It’s time to start growing microgreens on the windowsill again. The soil-filled trays are like little chia pets sprouting hope, health and the pop of colour we need at this point in the winter. I crave that green, visually and on my plate. I find it in the woods, in the form of evergreens coated in a dusting of snow. Or in the pale green, gnarled ‘old mans beard’, dangling from birch trees. Or even in the unstylish curly parsley that’s currently in my fridge. I bought it because it tastes (and looks) good tossed through carbonara. I don’t mean a 1980’s chef sprinkle splashed across the plate. I mean tiny flecks of textured green that won’t wilt under the heat of hot eggy pasta. I also bought the curly parsley because it wasn’t sold in a plastic tub like greens so often are. Aube Giroux reminded me of the importance of this last week. Aube is a documentary film maker, a farm-to-table videographer, an organic gardener, a seed saver, a passionate activist and a gentle guide in all things environmental. And she is my latest guest on The Food Podcast.
Last week Aube posted these words on Instagram:
@kitchenvignettes Trying hard to keep our salads green & local around here… I swore up and down last year would be our last winter without a cold frame for growing our own winter greens (à la @nikijabbour… if you don’t know what a cold frame is, watch her video where she harvests salad greens in the middle of a Nova Scotia blizzard, it’s a hallelujah moment when she opens up that snowy cover to reveal summer 🌱under there) … but fall got busy and the snow came before I could get my act together… Me and my partner (aka the salad king) squabble about those plastic tubs of leafy greens from California. To buy or not to buy. I try to avoid them like the plague and resign myself to eating greenless (but still delicious) salads from shredded winter storage crops we can buy package-free & local at our farmers market: cabbage, celeriac, beets, carrots… but he can’t live without greens and I can’t say I complain when he puts a giant plate of green salad in front of me. One fun solution is growing microgreens on the windowsill. It’s so easy, plus it’s a good way to put those unrecyclable plastic tubs to good use. All you need is a container with drainage holes, some good soil, and good seeds!
You want to sow the seeds dense & shallow and keep the soil consistently moist but not overwatered. You want as much sun as possible so pick your sunniest window. Seeds you can use: beet, kale, arugula, radish, cabbage, sunflower, pea, broccoli, most any leafy green veg can make a good microgreens harvest. The downsides: you harvest microgreens about 10 days after you plant them when they’re young & tiny, so you need a lot of microgreens to get a good salad (so I usually combine them with other chopped veg), and you’ll probably still need to buy a bag of soil (usually thick unrecyclable plastic) so it doesn’t really solve the plastic waste conundrum. But you do get a lot of trays of microgreens out of that one bag and it’s fun and satisfying to grow your own salad + nutritious and delicious!
Aube’s recipe for life is simple: state the challenge, be vulnerable, admit to human struggle, share the reckoning, then provide a tangible solution. It’s a shameless recipe; we’re all human. But there hope, wrapped in understanding.
So I will grow those microgreens again. I will sit them on my south-facing window sill and water them just enough. I will watch Nicki Jabour’s tutorial; it’s good to have big, green goals. And in the meantime, I will try to pass the plastic tubs at the grocery store and reach for naked greens. All with the knowledge that even an environmental activist struggles with plastic use, just like the rest of us.
PS – my sister Lee is my carbonara mentor. She roughly follows Marcella Hazan’s recipe (this version looks about right). The key points to remember are: LOTS of salt in the pasta water. It really should taste like the sea (‘not a brackish river,’ says Lee). Let the garlic brown slowly in the olive oil. Use more bacon than you think. Use more cheese than you think. And of course, always add curly parsley.