Aspen Princess: Embracing the bounty of the fall harvest is special with family | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Princess: Embracing the bounty of the fall harvest is special with family

Alison Berkley Margo
Aspen Princess

The other day my friend Alex invited me and Levi over to pick what we wanted from her incredible garden, which was harvesting more produce than her family could eat.

As children often do, Levi seemed to understand, without having to be taught, the value in this experience. We picked a big bag of pears and ate a few straight off the tree and then entered the vegetable garden where greens like chard, kale and bok choy exploded from the ground with fronds as big as my head.

For the past two months, Ryan and I have been eating "clean," having eliminated processed foods, gluten, refined sugars and even dairy from our diets — a truly amazing feat for my Minnesotan-born, Italian-bred husband who typically eats cheese in large chunks, not slices. It's forced me to learn more about plant-based cooking, especially as I've had to navigate the bizarre world of gluten-free this and non-GMO that, which is essentially processed food being marketed to people who think they are being healthy.

Stranger still is that this idea of eating whole foods and cooking from scratch is being touted as a novel concept, and that progress has led us to this place where most of the food that is readily available is full of chemicals, hormones and other additives that our bodies don't know what to do with. As anyone who shops at Whole Foods regularly knows, eating organic produce and meat that was raised without toxic chemicals is a luxury. I don't care if you have Amazon Prime — this stuff is expensive.

For that reason, among others, standing there among all that beautiful green felt like a true gift. Levi helped rinse the large leaves in ice water and load them into a huge bag. We left with at least $100 of organic produce, a film of sweat on our brow and dirt under our fingernails — the signs of a truly good day.

I came home and unloaded everything onto my kitchen counter to sort and then prep it, clipping herbs and organizing them into Ziploc bags, and tearing leaves from stems. "There is no way we can eat all of this!" I said to Ryan as I stood over our bounty, the kitchen now littered in all kinds of garden debris.

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Well, we did.

I made everything from stir fry and big salads to taco bowls and frittatas. I've discovered a few amazing ingredients for sauces, dressings and other dishes that make all this fresh produce sing. (I know I normally don't talk like that, and I don't know what's gotten into me today with this wannabe food blogging routine, but hopefully it's a welcome change from obsessing about my weight and going on and on about my kid.)

Indulge me for just a second, though, because I do think this is really worthwhile.

For creamy sauces, coconut milk is so good I want to bathe in it. The other night I made a sauce with coconut milk (the full-fat kind from the can that has the cream on top), fresh basil, garlic, lemon, ginger and sriracha. It was from a recipe for peach spring rolls and was intended to be a dipping sauce, but guess what? It tastes good on everything, especially shrimp stir-fried with bok choy.

Here's a news flash: You also can make cream out of raw cashews. All you have to do is soak them in water for a couple of hours and then blend them with equal parts water (so 1 cup of cashews to 1 cup of water). This also makes a great base for sauces both sweet and savory. My favorite is a recipe I found for a garlic cream sauce made with cashew cream, white miso, garlic and lemon juice. But it goes just as well with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Tahini is another relatively recent discovery; a nutty, creamy ingredient is a great base for rich sauces packed with protein and fat to turn a vegetarian dish into something that actually tastes good. A little lemon juice, garlic, honey and some water are all you need. Almond or cashew butter work great, too.

If you're like me and can't even look at a bowl of pasta without gaining weight, zoodles (zucchini cut into spirals to make a noodle-like shape) are the perfect vehicle for rich tomato meat sauce. Even Levi loves them. You can also use sweet potatoes, which are a little firmer and a little denser. Speaking of pasta, I've also been experimenting with pesto, which should not be limited to basil and garlic. Last night I had fresh peaches from the farmers market and spun my basil with a little arugula, some spinach and sunflower seeds (a great substitute for Parmesan cheese) and I'm not kidding when I say you could probably eat it with lint and it would still taste good. Pesto can be watered down to make dressing for salad and used as marinades for meats or drizzled on top.

Last but not least, my favorite new discovery though is cauliflower rice. All you have to do is throw big chunks of raw cauliflower into the food processor until you get a rice-like consistency (don't over blend). Then throw it in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. It has more flavor than rice and is a great base for a taco bowl, a piece of grilled fish, or any other dish that calls for rice but with zero carbohydrates and significantly fewer calories to boot.

There's just something really special about eating something fresh from the ground, and about the bounty of fall harvest, especially after our town almost burned down in the heat of what turned out to be a pretty rough summer. It reminds me (and allows me to teach my young son) that life really is just peachy.

The Princess knows that last line was really cheesy. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

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