Ah cooking! A science not unlike alchemy. One takes the ingredients, blends them together and hopes for a dish that the family will like. Moms feeding children have an easier time than I do. They can set rules: “No veggies; no dessert.” “Try a little of everything on your plate.” “Eat or else.” (I’ve had all those rules.) But feeding adults is more problematic. I can’t take away dessert or the television. To complicate matters, the adults in my house have both dietary restrictions and dietary wishes. One parent needs to be gluten free but wants to eat dishes that traditionally contain gluten—like bread and pasta. One section in my freezer is just for gluten free items that are traditionally made with wheat. Before my parents moved in, I was given a list of things they could not eat. The list grew longer after they arrived. After a while, I realized that it was really a list of things that one of them would not eat. My youngest daughter has cooked professionally—so her ideas and mine differ on how things should be prepared. She likes more salt than I use (some vs none). And my husband’s cholesterol is up: time to cut back on the red meat. Some days I feel like I am running a diner, not cooking for a family.
My transcontinental move complicates meals as well. I can no longer go to the Sunday farmer’s market and buy fresh asparagus. Asparagus in the stores here comes from Peru. Artichokes still come from Half Moon Bay. Figs are imported from southern California. Should I worry about my carbon footprint? I have spent the summer experimenting with the produce grown at The Pickin Patch, a small farm a few miles from my house.
This farm is the tenth oldest farm in Connecticut, advertising “family farming since 1666” (http://www.thepickinpatch.com). Until the 1970s, the farm produced shade tobacco. After a disastrous rainy season ruined the crop, the owner scattered thirty-five dollars of pumpkin seeds in the fields and a new business model sprouted. They sold directly to the public, allowing people to pick their own vegetables or buy ones already harvested.
In the spring, I bought baskets of flowers to set in my yard. Starting in June, I bought vegetables. At first I would pick spinach, chard and beets. I learned how to cut the heads of lettuce. I missed the strawberries, but picked raspberries in August. Tomatoes came from their green house. Corn grew in the fields by the river and is picked fresh each day. They carried potatoes and garlic from a farm in Granby, a few miles down the road and blueberries and peaches from farms in Glastonbury, twenty minutes away. This is a contrast from my local farmer’s market where some of the vendors drove an hour from Ventura County and some drove three or four hours from Modesto and Fresno.
I began to plan my meals around the vegetables. When okra was in season, I tried four different dishes—gumbo was the family favorite. When they had cranberry beans, I bought them along with green and wax beans to make a three bean salad. I should have bought more to make a chili. I bought roma tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini to make a spaghetti sauce from scratch. We had corn on the cob and corn salsa. (For a good salsa recipe, check out my friend’s blog: thekalechronicles.com). If I had a freezer, I would have bought even more corn. The fall squashes are in so last night I made acorn squash stuffed with quinoa, which, surprisingly, everyone liked. Right now they have pumpkins and hay rides. Next year I am taking my grandson to pick veggies.
The farm sells a variety of peppers. One of the few dishes I remember from my childhood was stuffed bell peppers. I thought it would make my parents happy if I made it. I bought green bell peppers, onions, and roma tomatoes. I always have white rice (I prefer brown but two family members can’t eat it.) I bought lean ground beef at the grocery store. The herbs grow in pots on my deck. Soon I will have to bring them in.
Here are my ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
6 green bell peppers
8 roma tomatoes
1 ½ lb ground beef
1 ½ cup uncooked rice
Salt, pepper to taste
A handful of basil leaves
Four thyme springs
Three oregano sprigs
Cook rice according to directions. I use my indispensable rice cooker. (Mom says that she put uncooked rice in the peppers. Maybe she used minute rice.)
Heat oven to 350
Cut tops off bell pepers and remove seeds and membranes. Heat several quarts of water in a large pot. Boil peppers for about seven minutes or until they soften.
In another pot, heat a quart of water. Put the tomatoes in the boiling water for two or three minutes to loosen skins. Remove. Peel skins. Chop. Set aside. (Or use canned tomatoes or spaghetti sauce.)
Place onion and ground beef in skillet. Brown.
Add tomatoes. Add herbs. Simmer five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice. Spoon into peppers.
Bake twenty minutes.
This recipe is very time consuming. I can see why it is not as popular as it once was. Nostalgia takes time.