Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recipe: Caponata

I almost feel like I am doing something sacrilegious right now by posting a recipe up on my blog during (gasp!) daylight hours. Hint: the Universe did get through to me with that message of "Slow Down! Slow Down!" (I think the CAPS were needed). I will fill you in on how that happened as I reign in, process, and then coalesce events and my thoughts. In the meantime, part of the message of 'slow down' is cooking again and sharing my love of locally grown food and eating (yes, another part of the message was EAT! - caps were also needed here).

So tonight my husband and I are giving up more of those precious summer daylight hours needed for farm work to go to a neighborhood party. I am taking one of my all-time end of summer recipes that uses local vegetables in season right now. Eek - guess what? I didn't even check until right now to see if I had also posted this recipe on my blog in addition to being on my website. (I remember years ago when I heard my boss/friend tell a doctor at the hospital where I worked that "Diana's brain is usually 2 miles ahead of what is coming out of her mouth" - aha! more insight here, right now - writing is also good for slowing me down!) Nope, whew, this recipe has not yet made the transfer over, so today is a perfect day to do just that.

Caponata is a variation of Ratatouille, served cold with crackers, baguette slices, or just a spoon (my favorite way to eat it is right out of the bowl!). I am going to post the original recipe, but note that the recipe is very flexible. Today I didn't have any olives on hand, so I didn't add them, but I did add a full teaspoon of salt instead. I used Chesok Red garlic (6 small-medium cloves) as this variety wins contests all the time for holding its flavor with cooking. I also added some spicy peppers - woohoo!

My only photo is the one of it simmering in the pot. I always make the full recipe, even for a small party because I enjoy eating it all week long, and in the rare case that I get tired of it, any remaining mixture can be frozen and added to any future stir-fry or soup or even served right over baked fish.

So here goes! I hope you run right out to your own garden or down to your local farmers' market to round up these locally-grown organic vegetables, garlic, and fresh herbs to make this recipe and then share it with your family or at a gathering.

• 2 small or 1 large eggplant (~1-1/4 lbs.) - unpeeled, cut into small cubes (dark purple or white eggplant works although a purple eggplant will give more color to the final dish if you do not use black Kalamata olives)
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• 1 red sweet pepper, seeded and chopped (I added a fresh slightly spicy Italian pepper and a small piece of roasted jalapeno pepper found in my freezer)
• 3-6 ripe tomatoes (about 4 cups worth), chopped (may use 1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes)
• 1/2 cup chopped olives (green or pitted Kalamato - do not use plain black olives from a can)
• 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
• 1-1/2 teaspoon dried basil (triple if using fresh herbs)
• 1-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (triple if using fresh herbs)

• Combine all chopped ingredients in a large soup pot, mix well.
• Bring to simmer and cook uncovered for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally (I'm doing that while writing out this post - so yes, I'm 'double-dipping' with my time but I could also be folding laundry, a much better non-daylight hour job!).
• Cool to room temperature.
• Serve in a pretty bowl surrounded by whole grain crackers or whole grain baguette slices. (Save the spoon for later after the party if there are any left-overs!)

(Photo: Caponata, just starting to simmer in a large soup pot, steam rising!)
I forgot to add what else I am doing, so I guess I am 'triple-dipping' with my time. :-) While having my lap-top computer in the kitchen, open to the Caponata recipe on my website, I am also listening to the past radio shows from The Thistle & Shamrock, my favorite program that I have missed hearing all summer long. Hey there, Universe, I have heard your message 'slow down'. Thanks, beyond thanks, for being persistent with me. :-)

Yes, there is more to follow. I envision 4 installments: 1) The Universe calling Diana (done and posted), 2) Diana's thoughts and blocks/side-tracks, 3) Wham-bam!, 4) Diana back again listening and acting on #1, re-looking at her motto at the top of her blog and her sign-off (how did I miss it?). Hang in there with me!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Chapter 1" - The Universe is calling Diana but cannot get through!

Words from the Universe sent the past two months - 

This is the Universe calling Diana Dyer in Ann Arbor, Michigan! I have a simple message that I have been trying to deliver to you all summer long.  I know you don't have a reliable cell phone, and even seem a bit resistant to getting your phone updated. However, I am starting to think that more than just 'technical difficulties' are the problem getting through to you. I don't usually try to connect with people through the internet, but here goes, as it seems I have no choice!

