A Week in Their Kitchen: Zucchini, Green Bean & Potato Stew

June 1, 2010 at 8:26 am 1 comment

This afternoon Mike, W and I went down to the food bank to pick up an emergency hamper to live off for the week. (By the way- the cost of extra hampers has been donated, so we’re not actually taking food from those who need it.) We went through the same process the other clients go through in order to get our hampers. Gave our ID. Discussed our financial situation. As I gave this info the woman at the window beside mine leaned over and offered W treats from a basket of chocolate bars and fruit snacks. It struck me hard how many kids were in the room, waiting in line with their mothers, mostly – I saw about a dozen in the hour that we were there, and it wasn’t a very busy day. 41% of the food bank clients are children under 12 – another large percentage are teenagers.

We were given the go-ahead for a weeks’ worth of food for a family of 2-3, and I proceeded to the corridor where clients pick up their bins. The volunteers were friendly and offered a powdered donut as they filled empty milk crates for me and slid them down the line to pass other volunteers who added produce, milk and eggs. One volunteer had just been a volunteer at my cooking class at the Cookbook Company yesterday. She looked a little surprised to see me.

They offered extra buns, if I wanted some, and one volunteer asked if I would like one head of iceberg lettuce or two. (One.) The second last guy on the line held up two handfuls of plantains and asked if I knew what to do with them. I told him I’d figure it out. He asked if I had access to the internet (at which I internally laughed and was simultaneously embarrassed for my addiction to same) and suggested I Google “plantain recipes”. Which I did. I panicked a little when I got home, unloaded the bags and bins and discovered there was no fruit (besides a dozen ripe plantains) – not even canned or frozen – and the vegetables were limited to 4 bags of coleslaw, a bag of potatoes, 5 packages of mushrooms and a small bag of green beans and two yellow zucchini that were banging on death’s door.

I have to say I’m astounded at the quantity of food we were given. It filled the back of the car. There’s no way I could have transported it on the bus. A young woman in her twenties who was behind me in line walked out with a cart full, and hers was a hamper for one. We got two bags of Cheerios, an enormous tub of peanut butter, rotini pasta, spaghetti, plenty of bread and buns, a pound of solid margarine, two cake mixes and a shortbread mix,

two cans of tuna and two of brown beans, a dozen eggs, a 6-pack of lactose free meal replacement drinks, a big jug of V-8 and a tetra pack of apple juice, two sleeves of saltines, four cans of soup, canned tomato sauce and whole tomatoes, two packages of hot dogs (no hot dog buns, though! just burger buns), a few cans of club soda and two 2L cartons of milk.

I feel a little like the kitchen McGyver tonight. Which I quite get into, but recognize it’s a huge obstacle for most people making do with very little in their kitchen cupboards, and possibly very little in the way of cooking skills.

Of course, what you get depends largely on what has been donated. It’s never exactly the same. We got the hugest box of Oreos I’ve ever seen, plus another sleeve of them, half a dozen donuts and three 4-packs of bubblegum and cotton candy flavoured Jell-O pudding, in shades of pale blue and pink. (W: “What is THAT?” M: “Not food.”)

We got three produce bags packed with miscellaneous granola bars, cereal bars and packets fruit snacks and chocolate Easter eggs. One volunteer pointed them out, kindly telling me we were getting Gushers so that W wouldn’t feel different at school.

Which I can sadly relate to, having been the kid with the big ol’ woody carrot for recess snack when the other kids had fruit roll-ups. But what does it say about our society that you need to have Gushers in your lunch to be cool? To be normal?

But the sentiment was sweet.

I remember my Mom picking up boxes of Pot of Gold chocolates to put in the Food Bank donation bin at Christmastime, because wouldn’t it be nice if people got a treat in their hampers along with all that rice and beans. And I still remember that when I make donations to the bin – should I be practical? or give something sweet? There seemed to be no shortage in the sweets department – not that there’s anything wrong with that. If I were having a hard time of it and needed to rely on the food bank to get me through a week (or month), I’d be happy to find a bag of cookies in there. I’m sure plenty of food bank clients have bigger fish to fry.

Tonight, I thought I’d cook the perishables first – since the beans and zucchini were so close to self-combusting I turned them into a simple stew with two potatoes and a large can of tomatoes. It reminded me how good plain, unadorned food can be – our rules of engagement allow cooking oil and three spices, so I added a pinch of Italian seasoning (from my friend’s garden), salt and pepper. Had I been doing this on my own I might have added asparagus, garlic and onion, maybe white beans, and possibly a sausage to start. I certainly would have grated some Parmesan cheese overtop. But we enjoyed it nevertheless, and felt good after eating it. It was simple, comforting and nourishing. It fed us well (W opted for eggs on toast, and I did let him finish the last of the watermelon we started yesterday – it seemed ironic to not eat something and have it go to waste in order to spread the word about the food bank?) I sauteed the second zucchini with a package of mushrooms and added a can of tomato sauce – that will go in the fridge for dinner another day.

Zucchini, Green Bean and Potato Stew

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped (optional)
1 yellow or green zucchini, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1-2 cups fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 potatoes, russet, Yukon gold or red, chopped (don’t bother peeling them)
1 28 oz. (796 mL) can whole tomatoes, undrained
pinch Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion (if you’re using it), zucchini and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the green beans, potatoes, tomatoes (with their juices) and Italian seasoning; bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about half an hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.


Entry filed under: Julie.

The first supper… so what’s for dinner?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Erin  |  June 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Wow – that looks beautiful! There is no way my grocchi will ever rival yours!!!

    I’m going to try a cotton candy pudding at work today. What would Michael pollon say?!


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