food love

Snapshots & musings from South Dakota, late Spring 2016

Living and working on the Reservation is filled with amazingly high highs and devastatingly low lows. Sometimes, these moments can happen in the same week, same day, or same hour. Trauma is everywhere and, if given enough time to reflect, wallow, or just process the colossally complex nature of it all, I might have quit my job by now.

Yet, the garden, or the La Plant Grows Its Own Food! Project, is my place, my refuge. It keeps me sane. It reminds me that I am doing something meaningful, even though, at times, it stills feels like I'm not doing enough. As hokey as that sounds, the garden is incredibly therapeutic. Endless research backs up the theory on the healing powers of growing food and being around living, green things. (Non-scientific study: I dare you to go to your local nursery and farm stand and not feel a little happier!)

Tomatoes & pepper transplants find a cheerful home in the greenhouse for the 2016 growing season (A.Gross, May 2016)

Tomatoes & pepper transplants find a cheerful home in the greenhouse for the 2016 growing season (A.Gross, May 2016)

This is my third season on the Reservation, and I see and feel the garden having an impact. Practically speaking, I'm thrilled that we now finally have electricity and heat in the greenhouse, and I'll be preparing for winter production in the late summer. The beets, arugula, radishes, potatoes, and snap peas were all germinating as of this week.

More than anything, I love that the kids are also super into the whole thing. I often tell volunteers that the garden has a weird, magical forcefield around it. Somehow, once inside the garden fence, kids become calm. I can't exactly put my hands on this energy, but the garden gives off a nurturing vibe. It's a space that encourages children to be inquisitive and present. They ask amazing questions. They are curious as to what's growing. They begin to give their own mini tours of the space with a sense of confidence that makes my heart swell. They taste chives. They check on the garlic and ask when it's ready to harvest. They bring their own packets of flowers to Garden Class to start their own seedling trays. They respect the bumble bees buzzing and tell me, unprompted, that these bees are doing good work.

A bit of solitude in the garden, one bed of cilantro at a time. (A.Gross, May 2016)

A bit of solitude in the garden, one bed of cilantro at a time. (A.Gross, May 2016)

But, just as I praise these successes, I recognize that it's dangerous, self-aggrandizing and even a bit delusional if we - specifically, I - begin to equate a good lettuce harvest or one week of increased participation in a garden class with "saving" people. The statistics about what it means to be native youth are alarming and apparent everyday. Rates of youth suicide are still at crisis levels. Kids are hungry for physical nourishment of nutritious food, and they also crave the emotional support and positive attention and reinforcement of adults.

For the majority of people who will read this post, they'll never, ever know the realities of what it means to be or identify as an indigenous person. I'm included in this category, even as immersed as I am in the day-to-day for almost half a year on the Reservation. But, the first step is recognizing and delving into these complexities and finding solutions that occur at an appropriate pace to make life better, specifically for children.

Kids sow their own seeds! A bit of experimentation with passionflower seeds at Garden Class. (A.Gross, May 2016)

Kids sow their own seeds! A bit of experimentation with passionflower seeds at Garden Class. (A.Gross, May 2016)

Sowing seeds at Garden Class, with kids helping kids. (A. Gross, May 2016)

Sowing seeds at Garden Class, with kids helping kids. (A. Gross, May 2016)

I'm a fiercely and stubbornly realistic person. That's why I've connected with farming and gardening so well. You learn early on that the fruits of the profession are only a small product of your work. Mother Nature has the ultimate say on the success or failure of a harvest. She forces you to cede control, which is, at first, completely terrifying but, eventually, incredibly freeing. She also teaches you to play the long game if you seek change rooted in sustainability and resilience and, recognizing, too, that the long game may outlive you and me.

While a realist to my core, I'm also an optimist and the two can and should coexist. We do not have to accept the hand that we've been dealt and we can change our paths. I also acknowledge and accept that my perspective is from a place not granted to many individuals. The catalyst I've chosen to combat the injustices faced by native youth is through food because it is tangible. I'm not expecting to solve all of society's ills against native people, to save all of the children of La Plant or the Reservation, or even to be able to feed the entire town. But, I can write, with absolute confidence, that the garden is a place, albeit temporary, where children can feel safe, be curious, be silly, and, while they might not be able to articulate it yet, be optimistic about their lives and their futures.  