Slow down! Slow down!

Ok now! You got moved to the farm, you got your other house fixed up, on the market, and sold in near record time. You and your new daughter in law from last summer got everything done for your older son's rehearsal, wedding, and open house in mid-June, and everything was lovely and beautiful. The very next day, you started harvesting the garlic scapes, got to the farmers' market the day after that, got your full crop harvested and sold !! , even with other local farmers giving their excess garlic scapes to local chefs. You created two on-farm events where people came to pick their own scapes, choose 'fresh or wet garlic' and buy braiding garlic at your farm. I see a lot of things, but I have not seen these types of marketing done on many farms. Good for you!

Slow down! Slow down!

I sent you help when you needed it to get the garlic harvested and hung up in the barn. You and Dick and this young man were nothing short of driven to get your increased crop harvested and hung in the barn to dry in less time than it took to harvest last year's garlic. You went to the markets earlier than last year to find people waiting for you to show up. Everything is going great!! Hurray!! This is success!!

Slow down! Slow down!

Why are you still running the proverbial marathon? Actually from my view point up here, you look like you are continually running multiple sprints, all day long, each and every day, from the moment you get up in the morning until the moment you fall into bed each night.

Slow down, slow down!!

Take a day off, or two, or three, even in a row!! Take at least take an hour off! What am I going to have to do to get you to, and sounding like a very old-fashioned broken record here, SLOW DOWN??

Hmm, Diana, I see that I just used all CAPS to say 'slow down'. I am not 'angry', which I have recently heard that all CAPS may convey, but using all CAPS in this case makes me think I really mean it.  I am worried you are going to get sick, or hurt yourself, or something. You are strong and by that, I mean you have a deeply-determined spirit, but you are not (and never have been) physically strong and do not have robust physical reserve. I admit that it was both a pleasant and complete surprise to me when your doctor recently told you that you had actually developed a 'nice tricep'. Honestly, I would not have been more surprised if your doctor had told you that you had developed gills (little joke here), but even with a 'nice tricep', that does not mean you can go without a good night's sleep every night.  What is going on?

Slow down, slow down!!

I heard the timid 'ask' you sent to up to the Universe last year, for 30 more years of reasonable health to have time to do the 40 years of projects you and Dick want to do at your farm.  Later when you found your courage, I heard your 'amended ask', which I know was your true heart's desire, asking for 40 more years. I just had to smile. Most people of course are going to feel that both requests are simply 'outrageous', but I think both are reasonable. :-)

However, based on what I see you doing, and not doing (i.e. not listening to me, not sleeping well, going 100 mph all day every day, and for the past 2+ years to boot!), I am worried that even if the universe gives you these 30-40 years, you are shooting yourself in the foot now and at best, will limp through those 30-40 years instead of being able to be fully engaged and find enjoyment in the day to day activities.

Special Note Here!! I want to make myself crystal clear. I do not send 'bad things to happen to good people', but I am very concerned that something bad is going to happen to you unless you, and here comes that broken record part again, slow down.  Have you forgotten one of the 'seven habits' from the book you read a long time ago called Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'? I heard you talking about a different part of that book with your young garlic harvesting friend. The habit I'm referencing here is the one that says 'you must take the time to sharpen your own saw', which in this case means caring for yourself so you can continue to care so much for all those people and activities that mean so much to you.

Slow down, slow down!! Take care of yourself! Please!

Sigh..........I don't say 'Please!' very often. Worse, I seem to be talking to myself. Diana is not listening, not hearing, not understanding, or ignoring me. Diana, I know that you 'know better than this'. What is going on down there?

Coming Soon - thoughts rambling around, maybe even zooming through, Diana's brain the past two months..........with the goal of not having this and follow-up blog postings be too long. It may take a while to both find the time to synthesize my thoughts and write them out. Please be patient! :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Over the finish line - reprise!

The garlic is in, that means in the barn, out of the ground, all 15,000 bulbs or heads, and they are all sorted, labeled, bundled, and the vast majority of them are also hung up to dry in the barn's loft. No small effort!

To give you an idea of what a big job this was, it is important to know that we doubled our crop from last year (15,000 cloves planted last October versus 7,500 the year before), we started harvesting about 10 days later than last year because of weather and field conditions plus slow plant maturity, and yet found we were harvesting the same late-maturing garlic varieties on the same day this year as last year.  So translating, that means we harvested twice as much garlic in less time than last year.

