You Sustain Us

Like schools across America, the school my two youngest kids go to is distributing weekly boxes of produce. We munch our way through the strawberries, blueberries, apples, and oranges just fine, but the range of vegetables my family will happily eat is relatively narrow. This week I wound up with a bag of celery and no real plan for it. Giving the bag to friends didn’t make sense because they get the same box I do, and celery isn’t such an in-demand item. Typically, I freeze extra celery to use in vegetable stock, but at the moment, both of my freezers are full. 

Food waste is one of the two areas I’m most focused on as I chart a path to a more sustainable way of life. As I’ve blogged about before, the average American family wastes up to 30 percent of the food it purchases each year. It’s estimated that approximately 20 percent of America’s fresh water, fertilizer, and cropland are used to grow food that winds up in the trash. Some 20 percent of our landfill volume is used up by food that, if handled correctly, could replace much of that manmade fertilizer, which has its own list of toxic side effects on the planet. And when the organic matter is cut off from oxygen, food waste doesn’t decompose into soil-enriching nutrients while releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Instead, it decays and mixes with toxic landfill sludge while releasing methane. This harmful greenhouse gas causes much more damage than CO2. 

But back to the celery. I turned to one of my favorite google searches as of late: “recipes to use up ________.” After a few seconds of clicking around, I found this recipe for braised celery at Sprinkles & Sprouts. To make it, I just substituted parve margarine for butter, so I could serve it with a meat meal. My husband and I liked it but wanted a little more crunch and a little more flavor, so I tweaked it a bit, and now I plan to add it to my Shabbat side dish rotation. Here’s my version:

Braised Celery

  • 1 bag celery
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¾ cup stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • ½ tablespoon fresh sage, chopped (or ½ teaspoon dried sage)

Step 1: Chop celery into one-inch pieces, slicing on the diagonal.
Step 2: Warm olive oil in sauté pan. Add celery and sauté for four minutes.
Step 3: Lower heat and add stock, salt, pepper, and sage.
Step 4: Add stock and cook, covered, at a simmer for four minutes.
Step 5: Cook uncovered five minutes, then serve. Celery should yield to the tooth but still have crunch.

Of course, there was more celery that I didn’t cook. I sliced off the root and some of the stalk to sprout for planting when the weather begins to cool in the fall. I have a small stash of single-use plastic cups from Pesach I save for precisely for sprouting the ends of veggies, and celery makes a cheery windowsill plant. It’s a great first sprouting project for little kids. If you make the celery Friday afternoon, you’ll be able to show them the first bits of growth early on Sunday.

Everything left over after cooking and sprouting went in the compost bin (my birthday present for this year). It’s where we now send almost all our paper (that used to go in recycling) and fruit and vegetable waste. Even after having the composter since April, I still get surprised that the mixture of decomposing paper, fallen leaves, and food scraps has virtually no smell, and the little smell it does have isn’t unpleasant.

When my kids were little, I would give them leftover challah to put out for the birds in our backyard almost every week. They loved watching from a window to see all the birds come for the feast. As they got older, they were less interested, although they still like to occasionally. I have tried a few recipes for leftover bread, but neither a savory challah kugel nor a sweet pineapple kugel made with leftover challah was a hit with enough family members to make cooking them worthwhile. Then, I made what should have been a very obvious observation: I was throwing out bread in the same week we were buying breadcrumbs from the grocery store to make breaded chicken and turkey meatballs. Homemade breadcrumbs are ridiculously easy, so I don’t do that anymore. 

DIY Breadcrumbs

  • leftover bread

Step 1: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Step 2: Cut or break into pieces no thicker than a slice of sandwich bread.
Step 3: Place bread on a cookie sheet and bake until desired brownness, anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, checking at five-minute intervals. Note: The darker the bread, the finer the crumb. I often toast bread just slightly to make a more panko-like breadcrumb.
Step 4: Remove bread from oven and cool.
Step 5: Place in a food processor and process until fine.
Step 6: Add desired spices and store in a leftover deli container you’ve saved for exactly this purpose.

When we say Nishmas on Shabbos and yomim tovim, we praise HaShem, “In famine You nourished us and in plenty You sustained us.” That verb, kilkaltanu, has always fascinated me, the awareness that even in times of plenty, we still need to recognize our sustenance come from HaShem. But I have been looking at it anew lately. What is it telling us in its repetition, of kol, everything? 

It seems to me that there are two ways of looking at the word when fashioning a sustainable, gratitude-filled life. In giving me celery, HaShem sustained me, even though I didn’t see it at first. It wasn I looked again, using the sight and discernment He also gave me, that I could see “everything” HaShem had given me. I also acknowledge that HaShem can give me two “everythings” at once: the deli container that was purchased filled with potato salad now holds breadcrumbs.  

Click here to see the full list of changes I’ve blogged about, and their impact.

Until next time,
Amy

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