After a young adulthood spent trudging dutifully toward a professional career, and clinging obstinately to an ideal that saw myself financially independent, child-free and living in an urban centre, I now reside in an RV in a rural area, have one very radical (as in awesome) baby, and am unemployed apart from my child-rearing and domestic obligations. While some of my generation would view my current lot as something resembling a fall from grace – and while I don’t go a day without feeling a measure of feminist guilt over walking on seven years of post secondary education and now relying on someone else to ‘pay my way’ – I look at it more as a reinterpretation or rediscovery of what I’m really about. For years I occupied a headspace that was informed by expectations set for me at a young age. I attended a high school which groomed me for university enrolment, and my parents also set very clear expectations about pursuing post secondary studies. While I was lucky to receive this sort of support in my formative years, there was little or no encouragement to follow non-academic pursuits after high school. Travel, an interest in creative endeavours, and more practical/applied lines of work were all seen as far less worthy of my time than a university education.
So I went to university. In retrospect my time there seems unnatural and forced and miserable, but I finished, and even went on to complete a second degree (just to really punish myself). That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in what I was studying, but the fact of the matter is I’m not an academic and subconsciously I wanted to be doing something else. After finishing university, this subconscious desire found expression through a series of questionable life decisions and oddball twists of fate which, long story short, brought me to where I am now. Although I’m exactly where I shouldn’t be according to the trajectory that was plotted for me when I was younger, I feel like I’ve finally been given the opportunity to reset my mind, do things I honestly enjoy (like cook, make things and read books not written by Jurgen Habermas) and clearly assess what I want for myself. This might mean having a career one day (I still have at least 30 employable years ahead of me, after all) but right now I’m all about the domestic sphere, even if this brings with it an undercurrent of guilt.
While I’ve forfeited the austere independence I idealized in my younger years, my rediscovery of cooking means that I now wear the culinary pants in the household (even if my household is currently a recreational vehicle). This has happened somewhat out of necessity, as I’m vegetarian and Mike isn’t, and cooking without meat isn’t really his strong point, grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes and cans of baked beans notwithstanding. The tricky thing is striking a balance between our individual palates. While I could survive quite contentedly on sauteed kale and brown rice for dinner every night, Mike would view this as a form of torture akin to waterboarding. In other words, he’s happy to eat meatless meals as long as they don’t entail piles of leafy greens or other kinds of ‘rabbit food’ in large quantities (his loss, IMO). There are other restrictions, too, among them: no mushrooms, no uncooked tomatoes, nothing too spicy. These are pretty significant limitations in vegetarian cooking, but I’ve gotten pretty adept at working with them. I figure I owe it to him… I don’t know many manly-meateaters who would agree to adopt a largely plant-based diet at home and not whine endlessly about it!
It was only when my gaze fell on a pile of portobellos at the grocery store the other day that I realized how long it had been since I’d made a dish that incorporated any kind of mushroom. Mike was working out of town for the week so I figured I had my chance to create a dish that indulged some of the ‘nasty’ ingredients that would scar him for life and/or propel him straight from the dinner table to the McDonald’s drive-through: not only the cursed fungi but eggplant and wild rice an worst of all… CHARD! At any rate, this was one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve come up with in a while. Wild rice is so hearty, and the roasted portobellos and eggplant imbue the dish with an amazing flavour. I seriously need to figure out a way to sneak mushrooms into my regular dishes. I think I’ve been denying myself!
Recipe: Wild Rice and Garlicky Swiss Chard with Balsamic-Roasted Portobello Mushrooms and Eggplant
Makes 4 servings
- 1 medium eggplant, diced into 1/2″ cubes
- 2 portobello mushrooms, diced into 1/2″ cubes
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup wild rice (I used Lunderberg Wild Blend, which is a mix of wild rice and brown rice)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (I removed spines first but you don’t have to)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper