Monday, May 31, 2010

fosse and family

there are at least two, possibly three or more snakes living in the garden. i did a lot of work behind the fence yesterday, chopping down tall grasses and weeding in preparation for planting, and i noticed the snake i saw a couple weeks ago watching me...i decided to name it fosse, in honor of bob fosse’s memorable performance as the snake in “the little prince.” later i almost lopped a snake in half with the hedge shears...a much smaller one, it was up off the ground slithering through grasses and came within an inch of being chopped. after that i was much more careful.

it’s prime snake territory back there, with all the grasses and easy access to water and plenty of sunlight...i kept running into them all afternoon, almost stepping on one.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

the payoff

this is what i’ve been waiting everywhere. i’m surprised i haven’t crashed my bike yet, i’m so distracted by all the beauty.

i went to the farmer’s market with andrea this afternoon and we just soaked up the whole atmosphere...we were both in super creative moods so every booth we passed seemed to bring up some new idea, something to make or try. i couldn’t wait to get home and start new projects.

the mirabelles are growing. i ate one unripe...actually i chewed it and spat it out. it wasn’t as sour as i expected, but it was dry and crunchy and not at all mirabelley.

there’s a huge patch of buttercups blooming in one of the parks i rode by today.

i tried collard greens for the first time tonight, fresh from the garden. basically the whole reason i tried growing them is because the seeds came in a cute package from cute local growers (earthly delights farm), and the variety is “sexy mama” collard greens.

i sautéed two cloves of garlic, minced, half an onion and four mushrooms, sliced, then added the chopped greens (about eight leaves), some soy sauce, some balsamic vinegar, and sesame seeds. i ate it with a side of spinach, also from the garden, and fried tofu: i let strips of tofu marinade briefly in soy sauce, crusted them with nutritional yeast then pan fried them in olive oil. sooo yummy.

yoga monkey

my mom commissioned me to make a yoga-themed sock monkey for her friend and yoga instructor whose birthday is tomorrow. this is the first time i've made a monkey with clothes. pants are annoying to sew.

she has a class tomorrow morning, so my parents are going in early to set up the monkey in a yoga pose on its own little mat at the front of the class before she arrives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

come grow with me

wednesday i planted three more small rows of corn and snow peas. i think that might be just about the last of what i’m direct-seeding this season. recently rising to the superterranean sphere are the wax beans, gonzo beans, dill and container basil.

nasturtiums have formed flower buds.

one strawberry is just about ripe, but it’s kind of a freaky deform-o fruitmutant (frutant?). i’m sure it still tastes fine.

andy does NOT like it when i’m flutzing about behind the fence and he can’t get to me.

anyone know what this herb might be? it smells nice, light and maybe sorta minty...the leaves are covered with a very fine, soft fuzz and speckled with tiny light-gold dots. i wish i could describe the scent better. it’s familiar, i just can’t think of what it is.

all i have left to plant are cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, watermelons, squash, zucchini, parsley, borage, and eleventy hundred tomatoes. everything other than the peppers and tomatoes have a quantity of less than four, so it’s not much. my windowsills are emptying of all the little soygurt cups that’ve been crowding them for months...they look so plain now.

i’ve started giving away some tomato plants, but i’d like to place as many as i can possibly fit in the yard. i’m charged with growing enough to feed myself, my mom, my grandma, one of my mom’s coworkers and her husband, and a handful of my friends who don’t have gardens. i’ll personally be eating a ton, juicing a ton, drying a ton, freezing a ton, and canning as many as i can stand--this is the first summer i’ve liked tomatoes so i plan to go crazy. it’s basically crucial that i end up with around two dozen plants.

i’m already making a list of all the seeds i’d like to try next year. i found out too late that “seeds of change” is owned by a giant-ass corporation, m&m mars. i had no idea. i’m not buying from them again. here’s a chart that shows a bunch of friendly-seeming organic brands with their big scary parent food processing corporations revealed.

a couple seed catalogues arrived after i’d already finished ordering this year, so i’ve been marking them up, getting prematurely excited. i think i’ll buy everything from seed savers exchange, baker creek heirloom seeds and a few small local seed companies next time. here’s another good resource that shows which seed companies are affiliated with monsanto, the mother of all fuckers. and, here’s a cool, slightly old article by michael pollan about why hybrid varieties are not so nice. note: back in 1994 when it was written, GMO seeds weren’t yet a consideration (i think...otherwise he’d surely mention them, right?), seeds of change was not yet owned by m&m mars, and idaho city’s “seeds blüm” was still blooming with us.

next year i want to try all kinds of crazy weird stuff: jelly melons, winged peas, moon & stars watermelons, dragon’s tongue beans, taiwan black seeded yard-long beans, hardy kiwi, and reisetomate or “traveler tomato”. reisetomate has the most outlandish appearance of any tomato i’ve seen.

