Both sets of my grandparents had a wonderful garden growing up; I took it slightly for granted. Now, I think back and imagine walking around there in foodie heaven. Grandma tended her vegetables and melons for hours (it seemed) a day and would send us home with a variety of produce (the same grandparents that provide us with beef from their farm). I think she tended to the garden when she was taking a break from mowing, not one of her favorite activities…they have a lot of land. She calls it a “never-ending job.” Any given summer day, you can spot her mowing (and hear grandpa in the shop or field), if she’s looking, you can expect a wave. I grew up next to their farm, their nearest neighbor.
My other grandparents had a great garden too-I was lucky. They had strawberries, gooseberries, green beans, tomatoes and more. They also had marigolds, my grandpa’s choice but grandma was not so fond of the flower-I remember a small war about this. On many a visit, we would walk around their property checking on the progress of their plants and flowers, snacking from their grapevine. Some of our landscape came from both sides of the family- along with an appreciation for tending and learning about plants and flowers.
If you couldn’t find me, as a youngster, I was probably eating the berries in the garden or taking the Tupperware from grandma’s cabinets. I once locked my grandma out of the house, when I was a toddler, while she went to the compost pile but that’s another story. I can easily say that nothing tastes as wonderfully simple as a sun ripened strawberry, especially if you’re sharing it with your grandpa or another loved one. Greg told me that he used to do the same thing in his grandma’s patch. We were meant to be.
My parents have a garden (or they will again), my dad put up a greenhouse. Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch (writers, horticulturists and organic farmers) are his idles. Check them out here at their Four Season Farm in Maine, where they have virtually eliminated the winter season to grow their produce. They are fascinating! I wrote to them months ago, asking if they could send my dad a letter (and they did-thank you!) because as a family, we used to watch their show ‘Gardening Naturally.’ I didn’t know it then but it has had an impact on me for life. I wanted to let them know that we are fans.
I told them how my pops, a part-time farmer/raised on a farm, has always envied and respected their practices. If you want to see some footage of their operation, I came across this clip on hulu (from one of my favorite shows-Diary of a Foodie from the dearly departed magazine Gourmet): Living Off the Land.
I can’t wait to live by my own cultivating hand and from the hands of similar others, in what is often termed the ‘slow food movement’ or eating locally, which has actually been something we’ve been a part of for as long as I can remember-it wasn’t until a few years ago that I knew they even had a term for such a way of life. It’s harder today, being away from family and in a new place, but I’m getting to the point where I know where to go and who to ask locally about the character of the land. That could mean driving farther, which seems contradictory and spending more money, which is a large factor for the level of support we can provide, but we try.
Last week I was loving Martha Stewart’s website, looking for simple, healthy recipes. I found quite a few that I will be making over the next month. For any regular readers, you know how desperate I am for spring to arrive and the opening of the farmer’s market in town. I think these recipes reflect the future of the dishes I will be sharing-simple, local ingredients and healthy- not that I won’t have anything beyond that but the goal is to take advantage of the local produce. I’m particularly excited about the woman I call “the chicken lady” at the market, she would’ve been handy with this dish: Chicken Stir-Fry. I changed this to be over steamed rice instead of as a lettuce wrap. You can do either way and I also added more steamed veggies (although not in the picture). Delicious!
Chicken Stir-Fry from Martha
1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, halved horizontally and sliced thin
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
1 large red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced thin
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger (I used ginger paste)
¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 ½ tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tbsp water
steamed rice and/or 12 to 16 lettuce leaves (2 heads of Boston perhaps)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, add 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add the chicken (might need to cook in 2 batches) and cook until opaque, about 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
In the same skillet, add the remaining oil, onion and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is tender and golden, about 6 minutes. You might need to reduce the heat if the onion is browning rather quickly. Reduce the heat to medium; add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, for about a minute-until fragrant. Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar and cornstarch mixture, remove from the heat. Add the cooked chicken, toss and serve with rice, maybe more steamed vegetables and/or lettuce for wraps.