Big cloud country: Huge clouds over the South Dakota Plains. (A.Gross, May 2016)

Big cloud country: Huge clouds over the South Dakota Plains. (A.Gross, May 2016)

We've got power! The greenhouse is now electrified, which means lights, heat, and ventilation for a longer growing season! (A. Gross, May 2016)

We've got power! The greenhouse is now electrified, which means lights, heat, and ventilation for a longer growing season! (A. Gross, May 2016)

Rooted: Dandelions foraged from the garden space. Wild health food from root to flower. (A.Gross, May 2016)

Rooted: Dandelions foraged from the garden space. Wild health food from root to flower. (A.Gross, May 2016)

Sights from South Dakota: Growing a garden, learning to say "see you soon"

Working for Simply Smiles is definitely weird...and wonderful. Weird? I've done lots of things for my job that I didn't quite anticipate. The most recent example: Getting my CDL license so that I could drive a red school bus across country with my brother to get to the Cheyenne River Reservation. And, of course, wonderful. I'm fortunate that I can implement what I've learned in graduate school and in my past farming career in practical, meaningful ways. I also get to meet incredible people and have many unique experiences along the way. Not a bad job.

And, the La Plant Grows Its Own Food! project has been transformative for both me and, I hope, for residents of La Plant. It makes my heart swell when a child willingly goes into the garden space and wants to help, asks questions, or runs to me as soon as they arrive at camp and are excited about what we're planting that day. Or, when I have a group of adults who offer to take care of the garden, actively participate in its growth, or ask how they can grow things at their houses. Pretty wonderful, right?

In the span of one year, the garden has done just that - grow. Volunteer groups have helped to build new raised beds - 21, to be exact! - and these beds have greatly increased our growing space. Our compost system is thriving (fellow compost nerds, rejoice!), our native species project has physically taken root, and we're getting ready to enclose the high tunnel within the coming month to extend the growing season. There's buzz about the project among more residents in town and even throughout the entire Reservation. It has rumblings and makings of a food movement.

All this change, growth, and planning...and I won't physically be implementing much during the month of June.

Because Simply Smiles is becoming more ambitious in its programming and our holistic approach is attracting a wider audience of potential supporters and ambassadors of our mission, things - and people - need to shift. Rather than staying on the Rez for five straight months, the staff is taking office rotations, and mine starts this month. As a naturally anxious person/a (slight) control freak, not being present is a problem for me. But, the job requirements aside, my gut tells me this is a healthy break. I hope it is one that reveals and recognizes the roles and interdependence of communication, learning to cede control, trust, and, of course, the truly magical nature of growing, living things and beings.

I'm trying a new mantra: Things will be ok. Things will grow. 

Just when it set in this past Saturday morning that this - being in La Plant - was over, albeit for a little over a month, our friend and La Plant resident Ford Hill shook my hand.

"Goodbye, Ford," I said. "See you in July." 

"You know, in Lakota, there's no word for 'goodbye'," he said. "We say, 'see you soon.' Saying 'goodbye' is too lonesome and final."

So, with that, see you soon, La Plant. For now, I'll enjoy these recent memories and look forward to lots of delicious food and blooming flowers in the near future.

(All photos taken by A.Gross, April-May 2015, Cheyenne River Reservation/La Plant, S.D.)

Comfort food: Romanesco Rice

This summer, one of the dishes that I made countless times for the volunteer groups was cauliflower rice...and, people liked it! I certainly didn't invent the recipe (as The Kitchn recipe proves), but I was first introduced to this sneaky trick by a farming friend who was on the Paleo diet and broccoli and cauliflower happened to be in season and in abundance. The gist of the recipe: you can use cauliflower as a substitute for rice, couscous or any other starchy grain with the help of a trusty food processor or blender. Brilliant, right?

My local grocery store randomly had a sale on romanesco - a beautiful type of broccoli (see cover photo), identical in taste to cauliflower and most other things in the brassica family. So, it was Romanesco Rice time. The recipe below is adapted from many other wise people before me, but this is what I do and it's a good primer. It's great for a quick meal, especially when topped with a poached or fried egg (my fave), crispy tempeh or any other protein of your choice:

Romanesco Rice 


  • 1 small head of romanesco, chopped into large cubes
  • 2 carrots, chopped into large cubes
  • 1 large onion, red or white, chopped into quarters
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped in half
  • 6 small mushrooms of your choice (baby bella, button, shittake, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoon of coconut oil, or fat of your choice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 pinches of black pepper
  • 1 tiny pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp of toasted sesame oil (optional and depending on your taste)
Pulse Romanesco and other vegetables until you see a fine, grainy texture like this. 

