly.

Beneath the surface, a manifesto.

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Years ago in the thick of my disordered eating days, I regularly frequented a forum on the Runner’s World site in which runners would post their daily meals. I participated a bit, but I mainly monitored what these people ate and compared my own meals to theirs. It was a terrible habit that led to nothing good. There were a few runners in other forum topics that deemed this “Nutrition and Weight Loss” forum a breeding ground for all the eating disorders to proliferate. To an extent, I agreed, as there were many runners recovering from and/or struggling with eating disorders who collected their meals there and I could see it was mostly a terrible place for me to frequent.

I’m remembering this now as I reflect on my seemingly lifelong troubled relationship with food, my body, control, and ultimately comparison. When I wrote a few months ago about my eating disorder and the idea of restriction, I shared that I have no food rules, no off-limits items (other than gluten and dairy for allergen reasons), no black and whites. I meant what I wrote.

But I need to air out a big elephant looming in the room which I get asked about, weekly. I had a hamburger in May at my niece’s birthday party, a bit of pork loin the weekend before at my in-laws, and a short handful of meals with meat since at the homes of friends and family, and even at our own table as William had been requesting that I cook a roast for weeks and I recently gave in. I didn’t necessarily feel like eating any of those meals but not wanting to be the weird, offensive one, hungry and standing out eating only fruits and vegetables, I partook. Some of those meaty bites were just fine when I stopped thinking about them, but in others I actually had to coach myself through eating.

Way before I began my disordered eating, I had issues with meat and beef in particular. Being raised on a ranch, my parents making their livelihood in cattle, beef is what is and has always been for dinner. Being the oddball in my family from the get-go, I never really developed a taste for it. Ground beef in particular has always been a struggle and there were many meals that became ordeals growing up. In my family, it was protocol to sit at the table until the plate and glass were empty. I inevitably always got to the end of the hamburger gravy and the milk in my glass, only when I had drained all the tears, spent all my stubborn rage, and finally plugged my nose and got on with it.

Throughout the years since, I’ve gone through phases of eating and barely eating meat. I attempted to be vegetarian during the days when I was avoiding foods with substantial fat and calories. Along with a few other foods, I put all meat into an off-limits category, with the idea that if I cut out an entire food group, I would not eat as much. Later, I left the country a couple times and rarely ate it because it was expensive. In the year that William and I lived apart, I barely ever cooked it. During the periods when I either actively or passively ate less meat, I did not miss it. Most of the times that it was reintroduced, it was because it was just there, our cultural norm, or I thought it was needed for a balanced diet. It was also the first food group that I was commanded to add back in to gain weight and for this reason alone, it will likely always have a lot of stigma attached.

For whatever reason in the last 18 months or so, along with the onslought of refiguring myself out that I’ve been dealing with, the idea of meat has become more of an issue again. Like when I was young, I’ve stopped enjoying the flavor and texture. A couple of months ago, I started noticing my reaction to when people ask me if I eat it, as they often do. I was emphatically answering yes, as in oh yes, definitely, of course; just not too often as I really like vegetables. I have been saying this as if I’m pleading with them to accept me as not that weird. Lately, I’ve been taking a back seat mentally in these dialogues, watching my thoughts and cataloging what is going on. After further reflection and digging beneath the surface, these experiences have me realizing a few things:

I realize that when people don’t like a food, they usually don’t make a big deal out of it. They just don’t eat it. And when they are allergic or intolerant to something, they don’t treat it as if it’s a nasty disability to be hidden. I tend to do both because I fear being an inconvenience and different. (Ironically, I have a giant individualistic streak and I like being the one doing my own thing.) I’ve spoken to William often about this and he always tells me, Look, there are foods I don’t like. And I don’t eat them. It’s okay if you don’t like meat. Just don’t eat it. His words are incredibly encouraging because I’m the one who decides what we eat most evenings and I’m especially thankful he’s okay with (mostly) foregoing it nightly and can enjoy it at meals we don’t share, or on days when he or we eat out. I am aware more than ever of where my mind goes in desiring to create “rules” to live by, to make me feel like I’m somehow in control of my circumstances. I have needed both to continue testing out meat periodically to see what the deal is mentally, and to hear William’s affirmations. More than the still-lurking-beneath-the-surface-fear of many social situations with food, I fear fixating on foods and unnecessarily labeling them good or bad. Doing so was the primary characteristic of my disordered eating days and I have no desire to retrace that path again.

Several months ago, I started reading Gena Hemshaw’s Green Recovery Stories on her blog, Choosing Raw. Gena is vegan and the green recovery stories are shared by women who have healed their relationship with food and recovered from eating disorders by adopting a vegan lifestyle. Mostly, their reasons center around reaching beyond themselves to find compassion for animals. I grew up showing and raising animals for meat and still feel substantially connected with the farming and ranching community. This closeness to the source of my food has me feeling differently than most of the ladies on Gena’s blog.

