Our garden is not really put to bed for the year until sometime in November.  After everything is put away and next year’s garlic is planted, we turn our focus to splitting enough wood to stay warm for the winter.  Thanksgiving arrives quickly each fall, and we settle in to holiday celebrations and eating our way through all the frozen and canned food we put up at the peak of the harvest.  This year I have been especially amazed at how long I eat FRESH food from the garden.  Just today for lunch I made risotto & chicken and added in the last of the red cabbage in my fridge, and the last of the CILANTRO too.  I know, crazy right?  Right before the ground froze hard I had uprooted the cilantro plants that didn’t want to produce a yield during the CSA season but then thrived in the mild November weather.  I wrapped the plants, roots still attached, in a slightly damp towel and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Today I went to clean it out, expecting it to be a slime fest, and instead found some quite green and perky cilantro leaves tenaciously holding out for the return of spring.  Plants continually surprise and amaze me.
Two nights ago I was making a simple chicken soup (out of the same chicken leftovers used in the risotto).  In my fridge I found the badly neglected pile of parsnips and hakurei turnips.  The parsnips were dehydrated and hard, and I quipped that Hansel could easily pass one off as a skinny little finger when the witch came to see how he was fattening up.  I was going to compost them, but at the last minute I decided that they weren’t moldy, just dehydrated, and so I threw them into the soup.  I was actually quite shocked at how tasty they cooked up!  Now the only fresh stuff left in the fridge is a few wrinkly kohlrabi, a bag of carrots, and a bag of rutabagas.  On my dining room table a few baby winter squash are still passing as a centerpiece as I slowly eat my way through those too.
I think the winter is a very easy time of year to eat more veggies.  Grab something out of the freezer and throw it into a soup, casserole, hot dish, or crock pot.  Leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach are easy to cut up in small pieces and sneak in.  (This is how we get my grandma Vangie and dad Darwin to eat them.)  Last night I was at my brother’s for dinner, and my 4-year-old niece Alyssa informed me that, “This sauce has spinach in it.”  I replied, “Oh good!  I love spinach!  I was just teaching some kids today about how leaves make food for the plant, but then us people come along and eat the plants!”  And she said, “Like spinach–it’s a plant!  I like it too.  Look, here is a tiny piece stuck to this noodle!”  In the background Alyssa’s parents were picking their jaws up off the ground, because moments before I arrived Alyssa had been telling them she didn’t want to try sauce with spinach, because it looked funny.  It’s all about how you frame it!  (And it doesn’t hurt that I am the “cool aunt” and not mom or dad.)  I will admit that I myself did not used to like Kale.  I used to make myself eat it because it is so jam-packed with nutrients.  But then it grew on me, and now I really genuinely love it!  I try to fill up about 1/3 of my chest freezer with bags of kale and broccoli, as my source of green nutrition throughout the winter.
My other winter eating tip is when making soup, curry sauce, etc, make plenty of it so there is leftovers.  I try to pack one or two pint jars with the leftovers and stick them in the freezer.  Then, when I don’t have any easy lunch options, I just grab one of those frozen jars to bring to work with me.  Last week I ate a jar of wild rice topped with garbanzo bean and veggie saute with Seeds of Change brand Madras sauce on it.  When I made the meal, I remember that I added in the rest of my fennel just to use it up, and it was an okay meal at the time.  Nothing that really stood out, but it was at the peak of the harvest.  BUT, when I ate the reheated jar of leftovers last week, it was AMAZING.  And the fennel was the true highlight of the dish.  People romanticize eating summer out of a jar in the middle of winter, but that is what it felt like.  I was eating fresh September sunshine, and it made my whole mouth come alive!
One last thing, if you are like me, I just hung to dry those bunches of herbs from the end of the season.  It was a quick and easy way to deal with them.  Now is the time to go back and crumble the leaves off the stems and put them into (labeled) jars.  If you wait much longer, they will probably accumulate noticeable dust and sometime soon you will go to use them in some lovely soup but instead you will get grossed out and just throw them away.  Save the herbs!
Happy 2010 everybody, we hope winter is treating you well.