Let's EatSeasonal Recipes
April marks the yearly celebration of Earth Day, something we try to honor every day in the Green Gal kitchen. And looking at my ingredients so far, I’m pretty pleased—vegan goodies like stored squash, garlic and garden herbs, all with nearly zero carbon footprint. But then a lightbulb went on in my little culinary brain—wouldn’t salmon be a nice way to pull fall and spring together in a creamy bisque? It would, but would it be ecologically sound? Earth Day, you know….
When my daughter was little, I, like all good mothers, tried to incorporate healthy snacks into her diet. My goal was to keep her out of her great grandmother’s infamous “candy drawer.” You know what I’m talking about—that drawer with bags of M&Ms, Butterfingers, candy corn and chocolate covered peanuts. At Easter, you could find those bizarre speckled malted milk eggs that turned your lips white, peeps of all colors and big chocolate bunnies—usually solid.
To be fair, we all dipped into that drawer in my grandma’s bedroom. She delighted in our petty crimes. And more than once, I overheard my daughter and my grandma in deep conversations about life, love and justice while sharing a Russell Stover’s chocolate bunny or a “Bit O Honey.” Why would I interfere? Sweetness was happening on so many levels.
So when I start planning spring meals, I like to do something special in the meat category, something as unexpected and exciting as Swiss Chard for the vegetarian. Lamb, a clean, sustainable, locally accessible choice is often where I turn for inspiration. Lamb, in my opinion, really knows no season—kabobs on the grill in the summer, shepherd’s pie in the fall, a stew for the winter table. For Spring dining this year, however, I decided to do something exotic—and yet, homey. A pot pie with ground lamb, but seasoned—HEAVILY—with Indian-inspired spices. It got me smiles and a really great smelling kitchen!
My daughter’s birthday is March 7. Over the years I’ve gotten really good at about three or four basic gluten-free cakes, rotating for each special occasion that demands such a confection. So, when we were nearing March this year, I suggested an Orange Sunshine Cake for her Birthday—hadn’t had that one in a while. She sort of wrinkled her nose (still gets me every time) and said politely: “Why don’t you bake a new cake.” Sigh.
Ok, I can see a certain level of boredom with my limited cake clutch, but there’s always a struggle to find some new way to turn what I consider “less than ideal” ingredients into a spectacular birthday cake. “Does it have to be a cake,” I asked. “What about a new cookie?” I was trying to increase my chances for success. “Sure, a cookie would be fine….as long as we can have homemade ice cream, too,” she smiled. Sigh.
My grandma’s chocolate custard pie was one of my favorite desserts. Her pie tasted old fashioned, not too sweet, with big chocolate flavor and a traditional flaky crust—none of the graham cracker nonsense. The pie was baked, so not a cream or chiffon pie—rich custard that couldn’t have come from a box, if you know what I mean.
Recipes are more than just directions on food preparation; at least that’s my take on the rich and beautiful history of global eating. Recipes can tell us a lot about community and ecosystem connections, politics and history, the struggles and successes of races and cultures, even the intersectionality of cultures, religions, racism and power. Take the conversation between my friend Jane and me early this year….
We eat cornbread and polenta often in my house. That cornmeal flavor is a particular favorite of mine—polenta for breakfast, cornbread for dinner and even cornmeal layer cake for dessert! I love the way rich corn flavor plays off other ingredients like maple syrup, spicy sauces and even—you might recall this post—apple pie filling for an amazing stuffed coffee cake.
So it was sort of a given that once I fell in love with Zubi’s yummy Tex-Mex sauces, I’d eventually use them in a cornmeal recipe. And I did! Well…it wasn’t cornmeal exactly….it was corn flour—lighter, brighter, with strong corn flavor. This recipe really changes the texture of traditional skillet cornbread, turning it more like cake, which allows the Zubi Salsa and Queso to really shine. And it’s easy! Yes, it is. I see that look. Be brave.
We can learn a lot from the cycles of the seasons and the planning of gardens. Take for example the main ingredients in this hearty vegetarian riff on a traditional French classic, the cassoulet: squash, corn and beans, known to the Iroquois and Seneca as the Three Sisters, star in a comfy stovetop casserole, that pays homage not only to my own French heritage but also to the wisdom and Earth-knowledge of the indigenous people of North America.
Muffins hold a special place in my heart—several years ago I told my famous “love muffin” story on this blog, and every so often, have shared another version of the original. I make a muffin for nearly every holiday, going with the flow and flavors of the season. To me they are a special gift—the personal, just-the-right-size cake, yes? You can make them super healthy with bran and protein powders, or gluten-free for special diets or—in the case of this muffin—extra special with fresh seasonal fruits and extravagant splurges.
As most Green Gal readers know, I worship the ground Chef Vivian Howard walks on. So it should come as no surprise that when her PBS series A Chef’s Life came to its final episode, I was inconsolable and weepy for weeks.
And then…this fall…she was back! And she was headed Somewhere South, on an incredible trip to places–yes, but more importantly into cultures, somewhat familiar but also far from her own table, not only through counties and regions of the South but also through history—much of it never told in mainstream—and deep into Black, Creole, immigrant and Indigenous cooking traditions. I’ve seen every episode and am still watching. My two favorites are about porridge and greens, which got me started on the dish I’m sharing below. Because, of course, I wanted to celebrate, too, in my kitchen!
I began the month of November with a feel-good activity—I volunteered with my local heroes at Bring Your Own Glen-Ed, a community-based volunteer organization devoted to ridding our planet of plastic pollution, on a highway cleanup campaign. Times are risky in many ways this year—a year like none other I can remember, honestly. But we planned well, took all necessary “pandemic precautions,” and did the good work.
I love these guys for their unwavering motivation and dedication to heal our planet. So I really wanted to be there for them on that first chilly Saturday morning in November. And being there for others means taking personal care of yourself, yes? Enter The New Hope Network with a blogger box product that is now a mainstay in my house: Iconic Grass-Fed Protein Drinks.
It never fails: every holiday season my daughter makes the same request for my Curried Butternut Squash Soup. And while this is quite the compliment, I try to remind her that I have a whole folder full of recipes for butternuts. She never wavers, and I always give in. This year will be no exception. But that concession doesn’t stop me from encouraging her to explore my other butternut favorites, like the layered casserole I made a couple Christmases ago, or the Blonde on Blonde Pasta dish that has become my personal favorite. In fact, I try something new with butternuts every year, including this year.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting it up with my friend Jane—that’s Jane Zappia the proprietor of Pop’s Pies—as we were on our way to see one of our favorite farmers, Bruce Haas, the owner of Daydream Farm in Greenville, IL. We were almost giddy because Bruce’s amazing green apples had come in, and it was a bumper crop. Bruce brought his entire haul to the Land of Goshen Community Market—the Fujis, the Delicious, the Gala….oh, the mouthwatering recipes Jane and I were contemplating.
We love Halloween in my house—the sweet part of it, right? The little trick-or-treaters in their costumes, the homemade goodies for family and friends at harvest gatherings, the seasonal displays of pumpkins and gourds, squeals and laughter. But we don’t mind getting a little salty either, especially when it comes to snacking: just the right combination of salt and sugar is the magic incantation for those treats so good you just can’t stop eating.
But they should be at least a little healthy right? I mean, if you are going to eat a lot of a snack, it should have nutritional benefit, don’t you think? Okay, before you think I’ve taken all the fun out of Halloween, consider my newest creation: Sweet and Salty Roasted Chickpeas. A little bit corn nut, a little bit Payday candy bar in a protein-packed snack. TaDa!
Everybody knows by now that I love fall and winter squash—just about any kind, from pumpkins (that are food not decorations) to butternuts. And by far, my favorite is delicata, which until recently could only be gotten at the farmers markets. The grocery stores are so slow to catch on the fabulous local food, but delicata squash turn up regularly now at major chains, though I still get all mine from local my farmers.
In college, I took two years of French. I loved studying and speaking this beautiful language. You can literally read a grocery list in French and create poetry. Pommes de terre, les haricots verts, et rôti de boeuf—that’s potatoes, green beans and roast beef, y’all.
But today? It’s pain perdu!
The kitchen as classroom—it’s certainly not a new concept. A culinary hero of mine, Alice Waters, was one of the first chefs to identify this idea with her Edible Schoolyard Project, a project that has since taken on a life of its own and been replicated in myriad ways globally, helping children understand where their food comes from, that a healthy plant-based diet can be delicious when deliciously prepared, and how cooking fosters skills that we all need. This idea is different from seeing a kitchen as a place where one learns to cook; it’s reimagining this functional space as a place where one cooks to learn.
If you keep up with this blog, you’ve learned by now that I am the veggie lover and my husband Don is the meat lover. We do cross paths on occasion—I am a strong believer in quality bone broth as part of my healthy winter regime, and Don eats (for the most part and with only a small amount of continual reluctance) my vegetable concoctions. That said, neither of us is willing to adapt in any significant way to the other’s lifestyle. We agree to disagree.
So when I find a vegetable and ways to cook it that make Don clean his plate, it’s a repeater. Which is exactly what I hit on with this new eggplant-inspired curry. And don’t you think the name is just too cute? Hubba Bubba—what’s not to love about that?