A walk in the woods, and a reminder of the things that matter

I returned from living and working on the Reservation at the end of September, and I found myself incredibly anxious. I usually have no trouble readjusting to the East Coast routine and dealing with transition, but this fall felt different. In a very short period of time, I went from the safety and positivity of the garden to an environment where people behaved with an incredible lack of civility toward one another. I was well aware of the vitriol of the current political climate (yes, I do have a connection to and with the outside world, even in the vastness of South Dakota, folks). But to fully feel the tension of the political climate and social circus that seems to be all-consuming was an uncomfortable sensation. 

I was and remain unwilling to let the chaos impede on my desire to settle back in the places I call home and my personal happiness. My sense is that most people are getting to or at this point. My solution/therapy? I go to the woods. Not on some lengthy expedition but just quick jaunts into local land trusts or forests. Even a quick look up into the sky or down at your feet, accompanied by a few deep breaths will suffice. 

I have been making a concerted effort to admire, embrace, and show gratitude for the beings that do the unrecognized important work. To the mushrooms and fungi that break down the dead and create nutrients for new life. To the leaves and trees that charm us with their color…and, oh, yeah, allow us to breathe clean air. To the pollinators that fly millions of flights and allow us to enjoy the sweetness of honey and the pleasure and luxury of the food we eat.

At first blush, this reflection and realization can be read as a self-important, perspective-of-privilege post. I think about this stuff all the time (perhaps more than I should and, perhaps, one of the reasons that I tend to be anxious), especially in light of my work and events in recent history. But, in a social climate that celebrates maniacal levels of ego, avoids the real issues by magnifying the absurd, and seems to defy logic and basic decency, we need more voices that challenge us to feel more grounded and more connected with the present. Mother Nature tends to be that one entity that reinforces humility and our smallness in this thing called life. Maybe we should be listening to Her more.

Here’s some of what I noticed on a few treks into the woods:

Locations: Lilly Preserve, Roxbury, CT; Lake Mohegan, Fairfield, CT - October 2016

Comfort food: Herby buckwheat with roots and 'shrooms, topped with a poached egg

There are some dishes you just crave. Mine: Buckwheat with sautéed roots and a poached egg. It's a go-to meal for any time of day, especially during the fall and winter months when root crops are abundant. It was my preferred breakfast of choice before a full day of working on the farm. It's satisfying, comforting, healthful and budget-friendly. All of these vegetables are in season and available at winter farmers' markets in your area (often for less money than at the grocery store!). If you're unfamiliar with buckwheat and have only had it in granola or mushy porridge form, you might dismiss this one but don't! In this recipe, buckwheat - a naturally gluten-free grain (actually, a fruit seed!) - is savory and enhances the flavor of the pan-steamed and -sautéed roots and 'shrooms. This recipe is adapted from Cythnia Lair's wonderful Feeding the Whole Family, and it's one to bookmark for sure. It calls for kasha, which is roasted or toasted buckwheat groats, but plain buckwheat groats work too!

Herby buckwheat with roots, 'shrooms and a poached egg


Breakfast of champions! (A.Gross, 2014)

Breakfast of champions! (A.Gross, 2014)

  • 2-3 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled chopped and diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, peeled, chopped and diced
  • 1 large potato, peeled (optional), chopped and cubed
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, cut and chopped
  • 1 cup buckwheat or kasha
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 Tbl of dried tarragon
  • 1 Tbl of dried rosemary
  1. In a large saute pan, heat the coconut oil. Add onions, celery, carrots, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes; saute until the onion is soft.
  2. Have your water boiled or ready to boil. Add potatoes, mushrooms, tarragon and rosemary to the pan; saute 2-3 minutes. Add buckwheat to the mixture and stir. Pour in boiling water. Turn heat to low. Cover pot and let steep 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed.
  3. Fluff up and season to taste.

Now, poached egg time. They sound intimidating, but they aren't. This recipe by Alton Brown is the easiest, least threatening that I can find...even though eggs are the least threatening ingredient possible! IF you can't wrap your brain around egg poaching, simply top the buckwheat mixture with a fried egg. Still delicious and satisfying!

Notes and tips:

  • Save your scraps! When you peel your veggies, save them to make stock. If you prepare your veggies in advance, make the stock and replace the 2 cups of water called for in the buckwheat recipe with your homemade stock. You can also save the stock for later use.
  • Switch up your roots! There are so, so many root crops that would be delicious in this recipe: parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, beets, turnips, salsify, celery root. Go to your local farmers' market or the produce department at the grocery store and experiment. Remember: Some roots take a little longer than others to cook, especially when you are preparing them on the stovetop. Take this into consideration when you are adapting the buckwheat recipe.
Glorious roots! (Photo taken at the Westport Farmers' Market, November 2013, A.Gross)

Glorious roots! (Photo taken at the Westport Farmers' Market, November 2013, A.Gross)