When I planted my garden this year I didn’t know I would spend gardening season pregnant. Had I known this, I would have skipped it (growing the vegetables, not the human) and what a big mistake that would have been.
It doesn’t always sound appealing – in the heat, when my back is achy and my kids are underfoot – to go tend to the plants. The otherwise minor tasks of trimming zucchini leaves, tying back heavy tomatoes branches, and watering are all more difficult each day, as I get bigger and more exhausted.
I don’t always want to stand in the kitchen – literally barefoot and pregnant – finding ways to cook, store, and preserve the garden bounty.
My already short patience is aggravated by keeping the dog from digging in the dirt (coming up brown-faced, feigning innocence) and reminding Owen not to pick the unripe tomatoes.
It has proven more than worth it, though. With low memory function these days, I often don’t have a vegetable to go with dinner; we’re lucky we eat at all some days. It’s a relief to walk out my back door and grab tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini. I forget during the winter that the difference between store bought and homegrown vegetables is out of this world.
The kids like to help: Owen with watering, Addie with cooking, and both with picking and eating. The whole experience is grounding (pun intended) for all of us. It helps my visual little humans to wrap their minds around where food comes from, when they see it go from the earth to the kitchen table, and into their mouths. Owen loves to talk about where things come from (luckily he hasn’t started on babies yet). Each night at dinner it’s: “From grocery store? From farmers market? From Costco?” I love telling him “Nope, this one is straight from our garden. We grew it!”
Addie has become a pro vegetable chopper in the last two months. Cooking projects give her the same flow and focus they give me. With her little nylon knife and her scrunched in, grumpy-looking serious face, she is content to zone out on zucchini rounds. It kills a bunch of birds with one activity: quality time together, skill practice, something to do while I’m cooking, and maximum cuteness.
The first sauce making day of the year was the big payoff from the work of the garden, both in process and product. Lugging in pounds of tomatoes over a few days, watching them get dark and ripe on the kitchen counter, and gathering ingredients and jars kept me motivated. The Instant Pot made it possible to cook a big batch in one morning.* This is the second year I’ve made it this way, so I dove in with confidence.
Addie, ever the helper, tied on her apron and supervised each step. This was a tough project to let her help with, since so much of it is done over heat and with sharp knives. But there was zucchini to chop, veggies to wash, basil leaves to put in the bottom of each jar, and lots of tasting along the way. Her favorite part was learning to use the immersion blender. She was afraid to hold it, but watched and whispered “immersion blender … is it smooth yet?” the whole time.
The sunny kitchen was a sensory carnival – from cooking smells, prepping sounds, and bright natural colors, to the tomato juice dripping down my arms. Even the air was relaxing: the hot steam released from the pressure cooker dissipating in the breeze from my greenhouse window.
All in all, the sauce was such a satisfying project, from start to finish. I shared my daughter’s zen feeling from chopping. I shared my husband’s love of the aroma of onions sautéing in olive oil. I shared my son’s love of all foods brightly colored and messy. I shared half the population’s amazement at the Instant Pot.
Watching my children in the garden and kitchen this year has made it worthwhile, even though some days the thought of either environment wears me out. I hope they form healthy relationships to food and earth and life. And maybe eating raw, freshly picked cucumbers every day will balance some mom guilt over ALL THE CAKE we seem to eat too.