Every Tuesday, Claire and I attend a gardening class at the New York Botanical Gardens with my sister and nephew. It’s a great class where the kids learn about plants, how they grow, and how we can use them. We’ve planted basil, cucumbers and beans. We’ve harvested Swiss chard, lemon balm, dill, purple beans, tomatoes. It’s a full on immersion on “green” and where “green” comes from.
Green has been on my mind a lot. Most of my friends from the UAE are on their summer holidays. For those of us that didn’t grow up in the mesmerizing yet arid desert, GREEN becomes something of a legend, something that lives in our memory and that conjures in us a stinging nostalgia only desert expats can know. Just mentioning it and one could smell the lawn of fresh cut grass, hear the wind rustling through leaves or see (and smell) the deepest greens after a delicious thunderstorm.
With this gardening class, (much like the cooking classes I teach to kids as young as 2!), we taste and smell and see green in all its glory. So, what is it that makes these kids such pro-tasting, pro-smelling, picking (and cooking) students? I venture to say it’s connection.
It’s not news that as we’re increasingly connected to “each other” via social media and other web based applications, we are increasingly disconnected from ourselves, our food, our happiness and the real each others.
It has been shocking for me to see whole families eating out together only they are all alone, typing or reading on their devices. In my husband’s language classes this summer, he is amazed to see that NONE of his students talk to each other on break. (Not a great strategy for learning a language.)
But, something magical happens when you do feel connected. Actually, lots of magical things happen. You feel grounded and safe so experimenting becomes easier. You feel happy and optimistic so trying something new becomes addictive. You feel whole, because in actuality, you are.
I see it most readily in Claire. When she “acts up” or has a “meltdown”, I can always trace it back to her not feeling quite enough connection with me. Her tank is empty and coping is that much more difficult. Does that sound familiar? Yes, we do it on an adult level, but we know what it’s like to operate on empty. Our need for connection is instinctual and we need it for survival. Newborns exhibit it best.
So, connection on every level has a deep effect on us. Every layer we are separated from ourselves, our families and communities, our nourishment, we fall further into isolation and doubt. No doubt that becomes a habit that we become accustomed to. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be interrupted and changed.
I made the following recipe, The Botanical Gardens Salad, with produce we harvested in class or that came from my sister’s garden. Get greens as fresh and local (and organic) as possible. Make sure they’re so fresh you can taste the rain and sunshine. Let the sweetness and the bitterness come alive on your tastebuds. Let this be your interruption.
You could also drink your greens. It’s a good option, too, but whatever way you choose to nourish your body with greens, make sure you get some time to actually SIT in green. Take off your shoes, roll down a little hill (or a big one) and take time. You deserve it and the benefits you’ll reap…well, you’ll see.
The Botanical Gardens Salad with Miso Vinaigrette
4 large leaves of Swiss chard, chiffonade (finely cut into ribbons)
a few handsful of mixed greens such as mizuna, baby lettuces, mustard greens, etc.
½ C corn kernels, fresh and cooked (or frozen and thawed)
1 C cherry tomatoes
2 T roasted sunflower seeds
¼ C chopped candied walnuts (walnuts roasted in ½ t each of olive oil and maple syrup at 350F (180C) for 6-7 minutes)
¼ C dried currants
For the dressing:
¼ C extra virgin olive oil
¼ C apple cider vinegar
2 T orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 t orange zest
1 T shallots, minced
1 t dijon mustard
2 t white (mellow) miso
1-2 t maple syrup
Pinches of sea salt or Himalayan salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Organize greens in separate piles in a large salad bowl.
2. Add other ingredients on top of greens, sprinkling seeds, nuts and currants last.
3. Mix all ingredients for dressing in a bowl and whisk briskly to incorporate all ingredients.
4. You could add dressing to the entire bowl or serve it separately.
5. Enjoy all summer long!
Optional add-ons: Aduki beans, chickpeas, dried cranberries or blueberries, and you could never ever go wrong with avocado 😉