What is a brassica? Frequent gleaners will know that many familiar vegetables belong to the brassica genus, including cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, plus some more unexpected characters, like radishes and arugula.
With so many examples of tasty and widely available vegetables in the brassica family, it's safe to say that most of us have one brassica or another in our fridges at any given time. These vegetables are also commonly grown on New England farms, where cool spring and autumn weather allow these hardy plants to thrive for much of the year.
When Boston Area Gleaners teams head to the fields to rescue surplus crops each season, the odds are good that if we're gleaning a vegetable, it's a brassica! Cabbage, kale, and collards are three crops that grow prolifically on our partner farms and are popular among the food pantries we work with, too.
But alas, with abundance comes boredom, at least some of the time. What to do with all the cabbage, kale, and, that eternal challenge, kohlrabi that comes through your kitchen? This recipe for Brassica Fritters lets you work with what you've got in your fridge, giving you a creative way to use up odds and ends like kohlrabi and broccoli stems, with added warmth and spice from cumin and paprika. Think of it as a highly non-traditional Gleaner Latke, if you will. Explore the depths of your fridge and discover new ways to enjoy the many members of the brassica family!
adapted from Martha Rose Shulman in NYTimes Cooking
Most of you know that my introduction to BAG comes through my long-time volunteer role at the Lexington Food Pantry. Since joining the team at BAG, I have been in the unique position of following gleaned vegetables from the field all the way to the grocery bags of our clients. Our pantry has always operated on an open shopping model which gives us the opportunity to spend time with, and get to know our clients.
We serve a diverse group – young families, single Moms, single Dads, older couples. One of the joys of doing this work is getting to know members of my community.
COVID has changed the world and our lives in ways that are too many to list. At the Lexington Food Pantry it has required us to completely change how we operate. In mid-March we switched from our traditional open model to one that uses on-line ordering with pick-up and delivery options.
We never see our clients anymore. I miss that. I miss hearing about their kids, their jobs, their lives. We have new clients I have never met. Our Saturday mornings have become about assembling bags of groceries as quickly as we can. We still try to add a personal touch for the clients we know – a favorite cereal for the kids, or jalapeños for the family that loves spicy foods, but mostly it’s just chaos. I understand why it has to be that way right now, but the joy is missing.
Last week, in the middle of the chaos, my son (who volunteers with me) handed me a cheerful bright green envelope. It was a thank you note from one of our clients – a wonderful connection to the people I miss and just like that, a reminder of the joy.
By Usha Thakrar
Stay-at-home advisories. Mandatory face coverings. Physical distancing...or is it social distancing? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...or is it Blur-sday? One day lumbers into the next and the collective mood is grim at best. This is our current reality, which we willingly adopt for the good of our communities.
In the midst of everything, if you're anything like us at Boston Area Gleaners, you could use a new, zesty, flavorful salad in your life. There's nothing like citrus, vinegar, mustard, and (gasp) anchovies to wake up your sleepy, stressed, and perhaps overly-sugared taste buds.
This recipe comes from Vinaigrette, a favorite restaurant in sunny Santa Fe. Hopefully it will bring some refreshing desert energy into your kitchen. Use it to make a kale Caesar salad or to dress up and tenderize any other sturdy leafy greens currently in your fridge. And in the spirit of the times, feel free to make substitutions as needed: use apple cider vinegar instead of Champagne, onions instead of shallots, and whatever mustard and hard cheese you have around.
ZINGY LEMON ANCHOVY VINAIGRETTE
Dresses six to eight salads of kale or other cruciferous greens
Juice of 2 1/2 lemons
12 anchovy fillets packed in oil, reserve some oil
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon creamy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
1 heaping tablespoon shallots, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste
Place all ingredients except the shallots in a blender; blend until you have a creamy but still liquid emulsification.
Add shallots and pulse briefly, just to incorporate.
Toss vinaigrette with shredded kale.
Grate Parmesan over the salad.
We are a quarter of the way through a year where the pace of change in the world has exceeded anything most of us have ever experienced. I don’t know about you but I have been finding the emotional peaks and valleys a bit disorientating at times. The news cycle continues chugging along, bringing with it emotionally laden stories of a world fiercely battling an invisible killer. At the same time we’ve seen amazing displays of humanity, kindness and selflessness.