Many things made this year's harvest more difficult, such as having no time for weeding this year (moving, working to get our previous home fixed up to sell, and yes, the highlight, our older son's wedding! all took priority over weeding without a second thought), so the raised beds and paths were a tad bit overgrown :-) leading to difficulty seeing some of the more 'floppy' garlic varieties along with the increased likelihood of insect/spider bites and scratchy plant abrasions.

(Note: Since I could never get the entire field weeded at this point, I do run through the field regularly looking very selectively for various weeds to pull out like the invasive garlic mustard, poison ivy, plus other prolific water and nutrient-depriving weeds like velvet leaf which goes right into our 'burn bag' not the compost pile because it will go to seed even after being picked.)

(Note 2: just to be clear, we never burn or compost poison ivy. I bag that up separately and put it in the garbage.)

My husband and I really thought on a logical basis we could do this increased harvesting relatively easily by ourselves. After all, 15,000 heads of garlic divided by ~30 days in July is only 500 per day. It didn't seem overwhelming last year (except for that last day when we worked until midnight to get all the garlic out of the ground and hung up in the loft of our new barn the night before we left for our younger son's wedding!).

Hmmm, what can I say except yes, we suddenly saw the forest for the trees (or is that the trees instead of the forest?), began to get worried (even a little snippy!), began to get a little more worried and even fearful as we could see that the weather, field, and plant conditions were not cooperating (not at all!) to allow us to evenly bring in the crop before we started losing some of it.

Fear is a powerful thing - what if, what if, what if?? Sometimes fear is empowering, however, more often fear is paralyzing. I have lived this 'game', having been through it over and over and over again, too many times to remember, let alone count, as a long-term, multiple-time cancer survivor.

In our case, this time we got lucky, and I mean that sincerely. I feel that the universe smiled on us, gave us a break, an opportunity and taught us to not count on last year's experience, to be ready next time with a plan for the unplanned, and then sent us the help we needed, an extraordinary young man who 'dropped in' to our life for the past several weeks to help us bring in the garlic. Pure and simple, we could not have brought in our crop on time (and with minimal losses) without his steady work, and I am grateful beyond measure.

Because I do believe that the universe operates in ways beyond our understanding, ways that could be called irrational, ways that are also beyond one simple definition of serendipitous ('happy accident'), it crossed my mind that the universe brought this young man to our farm for more than our direct benefit of getting the garlic harvested. I'm thinking about what else he may have learned (other than perhaps more than he ever expected to know about garlic!) while working with us these past few weeks. In addition, I'm considering what I may have learned or re-learned, what increased awareness I gained, what changed for me by working with my new young friend during this short time.

While listening to words at the surface and in the current underneath our conversations as we talked while working together, I found myself feeling the power and interplay of words like fear, gratitude, trust, joy, and hope, among others. I thought about my life, I thought about his young life, I thought about my sons' lives.

I would modify Shakespeare's line about serendipity in act 4 of his play Henry V "All things are ready if our minds be so" to say instead 'all things are ready if our minds and hearts be so.' I don't believe it is enough to only have a ready mind. Because fears can so easily and so quickly infect the mind and bring a person to his knees with paralysis (or worse, a state of complacency about a less than optimal situation), I believe a ready heart is also necessary to help over-ride those potentially destructive fears with kindness, gratitude, trust, joy, and hope.

Early in the week, one of my doctors' staff asked me if I ever forgot I have had cancer. I was very surprised by the question, but without hesitation I said 'no'. Later in the week, I spent time working (weeding) with a dietetic intern at another farm, and she hesitantly asked me what it was like having cancer. Without hesitation (again) I responded 'it was awful' and gave her just the tip of the iceberg of 'awful' along with the other side of that coin being the unending examples of kindness that people showed me during the 'awful'.

No, while I do not think of cancer from minute to minute, I do not forget I have had cancer, nor do I want to forget. In spite of how truly awful it has been undergoing multiple treatments and having the annoyances of multiple subsequent long-term and varied complications in my life, cancer has been the medium that has opened my mind and opened my heart to a life and a world where serendipity can happen, a life that can be lived where trust, joy, hope, gratitude, awe, wonder, love, and kindness are all trump cards over any fears that start to sneak in to my mind.

