The sweet potatoes were covered in a dusty layer of dirt when I picked through a bin on a recent Sunday at one of the last winter farmers markets in Bangor. It was a sunny, but not quite warm, day and the second to last farmers market to be held inside this season at the Sea Dog. In a few weeks, the first outdoor market will open in Abbott Square near the Bangor Public Library and farmers will be there every Sunday.
The dirt got on my hands, my coat, everywhere. It was fine and plentiful, covering every inch of the oblong sweet potatoes. But I didn’t mind.
“Sorry they’re so dirty. Potatoes don’t store as long when we clean them,” Clayton Carter of Fail Better Farms told me as he rung me up. Bits of dusty dirt fell from the potatoes onto the scale that he was measuring their weight with.
I smiled, laughed and said, “that’s okay. Vegetables are supposed to be dirty.”
He didn’t reply, but I hope he understood my meaning: I don’t shop at the farmers market looking for pristine, homogenized produce. That’s not really how things grow. Anyone who’s ever tended a vegetable garden knows that sometimes the cucumbers turn yellow on one side. Sometimes the broccoli heads aren’t perfect, rounded heads. And sometimes the tomatoes come in a whole range of colors from pink to yellow to a purple nearly black. In nature, there’s beauty — and so much flavor — in the imperfect way things grow. I shop at farmers markets to get fresh fruits and veggies grown close to home using gentle practices that are kind to our bodies and the earth. I shop there because I believe a local food system is crucial to society and because I believe local produce has the best flavor.
A little mess on my hands and coat while picking out sweet potatoes? No big deal. In fact, it’s welcome.
Life, like those potatoes, can be a little messy at times too. As humans, we’re imperfect creatures with a range of emotions — we laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn, get excited, get angry and so much more. We set our minds on things like schedules, plans and ideas and sometimes don’t move easily away from them. We make mistakes, so many mistakes, and keep trying to do better. It’s an endless stream of falling down and getting back up again. We succeed at some things, fail at others, but the best of us keep trying, keep working, keep moving ahead.
We brush off our hands and keep going. That’s life.
It’s on those messy sweet potatoes (well, they were messy — I washed them before baking) that I served this week’s recipe. This messy dish is a mix of flavors, sweet and savory, that’s both filling and light. As the season inches forward to warmer weather (and then jerks back again), this recipe both warms you up while not feeling like the heavy, belly-filling ones of winter.
Making Slow Cooker Pulled Barbecue Chicken is a cinch. You layer onions, chicken thighs, frozen pepper strips and barbecue sauce in a slow cooker and cook it until its tender. Then you shred the chicken, mix it up and serve.
And I highly recommend serving it on baked sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, prick the cleaned sweet potatoes a few times (one one side) and cook them directly on the rack for 50-60 minutes until tender. A baking sheet on the rack below will ensure that nothing bubbling out of the potatoes hit the hot oven floor.
- 1 sweet Vidalia onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, visible fat trimmed
- 8 oz bag frozen mixed pepper strips
- ½ cup barbecue sauce
- Layer the onions, chicken thighs, pepper strips and barbecue sauce in the bowl of a slow cooker.
- Cook on low for 8 hours.
- Using 2 forks, shred the chicken. Mix together with the veggies and sauce.