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.
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
- 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.