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An Urban Farmer's Journal

Cooking with Collards
by Helen D. Gunderson
September 2, 2011

I look at my hands as I tear collard leaves into pieces and put them in the cast iron skillet along with garlic, onions, yams, and white potatoes that are already cooking in olive oil. It is past midnight.

The day has been one of lows and highs. A lot of sleeping, Partially physical exhaustion but admittedly, partially a blue and lonely mood. Then I got a bit of energy and organized the garden shed and compost piles. How is it that I can go from no energy to expending so much energy? In part, I suppose, this syndrome has to do with a deep emptiness in my heart and soul. July was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, and September holds the anniversaries of my parents’ birthdays.

I have started tidying the kitchen. I am able to settle in and be more at home with myself. Washing dishes helps. Chopping and sautéing vegetables helps. I feel at peace.

The vegetables are framed by the dark brown rim of the skillet. The collards that I picked at dusk are a vibrant green and a wonderful contrast to the orange yams from Wheatsfield Coop and white potatoes from the North Grand Farmers Market. The garlic is from my garden.

The oil makes a pleasant sizzling sound. I put the lid on. The sound is dampened.

Not much later, I lift the lid and stir the mix. The large metal spoon scrapes against the cast iron. It makes a grating sound. Although harsh, it is part of the music of the moment. By the way, there is no music nor talk playing. Some nights, I love to listen to archived NPR interviews while I cook. My favorites are the Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Aire, and one that is called "On Being." And listening is a great way to feel whole–to focus on cooking and feel like I am engaged in a meaningful conversation. But tonight, I believe that either music or a radio interview would intrude on my fragile spirit.

Chopping the vegetables and cooking them sooth me. I feel a wholeness that is often lacking.

I have become immersed in growing food and promoting the use of locally-grown produce, especially since moving to a home on a large lot in Ames in 2006 after living in an apartment in Gilbert for 13 years. Although I derive great pleasure from preparing and eating food that I have grown, my greatest pleasure is in being able to connect with people through food whether for lunch on the back porch, a potluck dinner, a meal at the Fellowship, or giving friends a box of produce.

I would be truly disappointed if I could not share food. I like the solitude of working alone in my garden. I also enjoy gardening with other people. But in either case, it would be folly to invest so much time, energy, and money into producing so much food if it were only for me. It is satisfying when I am deciding what variety of cucumber seeds to order in January, planting them in June, and harvesting and pickling them in July–to know that I can share the pickles and that people truly like them.

Perhaps food production and preparation are metaphors for the spectrum of solitude and being in relationship with other people. Both are so important.

For me, food has been a vehicle for centering, connecting, and meaning.

The vegetables in the pot are softening. Sometimes I stir in eggs from my chicken flock. But tonight, I add Iowa-grown, grass-fed ground beef that I cooked earlier this evening. I spoon the mix into a bowl, grab a glass of water along with a calico napkin and spoon and go to the porch. I sit in a chair. I am amused as I watch two of my four cats sitting on the haunches, peering high, their eyes following the white moth that is flitting outside the screen in the darkness but drawn to the light. The cats try to chase the moth. Theirs is a dance. Now they sit silently again. I finish eating. Life is good. I feel whole. But I should go to bed. For indeed, morning will come soon. The two cats that I let stay in the house, Micah and Shimmer, will be waking me to feed them. And the chickens will be cackling and wanting out of their hotel so they can roam the garden.
 

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