Thistledown

artichoke

“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.

 

 

Virtue in Herbs

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“Much virtue in herbs, little in men.”

–Benjamin Franklin

A train whistle walks in the middle air, longing in the distance, winding north along the river into the mountains. A solitary motorcycle travels the street below the hill before the commerce of another week begins.

I’m waiting. There is an hour when the dew lifts while the sun is still low: handfuls of Greek oregano to cut and hang for drying, wary of winter just as summer begins for all too soon comes flowering and seed. An herb’s essence remains locked in the leaf before the sun coaxes the oil to the surface, yet dew might molder a bouquet from the core. Thyme. Mint. Savory. Rosemary. It’s May.

Greek oregano is voracious and tenacious, leaping into the strawberry bed, seeding secretly into flower pots, bickering with the catnip. It responds well to rough handling like wrestling an adolescent dog.

Thyme lies low and sidles crablike, spreading rumors and telling tales.

Mint sings arias of sleek pirates and adventure, though the blueberries criticize the key.

Savory is prone and lazy, languishing over visions of love and summer romance.

Rosemary is willful and wild. She scorns containment and flourishes in bleak rocky soil exposed to heat and rain. (I do not dry her leaf, but only cut fresh stems when needed. Rosemary simmered in clean water clears ghosts and cobwebs as well–or better–than burning sage.)

A scrub jay charges a quail perched unaware on the fence rail to knock it down into the yard. I wonder where the dog is. The quail scoots beneath a rhododendron for cover.

It’s time.

Parsley and Pine Nuts

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The kitchen is buttery with pine nuts, pignolia, seeds shaken from pine cone. As they toasted I stooped to watch through the little oven window, yet finally judged them brown from scent rather than sight. These are not the longer oval nuts from the Mediterranean which are even more expensive and difficult to find. These are round and squat, from Asia. They will do. I mostly use pecans now, except for this.

Last night the neighbors celebrated Passover Sedar with the children playing on the hill and out in the street before sunset. Today is Easter.

Orthodox Easter, Pascha, is another week away, as the date must fall after Passover. Easter eggs are dyed blood-red in Greece with dye derived from onion skins. People play a game knocking eggs together, as they knock they say “Christos Anesti,” and the response comes “Alithos Anesti.” The person with the last uncracked egg receives blessings and luck for the coming year.

The pine nuts cool on the counter. I bloom the Greek oregano and thyme in olive oil for a minute before adding the chopped onion to the pan. Mom didn’t make spanakopita, though Toula did. She’d bring over a basket of the pastries filled with spinach and feta on holidays. Mom made baklava and kreatopita, tucking the filo sleeve under a damp dishtowel as she brushed the leaves and stacked them, pushing the hair back from her forehead with a wrist. I julienne a gallon of spinach leaves and two handfuls of parsley to wilt with the onion and temper the greens with nutmeg.

Eostre was an Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility. Once she healed a wounded bird by changing it into a hare. The grateful rabbit brought her eggs that she still laid despite her metamorphosis.

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Practical Magic II

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The little citrus ripen to orange, plump as Bing cherries, a limey-kumquaty fruit native to Asia. Philippinas prefer them small and green and prize calamonsi flavor to finish a dish and give it brightness. I’m told the fruit is difficult to find in the states–one woman squeezes the juice on her long black hair to add even more shine.

The calamondin trees overwinter in the sunroom until they sag with the weight of the winter crop. I sit at the table with a salad bowl full of green, yellow and orange fruit. I wear rubber gloves when I quarter them because prolonged exposure irritates the skin. I fill a jar to infuse vodka and then pour the remaining fruit into a covered bowl to brew into colonial-style shrub syrup.

I toasted the last of the pecans from the pantry to make chocolate chip cookies. I tried to soften butter in the microwave. There was lightning. The wrapper threatened to catch fire, yet I was tempted by the lightning. I’m waiting instead. Neighbor Vic likes the cookies.

Monday night, on new-moon-eve-year of the pig, flashing red and white lights appeared in the street and leaked through the blinds. There was an ambulance and fire truck out on the hill. Vic was rolled down his front steps and taken to the hospital. He’s home now, recovering from a fall and blow to the head. Vic is 89 and very literal, but he likes my cookies.

There are snowdrops nestled down in the gnarled cherry roots. More snow is forecast.