Where am I going with this? From my farm to cancer and back again? From fear to serendipity to friendship to gratitude? All of the above I guess. My post is longer than I anticipated. Today must be a ramble instead of anything succinct or focused.  I'd better stop while you are (may be) still reading. :-)

I'm going to wrap up with a food blessing I read earlier this week when we had friends finally eat in our dining room for the first time (so nice to have all our furniture in one home now!). No photo of what we ate, but instead the photo is a box of the beautiful and delicious organic vegetables grown by other young friends of ours, Nate and Jill of Green Things Farm in Ann Arbor that we used to make our nourishing meal, including the gorgeous sunflowers.

(Photo: Vegetables from Green Things Farm, Ann Arbor, MI)

I inform thee that I intend to eat thee.
Mayest thou always keep me to ascend,
So that I may always be able to reach
the tops of mountains,
and may I never be clumsy!
I ask this from thee, Sunflower-Root.
Thou are the greatest of all in mystery.

~~ Thompson River (Salish) Indian food blessing
(unknown translator, likely in the late 1500's or early 1600's)

Of course there is more than one way to the mountain top after a cancer diagnosis, after enduring hardship and suffering of any kind, but living intentionally with gratitude and being open to the joy of serendipity has helped make my path less difficult. I hope in some small way that I can help others have a less difficult path to the mountain top, too.

And now for my readers who have hung in there (thank you!), here are some photos (finally!) of the last couple of weeks during our garlic harvesting. :-)

(Photo: Spanish Roja garlic fresh out of the ground July 19 held by the caring hands of our field helper Eric who did nearly all the digging and carrying of the heavy bushels of garlic back to the barn. I followed him down the rows carefully lifting many of the 15,000 heads out of the soil and then taking them to the baskets to get the garlic out of the sun. Some days my husband was able to join us, and thus we found that a three-member tag team was very efficient.)

(Photo: Day 1 harvest in the barn, the front edge of the garlic tsunami. At this point, we can still fit the tractor in the barn! The garlic heads are dried for a day or two on pallets before being bundled, labeled, and then taken up to hang in the loft of the barn to fully dry or cure.)

(Photo: Day 1's harvest, hung in the loft to dry. This end of the loft is for the garlic going to market. All garlic being saved for seed stock that we will plant in the fall, i.e., the biggest and best, is clearly labeled and hung at the other end of the loft.)

(Photo: Our Friday farm friends last week having a garlic tasting of about 10 varieties, all raw - woo hoo!, at the end of a long, hot work week.)

(Photo: Barn sign for our 'open farm' last Saturday where we invited people who have signed up at the markets for our Garlic Friends email newsletter to come out to our farm to purchase freshly dug garlic, not cleaned or dried yet, and both pre-made or garlic braid kits. We had a great time, being in the barn the entire day helping people instead of doing more harvesting ourselves. We had a very happy day!)

(Photo: The last day of harvesting, our nearly empty and scruffy-looking fields, we worked way past usual quittin' time to get them all out of the field that day.)

(Photo: Number 15K comes out of the ground!)
(Photo: Our garlic hung in the loft - remember that photo of day 1?. Well we hung some more, pushed it to the side and then hung up even more. Most of the 15,000 are now hanging in the loft. We thought it was crowded last year with only 7500 bulbs hanging. I think our wonderful helper might be glad he is done! We're already re-thinking the harvesting and drying process for next year. At the very least, I think we need to hook up a pulley, which - silly me - I did not think we needed on day 1! However, honestly, we all had 'hit the wall' by the last day.)
(Photo: Last but not least, and I'm sorry it's small and probably fuzzy, but just after we finished harvesting the end of the garlic, out pops momma deer and the fawn likely born on our farm last May from the woods at the end of our garlic field. Mom stood guard watching us without moving a muscle for many minutes while her baby had a good time being cute and frisky, paying no attention to us. They were beautiful to watch and a great way to end the harvesting.)

I'm done now. I'll try not to be so long between posts, but we go back to our local farmers' markets next week on 3 afternoons. So we'll need to get into a new routine with that schedule. Of course we have hardly touched our disorganization. I wonder what happened to our intentions to unpack and organize one box of stuff each day? :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD