Archive for July 2009

“practice, and all is coming”

July 14, 2009

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois often told his students: 99% practice, 1% theory. This goes against my grain a bit—I love me some book-learning—but the more time I spend on the yoga mat (his laboratory) and in the garden, the more I realize the wisdom of his recipe. I’ve been studying gardening books for several years, and they’re pretty useful at planting time—what will do well in my climate, how far apart seedlings should be spaced, who needs a pole to climb, who likes mulch and who does not, etc. But as I spent my Sunday morning weeding, it occurred to me that, after several years of practice, I finally have some practical knowledge under my belt. The only weed I know by name is the dandelion, but I recognize just about everything that likes my dirt, and I know pretty much everything I need to know about these little green squatters. I know which ones can be removed with a quick flick, which require my fingers to follow long horizontal runners beneath the soil, which require the help of a tool. I know, by feel, the moment when I can give a sharp tug at a certain angle and have the whole thing come away cleanly. As a result of practice, I’m able to organize visual and tactile data and perform some pretty delicately calibrated actions with my muscles. It is an activity that is completely absorbing and, while admitting of a certain amount of verbal description, completely resistant to useful verbal instruction.

peas, please

July 14, 2009

000_0790How many essays have been written extolling the exquisite taste of fresh-picked peas? Recent connection with the mother plant is a virtue that we seek in all vegetables, of course, but none more so than those, like peas and corn, that begin converting sugars to starch the moment that connection is severed. That fresh-picked sweetness is one of the luxuries of human life that does not require vast sums of money. It requires instead a willingness to let the garden tell us what’s for dinner and when.

This is my first year growing peas, and they’re not ready yet. But as I watch them grow, I’m aware of something that either has gone unmentioned or unnoticed in the pea-writing I’ve encountered over the years. Those stories of casual suppers centered on the perfectly-timed pea harvest require a luxurious quantity of the little legumes. Last week at the farmers’ market, I bought a bag of peas in their pods. It was a pretty sizeable bag—the size of a lumpy basketball—but after shelling I had a little less than a cup. Looking the number of pods beginning to form on my 15 or so pea vines, I would be surprised if my entire yield comes to as much. 

I put a lump of butter into the pan, followed by the peas and some snipped chives, then about a minute later some lettuce and splash of vermouth. These peas were a couple of days out of the garden, but they were still awfully tasty. When my own meager crop comes due, I don’t think I’ll be sharing.

how d’ya like them apples?

July 11, 2009

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daily bread

July 10, 2009

Here in Otsego County, meteorological summer finally hits right about the time I’m busiest at the opera house. Luckily, the sun rises early; assuming I’m able to haul my weary carcass out of bed, there are at least a few moments to enjoy the garden before putting in another long day (and night) at the theater.

This morning, as I multitasked madly, I was reminded of my last visit to the Farmers’ Museum, a 19th-century “village” populated with folks going about what would have been their daily work—an apothecary grinding pills, a blacksmith making horseshoes, etc. The last time I went, I stepped into a rural homestead where the woman of the house was preparing to keep her family fed for the day ahead. She stoked the fire, checked some cheese in progress, picked over some berries, and sawed up an old loaf to make toast.

2009 version: I got home from teaching yoga a little after 9:00. I quickly chopped up a couple of potatoes, tossed them with oil and salt, and put them in a hot oven. Then I filled the coffee pot, plugged it in, and went to gather some greens in the garden. I cut some tender leaf lettuce for my breakfast and pulled up some sturdier romaine to share with colleagues at the opera. Came in, poured coffee (I have one of those nice coffeepots that allow you to pull out the carafe before it’s finished brewing), washed greens, then cut and wrapped a couple of wedges of leftover chard frittata to take to the theater for lunch and dinner. Then I mixed up some Bittman/Lahey inspired no-knead bread. My version uses two glasses of white flour, one of wheat, and a little more than a glass and a half of water, plus some salt and yeast. And a copious amount of cornmeal at the end… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Potatoes still weren’t done, so I took my coffee outside to inspect the garden. There’s still not too much to see—most of the plants haven’t even flowered. But there are a few little peas on the vines…very tempting.
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Came in, put the last of the ricotta on top of the potatoes and stuck the pan under the broiler for a few moments while I turned the lettuce out of its towel and tore it into the bowl. Then dumped potato/cheese goodness on top, stirred to wilt and….breakfast! Packed up my frittata and went to work. Tonight or tomorrow morning I’ll bake the bread.

I’m not saying I could feed a family three meals a day, day after day, in a 19th-century kitchen. Those women had skills and patience—and time—that I will never have. But of course, we have our own burdens to bear—long hours at work and more distractions than ever. Not to mention plenty of more convenient options for feeding ourselves. The thing is, there was nothing terribly inconveniencing about my morning. I was out the door by 10:00, both fed and satisfied.

sharing the wealth

July 9, 2009

000_0704In these post-radish, pre-tomato days, it is nice to experience abundance in other areas of the gardens… to a point. My gut can barely keep up with the hygenic demands of the fields of green–I’ve spent the last week thinning the lettuces, cutting back the bolted chard and arugula, and then thinning the lettuces some more. (Unlike the rest of the garden, they don’t seem to mind the cool, rainy weather we’ve been having.) That’s a lot of leafy greens! Later in the opera season, I’ll be able to present my colleagues with fresh-picked lettuces, but these days it seems no one’s schedule allows them the luxury of constructing a meal at home. There is, however, one company member who is happy to help me out. 000_0775JC stars in our production of The Consul. Sure, it’s only a supernumerary role, but everyone knows that kids and cute animals always steal the show. Keep burning those calories, JC. There’s plenty more where this came from.

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thursday breakfast

July 9, 2009

ricotta toast & tomato-arugula salad000_0777

breakfast of champions

July 8, 2009

000_0773breakfast potatoes; topped with clumps of homemade lemon-pepper ricotta; toasted under broiler; served with chopped dew-damp bitter greens.