From the beginning, we’re all searching for our happy. We look for it from our parents, then our teachers and friends and finally, the razzle dazzle of the world outside. Almost inevitably, we all decide that we need more things, shinier baubles, glitzier clothes, bigger digs to get to the happy place we see glistening in glossy magazines and on TV shows.
So we go to law school, or go for our MBA, or just dive into 70-hour work weeks, a slave to our smartphones, just so we can hope to someday afford to buy a bigger apartment into which we can place more impressive works of Bauhaus furniture, complicated post-modern artwork that we don’t understand or like but feel we should, closets full of designer goodies.
But somehow, the constant striving becomes our lives, and suddenly … all of the energy we’re expending to stock up future parcels of happiness is wiping out any chance of happiness in the here and now. Stressful days and nights turn into bad weeks, terrible months, years that streak by in blurs under florescent lights.
When I got into a bad car accident more than a year ago, Stephen and I totally reassessed our lives, where we were going, how we lived, what we wanted. Recovering from the accident was (and still is) one of the hardest things I’ve done, but it’s given us a rare opportunity to live day-to-day, to try to focus on the little, silly things in front of us, instead of the improbable goals we had when we first got married, like retiring to Tahiti at 50 to sell smoothies out of a truck on the beach (it could happen!).
We closed the door on New York City and decided to move to the country. So far, so good.
Living closer to the natural rhythms of the earth, and ignoring the glittering distractions of la vida loca seems so much easier out here. Surrounded by towering evergreens, chittering squirrels, howling coyotes, packs of deer and hordes of field mice and frogs (and that’s just in our backyard), living and eating seasonally and locally seem obvious, instead of the intellectual / analytical project it became while we were living in Brooklyn, and even White Plains.
It has its downside too though — it’s Fall, so all kinds of critters are attempting to hole up in our house. On Saturday, Stephen bludgeoned two invading field mice to death with a shovel – that’s the kind of environmental stewardship and locavore spirit I knew I married him for. I’m looking forward to his next business trip, when Penny and I will be forced to deal with Franny the Field Mouse, Sammy the Salamander and Sonya the Squirrel by ourselves.
This is when the gun my Uncle Tom offered me would have come in handy. (Thoughts on mouse confit? Mouse mousse? Mouse stew? That has a nice ring to it…)
The family we bought our place from has been amazingly helpful in getting us situated; from the horror stories I heard, I was mentally prepared for a set of nine-headed monsters to emerge at the house closing, dragging primordial ooze in their wake. But instead, I got a giant packet of invaluable tips, a map of trails around the home and about a dozen contacts for a dog walker, a veterinarian, oil guy, chimney sweep, you name it.
Stephen and I are still waiting to find a pile of bodies buried in the basement or a forgotten stash of used torture devices. In the meantime, I’m going to keep enjoying the goodwill they showered us with.
These days, instead of staring at the shining windows at Saks that house a bunch of stuff that I’ll never be able to afford (and somehow makes me feel incompetent because I can’t) on the way to work, I’ve put heading over to the farm and picking up a few boxes of just-cut produce with tiny clods of dirt still clinging to their roots on my agenda.
Per the former house-owners tip, I bought into a CSA over at Cascade Farm School. I am spending less than I would at Whole Foods, but getting more organic, sustainably grown produce than I know what to do with (literally).
This week, I got about a dozen different vegetables, including carrots, herbs, a cooking pumpkin and a bunch of gorgeously colorful turnips.
I wasn’t sure what to do with the pumpkin, and I didn’t feel like making a pie, so I decided … pilaf. The pumpkin was much easier to peel and chop than butternut squash, and sweeter too. Who knew? Click on for my Carrot and Turnip Soup and Pumpkin Pilaf recipes.
Carrot and Turnip Soup
Makes 4 servings
- 1 TBSP vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 4-5 small to medium sized turnips, cleaned and roughly chopped (I peel off the really dirty bits)
- 15 medium sized carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds (a mandolin makes this easier)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (homemade if possible)
- 1 tsp coriander, cayenne pepper, cumin, each
- Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
- 1-2 TBSP fresh chives, dill for garnish
- Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, a bit of salt, cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Throw in the turnips. Cook until softened, about 5, minutes. Throw in the garlic and about half of the carrots.
- (This is the kind of dish that I prep while I cook it. While the onions are cooking, I’m cleaning the turnips. While the turnips are cooking, I’m slicing up the carrots on a mandolin.)
- When the carrots begin to soften, throw in the stock and bring to a boil. Throw in the rest of the carrots and the dried spices, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. When everything is soft and the flavor is right, puree it with a hand blender, or add it to a stand mixer and puree. Run it through a sieve to smooth it out, if desired. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve.
Nutritional Breakdown of Carrot and Turnip Soup: About 200 calories and 5 grams of fat. Super high source of fiber, Vitamin A, C, K, B6, manganese and potassium.
Cost Breakdown of Turnip and Carrot Soup: About $1.50 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: The turnips make the soup taste creamy and rich — no extra fat needed. They also add a nutty depth; I love carrots, but they need something to balance out their sweetness and the turnips accomplish that. As expected, Stephen hated it. (He is averse to anything spicy that isn’t bogged down in dairy products and fried carbs).
Inspired by this Food Network recipe
Makes 6 servings
- 4 TBSP olive oil, divided
- ½ large yellow onion, small dice
- 1 medium-sized cooking pumpkin, peeled, seeded (reserve the ones that aren’t totally pulpy) and diced
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, divided
- 2 cups brown rice
- 2 oz. Pecorino Romano, grated
- 1 TBSP butter
- Salt, to taste
- Heat 3 TBSP olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat; add onions, salt and sautee until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Simmer until the pumpkin is fork tender, about 25 minutes. When tender, give it a whiz with the hand-blender. (Alternatively, load it into a stand blender and puree).
- Meanwhile, heat 1 TBSP olive oil in medium-sized saucepan. When hot, add rice and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the remaining 4 cups stock, salt, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook until tender.
- Add the pureed pumpkin mixture, grated cheese, butter and serve. I serve it with a wine sauce and fried pumpkin seeds.
Recipe for Wine Sauce:
- 2 cups Moscato wine
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup water
- 3 heaping TBSP flour
- Put wine, sugar, salt and cinnamon in small saucepan and heat until boiling. Mix together the water and flour, then whisk into boiling wine, and cook down a bit to desired consistency, about 15 minutes.
- Fry up the pumpkin seeds in a bit of oil, salt, paprika, chili powder, cinnamon.
Nutritional Breakdown of Pumpkin Pilaf: About 550 calories and 19 grams of fat. Good source of fiber, Vitamin A, potassium. So-so source of protein.
Cost Breakdown of Pumkin Pilaf: About $4 a serving with the wine.
Verdict / In the Future: I was kind of holding my breath when Stephen took a bite (he is a tried-and-true veggie disdainer), but he loved the sweet, rich flavors, and the garnish made it fun to plate and eat.