By: Susie Zahratka
“Connecting through life experiences”
First of all, please don’t be intimidated by the title of this post. I don’t claim to be an expert gardener or cook. These two roles are just a couple that I’ve stumbled into as a means to raise a healthy family. Come to think of it, pretty much every role I have now is so outside of my comfort zone that I’m completely comfortable in being uncomfortable. I know it’s time to take on a new challenge when things begin to feel easy, or at least easier.
Let’s talk about gardening for a minute. I’m what you’d call an accidental gardener. It seemed daunting to me to really take on the whole thing. Here in Minnesota, people start planning in February with seed catalogs; planning out their crops and spacing; designing their raised beds and trellises, and eagerly counting down the days until March when the seeds can be started under grow lights. As usual, I had grand plans of doing things the “right way” this season. I even bought a book that could help me in planning a garden that would produce all season with successive plantings. However and again as usual, I completely missed those couple of months of planning. I didn’t miss them as in I longed for them. No, I missed them because the seed catalog got shoved underneath some old birthday cards on the mail stack on the table and didn’t resurface until April. By March the gardening book had found a home in the book bin alongside Dr. Seuss and Little House in the Big Woods. I also forgot to order grow lights and by the time I remembered, it was March and they were back ordered. Yes, I completely missed the exciting prep time that all good gardeners never miss. Good thing I’m not really a gardener.
By May, most gardeners here have a good number of seedlings going, all labeled and ready to be transplanted at the end of May or the beginning of June. It is Minnesota after all. We have had snowfall in midMay. Not being a gardener, my basement was just the home to storage boxes and spiders, not a seedling to be seen. I did however find a few packets of seeds that I’d purchased at the local coop awhile back, so I managed to take those out of storage and put them where I could find them; on the stack of old birthday cards on the table with the newly found seed catalog. At least I’m consistent.
In June our local Weston A Price Chapter had a plant sale. I felt compelled to buy plants, lots of plants. Tomato, zucchini, pepper, watermelon and pumpkin plants all came home with me and sat on the deck for a week. Thankfully for them, we had lots of rain that week or the story would end there. Like I said, I am not a gardener.
One random morning in June, my children and I were outside and looking for things to do, and I spotted our old fencing boards laying beside the garage. I glanced from the plants to the boards and back to the plants. Yes, now I had a plan. It took until midJune, but it happened. That morning, the children had a blast painting the old wooden fencing that would serve as a border for our gardens. By noon we had four boxes painted and nailed together. By 4pm, we had the ground dug up and ready for plants. By the end of the following day we’d successfully planted a 12×12 garden in the backyard and three 6×6 gardens in the front. Once I do get going on a project, I work on it like crazy until it’s finished. Over the next few weeks we would weed or fix the fencing around the garden plots. The children watered the plants when they’d run through the sprinkler or fill the kiddie pool
All in all, we didn’t do much to aid in the survival of the little plants. However within six weeks or so, amazing things began to happen. The plants grew, and budded, and flowered. Our trips to check in with the plants became more frequent as they developed and changed. My daughter began bringing out the tape measure to figure out which plant was the tallest. The few sunflower seeds from the packet that we’d found hidden beneath the stack of birthday cards began to bloom. The tiny squash plants began filling up and then spilling out of the front yard garden boxes. It was amazing. When my oldest son picked the first ripe tomato off the vine, we were all so excited that we had been a part of the process (albeit a very small part).
A couple of weeks ago, I was able to do something that I’d never really considered; cook a meal almost entirely from food grown in my own garden. To those of you who have farms or have been gardening for awhile, I’m sure that seems pretty natural, but to me, this was a huge deal, and it forever changed my appreciation for the process. What started in February as a seed in someone’s basement, became not just part of a meal for a family of 5, but the ingredients
around which the meal was based. That’s amazing to me.
The vegetables that didn’t come from my garden, cucumbers and some greens, came from our weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from Mississippi Hills and the chicken was sourced from Nelson Grass Farm, a local farm that raises pastured and soy free chickens (among other things).
Before I get into our July harvest and meal, I want to say something about the recipes. As I mentioned before, I don’t claim to be an expert chef. Prior to having children, my husband and I ate cleanly; mostly organic and home cooking, but we didn’t have a good grasp on where our food came from, or the quality of the food we bought. Having children launched us into the world of nutrient density and knowing our farmers. It also pushed me into the kitchen where I began to spend a lot of time planning and preparing meals. Although I’ve grown in this area, I’m not meticulous with my methods. Unless I’m following a recipe for the first time, I don’t measure ingredients or write anything down (much to my husband’s dismay). My cooking and baking involves lots of sampling and tasting, and many failed experiments. I love feeling my way
through a recipe using what I have on hand, adding ingredients as I see or think of them. The recipes below are forgiving for those reasons. You can add or subtract ingredients to adjust for availability and flavor without ruining the meal. So without further ado, here is our July menu with recipes.
* 3 tomatoes, seeded
*1 cucumber, skinned and seeded
*1 green pepper
*2 garlic cloves
*1 handful of basil leaves (cilantro or parsley are also delicious here. Herbs can also be omitted)
*Juice of 1 lemon
Roughly chop all vegetables and place in blender or food processor. Pulse until desired consistency reached. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Asian Chicken with Vegetables and Zoodles
*1# pastured chicken, diced or in strips (other meat works too, as would some seafood or you could omit meat)
*4 medium zucchini
*2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
*1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
*1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
*1 onion, chopped
*1 bunch Swiss chard, torn
*2 cloves garlic, chopped
*1/2 head broccoli, sliced
*coconut oil for frying
*Ginger (ground or fresh)
Making the zoodles ( zucchini noodles)
Cut end off of zucchini and peel skin with a vegetable peeler. Using a vegetable peeler or spirilizer, continue to peel zucchini until seeds are visible. (You can use the remaining part of the zucchini in the the recipe). Place the zoodles in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt to sweat the zoodles. If you skip this step, the zoodles will be soggy. These guys can sweat it out while you prepare the sauce and remaining vegetables.
*1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
*1/4 cup coconut aminos
*1 tsp ground ginger
*1 tsp fish sauce
Whisk ingredients together and set aside.
Asian Chicken and Vegetables
1. Heat oil on medium heat
2. Add chicken and saute until cooked through.
3. Add onions and garlic and lightly saute.
4. Add torn Swiss chard, broccoli, and peppers. Cook until Swiss chard is wilted.
5. Add tomatoes, stirring often until just soft.
6. Pat dry the zoodles with a cloth or paper towels and add into the meat and vegetable mixture.
7. Using a tongs, gently toss together ingredients.
8. Add sauce mixture, turn down heat and allow all ingredients to cook for 5 minutes. Take off heat and serve.
I hope you enjoy this lovely and simple meal as much as we did. It is truly a blessing to be able to grow and then eat what is grown in your very own backyard. After this experience, I now consider myself a bonafide gardener. Stay tuned to learn what we did with our first watermelon! Here’s a hint:
If you would like to read more check out Susie’s Blog at Yoga Pants and Bon Bons