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Advent

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The winter rains finally arrived on Thanksgiving with the full moon. Rain slanted sideways blowing in sheets, gusts bowed the trees and swung the long metal chords of the wind chimes to smash against the southern plate window. This is the hard cold rain that smells of snow, the hard gray sky indistinguishable from the black streaming streets, dark shadows of fir standing sentry. The sun’s gone south. The moon is waning.

American Thanksgiving is observed on the fourth Thursday in November. In English, Thursday derives from “Thor’s Day,” the day of thunder in German and Old English, Jupiter (or Jove’s) day in Latin, with ancient Greeks naming it hemera Dios, the day of Zeus. (The Hindi name for Thursday is Guruwar, which might be related to the god Vishnu, but I will withhold further presumption as I actually don’t have a clue.)

Thursday, the day of the sky god, a day of feasting and football. Zeus rules  Thunder, Lightning, Weather, Air, Eagle, Bull, Oak, Olive, Lion and Wolf.

The Thanksgiving morning newspaper was slight compared to the newsprint that arrived inside: flyers and inserts advertising Black Friday sales and stores that would open at 2 PM.

The Dallas Cowboys always play a football game on Thanksgiving. Their symbol is a star.  I was there on Thanksgiving once, in Cowboy stadium (now renamed AT&T) to watch the Cowboys play the Seattle Seahawks, the closest thing I have to a home pro-football team.

When I walked Dad’s dog, Ben, Saturday-after-Thanksgiving through the affluent yet middle-class streets I grew up in, women strode through their yards inflating Christmas figures arranged on the front lawns, frowning as they hung strings of lights in shrubs. Men balanced on ladders and cursed enthusiastically. Ben growled at the life-size effigies of Swiss Mountain dogs in Santa hats as we passed. I wondered if the giant Frosty the Snowman figure would be exhausted and deflated by solstice. Thanksgiving came early this year.

I finally sorted through the last remnants of food from Thanksgiving week today: whipped cream languishing next to a blackened half-avocado, wild rice forgotten in a yogurt container, bits of local Chanterelles fermenting now in clotted cream and cold pappardelle. Advent begins December 2nd.

I watched a flock of wild turkeys spar as they pecked at windfall apples in the road.

It’s dark when I get up. This morning it was too early, too dark. Mercy squeezes under the bed to sleep. She sings like a whale sometimes when she wants me to get up; perhaps this morning she was merely dreaming. She stole my flannel robe from the foot of the bed and I had to parley a bit of chicken jerky for its safe return.

The kitchen lights above the stove warm a sheltered circle. I catch slivers of my reflection in the window as I give the dog her breakfast and drink my juice. The tea kettle I’d cleaned before Sunday’s dinner party is splattered again with last night’s sauteing. It is the kettle, I think, the kettle I miss most before I leave.

 

Relinquish

romanesco
Romanesco

Relinguish = to leave, intensely.

Romanesco is a flowering vegetable, something like a cauliflower yet nothing like it. The head is spiked and spiraling, a natural fractal, each row a Fibonacci number. The weather must be cool, but not cold, damp, yet not wet, for the buds to thrive.  I roasted the head whole, doused in olive oil and garlic, finished with an over-exuberant shower of bread crumbs. This is a vegetable.

The gourds and squashes on display at the farmer’s market are dismaying. There are ghost pumpkins and Cinderellas, butternuts, spaghettis, delicatas, and acorns. I’m not a fan. (No, that’s not strong enough. Since being forced to eat pureed squash as a child before being excused from the dinner table, I detest them all.) Every morning I drink a few ounces of carrot juice spiked with ginger and tumeric for my dose of orange vegetable. Last week I baked pumpkin bread studded with raisins plumped in cassis liqueur and ate a slice. Enough.

The tomato plants are withered haystacks with a last few hard green fruits. I’ll pick the stragglers in the next few days and spread them on a tray to see if they’ll ripen inside. I’m dubious; I doubt there is enough light left to muster a blush. I’ll use them as one would tomatillos, chopped and stewed for chili verde.

October is winding into the dark. There is morning frost on the roof  and brilliant afternoon sunshine, but the days are leaping short. The honey locust relinquishes tiny fluttering leaves and the nastursiums shed their pea-size seeds. The season is over. What is not claimed, is left in the fields to the wind.

 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanesco_broccoli