After reading many of the stories, however, I realize that I did find a similar eating lifestyle which ended up being a direct route to the beginning of healing my struggle with food. In the throes of this messed up relationship, when I feared every kind of fat and sugar and food of caloric significance, I recognized how distant I had become from the producers. Having grown up on a ranch and studying agriculture as a degree, this pained me but I could not seem to get out of it. At some point in my junior year of college, when I set out to expand my horizons by learning as much as I could about the different types of food production and farming methods, I learned of Alice Waters and Slow Food. A transition began. Shortly thereafter, I left the country and while abroad, the process was expedited due to the farm-tour-type classes and experiences I took, and the significance and national pride in eating local food that I witnessed in much of Ireland’s traditional eating patterns. After returning home and finishing school, I took the entirety of the monetary graduation gift I received from my grandparents and I went off to a cooking-farm-school for a week in remote, northeast Washington. I picked up a girl I’d met via email on the way and we carpooled the nine-hour drive, getting to know each other over Indie music and mutual interests in food and farming. That week–a week in which we began the day milking the goats, harvesting the produce for breakfast, making cheese and wood-fired, slow-fermented sourdough bread among other things–stabilized much of the healing process that had begun with learning the philosophy of Alice Waters and experiencing Ireland’s food culture.

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Growing food is incredibly difficult work. I admire all farmers. But the more I learned about all types of food production, the more I resonated with biodynamic and sustainable agriculture. It made absolute sense to me that the truly exceptional farmers focus on the soil and let the soil feed their crops. This was a slow and gradual learning process and as such, my diet and lifestyle habits changed quite gradually. The more I learned about and respected the process of food production, the more I have steered towards eating whole, minimally processed, and sustainable, organic, locally-produced foods. Making what the land around me can produce in each season the bulk of what is on my plate has been central to healing this broken relationship and can be summarized into one word: consciousness. The more farms of all types that I got my feet and eyes and hands on and into, the more I read of this book and then slowly over-hauled my diet, the better my relationship with food and my body became. I began to change my paradigm of “never” foods. I could sit down to a meal and eat without a thought for calories or nutrients or where on my body that food was going to end up. I instead focused on the flavor and on the process of what it took to get it to my plate. How many hands helped in getting it to my table? What kind of life did those people live? Would I be proud to produce that kind of food if I were the farmer? If not, why was I then supporting it as an eater? Essentially, this is the ethos of Slow Food–eating food that is good, clean, and fair. Recognizing the finite resources we take for granted and the impact of every one of our consumerist choices, learning more about the connection between the microbes in our soil and in our bodies and their subsequent impact on our health–these learnings have had a powerful impact on my recovery process. There is now much more to my relationship with food than “what’s in it for me.” And so, my diet has ended up being more or less vegan without putting particular intentionality to it since being vegan is not my focus. The more I learn of myself, the more strongly I feel that I should not be eating meat right now. I do eat eggs on rare days when they sound good but I often bake without them because it is difficult–and I enjoy a good challenge. I like honey. I am constantly learning and adapting. I make exceptions.

When I shared a big piece of my history a few months ago, one of my best friends reached out to me about being able to process and share a tough experience. She told me I was inspiring to her and to many others. Her comment meant a lot because I don’t feel like my relationship with food is one that anyone I know can relate to or draw inspiration from. Most of the time, I feel like the black sheep at the party and I want to go hide in a corner or politely decline social situations involving food. I don’t think it should have to be this way. It is okay to have different ideas and different preferences. It is okay to be the one person in the room that is eschewing social norms for their own sake. In fact, these types of people are the change makers in our society that I’ve so often looked up to. I’m sharing all of this today because perhaps there is truth in my friend’s statement. Perhaps there is a little part of my experience that can be an inspiration and sharing can make someone else’s uneasy relationship with food and body image a little less messy than my own.

When I look at where I was years ago and where I am now, I am so incredibly grateful that I can largely enjoy days and weeks of meals with little guilt, few negative thoughts, and almost non-existent calorie counting, nutrient tallying, and labeling of good, bad, and off-limits items. I feel entirely comfortable going home to visit my parents, knowing they will be supportive in whatever decisions I make and whether or not they agree. I’m also able to take eating day by day, loosening up a little and being less in control, and developing significantly less anxiety when eating meals prepared by others, especially when they are not the meals I would make for myself.

At the end of the day, I love food. I love conviviality, I love cooking for and sharing meals with others. I loved them before I ever knew what a calorie or a nutrient or a “superfood” was. I also really dislike hiding. Getting this all down makes me realize I’m incredibly close to being able to eat exclusively on my own terms, to care less about what other people think–and stop comparing–to just eat what makes me feel satisfied, roll with the phases life brings, and live a little.

Perhaps sharing my experience is not what was meant by the being-an-inspiration comment from my friend. Regardless, I think we can all be a little better off for caring less about normalcy and fitting in and more for being true to the one person we get to live with constantly–ourselves.

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Tomatoes, Basil + Peaches, on Toast. serves 2-3

This is the simplest of summery dishes, which can be thrown together in a flash and enjoyed with some sort of protein to make a full meal. We are getting nearly to the end of the peach season here, but if you can find tree and vine-ripe peaches and tomatoes from a local source, the difference is magical — and worth the wait until next season once they are gone! 

1 peach, thinly sliced

2 large juicy tomatoes, sliced

a small handful of basil leaves, finely diced

a pinch of salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

whole-grain, gluten-free bread, toasted (or good slices of whatever you prefer)

  • Combine the sliced peach and tomatoes with the basil in a large bowl.
  • Measure in the balsamic and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir to combine, and then spoon atop, crusty toasted bread.