Creating Communities—and Vegetable Stock

On a recent snowy day in New York City, I got to making more vegetable stock, which has now become one of my favorite creations. I say creation because there is no recipe, and the flavors in the end-product are different every single time, depending on the bits and pieces used. When simmered together they make the most delicious and fragrant broth. Now, every time I cook anything with vegetables, or if I see my produce is starting to go bad, I just toss it in a Zip-lock bag and freeze it until there is enough to make a new stock. What emerges is a small culinary masterpiece of flavors and aromas. Little else needs to be added to this insanely rich stock to make a fabulous soup or stew.

As it simmered, my mind began to ponder how readily you can create a satisfying, delicious broth from scraps with just a little thought, patience and intention. I also saw that in this same way I am creating my community.

Several blog posts ago, I wrote about returning from Mont Blanc only to find myself missing the kinship of like-minded people I met on the mountain. While New York City is a wonderful place to live and work, it can be a challenging place to create a community. In addition to living alone, I work alone, which is isolating, making it difficult to gather together a cohesive band of friends with common interests and life-situations. While I have loads of friends, they are scattered all over the city, the US and the world, making it difficult to enjoy shared events on a regular basis, which to me was the genesis of having a community.

But what IS a community anyway? I had thought it was defined by a unified group of people with common life experiences whom you can talk to, relate to and sometimes commiserate with. If you are a stay-at-home mother, for example, you might find it fairly easy and comforting to find other women in your neighborhood to share friendship, understanding, support and love, based on the very specific commonality of motherhood.

vegetable-Stock2bBut my life isn’t defined by one specific thing (other than utter chaos at times) so I had a hard time seeing how I would be able to create a community that I could turn to for friendship, understanding, laughter and fun. Until, that is, I saw that for me, creating community was like making that vegetable stock.

First, I had to be purposeful in its creation… I would need to make the effort (as I do when I save every nob and end of a vegetable) and I would not only need to be patient (waiting for enough to be gathered together to make a stock), but I’d need to stay open to who and what came into my life.

Vegetable-StockbThen I would need to see how they could all came together to create a satisfying community of people that may live all over the city or the world, but would unmistakably suit me, reflecting the diversity of my own life and interests. My community didn’t have to be a group of local friends with specific life experiences in common. My community could be like that stock: diverse, colorful, rich and delicious.

Turns out, I didn’t have to look far. Like saving vegetable scraps, I only had to see the potential that was always there but that I had previously overlooked. I came to see that all I had to do was embrace the people who are already part of my life and then engage them in a more meaningful way. Which is what I set out to do, and I am beginning to experience the comfort and enjoyment that comes from sharing life with the people around me.

I have fantastic neighbors. Not only are they kind and helpful, they are also incredibly interesting. This year, along with a couple that live on the first floor, Alyson and Dave, I hosted a holiday gathering for the people who live in my building so that we could come together in a festive way and get to know each other outside of our share-holders meetings. The night exceeded our expectations with the last of the guests leaving at 2am! What a great time!! We all had the opportunity to get better acquainted with some of our newer neighbors and reconnect with others who have lived here forever. It was a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Neighbors-Alyson-Margaret-Chris-Virginie-Dom-Michael2

naighbors

Doris-Parents-Thanksgiving2Come Thanksgiving, my parents and I joined my dear friends Max and Leona and their family for an amazingly festive and gratitude-filled holiday. It is always nice to have children about during the holidays and being with Max and Leona’s kids made the day even more special.

Me-Gill-Gill-Simon-Peter-Fozzy-Tony-and-Mal2Soon after I was off to my reunion hike in the Lakes District of England to meet up with nine fellow Mont Blanc trekkers. We gathered at the Ambleside Youth Hostel and embarked on a 12-mile charity hike through wind and rain that left me soaked to the bone. Thank God for pub stops along the way!! And for Fozzy, Rowena and Peter, hardcore trekkers with enough gear to keep me warm and somewhat dry as the day wore on. It was wonderful to see everyone again! People who enjoy taking vacations that include continuous and arduous hiking are an interesting and rare breed, and it is my intention to keep this band of walkers in my life forever. The weekend was a whirl, but it was worth the effort it took to get there. I plan to return for a week in March so that we may all gather again for more walks in the Lakes.

Three-nicest-people-ever-meet-Shirley-Dave-John2Then of course, there are the people that are the pillars of my community, like my family (particularly my parents, and also Robert and Eva) and closest friends (Alli, Tony, Francesca, Louise, Beth, Lisa, Eric, Doris and Mike). I also have my clients who are a privilege to work with and support on their path to great health. Then there are also all of YOU. While faceless to me, you are all an unmistakable part of my community and I value each of you enormously. You make me better and help me challenge myself to try harder to be the best nutritionist I can be, which I value enormously.

Ian-Mal-Fozzy-Liz-Louise-DJTony-Rowena-Gill-Peter2

What I have come to learn is that I always did have a community… I just never saw how I could bring together these diverse and far-flung aspects of my life to relish in the comfort of what I traditionally thought of as community. Mine is not defined necessarily by a singular group with common life experiences. Instead, it is made up of the various aspects of my personality and my interests. Gathered together through time, care, love and intention, it has brought greater richness, color and flavor into my life. Just like that vegetable stock.

Wishing you and your community a very Merry Christmas!!!
xo
B

Notes on Vegetable Stock: This most recent batch of broth contained all of the following: lettuce, red and white onion, red cabbage, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, dill and cilantro stems, scallion, yams, garlic, brussels sprouts, jalapeño, lime, pardon peppers, eggplant, celery, shallots, lemon and carrot. As it simmered on the stovetop the most prevalent aromas were the cilantro, jalapeño and lime, quintessential Mexican ingredients that remind me of some of my favorite foods. To that stock I added fresh vegetables, beans or rice pasta and sometimes, shredded organic chicken. Every soup I’ve made with this as the base has been a culinary delight!

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Share Your Thoughts...

14 comments on “Creating Communities—and Vegetable Stock

  1. Carmen

    Hi Barbara! I have been following your blog ever since the Inc. 5000 nutrition session you led this Fall. Love your stuff! My questions are (1) How long do you cook the stock? (2) Do you end up straining out the “stuff,” and if not, do you end up eating tough bits like skins and tough skins? Thank you! – Carmen

    Reply
    1. Barbara Mendez, RPh, MS Post author

      Hey Carmen!
      I simmer (on low heat) the stock about an hour and a half. And yes, I strain it. There will be some sediment but it should not be bits and pieces. I hope you enjoy it!
      Wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2014!
      B

      Reply
  2. George Joannides

    ~~~Hi B.. I noticed that the veggies you have in the pot have not been peeled and trust are organic. Please let me know The reasoning and wisdom behind This cooking method or procedure..”.. Sure smells good! Bon appétit….G … I soon come see you in February

    Reply
  3. Carla Dalesio

    This is amazing. After reading this this morning, and preparing food today, I have already accumulated a full baggie of waste-ends. I can’t wait to see how the broth turns out and if it has any flavor. What a great idea! And I couldn’t agree with you more about community, well said.
    Carla

    Reply
  4. Jonathan Sheppard

    What a great post !! As we focus on the holidays we tend to gravitate more toward community. Thanks to your post, one of my 2014 resolutions will be to join the “vegetable stock ” of people in my life more often ( & maybe make the actual vegetable stock too !) and not just at holiday time.
    Happy and merry to you and yours !!!!!

    Reply
  5. marlene spignr

    Love your blog and read every word, every week. Despite your help and good advice when we met for one-on-one sessions last year., I got sloppy , lazy and gained back the weight and feel bad about that. So, back on track again. Stay tuned.
    Merry christmas; happy new year. May all your dreams come true.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Mendez, RPh, MS

      I’m so happy to know you too! And you were the first impetus I had to make my own stock (the second was reading the book, THe Everlasting Meal). So thank you for the inspiration. And I hope the coming year brings you much love, happiness, peace and health!
      xox
      B

      Reply

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