A mix of families, cultures and food, Jackie Freeman's column "Blended" follows the culinary adventures of one step-mama chef and her two kitchen monkeys as they learn to make scrumptious and sane mealtime choices.
It’s no surprise that I love fresh vegetables and fruits. I’m a chef! But, I’ll let you in on a terrible secret: I buy all of my produce, I never grow it. We do have a few small raised beds tucked away behind some deer fencing and a beautiful wooden gate. When I can keep the slugs, deer and children out of the garden, what do I grow? A lot of weeds.
It’s not that I don’t like gardening; I’m just not very good at it. Every spring, the kitchen monkeys and I sit down and go through garden catalogues. We circle, highlight and put stickers on all of the amazing plants we want to grow. We buy seed packets and starters at stores, and bring them home to plant. Sometimes, we even get seeds and plants in the garden. But, then things go downhill quickly.
At times, it’s the deer and slugs that get to our fruits and veggies before we do. Other times, it’s our own undoing: The kitchen monkeys love to help, and a small weed and a small vegetable look exactly the same. The boys love to get out their shovels and tools and “work” the garden, often building elaborate bird and deer traps out of toys and string to protect our tiny plants. In the long run, almost everything gets dug up, dug out, trampled on, picked or squished before we get to (literally) taste the fruits of our labor.
That’s why we love going to the farmers market. Those hard-working and capable folks seem to have much better luck at growing beautiful produce. It’s there for our picking every week, and we always have an endless selection of berries, greens, stone fruit, veggies and more.
In addition to being able to buy the freshest available produce, heading out to our local farmers market makes for a morning of entertainment and education. The kitchen monkeys love walking up and down the rows of stalls and looking at all of the colors and shapes. They always get to pick one special treat to eat at the market, and another for when we’re home.
Sometimes what they pick surprises me. Yes, they do choose snow cones or cookies, but just as often they pick out a basket of berries or a carrot with the greens still attached for their afternoon snack. The pick that goes home has slightly different rules: It has to be something different than last week, it has to be enough that we can all share it and they have to help prepare it once we get home.
There was a lot to choose from this week’s market. But walking by one stand with a huge stack of colors and shapes, the boys knew exactly what they wanted: cucumbers.
All of that exploring at the farmers market has a way of making two small boys very hungry, so we decided to make lunch with our newly purchased cucumbers. Often these well-known veggies are relegated to a side dish or topping; today, they were the stars.
The kitchen monkeys thought it hilarious that our vegetables were now our bread (a feat of creativity required thanks to moldy bread). They also thought our lunch looked like boats, a theme we decided to take even further by adding tortilla chip sails and carrot rudders. (I did stop them short when they wanted to float their “sandwiches” in the kitchen sink.)
And with that: Lunch. Is. Served.
Tuna Salad-Stuffed Cucumber Boats
In a small bowl, mix together tuna, mayonnaise, mustard, apples, onions and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Halve cucumbers lengthwise. Using a small spoon, carefully scrape out seeds. Spoon tuna mixture into cucumber halves. Top with tortilla chip “sails” and carrot “rudders” if desired (or just eat them on the side).