this weekend i finished reading barbara kingsolver’s “animal, vegetable, miracle.” someone gave it to me for xmas a couple years ago, i guess i sort of put off reading it, and i’m glad i waited because this was just exactly the right time to read it. so many of the things she describes doing on her farm are things i’ve done, on a much smaller scale of course, in the last few months. reading some parts of it i felt like...aahh, she’s plagiarizing my thoughts, but expressing them way more eloquently than i ever could!

this one passage stuck out to me especially--it’s in a chapter about the beginning of spring, when “We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can’t keep, all passion is really a setup, and we’re doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally. I’m a soul on ice flung out on a rock in the sun, where the needles that pierced me begin to melt all as one” (43).

that’s a fabulous quote too, but the thing that made me laugh out loud and nod in recognition came on the next page, where she writes about setting seedlings out in her greenhouse, then escorting them indoors when the weather falls into the teens: “...we run to carry everything back inside, dashing in the back door, setting flats all over the table and counters until our kitchen looks like the gullet and tonsils of a Chia Pet whale” (44).

i’ve been inside that whale! i have a favorite quote on practically every page, so i’ll leave it at that rather than transcribing the whole book. it is a must-read.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

veggie legends

i’m curious about the histories and legends behind vegetables and fruits--especially specific heirlooms, i love looking up their backgrounds and finding out from where their colorful names originate. so i was pretty excited to find this book, “vegetables in the garden and their legends,” by vernon quinn. it's a good mix of legends and quotes from old herbalists and botanists like pliny the elder and john gerard. the book is from 1942, both out-of-date and remarkably dated...the author even makes disturbing comments about “negroes.”

if you’re interested in such a book but don’t want to look past the author’s bullshit, check out william woys weaver, he’s a much more contemporary, non-racist sort of food/plant expert/historian, and he’s very prolific. weaver goes into detail about a lot of cool heirlooms, however i thought some of the legends in quinn’s book were more interesting than weaver’s.

here are a few excerpts (along with scans of the book's illustrations), starting with my favorite one about lettuce:

Even the ancients knew that the best time to gather lettuce is in the early morning, while the leaves are cool from the night air and crisp and fresh with its moisture.

When superstition was so prevalent in the Middle Ages, this early gathering of lettuce acquired an explanation which to this day is believed by the peasants of central Europe. Witches frolic in the lettuce fields the whole night through, they say, and in daytime the plants are in the keeping of a myriad little devils. Only between dawn when the witches depart and sunrise when the devils come can the leaves be gathered with safety.

In Old Japan, in the long, long ago, a prince was walking in his garden. As he stooped to pick a luscious-looking cucumber, he heard a tinkling voice, and there sat a tiny man on one of the green leaves.

“I am the Genie of the Cucumber,” said the little creature, “and I have come to make a bargain with you. Promise never again to eat a cucumber, neither you nor your family; never to break one from the vine; and I will take you and all your descendants under my protection.”

The prince readily agreed; and from that day the cucumber has appeared on the crest of his family, and the vines have been grown for their beauty alone—and as a gesture, perhaps, actuated by a lingering belief in the Genie of the Cucumber.

The odd-looking currant-tomato from Peru is a different species, burdened with the lengthy name Lycopersicum piminellifolium. But it is not grown as a vegetable. While its wee red tomatoes, currant-size and very round, are edible, they are too small to interest the housewife except as an ornament in the flower garden. Yet what a colorful and unique addition they would make to a salad! (88)

(i didn’t realize how tiny currant tomatoes are when i started seeds for white currant. the fruits are downright microscopic, each about the size of a pea. i’ve never laid eyes on a tomato that small and i can’t wait to see them...i’ve also never seen white tomatoes. they’re not going to look like tomatoes at all. i will eat them, though, regardless of how “the housewife” might feel about it.)

In northern Europe peas were grown at least as far back as the Bronze Age, and there was a medieval legend that they came direct from the Thundergod Thor--not as a gift but in punishment.

At some remote time, when Thor was angry with men, he sent dragons flying through the air carrying peas in their talons to fill up all the wells. As the peas rotted, the water would be so fouled with their sulphurous odor that neither man nor beast would drink it. But some of the peas which the dragons dropped fell on land; and men had a new vegetable. To appease Thor’s wrath they dedicated it to him, and as a further gesture they ate peas only on his day, Thursday.

Thereafter when the Thundergod was annoyed he merely sent dwarfs to the pea-fields to strip the vines of their pods.

