Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans, Tomatoes, Cumin + Kale

IMG_1936

 

“Rain split the cherries. Cut your harvest check in half.” 


The line, straight from The Farming Game of my youth goes through my mind as I snap a small handful of cherry tomatoes from the vine in-between rain clouds.

I swear half my childhood was spent staying up into the wee hours of the mornings playing that game with siblings and anyone else who could be coerced to “become a real farmer.” If you’ve never heard or played, the game is a lot like Monopoly, only much more realistic and centered around the topic of all things farming. The largest takeaway, I think, is that crop diversification is key to farming/food growing success.

The same can be said in real life.

 

IMG_1925

 

Last year we were up to our elbows in zucchini, eating lots and lots of noodles. This year, the squash bugs came out in force and that crop was a major loss past early July, five plus cucumber plants never did make it beyond a few inches growth before they struggled, and the collards set to flowering early. William babied his first crop of corn so much I joked he’d get lucky and they’d all have worms. And then the team effort, me picking out the variety, him doing all the subsequent work and babying, me finishing up by harvesting every last ear at the right time and turning it all into tasty meals, worked out. The corn was the biggest success. And I’ve never been too keen on it, particularly.

The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants too, blasted by a lot of summer heat, produced in leaps and bounds to the point that we’re almost out of nightshades, earlier by far than most years, and can I even tell you how glad I’m going to be when we pull all the plants out and I forego most tomatoes until next year?!

I’ve a friend who I told recently that I’m the most unattached and hands-off gardener, to which she replied, oh no, you’re not. But she’s wrong. I mostly don’t care about the bugs, often letting them grow in population a little too much, hence the squash bug outbreak that got past the manageable stage. And the amount we’ve been harvesting would be significantly reduced if it weren’t for William needing to detox from office life every evening through summer with his watering and audiobook situation. I left him happily to it and rejoiced in harvesting, planting, occasionally fertilizing and deadheading flowers. Oh and unemotionally yanking out whole plants and insect-infested sections, because as my mother always says, if a plant dies, just replace it with something else.

That’s pretty much my motto too. Along with crop diversity, so I have the luxury of being completely unattached to any one thing.

 

Anyway, enough chattering on. The rain did split my cherry (tomatoes). And in a couple weeks I’ll wipe out that whole section and plant winter cover crop instead. But for now, we’re enjoying the last of that particular summer treat atop oven-roasted sweet potatoes and black beans in this easy weeknight favorite that can be either fancied up or pared down, depending.

What about you? What have you been enjoying in this transitional seasonal?

 

IMG_1917

 

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans, Tomatoes, Cumin + Kale, serves 4
The Recipe Redux September theme is Sheet Pan Meals, with the idea of throwing ingredients together on a sheet pan or baking dish and roasting for a simple dinner to make busy weeknights manageable. I may have cheated a bit since the only roasting that needs to happen here is the sweet potatoes, but this is one of my favorite simple dinners by far, and in a jif–and perhaps if you’re blessedly fresh out of summer tomatoes–if comes together quick with roasted sweet potatoes, canned black beans, a few handfuls of greens, some salsa and seeds. For a nicer, fancier version, take a few minutes more to slice and dice some peppers and tomatoes with toasted cumin and fresh lime juice and make your black beans from scratch. And perhaps enjoy the last couple weeks or two of warmer weather. Enjoy!

4 small sweet potatoes
2 cups cooked black beans
6-8 cups chopped kale
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large sweet bell or Italian pepper, diced
small handful cilantro or parsley, minced
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive or avocado oil, divided
2 Tbsp. lime juice, divided
a few pinches sea salt
additional lime wedges
pumpkin, sunflower, or hemp seeds

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, and then gently poke a few holes in their skins. Set on a piece of foil or in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork or knife.
  • In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant.
  • Slice the tomatoes in half, dice the pepper and parsley, and combine in a small bowl with the toasted cumin and half of the oil and lime juice. Taste and salt as needed.
  • Finely chop the kale and add to another small bowl. With the remaining oil and lime juice, massage the kale gently to soften.
  • To serve, top each sweet potato with heated black beans, the tomato + cumin salad, kale, and seeds.
  • Finish with additional lime juice as desired.

recipe-redux-linky-logo

summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes

summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes

IMG_0271

Even though I am no longer a teacher, there is something about the beginning of the school year that gets me excited for a fresh start, eager minds, clean hallways, and a newly decorated classroom. And so it was when I walked the hallways of the elementary school I work with this last week. Even though I’ve been there all summer with my high school students managing the school garden, the teachers are back now and the place is slowly coming to life after its summer slumber. There are fresh new beginnings in the air.

At the same time, the internship I created for my students ended this week, and so marks the last time I will work with this particular summer program, as I too am beginning to close the chapter of my work in school garden education. It has been a journey and a learning experience, and I can say on the other end of three+ years, I’m glad I trusted my intuition in taking the risky position that is my job, as it didn’t start out being financially sustainable and there was much jostling back and forth with funding cuts and uncertainty in the in-between. And so it’s kind of ironic that now on the other side, I am choosing to walk away from the work not having the future months figured out, but with an awareness that I won’t know what comes next until I take this step.

Beyond all learning and experience I have gained from the actual work, maybe the biggest lesson I have learned since stepping in to the “real world” of work, is how to trust that feeling of needing to close the book and walk away, even as it has been enjoyable, safe, comfortable, and I’ve been part of an amazing and cohesive team.

IMG_0267

With all this in mind, I think it is fitting to share a recipe here that was first schemed up in the school garden surrounded by all the vegetables we were harvesting that day and adapted in the moment according to my students’ preferences. Each week of the summer, they have been cooking in the garden one afternoon and providing samples to their CSA customers utilizing whatever produce is in abundance that week. In this late summer season, everything is going full throttle and so this salad has a little of everything. There are random little pops of sweet like ground cherries balancing the creamy leeks and crunchy beans. There were a few hazelnuts leftover from another week that provided more texture, directly opposite of the squishier quality of the eggplant and zucchini. And there was a lemon in the fridge that needed to be used and from it, we all enjoyed the lemon-Dijon dressing. All in all, this became a showcase of all the summer vegetables and everyone that tried it–whether high school student or adult–loved it.

IMG_0282

summer quinoa salad with zucchini, eggplant, green beans + tomatoes, serves 4
Recipe Updated: 8/16/21

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
extra virgin olive oil
2 small leeks, thinly sliced
1 handful green beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 small zucchini, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 small eggplant, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup ground cherries
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped or halved

Dressing:
2 tsp. Dijon mustard, preferably coarse grained
2 tsp. honey
juice from ½ a large lemon
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
sea salt & black pepper

  1. In a medium saucepan, add quinoa, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, add a splash of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and the leeks. Cook, stirring regularly until leeks are golden and crispy, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. At this point, stir in the summer squash and eggplant. Cook for a few more minutes and then add the green beans. Cook a bit longer – just until the beans brighten up and lose their raw bite and the squash softens.
  4. Turn out into a bowl and stir in the ground cherries, tomatoes, raisins, hazelnuts, and cooked quinoa.
  5. Make the dressing by whisking together the mustard and honey. Add lemon juice, vinegar, and oil and whisk for about 30 seconds. Add salt and pepper according to taste.
  6. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and stir until everything is well mixed.

Beneath the surface, a manifesto.

IMG_8372

IMG_8387

IMG_8389

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.

IMG_8375

IMG_8391

IMG_8403

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.

IMG_8411

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.