The Essex County Garden Club Winter Event
Prepped and packed, I drive in the icy twilight to South Hamilton. It is easy to find the hostess’ house and I navigate the long driveway, park, and take a deep breath. This is my biggest gig so far, this group of 25 women coming out in the bitter cold to listen to me talk about and watch me cook vegetables. I am not nervous, but even so, butterflies dance in my belly as I open my trunk and gather three heavily loaded bags to bring into the kitchen. Leslie, the hostess, emerges from her garage to greet me with her bright welcoming smile. She offers to carry one of the bags and I allow this, beginning what is to be an evening of both humble submission and powerful opportunity.
I have been allowed to arrive early and have an hour and a half to set up. Using some of Leslie’s kitchenware and some of my own, I fill a large pot with water and set it on the gas range. I place steamer baskets in two smaller pots and add enough water to meet the bottom of the metal steam baskets. I empty my bags and cover the counter with bowls of vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, chopped, diced and spiral sliced winter vegetables and my large cutting board. I take out my three best knives and lay them in a tidy row atop the board. I ask for a pretty plate to arrange the raw cookies I have made for the end of the event, and I am given a beautiful white pedestal dish. I arrange organic sugar-coated, heart-shaped cookies so that what is already pretty and delicious is now looking absolutely gorgeous. She takes the cookies and puts them in her dining room with the other goodies for munching. I sneak in and take them back to the kitchen. I am going to save them for the end. I want to tell about these treats, how easy they are to make, and how amazing a raw vegan cookie can be. I want to have their full attention when they take the first bite of that cookie.
Nina, the event planner for the club, arrives a little while later. She is the reason I am here and the butterflies that have been fluttering inside me rest quietly. I feel more comfortable now that her sweet familiar face in the room as I finish setting up.
I take the spiral slicer out and place it on the roomy granite-topped island counter. I know this will impress even the most doubtful of the attendees. I have a beet, a carrot and a sweet potato all ready to turn into colorful vegetable noodles. I transfer cooked quinoa to a glass bowl for heating. I transfer the creamy, spicy sauce to the biggest bowl I can find and it is filled to the brim. I wonder if I have made too much.
Before I can think about maybe being nervous after all, the door opens and opens and opens and suddenly the kitchen and dining room are packed with women. They chat, fill their glasses with wine and set out appetizers and desserts—carrots and celery and dip, crackers and cheese, trays of cookies and brownies. I am starving, so I cut up a carrot, open my jar of homemade ginger Nama Shoyu dressing, dip my carrot sticks in, and nibble. And wait.
At last, Nina stands beside me.
“Are you ready to get this going?”
I nod, and she tries to quiet the room. She taps the side of a glass bowl with one of my knives. She taps it again. Someone notices, and pushes out a powerful “Shhhhh.” All conversation stops. Well, almost all. I take a deep breath as Nina introduces me. She tells them she used to stalk me at our CSA pick up and we all laugh. I’m on.
I am lightheaded as I look at how many women stand in front of me, waiting for me to begin.
But I do. I ask how they take care of their kids—if they give them music lessons, enroll them in sports, send them to good schools. I ask them if they monitor their homework, their computer time, their television time. Some nod, others don’t. Then I ask them if they cook with their kids. I see lots of heads nodding.
“What do you cook with them? What do you make together?”
And I’m in the thick of it right away. I ask if they cook dinner with their kids. If they teach them how to prepare vegetables—to wash, scrub, peel, chop, roast, steam—-and the room is quiet. I boldly remind them that what their kids put into their bodies is one of the most important things to think about. I try not to sound preachy as I suggest that cooking time can be together time, family time, teaching time. So that when their kids grow up, they know how to feed themselves with healthy food. Healthy food that will nourish their bodies the same way all the other things we all see as important nourish their minds, spirits and bodies.
As I talk, I set up for the roasted vegetables, making sure the oven is preheated, spreading diced beets on a large baking tray and drizzling them with garlic olive oil. I ask a woman to help me and she puts the tray in the oven, setting the timer for me. I set up the rest of the roasting vegetables, showing off the Brussels sprouts I have harvested from my garden just the other day.
I answer questions about kale and kale chips, peeling, chopping and steaming vegetables all the while. The first big hit of the evening is the spiral slicer. No one can believe how perfect and beautiful carrots and beets are when they are turned into noodles. I slice a carrot, then I get a volunteer to slice the beet. I help her a bit and in a moment, glossy, deep-red strands of beet pile up on the counter. I take my kitchen scissors and cut the long strands a bit to make them more manageable. I get them into the boiling water. Carrots first, 3 minutes. Beets next, 5 minutes. I drain them, then sample them out, ladling the Alfredo sauce on top. The chatter that had started up again is gone as each woman tastes the small plate of food she receives.
“How did you make this sauce?”
“Why is it so creamy if you didn’t use cream?”
“How can this be vegan? Isn’t there cheese in here?”
