I came home from work tired, as usual. I remembered that I had forgotten to empty the compost bucket. We have a little green bucket that all the food scraps go in, and when I remember or it starts to stink, whatever comes first, it gets emptied into the compost bin. I took out the compost. Our bin is right by the elderberry tree, which is groaning with elderberries right now. Seriously, she groans. Her branches drag down to the ground and I feel bad for her. She reminds me of a cow that needs milking when she does that. So, I took the now-emptied bucket, rinsed and scrubbed it, and noticed some ripe tomatoes as well. Lots of ripe tomatoes.

I took the now-empty compost bucket back in and came out with a bowl for tomatoes and elderberries, and filled both bowls. As I was picking tomatoes, I noticed that our volunteer zucchini looks like it might actually produce this year. I planted zucchini last year, and it came up all big and green and wonderful and then died. This spring, on the other side of the yard from where I had planted it last year, a zucchini vine came up. I let it go to see what would happen, and we will get at least a few zucchinis off of it this year, Goddess willing.

I came back in with my tomatoes and elderberries to find that my husband has a friend of ours over to visit, and nice young guy who happens to have a really lovely physique. My husband needed this guy to model for a painting. So, I came in, with all this seasonal bounty going on, to find a half-naked, tan, muscular young man posing with a sword in my living room. This has nothing to do with the time of year, it’s just a nice little extra bit to enjoy about my life.

I put the berries in the fridge and started to think about dinner. When I cook, I tend to make it up as I go along, based on what I have on hand. I remembered that we still had some fresh corn from the farmer’s market, an onion from a friend’s garden, and some farmer’s market okra that needed to be eaten right away before it became compost. Hmm… some black beans… a little sofrito… oh, that just begs for a fresh hot pepper. I went out my front door and found a lovely hot pepper growing on the bush right next to the sidewalk. I picked the pepper, went back in and shucked and cut the corn, and made the recipe below. (Forgive my style of writing recipes – I’m not good at the whole “measuring” thing. “Put it in a pot and cook it ’til its done.”)

Black Bean and Corn Chili

1 can black beans
several tomatoes, chopped
1 ear’s worth of corn, cut from the ear
2 or 3 spoonfuls of sofrito. (I buy mine in a jar because our ethnic food shops around here are hardcore – you can get anything and I love sofrito. You could probably substitute salsa for this, but you might need to use more. I would in the future like to experiment with making and canning my own sofrito.)
1/2 onion, chopped
Some okra, chopped
chili powder
a hot pepper, seeded and chopped
olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a big pot and fry the onions. Add as much chili powder as you want. Stir it all around until the onions are clear. Add the peppers and okra and 1/2 the sofrito. Stir it around some more for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, corn, the rest of the sofrito, and beans, and a little water if your tomatoes aren’t juicy enough. Cover and cook until the tomatoes have fallen apart

After that was burbling away on the stove, I realized that it needed to be served with cornbread. I have to make vegan, gluten-free cornbread as an offering for our Lughnasadh ritual this weekend, so I decided to do a practice batch. (I’m not vegan, but I have a great deal of sympathy for other people’s food issues, since I have enough of my own, and since we’re a public grove I would feel awful if a vegan showed up and couldn’t eat any of the offering.) It’s not quite vegan because I had to use cow milk for this, but here’s the cornbread I made:

(this is based on the recipe here, but has been modified by me to be gluten free and not use white sugar, which I never have on hand. I used milk because I had no soy milk. The Lughansadh version will be done with soymilk)

2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
6 Tbsp. water
1/2C rice flour
1 1/2 C cornmeal
1/4 C honey
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. table salt
1 C milk
1/4 olive oil

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare 8-inch-square baking dish.
  2. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the ground flax seed, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the ground flax seed in the water for 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until well-combined.
  4. Add the ground flax seed mixture, milk, honey and canola oil to the flour mixture. Beat just until smooth.
  5. Turn into prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until warm, about 10 minutes longer. Cut into pieces and serve.

This is awesomely good cornbread. The secret is the flax seeds – I learned something very useful here. A few tablespoons of ground flaxseed, boiled in a little water according to the directions above, makes a slimy sort of substance that is a beautiful egg substitute for baking. In fact, I think I like it better than eggs for this purpose. Flax is also full of flaxy goodness, as well, without the cholesterol of eggs. Cornbread is usually too crumbly, but this held together really well and was perfect with the beany stuff. We ate the entire batch of cornbread between the two of us. I think there’s one little square we left behind just on principle.

I might try a batch with elderberries. It wouldn’t work for scooping up beans, but it would be great toasted and smeared with a little honey. Hm. I might have to go do that right now.

I love being able to walk out my door and gather food. I wish I had the time, energy and room for a bigger garden that would produce all year. Still, what I have is pretty good.