Sunday, November 3, 2013

The In Between: Kale with Chard, and Day of the Dead

Our last CSA pickup for the season was last Friday, and so this week was the first in many months that I had to plan a menu that didn't involve kale, chard, or tomatoes.  I don't tend to can or freeze our share, so there was something wistful about eating the last local-farm-sourced meal of the season, as much as it's freeing to have the entire supermarket open to me again.  Watching the fields turn brown and white is like watching a loved one die, and yet, after eating so much green for so many months, I start to crave things that are brown and white, the root vegetables of winter.

I've always loved this time of year, though, this in-between when it feels like the door to another world is open, when death and life collide.  We more or less suck at dealing with death in this country, in my experience; death is something we don't like to talk about, something we distance from our own lives, something to be feared.  These silences make grieving more difficult, not to mention significantly limiting our experience of being human.  Other cultures cope with death and dying much more effectively by making it part of life, particularly during this season of the year: the Celtic holiday of Samhain both celebrates the end of the harvest season and welcomes the souls of the dead, who were beckoned to attend feasts where a place was set at the table for them. The three-day long celebration of El Día de los Muertos, likewise, sets aside a specific day at the end of the traditional harvest period to remember lost friends and loved ones.  The only thing we have that comes even close to honoring this liminality is Halloween, and we're too busy gorging ourselves on candy to really appreciate it.

My daughter asked me what I was going to be for Halloween this year, and--not wanting to do one of the usual ghost/zombie/vampire affairs--after giving it a lot of thought (not to mention spending a lot of time admiring the creative costume ideas at Take Back Halloween), I decided that if I needed to dress up, I would be Frida Kahlo, the feminist Mexican artist famous for her self-portraits.

Kahlo lived on the boundaries.  A victim of childhood polio that left her with legs two different lengths, and a bus accident during her teenage years that resulted in life long pain, multiple operations on an injured pelvis, and multiple miscarriages, she also pushed the limits of traditional gender norms, smoking, drinking, and having bisexual extramarital affairs. After several years living in what she referred to as "Gringoland" with her husband Diego Rivera, with whom her relationship was complicated at best, she painted a self-portrait in which she stands between Mexico and the United States, herself a physical boundary (or bridge) between indigenous culture and technology, natural resources and industrialization.

While I don't identify with Kahlo as I did once long ago with Jane Eyre, I appreciate her embrace of the space between, her strength and resilience, her joie d'vivre, even given her difficult life.  A few days before her death, she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida".   Kahlo accept and embraced her fragility, and still did her best to live a life and produce art that suggested her power and serenity as a woman in the world, living courageously into a future that is unknown. And perhaps, at this time of year, that's the most we can hope for.

Do you celebrate a holiday that remembers lost loved ones?  What's your experience of this particular kind of in-between-ness?

Spiced Squash and Chard with Walnuts
This was I did with the last of our CSA produce of the year.  Not quite salad, 

not quite side dish, not quite root vegetable or leafy green, it lives somewhere in the in-between, too.

1 medium acorn squash
1 bunch of swiss chard, ribs removed and chopped, leaves chopped separately
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
2 t. cardamom
3/4 c. chopped toasted walnuts

2 T. orange juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
3 T. local honey
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. oil grapeseed oil
1/2 t. apple pie spice
1/8 t. ginger
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Slice, peel, and cube the acorn squash. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and cardamom. Roast in a single layer for 30-35 minutes, flipping once half-way through.

While your squash is roasting, shake together the orange juice, vinegar, oil, apple pie spice, ginger, honey, and salt in a jar.

When the squash is done, move to a skillet  over medium heat and add the the chard, continuing to stir until wilted. Chop and toast the walnuts; you can toss them into the same roasting pan you've just emptied, and put them back in the oven for just a few minutes (check every two minutes or so to make sure they're not burning).

Add your walnuts after 3-4 minutes.

Toss the warm chardwith 1/4 c. of the vinaigrette. Enjoy immediately or at room temperature.
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