Parsley was grown by the ancients, but not always for food. It was the accepted strewing herb for the tombs of the dead. And as a symbol of death, it was used to crown victors in the Nemean Games--one of the four national festivals of the ancient Greeks. (224)

So implicitly was parsley looked upon as the death-herb that, according to an ancient tradition, an entire Greek army was once thrown into panic and put to rout when the enemy sent into their midst a donkey completely covered with this herb. (225)

Parsley seeds are very slow to germinate, often requiring three to four weeks. The reason for their slowness, it is said in Devonshire, is because this herb belongs to the devil, and when the seeds are placed in the ground they must go seven times to him and back, before he will permit them to sprout. (227)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

god save the tomatoes

it snowed last saturday. SNOWED. on may 22. not just wimpy, couple snowflakes in a rainstorm, nothing sticking kind of snow...snow snow.

it had been pouring rain all day, and at first the snowflakes were nothing to worry about. the temperature stayed above freezing, the ground was wet, so everything was just melting on contact. i stopped paying attention for an hour or so, then i looked outside again and it was white. probably half an inch on the ground in some places. panic-stricken i flew out the back door with towels and newspapers to cover things up, slipping around in my sandals, fumbling with numb fingers to gently remove snow from leaves, seriously pissed off.

i lost three cucumber plants (and one other isn’t looking so good) and a handful of pole beans which chose that fateful day to stick their heads out of the ground. i’m not upset about the cucumbers because i have extras waiting to be planted, and the beans are not a big deal because i didn’t like where i put them in the first place.

most importantly, the tomatoes came out of it just fine. losses wouldn’t have broken my heart because i have another three dozen waiting in the wings, but if the basket tomato died i would never get to solve the mystery, and it would eat at me.

the last time we had snow this late was just two years ago, spring 2008. snow fell on june 10! that was the weirdest, coldest spring ever. i had just started work at a new place, this little old house-converted-to-offices in hyde park, and i can’t remember if there was actually no heat or if we just didn’t turn it on, but it was freezing. plus i was sitting behind this monster of a metal desk, a striking commission piece from a local metal artist that i didn’t fully appreciate for the first month or so because it was ice cold:

coolest desk ever, literally. at my current temp job i use two neat old wooden desks, plus a fold-out card table because i keep doing things that require a multitude of paper piles and i like to spread out. here’s the place where i’m working for the rest of the week:

it’s a log cabin built in 1939 by the civilian conservation corps in honor of idaho’s 50 years of statehood. it’s located downtown next to the library and the ann frank human rights memorial, on the greenbelt with a view of the river. the literary center is a nonprofit that does all kinds of stuff to promote reading, writing and discourse in idaho--they bring in big-name writers for “readings and conversations,” facilitate writing workshop camps for kids during the summer, etc.

working there has been really fun. after that first day when i hardly did anything the workload increased by a ton, i’ve been constantly busy since then, but busy in a very manageable and enjoyable way. this is the first job i’ve had where i feel like i caught on super fast--normally it takes a few weeks to really know what i’m doing/how to do it, and to get that sense of fitting in and becoming part of the operation, but this time it took me just a few days.

i receive embarrassing amounts of enthusiastic praise on a daily basis, not just from my mom...mostly from her coworker j, who’s basically been my supervisor. she’s the sweetest woman. we have extremely similar organization styles, which makes our collaborative work go very smoothly--everything she asks me to do makes total sense to me. also we’re both perfectionists with pathological attention to detail. yesterday we hovered over my computer for about ten minutes staring at an excel spreadsheet because a single row of data was out of place and we couldn’t get it to sort properly.

she’s already fretting about losing me. it will be weird leaving so soon after starting. i think i’m going to volunteer there a bit this summer, maybe as a teacher’s aide for the writing camps. and i want to do more photography for them. my mom asked me to make up a newsletter and she showed me the folder where they keep all their photos, and none of them are usable by my standards.

another great thing about working there is meeting all the awesome people who walk in or call. a lot of the cabin’s patrons are high-profile community members who are obviously interested in the arts, so it’s good for social networking, although i’m not into that. i don’t like the idea of knowing people just so you can say you know them, you know? "in every case as an end, never as a means only," goddamnit.

but i do like meeting interesting folks. the other day i got to meet two of the artists who have pieces in the museum exhibit i’m doing a story about. luckily i remembered their pieces in detail and was able to ask a few questions and give a few compliments, then i took their contact information for an interview. they were so completely thrilled, it was great.

i had the pleasure of speaking with the cutest old man over the phone. he explained that he’s 97 years of age and his third book has just been published--he asked me to check and see if we had it, then he expressed interest in participating in a reading. he said some of it was rather “risqué” and that i’d better watch out for old men like him. we talked for a long time...i think he mostly just wanted someone to listen to him, and i was happy to. i’m totally curious what his book is like.

one more anecdote, because i don’t want to forget this: last week i answered the phone then left my desk to look up paperwork for the guy i put on hold. the second phone line rang, j answered and it was my dad. she accidentally told my mom to pick up line one instead of two.

mom: “hi honey, i was just about to call you!”
random guy: “you were?”

the guy’s reaction was just too fabulous. the three of us laughed our asses off.