Gifts of inspiration during a gardening and cooking drought

I’ve had a difficult time being dedicated to cooking, gardening and blogging lately.  I think I’ve got a pretty good excuse–I haven’t moved to another country like Sarah has, but I am soon moving into a house 5 blocks away.  I’ve also been visiting family in Alberta, and working 6 different jobs.  (That’s not as bad as it sounds since most of my Art Therapy positions are only a few hours a week, but it is a lot to balance!)

Some of my free time has gone into the garden in front of my current house, but I haven’t been diligently weeding it or planting anything in it for the winter with the prospect of moving on the horizon.  As for my plot in the community garden just across the street, I transplanted three of our neighbor Maria’s tomato plants into it, and then the weeds went wild!  I returned home from my visit to Alberta to find the tomato plants trampled by dandelions and the plot a total disaster.  Since I don’t have to walk past this garden plot to enter my house, I decided to let it go.  Out of sight, out of mind!  Plus, why would I want to invest so much into that plot anyways, when it will be demolished in the fall when the church’s social housing complex is built on top of it?  A lot of the other plots have already run wild with weeds…  Why sow if you’re not sure that you will reap?

Through this domestic drought, I’ve had a couple of reminders of the gift that growing and preparing food are.

Two weeks ago, it was hot.  It was Vancouver’s first burst of heat after a cold and wet spring, and the plants and people rejoiced.  The plants started to grow, and people started popping up in their gardens.  I decided to stay inside and edit photos from a wedding I had photographed or work on some emails.  There was a lot to do until suddenly, the internet stopped working.  And then the fan turned off.  And soon I realized that the power was out in our grid.  What to do with no power?  You don’t realize how dependent you are on it until you lose it!  After going for a walk and seeing an exceptionally large amount of people walking around and wondering what to do with themselves, I reluctantly decided that maybe it was time to tend to my plot in the community garden.

Alganesh, our neighbor who is from Ethiopia, was working on her plot.  I see her out there almost every day, so I can’t imagine that there are weeds left in her plot.  I showed her the condition of my plot and she said, “Oh no!”  I began to slowly dig out some of the dandelions with my little weeding tool when she handed me her favorite tool, which is somewhat like a pick axe.  The pick axe was perfectly weighted and struck those weeds oh, so well.  I began to feel much satisfaction in clearing the weeds away from my damaged tomatoes and almost completely clearing the plot, save the swiss chard.

As I worked, Alganesh looked around the community garden at all the plots that were left untended and said, “What a waste.  Where I come from, we use every bit of land we can to grow food.”

And then Maria came to look at the tomatoes she had given me and I was ashamed to have her find them lying in the dirt.  But she showed grace: “Those are no good.  I give you new plants tomorrow.”  A few more friends showed up to say hello or work on their plots, and when I was finished for the evening, Maria and her husband Cisto had a glass of red wine (with an ice-cube in it!) for me.  I felt encouraged this evening, realizing that there is so much more worth in gardening than just harvesting the fruits!  What a wonderful way it is to steward the land and spend time with your neighbors.  Life was perfect in the Garden of Eden, and it is really good in our own gardens!

The other reminder that I had happened yesterday, when I decided to quickly stop by the Farmer’s Market to buy a few vegetables for the busy week ahead.  And then I happened upon a cooking demonstration in the middle of the market by chef Ned Bell.  And he was making a chilled soup–something I’ve often thought about doing, but hadn’t yet attempted.  I stayed for his cooking demonstration, tasted the goodness of his creation, and felt encouraged by his advice about having fun with a recipe and making it your own.  I took one of his recipe cards, picked up the necessary ingredients at the market, and attempted to have some fun with his recipe.  Here it is:

Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Cucumber Pickle and Cherry Balsamic Syrup

by Ned Bell

FOR THE SOUP:

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes

1/2 lb cucumber

2 roasted red peppers

1 clove fresh garlic

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp sea salt

fresh herbs- your favorite in-season variety

1 jalapeno pepper- seeded and chopped

Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Season to taste.  Chill for at least one hour or until very cold.

FOR THE CHERRY BALSAMIC SYRUP:

1/2 litre red or white wine vinegar

2 cups honey

1 cup salt

1 lb cherries, stemmed but not pitted

1 cup high quality balsamic vinegar

Put cherries in a heat-proof bowl or jar.  Bring vinegar, honey and salt to a boil.  Pour over cherries.  Add balsamic vinegar.  Let cool.

FOR THE CUCUMBER PICKLE:

1 cup honey

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 of 1 medium long English cucumber

Bring honey and vinegar to a boil.  Slice cucumber thin and soak in honey vinegar.  Chill. 

TO SERVE:

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Garnish with the syrup, and pickle.  Optional: Add one scoop of fruit sorbet.*  You can also add any combination of fresh herbs, nuts, and yoghurt.

Since I sampled this soup with a scoop of roasted rep pepper sorbet in it, I decided to make that as well.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used: http://www.finedinings.com/roasted_red_pepper_sorbet__a_uni.htm

The soup was like nothing I’ve ever made or tasted before.  It was time-consuming to make, but definitely worth the work… especially considering that with moving and working, it will likely be awhile since I’ll be able to cook creatively again.  This gift of inspiration will have to keep me nourished for a while.

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