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.
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.
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 sauté 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.