I pause and talk about cashew cream and nutritional yeast, how to make what is often dairy-based taste just as good, if not better, vegan. There are a lot of questions about nutritional yeast, and I do my best to answer them. I do not have all the answers, but can easily direct.
Then the steamed vegetables are done and I pour them into a bowl. I shake and pour the ginger Nama Shoyu dressing over the steaming bowl, then plunge my hands in to toss the dressing. I hear gasping, but it’s really not that hot. Nina and another woman offer to plate the samples. Heaping scoops of quinoa pillow the pile of glistening dressed vegetables. The room grows quiet again as the women taste what they have been given.
“Oh! This dressing! What is it?”
“Can I have this recipe?”
“Is there ginger in here?”
The dressing is the second big hit. It’s a recipe I kind of stole from the restaurant Life Alive in Lowell, MA. There are two newer branches, one in Cambridge and one in Salem, and it’s one of my favorite places to eat. I always get the same thing—the Goddess bowl, which is their signature dish. I am addicted to the dressing. I am so addicted that I have spent hours trying to duplicate it. I finally nailed it a few months ago and now can share it with confidence, even if I have to sheepishly confess that it is absolutely not my recipe, only an adaptation of theirs.
I remember to talk about GMO foods, the “Dirty Dozen“, and, of course, I include bits and pieces of my vegan life. I talk openly and honestly about the nutrients in food, the importance of a varied diet. I offer information about general health, what is not good about dairy products, and explain exactly what vegan means: no animals. No animal products. So, yeah, no cheese, so yogurt, no butter, no fish. I was asked if I miss any of it.
Not for one second.
The timer goes off for the roasted vegetables. The woman whom I have volunteered to be in charge of the oven turns and pulls two heavy trays of roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes from the dark, high heat. I take each tray and do my best to fill the last giant bowl without dropping anything on the floor. The trays are heavy and I am already tired. I sprinkle the vegetables with fresh rosemary that I have cut from my garden this same morning, and add a bit of salt and pepper. I steal a Brussels sprout and a sweet potato chunk before the final round of sampling begins.
The women eat and chatter, and I stand back, wondering if I have missed anything. My notes have been tossed to the back counter, unneeded.
I space out for a minute and then notice a tall, gorgeous woman passing around a tray of chocolate-dipped macaroons. I go over to her and touch her shoulder. I know she has taken the time to make this beautiful, time-consuming dessert, and it breaks my heart to say these words. I say them anyhow.
“Um, please. Would you mind holding back on those? I have a little dessert and I am afraid that if everyone eats one of those, they won’t have room to try mine. You could pass them out after…”
Her face flushes and she looks down, then up at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know.”
I honestly could cry as I look at her, but I hold steady.
“That’s okay. Thank you for bringing those. They look great. Mine are really small—so everyone will still have room for yours after.”
The pedestal with the heart-shaped raw vegan ginger cookies is passed around.
“What’s in here?”
“These are really good!”
“Is is nutmeg? Do I taste nutmeg?”
With the last of my “crowd energy”, I give the ingredients and tell them there is a link to the recipe on my blog. They line up to collect my card and I promise each eager face that I will post right away and include the recipe for the dressing.
Energized by a couple of my cookies, I work the crowd afterward. I thank everyone for coming, and seek out the women who have helped me throughout the evening. I am touched by their excitement for my cooking and by their welcoming smiles, their food confessions, their desire to make even small changes in the way they prepare food and eat.
I return to the counter, prepared to clean up and find that the women have done it for me. Everything is washed, dried, and stacked neatly for me to pack up. Nina and I are the last to leave, and she offers to carry one of the bags out to my car. I tell her that would be great.
Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive restaurant’s version)
fresh garlic cloves, peeled and pressed to fill a 1/4 c measure
1/2 c plus a little more fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
3 T Nama Shoyu
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
1 c olive oil, or a mixture of hemp and olive oil
In a powerful blender, add the garlic cloves, the ginger, the Nama Shoyu, and the sea salt. Add 1/3 c of the oil. Blend on medium-low until everything starts to move around. Turn off blender and scrape down sides if necessary.
Turn the blender back on medium speed, then to high and blend until smooth. Take the little inner cap off of the blender cover and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil. Turn blender on high and blend only long enough to emulsify the dressing.
Transfer dressing to glass jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.
This is amazing drizzled onto warm steamed vegetables, although it is also good on cold salad.
Tags: Alfredo sauce, beets, brussels sprouts, carrots, cooking, Essex County Garden Club, garlic, garlic oil, ginger, GMOs, healthy cooking, healthy eating, lemon juice, Nama Shoyu, organic sugar, raw ginger cookies, recipe, recipes, roasting vegetables, rosemary, spiral sliced vegetable "noodles", spiral sliced vegetables, spiral slicer, steaming vegetables, sweet potatoes, the dirty dozen, vegan cooking, vegan recipe, vegan recipes, winter vegetablesYou can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.