26 June 2009

Little Green Children

I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

ate was right. The feeling that overtakes one when you go out to check on the garden and to give all one’s little green children a nice long soaking drink. You train a light, caressing shower over each verdant row, telling yourself that soon, soon there will be flowers and then fruit, but not yet. Patience. Patience. And then to spy tiny fruit!! Ecstasy!!

Such was my joy last evening. I was chatting with a neighbor, with whom we enjoy a wee bit of friendly garden competition. I had not been able to visit the garden in the last four days or so (never fear, there has been so much rain here, we need to start designing an ark!) and I was already pleased as punch to see how lovely and green and robust everything was. But I was not expecting our tomato plants, in all their bushy glory, to have any fruit yet. But low and behold, there they were, tucked away beneath lush, protective leaves. Still so young and tender, they were still fuzzy. Ahhh!

There really is nothing quite like standing over one’s garden and breathing in the odour of “green.” And in this Nate is also correct: it is "a love nobody could share. . .who had never taken part in the process of creation.” I am sure if anyone had chanced by at that moment, they would have thought me quite a loon, standing in breathless rapture, clapping my hands excitedly over the voluptuous basil plants, cooing at the tomatoes and praising the green beans.

But I shall have the last laugh over dinner. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

17 June 2009

The Human Connection: Unplugged

How we treasure ~ and admire ~ the people who acknowledge us!
~ Julie Morgenstern

hen one takes public transportation on a regular basis, one begins to notice a strange phenomenon: roughly 99.9% of one’s fellow passengers have wires growing out of their heads. As a staunch Doctor Who fan, visions of Cybermen spring into the imagination. On more than one occasion, I have found myself being slightly annoyed with those whose MP3 players (which are attached to said wires) have been turned up so loud that I can hear a distinct yet still vague beat ~ but no melody and no words. When one is trying to catch a snooze between stations, this is highly bothersome. But there is more here than meets the ear.

One of the cardinal (and unspoken) rules of riding the metro is to never make eye contact and heaven forbid don’t speak to anyone either! But even though these rules are understood by all, there is a level of non-verbal communication that still exists; some semblance of connection remains.

Put the headphones on and this tenuous thread is broken. How does one connect with someone who not only truly cannot hear you, but who is a million miles away in thought?! Plugging one’s ear with headphones seems as anti-social as plugging one’s ears with one’s fingers. I should know ~ I tried it today. Everyone else was doing it, why not me? An added incentive was a new pair of headphones and a replacement USB jack for my iPod Shuffle. (I misplaced the original docking station ~ it is lost in the Black Hole of my room for another three years I am sure!)

Everyone knows how much I adore music ~ it is more then the air I breathe. I could not live without it. But saying “Good morning” to the bus driver with an echo in my ear and keeping my eyes averted the whole commute (as is proper, you know!) I felt strangely disconnected from my surroundings. I wondered: “Is this how those other 99% feel too?” But then why continue to plug one’s ears and consequently one’s mind? Perhaps they have just become accustomed to the disconnection. Or perhaps they are already disconnected from themselves and their surroundings in other areas of their life, so this one does not strike them as odd. Or yet again, maybe they enjoy being slightly removed from the situation at hand. Now, I am not saying that exude effervescent sanguinity on either my morning (are you serious!?) or my evening (I once missed my stop because I was so exhausted I fell asleep!) commute. And there were days in the recent past when I wished with the fervency of a Ralphie Parker that I had my iPod with me to drown out the obnoxious Valley Girl conversations surrounding me. (What is it with that?! Where is Henry Higgins when you need him!?)

Now I am not so sure. For all the annoying noises or hair-pulling conversations, there is something to be said for staying connected, being aware of one’s surroundings and acknowledging one’s fellow travelers.
Otherwise, we become just big machines plugged into smaller ones.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

05 June 2009

. . .and Pretty Maids All in a Row

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.
~ W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

gardener is an optimist by nature. One has to be, or one would never plant another garden! This would certainly be true in my case. Last year I had a beautiful crop of tomatoes ~ each plant dripping with emerald fruit. I looked forward to frying some of the green ones and leaving the rest to ripen. In two days ~ 2 DAYS! ~ all gone. Stripped by those nasty little rats with bushy tails. I still have not figured out whether they were tree squirrels or ground squirrels.

But I did not let last year’s tragic loss deter me this year. As I mentioned on Tuesday, eight tomato plants went in on Memorial Day, along with five green peppers and several seeds: sugar snaps, radishes, arugula, swiss chard and three rows of beans ~ this after we said no more beans ~ three rows really is not enough for me to use for a dinner party. I knew the sugar snaps went in very late and will probably not grow, but I figured we had nothing to lose.