We are distanced physically, each navigating our own smaller world of learning to cook ourselves three meals a day, to transform our living rooms into offices and classrooms, to cohabitate with little personal space and time to ourselves, host virtual game nights and to generally stay afloat through a period of great upheaval.
I once listened to a podcast where Boston-based psychiatrist, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, was making the case that stress hormones actually help us in that they “give us the energy to cope with extreme situations.” He said the problem comes when we are unable to use this energy to take action. This is exactly the dilemma we are faced with right now. So many of us desperately want to help but there isn’t all that much that can be done while still adhering to CDC guidelines intended to slow the spread of COVID.
That being said, the sun continues to rise everyday and the world keeps turning. If you’re reading this, it means you have survived 100% the challenges you have faced in life and in the COVID era. And we are so glad you are here. The most important thing you can do right now is to take care of yourself.... physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually. That act alone is a gift to yourself and the world.
We tend to think of uncertainty in a negative light. While it does pose many challenges; if the future is uncertain, it also means there is space for us to exert our influence. This is an argument that author Rebecca Solnit has spent a good deal of her career articulating. Her comments on the current state of the world have helped me to reframe this crisis and the role I wish to play in it.
“These are not things we would choose, but suddenly they're with us. And within them there are real possibilities to connect in different ways. There is a way that the old stabilities break up and that can be terrifying when you see systemic failure, government failure, institutional failure, inadequate medical supplies and protective gear in these cases, the financial emergency so many are facing.
All this goes to say that the road ahead of us is long. And while we are limited in what we can do right this minute, there will be much for us to do in the future. So the best thing we can do right now is follow the guidelines intended to slow the spread of COVID and take care of ourselves so that we have the strength and energy to influence how we rebuild from this tragedy. This is our job right now and although it may not feel like much its importance cannot be understated.
Here are a few things that have been helping me during this time…..
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities- Rebecca Solnit
Braiding Sweetgrass- Robin Wall Kimmerer
We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For- Alice Walker
Sacred Economics- Charles Eisenstein
Comment other book suggestions below! We'd love to hear what you all are reading to stay sane and hopeful.
I want you to know that we are working on crafting policies and procedures that will allow us to continue our gleaning activities safely this summer. So *fingers crossed* that will also be an option of a tangible activity you can partake in in a few months time. I also want you to know that while we are busy responding to the current crisis, we think of you all so often! Please reach out and let us know if you need anything, we will find a way.
Sending all our love & virtual hugs. See you soon.
P.s. don't forget to comment book recommendations and other wellness tips below so we can all benefit from each others wisdom.
This recipe comes from BAG's Executive Director, Usha Thakrar. Usha is an avid (and talented) cook and baker, whose creations frequently supplement staff meals and put a little more pep in their step at the end of a long day of gleaning. In this recipe from last September, Usha shares a tasty, nourishing ratatouille perfect for using up abundant summer veggies. Whether you have eggplant, peppers, and summer squash stashed in your freezer from last season, or whether you're just dreaming of next September's savory creations, enjoy this recipe in the spirit of summer!
Call it “Guilt Alleviating Ratatouille”
There was a big corn glean today and I had decided not to go as I had worked both days over the weekend. But I felt guilty so I decided to cook and bring the food to the team. My fridge was full of the veggies from my CSA (all gleaned)…
1 leek (chopped)
2 bell peppers (cubed)
1 large (or 2 small) eggplant (cubed)
1 zucchini (or summer squash) - (cubed)
2 - 3 tomatoes (chopped)
4 - 5 cloves of garlic (minced)
Red or white wine
Tomato sauce (one can)
1 -2 bay leaves
Heaping teaspoons of basil and oregano
Pinch of rosemary
Heat the oil. Add the garlic, bay leaf and leek. Sauté until soft.
Add the eggplant, wine, herbs, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the can of tomato sauce. Cook for about 10 minutes (until eggplant is tender).
Add zucchini and peppers and another 1/3 of the tomato sauce. Cook for another 10 minutes and add tomatoes and the rest of the tomato sauce.
Cook until veggies are tender (or slightly crisp if you prefer).
Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with rice or a crusty bread.
Our Volunteer Potluck on February 15th was a blast. We had the best time celebrating our 2019 season in style...feather boas and funny hats, to be precise!
We acknowledged our longtime Executive Director, Duck Caldwell, who steps into her new consulting role at BAG after many years of leadership. We officially welcomed Usha Thakrar, our new permanent ED, who joined us in July 2019 and has plunged into life as a gleaner with tremendous enthusiasm. And we recognized the commitment of our volunteers, whose hard work made it possible for us to glean well over 900,000 over the course of the season.
Most importantly, though, we ate, drank, and laughed together, sharing an impressive potluck spread and some of Usha's trademark orange pineapple punch.
Enjoy these photos of this fabulous night, captured by the amazing Bob Durling Photography! And if you missed out on the festivities, don't worry: as winter flies by, our summer potluck will be here before we know it.
It may be February, but New England farmers' markets are still brimming with local produce. While some area apple growers have emptied out their inventories and turned off their coolers for the rest of the winter, others are still marketing a veritable rainbow of apple varieties. Here's an easy and delicious recipe that calls for a moderate quantity of applesauce; try making your own from a few pounds of softer apples, as you make room in your own fridge for your next farmers' market haul! Or head to the market and mix and match different utility or cooking varieties for a one-of-a-kind applesauce...and a cake that surely won't last very long!
Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
for the frosting:
What I’m about to tell you may be shocking. You may want to sit down and set your cup of coffee in a secure place. But you may in fact want to try this at home.
I did a bad job of grocery shopping this fall, and one morning in October I was truly at the bottom of the barrel. No eggs, no fruit, no oatmeal, no yogurt, no nothing. At least, nothing the average person might describe as “part of a complete breakfast.” But I needed to get out the door and get to work for a busy day of gleaning. In between berating myself for poor planning and seriously considering “borrowing” breakfast from one of my roommates, I remembered what I had brought home from work the night before.
A dozen cider donuts.
One of the many farms that donates surplus produce to Boston Area Gleaners has a large farmstand, which is busy all fall selling produce, apples, cider donuts, and other homemade treats. We pick up produce regularly from this farm, but once late fall rolls around, the donuts start appearing, and our staff bring home stacks of bread trays filled with slightly stale but ever so tasty homemade cider donuts.
The BAG staff is a crew of hungry people working hard, and it’s not usually difficult to polish off a plate or two of treats. But dozens of donuts is another story. We made a little display in one of our coolers, so that food pantry staff could snag some while picking up orders. The stacks slowly dwindled. But only slowly.
So I brought a bag of cider donuts home. And on that chilly October morning when my options had truly run out, I took a donut, sliced it in half like a bagel, toasted it until the whole house smelled of cinnamon, and buttered it heavily. That’s right. I ate a toasted donut with butter. In fact, I ate two, because the first one was so insanely delicious. And then I went in to work for a long but rewarding day of harvesting fruits and vegetables for hunger relief.
It may come as a surprise that someone who is building a career around nutrition and food access would be willing to eat a plateful of buttered fried dough for breakfast. And sure, I’ve eaten my fair share of raw carrots while pulling them out of the ground. But I challenge you to consider what “part of a complete breakfast” really means.
Does it mean always eating only the most nutritious, filling, fiber-rich foods, with no added sugar and only good-for-you fats? Do we have to label our actions as “bad” or “guilty” when we enjoy foods with butter or sugar? Or can we include foods that are comforting, convenient, quick, and fun in our understanding of what “complete” could be?
One of the joys of being a gleaner is cultivating a respect for food that goes beyond the clear implications of how nourishing it is. Comfort foods, celebratory foods, and on-the-go foods all have a valid place in a person’s life. And although BAG’s mission is to expand access to locally-grown foods rich in vitamins and minerals, we have to recognize the cultural and emotional value of all foods, regardless of where they fall nutritionally.
I invite you to expand your idea of what a “complete” breakfast, meal, or dietary pattern can be, to include how food fits into the context of your life at any given moment. Those toasted, buttered donuts were better than I ever imagined a stale donut could be. If you ever have stale donuts in your kitchen, I encourage you to give it a try.
By Leah Costlow
The Gleaner Cookbook: