Saturday, November 26, 2011

CSA Fail, Thanks-givings, and Vegetable (Beef Optional) Barley Stew

One of the reasons I've been posting less often of late is the lack of inspiration in my kitchen.  It's not that I'm not cooking; rather, it's that I'm dealing with the same head of cabbage and the same husk cherries and the same sugar pumpkin for the SEVENTH week in a row, and I hit the cruciferous wall somewhere back around week four, when my family threatened to stage a coup.  I have been bravely soldiering on nonetheless, but I'm not going to shoulder you, dear readers, with yet another week of cabbage stew.  (If you're having the same problem I am, please do feel free to peruse the archives ... that's what I've been doing.)

It was a pretty bad CSA year for us.  Our farm was feeling its way through a new program, and though we'd heard great things about their produce, and had seen them at our farmer's market last year with lots of great fruits and veggies, every week we got a box that was half full of rotten--or on their way to rotten--items.  The things that weren't rotten were the things that we couldn't stand to think about eating any more of.  I know I whined and moaned about the chard last year, but I would have given my left arm for some chard this year: at least chard is something you can do things with.  Our Thanksgiving box had no sweet potatoes, no arugula, no dinosaur kale, or radishes, or anything else you'd expect to find at this time of year.  Really?  I thought when I saw it.  And because our farm was not very good at communicating with us about what has happening, we're left to wonder: was it just a bad year?  a bad program?  bad luck?

Between that, and the fact that our own garden was decimated by rabbits, groundhogs, deer, and all manner of other woodland creatures who are reclaiming suburbia one squash, one tomato at a time, it would be easy to throw in the towel and decide that it's easier to drive to the grocery store than to live off the land.

The weird thing is, I'm not. The season is officially over now, and we're back to meal and menu planning on our own.  But I'm already scoping out CSAs for next year, and my husband is collecting and browsing seed catalogues.

The experience got me thinking.  For some people, 2011 was a year of prosperity, but for many more it was marked by uncertainty, hardship, despair.  People are out of work, in debt, in distress.  We're supposed to be grateful at Thanksgiving, but it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all that we didn't harvest this year.

Still, though we may not feel much like we have blessings to count, it's pretty likely that we're still holding on to hope for the next year.  By the end of November, we can see the new year approaching, and we project ourselves into a happier future, another chance.  If you got to break a wishbone with someone, I'll wager that you made a wish for something to change for the better in the year to come.  And it seems to me that especially when life throws us against a wall (cruciferous or otherwise), hope is itself a blessing that deserves to be counted.

Here's to the harvest, such as it was, with gratitude for our capacity to sustain the hope that what is needed is on its way.

This body-and-soul-warming stew is full of the vegetables of the late fall and early winter (and is adaptable for vegetarians and non-vegetarians), the barley stretches your dollar a little father, and it doesn't even have leftover turkey in it.  If you use a slow cooker, combine everything except peas and cook on low for 8-10 hours; stir in peas during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Vegetable (Beef Optional) Barley Stew

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs. tempeh or beef stew meat
1 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. chopped onions
1 c. sliced celery with leaves
4 c. low-sodium beef stock or broth
1 bay leaf
¾ c. hulled barley, rinsed. drained
4 c. peeled sweet potato chunks, 1-inch squares (about 1½ pounds)
2 c. sliced carrots, 1-inch rounds
1½ c. cubed parsnips
½ T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. dried oregano
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice, broken apart
1½ c. frozen peas (optional)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan on medium-high. Add tempeh or meat and sprinkle with flour, stirring well to coat. Cook until browned. Stir in onions and celery and saut√© for 5 minutes or until onions are soft. Add stock or broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 1 (if you're using tempeh)-1½ hours (if you're using beef).

Add barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Worcestershire sauce, and oregano. Cover and simmer 50-60 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stir in tomatoes and peas. Reheat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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  1. Just don't light a match in the house after that abundance of cabbage! Happy Thanksgiving my dear American friend. I hope 2012 is a great year for all of you.

  2. Thank you for making me more aware of how incredibly lucky we are to live in a place of exceptional agricultural bounty - little things that we sometimes take for granted like nearly consistently wonderful CSA boxes. Still, this has been a difficult year in many ways and I will admit that I always look forward to a new year full of hope and possibilities.

    This stew looks like a perfect meal for these long dark evenings. Bring on the solstice!

  3. That's disappointing. But you have such a knack for pulling out deeper meaning in everything. I love that you turned 7 weeks of cabbage into a reflection on abundance and gratitude and change. As always, your blog leaves me smiling on the inside.

  4. This was beautifully said---gratitude and hope are essential to a good life, and even in the light of disappointment we can still use those things to remind us of what's really important in life.


  5. We've had a hard growing season here in Texas with the drought. You expressed your sentiments so well here though. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a lovely meal with me, and thank you for your kind words on my blog! I hope you are having a happy start to your week!

  6. Need something to do with lots of cabbage? We do egg rolls! Which, I believe, are by default vegan - at least as we make them. Nothing more awesome than a homemade egg roll!

  7. hi Justine!
    3 things:
    -this stew looks AMAZING
    -so does your blog.
    -i got really excited when i read the comment you made on my blog about my shop being on BlogHer. SO excited.
    thank you so so much :)

  8. for about the billionth time, you have just solved my "what to cook tonight" dilemma! thanks justine, i really needed the help today! :)

  9. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday...

    I always appreciate reading your CSA posts as I admire you and other who participate in those programs. I have contemplated participating some year, but don't feel that my family and I are up for the challenge yet.

    This part of your post really resonates with me, as I always try to find silver linings and things to be grateful for during difficult and uncertain times in my life.

    "It seems to me that especially when life throws us against a wall (cruciferous or otherwise), hope is itself a blessing that deserves to be counted."

    I also love how you worded this:

    "Here's to the harvest, such as it was, with gratitude for our capacity to sustain the hope that what is needed is on its way."

    Just beautiful. I love that in the midst of a frustrating year with your CSA you found a way put a positive and hope-filled spin on your experience.

  10. I'm only now realizing that I should have spend CSA Season 2012 perusing your 2011 CSA archives.

    May I assume your hope for a better season was rewarded this year?

  11. What an excellent choice for the theme 'hope.' Hope IS a blessing that needs to be counted. I will try to keep those words in mind.

    And as I always end up doing after reading one of your posts, I will hope for CSA around here sometime.


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