My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Soup Bone of Contention

Photo by Daniel Bartholomew
Cream of Swiss Chard Soup. At least I love it!
Cucumbers, scallions, stevia, pumpkin...from mundane to exotic, my garden is bursting its seams this August. Those 100-plus degree days didn't defeat it. 

I gathered blackberries for breakfast, made an omelet with Hungarian wax peppers and chives for lunch, and even made Baba Ghanouj from eggplant for an appetizer this week. 

"No thank you," said my family to the Baba Ghanouj.  "No thank you" to the omelet. And when I blended up Cream of Swiss Chard Soup yesterday, 18-year-old daughter first refrained from comment (through politeness), then told me it tasted like grass. 

Just one of the cookbooks I use to try
livening up meals. This book is edited by
 Janet Swarbrick.
Second sibling said "Thank you" and declared the soup "okay." No fireworks there. 

The 12-year-old liked it, maybe. No one cleaned their bowl voluntarily. 

Why did this soup matter? The more we eat from the garden, the lower my grocery bills. But that's not all. Swiss Chard is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies on the planet. My kids have largely scrounged their own lunches this summer and this pattern has emerged: peanut butter and jelly, Ramen noodles, grilled cheese. Day after day.

Thus, my attempt to squeeze a little nutrition into the party. My teens, tween and I actually had this conversation:

Me: "Just finish the soup, ok?" I had put minuscule servings into our smallest bowls.

Child: "I did finish it." 

Me: "Then why is it still in your bowl?"

Child: "Look!" Child shows me a half-inch ring above the warm, green pool below -- evidence that several spoonfuls were attempted.

Me: "There are potatoes in there. It tastes just like potato soup. Eat it until you can see the picture on the bottom of the bowl." (A winter Currier & Ives scene. But no matter.)

Child: "You can see the picture, look!"

I repeat. These were not toddlers, but a tween and two teens. Sigh. We even began our morning yesterday with a "Saint of the Day" and Scripture readings from the Magnificat. Double sigh. The meal ended with contention. I let some frustrated words fly. It's so hard to meet collective rejection over the no-brainer concept that fresh should trump processed.

Middle son explains his bias. "Mom, they're vegetables." At least half the nation would probably agree with him, since modern palate often craves processed fare.

But...what to do with a garden full of greens no one wants? 

Guilt doesn't work. I've talked about those starving kids in Africa. Coercion seems pitiful since we are talking older kids, here. "Eat your veggies and you can have your dessert." Please. Nagging is a nuisance and plunges pleasantries at the table into a scene from Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew."
Photo by Marianna Bartholomew
Veggies from my garden. Now, if people would only eat them!
Subterfuge seems the best ploy. Hide those nasty vegetables. I've tried tucking them into sauces with some success, although my husband and I are trying not to overdo pasta. I could make a meatloaf and hide the greens, but who wants to heat up the kitchen for an hour mid-summer? I juiced veggies a few days ago and loved it, but again faced the chorus of "No thank yous!" from the kids. 

"Just take one sip and try it," I'll usually say. This time, I didn't bother.

I did all the right things. Breastfed each baby and raised them on whole foods. I even had a little manual baby-food grinder, and steamed and pressed their first carrots and peas. 

Now, I'll place some garden fare on the table and watch eyes collectively avert to other quadrants. In exasperation, I'll finally say, "You don't have to like it. Just take some like a vitamin." 

The usual protocol in my house is to wait until the substance is cold and has been tracked across the plate, before donning a heroic face and taking it in a few dramatic gulps. The kids do eat some veggie eventually, because that's the rule. If I go to the trouble to prepare some dish, the least they can do is eat a respectable portion of it.

I can sauté delectable veggies in butter with a dash of lemon and sea salt, and the crew still grimaces downing the ration.

Photo by Marianna Bartholomew
Fresh from the garden tastes astonishingly real.
Of course, the kids aren't considering ramifications of diet choices to health and limb. All they know is that modern taste buds eschew too-real garden fare. I do sympathize. I remember staring at my childhood dinner plate at mounds of zucchini from our organic garden. Next day? Another mound. So, I do have some empathy. For heaven's sake, even my husband has texture issues. For him, if it's slippery or pureed, forget it.

Perhaps when the kids are grown and more savvy consumers, they'll think back with at least some affection to the steady flow of organic goods that visited their childhood table. 

But for now? It's a different story. Eggs straight from an Amish farm? No thank you, we don't like eggs. Milk from that same source? The stuff from the store is so much better. Fresh garden goods March through October? Ugh.

Year after year, dinner plate after dinner plate, the same old battle. Who wants to turn every meal into a food war? 

So, the boys came with to Costco last week and I caved. Corn dogs from the freezer? Now, we're talking.

"Look, Mom. They're natural. No msg!" 

Frankly, the lure of good 'ol American processed outweighs the appeal of natural for lots of the population. Even my veggie soul is visited by cravings for White Castles and the occasional bean burrito from Taco Bell. It's all about balance, with the ratio needing to heavily favor the good. Thank heavens restaurants are trying out fresher menu items. That vegetarian burrito I got at Qdoba today was great! But since our food budget doesn't allow for frequent dining out, I try my best to recreate the bliss at home. Thus, my angst when success eludes me. 

Photo by Marianna Bartholomew
At least garden flowers are
always appreciated.
I've heard of families where the kids take to veggies like barnacles to a submarine. Since this particular trait skipped the Bartholomew gene-line, say a prayer for me, the beleaguered gardener and cook. Say a prayer for my husband and kids, who are tired of the topic. And, if any reader has a positively fool-proof recipe that even veggie-haters love, please share! 

In the meanwhile, I'll count my successes:

*Including the kids in the planting, watering and food prep process gives them skills for the future.
* Grilling vegetables can be great, if you don't set them on fire.
* Inviting the family to find a veggie-themed recipe a week adds some dash to the menu. Middle son discovered a Greek-inspired meatball recipe with mint that was easy to prepare and delicious. Youngest son found a pesto sauce (from the cookbook pictured above) that rocked our garden-fresh basil. 
* Fresh thyme, chives and garlic folded into cream cheese, thinned with a little milk and sea salt, makes a fabulous dip.  Actually, any spices will do.
* Zucchini muffins and chocolate zucchini cake go down well (along with lots of sugar, alas). 
* My daughter used fresh basil in a chicken recipe yesterday and it gained general approval. 
* Now and then, a couple of my kids get brave and enjoy a few Southern fried green tomatoes. 
* Cucumbers sliced are always easy and inoffensive.
* Fresh tomato slices on a burger work.
* Loads of hidden veggies can be tucked into stew.
* Once or twice a year, I'll make beer batter veggie tempura. Yum. No one complains.
* Squash or pumpkin bread and pie are hits. And gathering our Halloween pumpkin from the garden is a blast.

Now, for those of you shaking your heads because your family positively loves garden delights, I've included the Cream of Swiss Chard recipe. I thought it was delicious and delightfully easy. It's pretty too. Don't you agree? (See top photo.) But I can't promise your family will love it!

“Cream” of Swiss Chard Recipe! - Recipes

See the bottom of this recent post for a listing of my most popular gardening posts: Garden Gift

Photo by Marianna Bartholomew
"Square-foot Gardening" helps me plant dozens of
vegetables on one-quarter of a city-sized back lot.