Tuesday night, after a crazy day of feeling stressed and sitting in traffic for forty-minutes, I came home to a warm dinner made by my awesomely kind and romantic partner in life. N made roasted butternut squash with sage and bacon penne. Imagine having a picnic in a pumpkin patch or apple orchard because this dinner does that for you–it transports you to the perfect setting. It is the right way to eat salty and sweet! [Click here for Martha Stewart’s recipe (she uses pancetta; we used bacon).]
I had been looking forward to this dinner since Sunday, when we planned it after a tiny bit of research. This dish was researched and added to our week’s menu mainly due to our recent decision to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Around 3 weeks ago, I found out that my yoga studio (Pure Prana) had partnered with Olin-Fox Farms in Reedville, Virginia as a delivery site for CSA’s. I spent the past two years deeply contemplating signing up for a CSA and came so close many times only to be talked out of it by myself or N. Our fears centered around being wasteful: would we be able to eat everything in time before it rotted and would we have the time to find recipes for the ingredients that we weren’t familiar with?
Well, I am here to tell you that the answer to both those questions, after my extensive experience, is YES! We found a solution to the first fear: we found an awesome friend and colleague who said she would commit to taking one third of each CSA drop off. As far as our second fear…thank you Google for your kind ways in guiding me towards the perfect recipe in minutes.
As I ate the perfect fall dinner, I couldn’t stop smiling and just then, got a text from my friend who was sharing our CSA. It said: “Mmmmmm, CSA!” To which I quickly shared what I was having for dinner. Two days later, she made a variation of the dish. The thing that was unexpected was how much I would feel like a child when all the food arrived. The day it arrived, I couldn’t wait to get home and open it to see what we had received. Two seconds after I assessed our CSA, I called my friend and we giggled over all the ingredients. Then vowed to figure out a way to use the one trick item: sage. After M’s text, a flood of memories drenched my mind.
When I was around the age of 7, my family lived in a tiny country village called Kharmunghat in the state of Andra Pradesh, India. One of the first projects my dad took on was landscaping/farming. We moved there because Dad had been offered a job as a principal and head of the orphanage. He decided the best way to bond with the boys in the orphanage would be to plant the border of our compound with eucalyptus trees. It took them several weeks. Every day they went to tend the land, I tagged along to “supervise”. Mostly, I just plucked a lot of leaves and sniffed them to my heart’s content. Once the border trees were planted, Dad moved on to planting a vegetable garden by the orphanage’s kitchen. This time I begged him to let me plant something as well. He got me “forget-me-nots” (clovers) to plant. I was so excited to plant my own plants. I remember spelling out ‘Mum’ with the seeds. While Dad watered our garden, I visited it daily to check on his vegetables and my spelling. I remember spotting the first tomato and the first “M” on my plants. Dad congratulated me on my gardening efforts and we plucked our first tomato together. My brother and I ate the tomato that mom sliced and sprinkled with salt and chili powder. The ripe, juicy tomato was the best tomato of my life because I had watched it grow. There is something special about the connection you feel to the vegetables from a garden that you planted and watched grow. Maybe it’s all in my head, but the food just tastes better. M and I had a similar taste of excitement when our CSA arrived.
Although I do not have Dad’s vegetable garden to inspire me anymore and have lost my green thumb, it has imprinted me. I am continuously trying to find the best local ingredients, no matter where I live. It is why I gained 8 pounds in Boston on my search for the best New England Clam Chowder. It is why I am snobby about barbecue; my first plate of barbecue was in Memphis! The truth about this new adventure with my mystery basket that arrives every other Thursday is that it brings me back to the gleeful child who visited her Dad’s garden daily. I may have moved far away from Kharmunghat and come to love many foods that have ultimately molded my palate into a complex tool, yet my roots remain firmly planted in foods that are farm fresh and local.