Author Chris Bohjalian at home in Vermont

A Vegetable Garden? Food for the Soul


( Award-winning author Chris Bohjalian was a columnist for Gannett’s Burlington Free Press where the following story ran on May 17, 2015.  He graduated from Amherst College and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.  This story was also posted on May 20, 2015 at Chris’ website:

By Chris Bohjalian

Why garden today?

Note the verb. In your mind’s eye, conjure a backyard vegetable plot. Imagine activity and effort. Visualize stooping. Lifting. Tilling. Seeding. Planting. Watering. Weeding. Thinning. (I abhor thinning. I haven’t the heart to rip from the soil the small, fragile leaves that will become lettuce or carrots or beets.) There are more — many more — words that buttress that single verb, “garden,” but you see my point. There is a lot of work before you get to harvesting. Savoring. And (yes) eating.

Moreover, I imagine if I added up the costs of my wife’s and my vegetable garden, it would not be a profitable venture. The rototilling, seeds, manure, pots, tomato cages, fertilizer, and hay alone might cost more than if we had bought the same vegetables at a farm stand or grocery store between July and October. But even if that’s not the case, when you factor in the hours and hours of our labor, our vegetable garden can’t possibly make fiscal sense.

And yet neither of us can imagine a summer without it. The same, I am sure, goes for all of our neighbors in the center of Lincoln, Vermont. Most of us have vegetable gardens, and many of us have some combination of blueberries and strawberries and raspberries, too.

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The irony in my case is that I grew up loathing all vegetables except petit peas from a can and corn on the cob. I’m not sure I ever ate fresh vegetables other than corn until the summer I was 18 years old, when the woman who would become my mother-in-law taught me that peas didn’t actually come from a can.

Consequently, I had never gardened (there again is that verb) until my wife and I moved to Vermont in our early twenties. My wife did not have to drag me into the effort kicking and screaming, but I remember watching our neighbor Clark Atkins — who had to have been well into his seventies by then — as he used wooden planks to walk a pretty serious rototiller off the back of his pickup, and thinking how I might have seriously underestimated how much work this garden might be.

But I have never regretted it. I know my wife feels the same way. Gardening is much like biking for me. My mind wanders and I find myself solving problems. Think of that great expression, “the shower principle.” I first heard the term from the fictional Jack Donaghy on the now defunct sit-com, “30 Rock.” How does Donaghy define it? “The shower principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand — for example, when you’re showering,” Donaghy explains. I have certainly corrected flaws in whatever book I am writing while gardening, and understood some of my characters a little bit better.

Moreover, I wouldn’t say I approach gardening with a Zen-like serenity, but only because I approach nothing with a Zen-like serenity. Still, I grow a little calmer than usual in the garden, I become a little less intense. I take an almost parental pleasure in nurturing the plants as they grow, and the work is never a chore.

And I know that I enjoy the garden most in the first half of the summer, before the lettuce has gone to seed and the first cherry tomatoes are ready to pop into my mouth. After all, by August, despite our ministrations and care, the garden will start to look a little ragged and unkempt. By late September, when we are pulling the last of the carrots and the beets from the soil, it will look downright terrifying. The tomato plants will be dangling from the cages like the tentacles of dead man o’ war jellyfish on the beach.

But then we will put the garden to bed for the winter and allow it join a world that all around it is growing quiescent. The parallels with our lives are, for better or worse, inescapable.

So why do we garden? Because it connects us to that very world and reminds us on some level that we are a part of it. Because it feeds our soul as well as our stomach. Because, pure and simple, it makes us happy.

The author’s garden

Aunt Rose Mary Muench’s Boeregs

Admittedly, Bohjalian happens to be a vegetarian and could live on cheese boeregs, kadaif and tahn. Here is his Aunt Rose Mary Muench’s treasured recipe for Armenian cheese boeregs that is one of his favorite foods.

“My Aunt Rose Mary is a daughter of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and a granddaughter of survivors of the Hamidian Massacres,” said Chris.

“Over the years, this recipe has changed a lot.  It is a combination of Armenian and Greek flavors, and it’s been like that for over 25 years and probably more, but it always tastes the same way when I make it…and my family enjoys it very much,” says Aunt Rose Mary.*



1 pound phyllo dough (in two packaged sheets inside or one full sheet)

1 pound Muenster cheese, chopped

1 pound melted butter

1 package farmer cheese

2 eggs

3-8 oz. packages chopped defrosted spinach, with liquid squeezed out

2 onions, chopped and sautéed in olive oil with one large utility spoon until limp

1 large utility spoon of flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper



Except for phyllo dough and the butter, mix all ingredients together thoroughly in a medium bowl.  The filling should be ready the minute you are ready to make the triangles.

Place finished triangles on a nonstick baking pan and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. Do not butter the baking pan because the triangles are already buttered.

Triangles may be made in sets of eight for freezing in a plastic container — first in wax paper and then aluminum foil.


*Cooking tips from Aunt Rose Mary regarding phyllo dough: “Do not plan to prepare the triangles for at least two to three whole days. From the supermarket to refrigerator or from the freezer, once the dough is in your refrigerator, turn the box over every three or four hours to a different side. All four sides for two or three days. Why are you doing this?  The dough inside is frozen. The dough is paper thin. Once you open the dough you better be ready to make about 42 triangles and do nothing else. The box may tell you to cover with a slightly wet towel. Don’t.  Sometimes there are rips and holes. You can use the melted butter to paste it together.”


Chris Bohjalian is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 22 books. His work has been translated into 35 languages and three times become  movies.   He is the author of his latest novel, “Hour of the Witch.”  His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers “Flight Attendant,” “Midwives,” “The Sandcastle Girls,” “The Guest Room,” and “The Double Bind.”  “Hour of the Witch” is a tale is an historical thriller set in 1662 Boston — inspired by the first divorce in North America for domestic violence — and America’s original witch hunt.

“Hour of the Witch” reviews include:

“Hour of the Witch is historical fiction at its best… Insightful and empathetic… Thick with details as chowder is with clams… handled with great skill and delicacy. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying.” — Diana Gabaldon, the Washington Post Book World

“Harrowing…In the hands of a master storyteller like Bohjalian, [Hour of the Witch] is an engrossing tale of a woman who insists upon the right to navigate her life, and the consequences when she does..” — Danielle Trussoni, the New York Times Sunday Book Review

“Bohjalian does an admirable job of bringing his numerous players to life in all their complexity. Mary, so mistreated by her milieu, begins to wonder if she may indeed be possessed. HOUR OF THE WITCH — part courtroom thriller, part psychological suspense novel — holds a reader’s rapt attention all the way to its startling conclusion.” — Tom Nolan, the Wall Street Journal

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See: My Proud Pilgrimage to My Homeland — and Our Line in the Sand (July 4, 2021) at:


Copyright 2021 © Chris Bohjalian. All rights reserved.

(Contributed by Christine Vartanian Datian)




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