In addition to the vegetables, we put in at least six or eight basil plants. Basil is the crown jewel of the kitchen garden ~ rosemary comes a close second in terms of flavor and versatility. But basil is king. We had a little trouble with our basil plants last year as well ~ a tad wilted, very few leaves and stunted height. I am still not sure why. Other gardeners I talked to either had a huge crop of healthy basil or had the same experience I did, but neither group had answers.

So instead of bushels of basil being ground into oodles of pesto, I had to make do with spinach ~ which by the way, makes an excellent pesto too. This year, however, I am holding out hope (and organic fertilizer) that my basil will be better. And I have even more incentive this year. I have discovered a grilled chicken sandwich with fresh basil that will drive your taste buds batty.

The original is at Vie de France bakery ~ which unfortunately for me is located a short walk from my office ~ and consists of thin grilled deli chicken, mozzarella, fresh basil, and a smattering of pesto, all crushed between two slices of ciabatta bread. After having it for lunch three days in a row and turning my coworker into a fan as well, she suggested I come up with a version to bring in. So without further ado, here it is:

French Bread
Blue Dairy Mozzarella (or your own local dairy), sliced into thin rounds
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin and sautéed in 1 T butter
Fresh basil leaves
1 Clove of Garlic
1 Cup of fresh Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano
½ Cup of walnuts (you can also substitute pecans or pine nuts)
Olive oil
Various herbs

If you are pressed for time, you can buy chicken already cooked, but I like to season my own. The same goes for the bread ~ there are several great bakeries in the area and Colin Cowie says that if someone else can make it better then you can, let them. ;-) I find bread making quite relaxing, however, so I make my own when I have an “at home” day. It is better if you let the chicken marinate in the herbs and olive oil overnight. Same could probably said of pesto, but I like mine fresh out of the processor.

What is that, you say? You have never made fresh pesto?! And it is too difficult?! Fie! That is no way for a foodie to talk! Now, go pick some basil (or trot along to your local farmer’s market tomorrow morning and buy some) ~ don’t worry about chopping it, the processor will do it for you. Put a bunch of it in, drizzle a goodly amount of olive oil (no I am NOT going to tell you how much, eyeball it) add some walnuts to taste, a pinch of salt, about ½ c of shredded parmesan or pecorino-Romano and 1 clove of garlic. Do not make the mistake of adding more than 1 clove. I love garlic and thought adding more would be a good thing. Alas, not so. And basil is a terrible thing to waste. If it seems a little dry, keeping adding olive oil until the pesto is a thick paste. Just the thought of it makes me want to break out into song.

Spread some of the fresh, homemade pesto onto the bread, layer the chicken, mozzarella and tomato and finish with a few whole basil leaves on top. I made this for dinner last night (minus the pesto) and almost died in basil ecstasy! Serve with a nice tall glass of sweet tea and your guests will think you are a culinary genius!

Here’s to a successful summer of gardening and cooking!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

02 June 2009

With Silver Bells and Cockle Shells...and Wrens?

The best gardening books should be written by those...
who still feel awe at the miracle which follows
the setting of a geranium cutting in its appointed loam.
~ Beverley Nichols

La Belle's Garden went in on Memorial Day. Glorious! And already, the radishes have sprouted, along with one row of swiss chard, arugula and three rows of green beans. The sugar snaps have yet to put in an appearance, but hope springs eternal. It must. The sage is practically the overlord, rosemary his queen and Prince Oregano holding his own between them. However, with eight healthy and viral tomatoes growing like weeds on the other end, we shall see where the balance of power ends up. ;)

Forced abed the past two days with a very inconvenient case of strep, I managed to stumble out of bed this evening and visit the garden and give it a good shower. And lo, I had a visitor. The most curious and brave little bird I have seen in many years. He kept walking a little closer on his tiny little bird legs, then he would cock an eye and peer at me, and then fly to the other side of the yard and sit on top of the fence peering at me some more. I am not sure what he thought of me, but I think he liked the fact that I was wetting the dirt and driving out some worms. At least I hope so. I did tell him he could eat any bugs he found, just no seeds.

He looked sort of like this little guy:

Although he was a little more bluish-grey on top of his head. My neighbor thought I was out of my mind, chirping and talking to my tiny visitor. But said he would only get really worried if the bird began answering me. Why, that would be like living in the Wind in the Willows ~ how marvelous!

Alas, my wee friend flew away after I admonished him about eating any seeds. I think he was either offended, or very sly and just waited until I put away my watering accoutrements and came inside. I do hope he returns. He was very friendly sort of chap and quiet. Just the sort one likes to have with one while puttering in one's garden. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,