KJ Hannah Greenberg

Grow those Veggies

On Thursdays, my family’s kitchen table is laden with piles of fresh leaves and other foodstuffs that Computer Cowboy’s bodeked. This weekly event has been part of our domestic doings since long before we made aliyah (I’m more chill going into Shabbot when I do the majority of cooking on Thursday, not Friday. To boot, I appreciate my husband looking for bugs since I’m a tad phobic.)

At any rate, both in Hutz l’Aretz and here, in Eretz Yisrael, people have remarked at the awesome sight of our piles of green, yellow, red, and more. Although the repairmen or guests passing through our kitchen likely have similar viands in their refrigerators, except for the grocery store, or social media-driven communications, they’re not accustomed to seeing the bounding beauty of comestible bounty that the greater part of the Western World is privileged to enjoy. In other words, rather than batch cook, most folks take a stalk of celery, a tomato or two, and a few pieces of lettuce, at a time, from their cooling devices.

As for me, I’m a fan of mise en place, of having all of my ingredients set before me. As a true “Jewish Grandmother,” I don’t measure nor use recipes, yet I appreciate having all of the goods I need for multiple dishes easily at hand.

So, when I prepare carrots for chicken soup, I also prepare carrots for a sweet Moroccan add-on. When I chop celery for that same soup, I chop extra, which I freeze (my freezer is an important midweek cooking aid; I “shop” it for all manner of diced and sliced edibles for easy stir-fries, soups, chilies, wraps, sauces, and more. It takes nominal time to julienne or Pont-Neuf the victuals that Hubs prepped for Shabbot and that are not immediately needed. It takes even less time to remove them from the freezer and add them to weekday meals.)

See, I like cooking from scratch—it’s a creative activity. However, I enjoy fashioning art and fostering writing even more. Accordingly, I reserve part of Thursdays for cheffing and rely on my overage of prepared harvests to get me through the week.

All things being unequal, during the last few years, especially during the years of COVID, when I couldn’t leave the house to acquire new shoots, the blades of our root viands and the vibrant bottoms of our leafy ones beckoned to me. More exactly, I elected to cultivate the tops of radishes, carrots, beets, and so forth. As well, I rooted the bottoms of celery, lettuce, bok choy, and their kin. Consequently, part of my family’s Thursday ritual has evolved into selecting the best of those bits and then setting them into shallow dishes that are partially filled with water.

Those that rot get tossed. Those that develop nice roots get plonked into dirt. One year, our Passover celery was sourced from one such potting.

At times, we get flowering stems, not roots (the sorts of bits that flourish depend on the time of year/amount of direct sunlight received by my veggie scraps.) Other times, we have a “cut and come again” harvest. Mostly, onion stems fill this category.

In fact, these days, rather than express awe at the bounty that Hashem has created for us and that decks my Thursday morning table, people passing through our home tend to make mention of the small, verdant slips pullulating on my kitchen windowsills.

Some youngsters have copied my family’s antics. At times, their parents have emailed me that having freshly sprouting produce is not only educational for their children but also tasty for themselves. Yet other adults have said that they are enamored of the new leaves and stems and that even if they choose not to harvest such morsels that they are delighted by cost-free annuals that yield vibrancy to their kitchens.

Nevertheless, entrepreneurs have become privy to middle-aged and older adults’ affinity for lush goodness. A variety of devices, which, allegedly, make raising seeds easier, have joined the marketplace. Some of these contraptions water plants as long as their bladders are full. Others turn grow lights on and off, in accordance with their timers. All in all, there exist countless ways for people to waste money when farming food from scraps.

As for me, I’m content to cut up mounds of tomatoes and thereafter to save and sow some of those plant rudiments. I line the bottom of “upcycled” hummus or tahini containers with rocks, add dirt, and then, carefully, drop in a few small ovals in each. Usually, enough of them germinate such that I can thin and repot a portion of them.

At the moment, whereas scallions still dominate my sills, I’ve a bumper crop of pepper plants budding near them. My biggest concern, these days, is not whether I lose a few carrot ferns to neglect—my “gardening” costs me nothing. Rather, I worry over my juvenile cat slurping up the vegetables’ water. While we bought him a cat fountain, he prefers to taste the liquid in which mint or oregano is rooting.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.