What’s for dinner? It’s a question so many of us dread. Funny that stores loaded with countless options can still leave us with a dearth of ideas. It’s tempting to take the easy way out -- that is, by dining out. 

But this time of year I’m off the hook. I can take a pass on making the dinner decision. I simply head outside, do a quick once-around of the raised beds and let the garden tell me.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Clusters of ripe, Roma tomatoes weighing down the vines? Make some sauce, that one from the NY Times with butter as the secret ingredient (I tell my husband it’s love), throw in some pasta, some Parmesan, perhaps a meatball or two, done. 

Dinner decisions are easy when the garden's going strong.

Other times it’s a game, but I like a challenge and rise to it. What exactly do you do with two hundred pounds of cucumbers? Make pickles, make relish, make tzatziki, consider cucumber sandwiches, make some more pickles. When I can’t stand to look at another cuke, I start my own single crop, non-profit farmstand on the front steps. Watch out. though. I’ll be sitting on the porch ready to shame anyone passing by who doesn’t take at least one.

Sipping sangria while shelling peas, waiting for inspiration.

My favorite meals are those “drag-it through-the garden” dishes that use at least one of everything out there, extra points for lots of herbs. Even better when I can riff on a recipe, like the other night with stuffed bell peppers (I’m still waiting for the other nine or 10 red beauties in the fridge to inspire) when I swish in some of the sinful tomato sauce from the day before.

The peppers turn out extra delicious and I know that that one-time ingredient probably did it. I love those serendipitous “what’s in the fridge” additions that create unique tastes probably never to be had again. They always make for memorable food, like that leftover dab of Ginger Gold applesauce I once dumped in the butternut soup. And who knew that last spoon of homemade raspberry jam would be so good on cornbread?

Tell me about a happy accident or inspired ingredient from your culinary adventures. Bonus points if it originated from the garden.

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