Pulse Romanesco and other vegetables until you see a fine, grainy texture like this. 

  1. In a food processor, pulse onions and garlic until fine but not a paste. 
  2. In a cast iron skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat and add the onions and garlic.
  3. Return to food processor and pulse romanesco, carrots and mushrooms until the size of rice or a fine grain. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may want to do this in batches.
  4. Transfer the pulsed vegetables into the pan with the onions, add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season to taste: add more salt, pepper, or I added a dash of toasted sesame oil. This is a very strong flavor, so only use a little.

There you have it: Romanesco Rice. Yum! Try with other brassicas and mix and match other vegetables and seasonings that you included in the dish. Now, go eat some vegetables.


Celebrate Spring with "Seeds" | The Lexicon of Sustainability | PBS Food

Happy Spring! Let's usher in the season of regeneration, renewal and rebirth with a brief lesson on seeds and diversity from The Lexicon of Sustainability:

In the past century, nearly 75% of our agricultural crop diversity is gone; most farmers grow an average of 12 crops - yikes! So, let's celebrate diversity, uphold the public resource and right that is food, and get growing to get variety back into our diets and agroecosystem culture!

Cabin Fever Cooking: Spinach Dal with Coconut Milk

Surprise. It's snowing again. (A.Gross, February 2014)

Surprise. It's snowing again. (A.Gross, February 2014)

How are we all doing? Everyone ok? It's yet another snow day here in Connecticut, and it looks something like this:

To distract you from the blustery weather, I thought that I'd share a recipe. I love Indian food, and I'm often reminded how easy it is to make at home. Last night, I made spinach dal, based on this recipe from The Splendid Table. As with most recipes, I didn't read this one all the way through and I noticed that it was better for slow cookers. Well, I skipped that step. I just simmered it on the stove, and it turned out just fine. Most Indian dishes are well suited for root and winter vegetables. I had carrots, garlic, and spinach from the farm and tapped into my frozen peppers that I put up from HBF this summer.  With a few spices, brown lentils, and a can of coconut milk, this makes an excellent week-day meal...or an excuse to cook during a snowy day with the impending doom of a power outage. 

Spiced Dal with Coconut Milk (adapted from The Splendid Table - an excellent resource and food podcast!)


  • 2 Tbl coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped/diced
  • 1 cup frozen red peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • veggie stock or water
  • 1 cup dried lentils (I used brown, but you can use yellow or red)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (**If you have curry powder on hand instead of these individual dried spices, you can use it instead. I'd use like 2 Tbl of curry powder.**)
  • 1 Tbl fresh ginger, grated 
  • 1 can coconut milk (I used light)
  • 2 heaping handfuls of spinach, chopped finely or in a food processor


Dal: A good place for spinach. (A.Gross, February 2014)

Dal: A good place for spinach. (A.Gross, February 2014)

  1. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion and carrots for 10 minutes, until the onion has browned. Add frozen chopped peppers and 1/2 -1 cup of water or veggie stock to the pan, simmer, cover and cook until the carrots are tender, about 5-8 more minutes.
  2. In a separate pot, bring four cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils, bring to a boil and return to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, until lentils are tender. Drain or reserve in liquid off the heat until ready to transfer to the coconut mixture.
  3. Add spices, ginger and garlic to the saute pan. Add more water or stock to prevent the mixture from sticking and continue cooking on low heat for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Stir in cooked lentils, spinach and coconut milk. Cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, so some of the coconut milk has cooked down and the dish is heated through.
  5. Serve in a bowl as is or over brown rice, millet or quinoa. 


  • I turned this into soup for lunch today. Simply reheat in a soup pot, add warm water or veggie stock. Remove from heat, and use an immersion or stick blender or, carefully, transfer the warm liquid into a stand blender. Add more liquid until you reach a desired consistency for soup - it depends on your preference. I topped my soup with a little goat cheese, but a dollop of yogurt would be excellent, too. 
  • I didn't use a picture of the soup in this post. It tastes amazing, but a picture doesn't capture its deliciousness. Sadly, it resembles the color of baby poop, which is not quite appetizing on a food blog. Just trust me on the taste!