Archive for June 2010

reflection and recitative

June 28, 2010

Around the time when Handel was writing opera, the convention was to deal with “events” in recitative—a plain, fast-moving vocal line with spare, improvised accompaniment. These conversational, relatively dry storytelling sections alternate with elaborate, expressive solo arias, in which characters pause for several minutes to reflect on recent developments.

Compared with later operas, in which action and emotion move along in a seamless sweep, opera seria can seem a bit static, but those of us who love the form accept the convention. I’m now working with a director who holds that the alternation between conversational exposition and reflective aria is actually not static, not artificial, but exactly like life. That is, stuff happens, then we turn it over and over in our minds, then more stuff happens, and we reflect on that. And those moments of thinking, rather than being static, are active and important times in our lives.

If we accept that spans where “nothing happens” are periods of growth, that gives us a different perspective on stretches where “events” come thick and fast. Most of June is like recitative—endless to do lists, an endless procession of new names and new personalities, etc. It’s very busy, but ultimately not particularly interesting or beautiful. Or if it is, who has time to notice?

When I finally got a day off to spend in the garden, I thought the moment for my aria had come. But between the pinching and pulling, the clearing out and the tying up, there wasn’t much brainspace left for reflection.

Yesterday morning I had a few hours and went looking for an aria on the lake. But like gardening, kayaking doesn’t leave a lot of room for extraneous mental activity. There’s too much to attend to, and maybe that’s the point. Skillful activities like gardening, yoga, cooking not only require us to step out of the tumble of events—the recitative—of life, they are also so all-absorbing that they shut down the part of the brain that either turns over past events or worries about future ones. In that way, they are less like the character’s experience of an aria than the singer’s.


June 28, 2010

It seems incredible that the garden has been monochromatic for so long. But it’s not that the squashes and tomatoes and melons are late—it’s that the greens came so early. There’s lettuce, lettuce everywhere, and not a thing to eat. My search for varied treatments is complicated this year by my lack of refrigeration—eggs and cheese can be great for mixing things up, but they’re not part of my palette at the moment.

A typical morning harvest looks like this…

 … which became shells with walnuts, garlic scapes, random greens and herbs, red pepper, coriander.

And salad, of course.

 Today, I’m eating assorted greens, cooked with rice and spices in coconut milk. Not so pretty, but delicious.

 The tomatoes can’t come soon enough… but I’m not complaining. Just because the garden isn’t offering much variety doesn’t mean I can’t keep things interesting.


June 19, 2010

A designer has taken up residence in my barn. She’s the not the first tenant—a woodchuck moved in to the lower level earlier this spring—but she’s definitely the preferred tenant. On the rare days when we’re both home in the evenings, we sometimes meet at the picnic table for an impromptu potluck. She has a working refrigerator, so she brings the cold beer. I have a garden, so I bring the food.

So far, the yield is all greens, all the time. I love a good, simple salad, but a bowl of leaves is not dinner. Last night I began by pounding a large clove of garlic (I’m fighting a cold, and besides it tastes good) to a paste with some salt. Then I added about 3/4 cup of walnuts (for protein) and kept grinding. Since the walnuts contributed plenty of oil of their own, I just used water to thin, then tossed the creamy dressing with a mix of arugula, romaine, lots of fresh oregano, and some toasted stale bread.

gone to seed

June 19, 2010

I was gone barely a week, but in that time the sorrel soared, the lettuce let loose, the arugula rocketed, and the weeds…. wow.

volunteer management

June 17, 2010

When I got my first volunteer, I felt like I must be doing something right. What else to do but welcome these green, enthusiastic friends of the cause?

But as any experienced manager knows, volunteers are not really a something-for-nothing equation. If you can’t be bothered to figure out the right placement for them, it’s better to say, “No, thank you.” If you invite them in but do not give them the conditions they need to thrive, not only will their contributions be negligible, they will likely get in the way of the operation you’ve worked so hard to establish.

 Last year, I learned this lesson the hard way. This year, I’m trying to do better. The first unexpected recruits of 2010—self-seeded cilantro—showed up in the weedy, unplowed side garden starting in March. I redistributed these volunteers to the ends of the garlic row, to the kitchen garden, to the blueberry patch, and to various friends’ gardens.

Two years ago, when I ran out of steam for preparing and planting the big bed, I threw out some mixed gourd seed to cover the back third. This volunteer seems to be an offspring of that experiment. Last week I relocated it to the cucurbit area to keep it from strangling the garlic. Also, since last year I’ve been trying to keep like with like so that I can practice some simple rotation.

I’m not (yet) terribly strict about segregation of types, though. It’s becoming obvious that I didn’t harvest the potatoes thoroughly enough last year, because they’re popping up in what is now home to squash, melons, cucumbers. Some of them I showed the door, but I’m allowing a few to stay; there’s tons of space up there, and besides, it probably will not be a terrible thing if they slightly slow the production of yellow squash. Also, I don’t really have anywhere else to put them. Maybe next year I’ll get smart and leave a space in each section—kind of like having an extra cubicle or two—so I can appropriately relocate the inevitable surprises of 2011.

The latest unexpected arrival isn’t, strictly speaking, a volunteer. Last year I put a lot of time and energy into creating an asparagus bed at the very back of the garden. All the books—and all my gardening friends—warned me not to succumb to the temptation of harvesting any the first year.  Turned out that wasn’t much of a concern, because I only saw one or two spaghetti-sized sprouts in 2009. So when I arrived one day in May 2010 to discover that my kind neighbor with a tractor had already taken it upon himself to plough up the entire garden—including the shy asparagus—to make it ready for this year’s planting, I wasn’t all that upset. I had already given up on those sad crowns. What a nice surprise to see a few survivors last week!

Even though the asparagus is coming up exactly where and how I originally intended, I had moved on, so it presents the same quandary as a volunteer. For now it seems like there might be room for everyone to coexist and be productive. We’ll see….

rhubarb made fancy

June 4, 2010

This weekend, I harvested my first rhubarb. It has been a long wait; with rhubarb, asparagus, and other edible perennials, you wait a few years for the plant to get established before you start consuming parts of it. Otherwise it can get discouraged. But after three years, these plants are fair game.

 Last year, I threw together a last-minute rhubarb sorbet with some stems from the market. No recipe: a simple combination of herb-infused simple syrup and chopped rhubarb cooked to the point of collapse, thrown in the ice-cream maker. The result was visually unappealing, but the taste was the opposite of beige. Summer by the spoonful.

I had a houseguest over the weekend, and I was excited about repeating this casual but brilliant idea to close a casual summer supper.

But, for whatever reason, it never quite made the transition from slop to sorbet. Not wanting to waste my first harvest, I put it in the fridge (which at that point was still working) and waited for inspiration to strike.

 The next day, I put the mixture back on the stove, added more lavender, threw in a stick of butter, thickened with some eggs, and strained.  It was not pretty but it was good.

 It was also more richness than two people could comfortably consume, so I needed to get from there to something that could be eaten out of hand at the tech table. I made a pie crust and then cut out rounds to fit the cups of a muffin tin. While they baked, it occurred to me that there was a danger of sogginess, so when they came out of the oven I placed a few chocolate chips on the bottom of the hot crusts and then, once they were melted, smooshed around with the end of a wooden spoon. Cut the corner off a Ziploc bag, filled the crusts, then finished with some shredded mint leaves.

A far cry from the casual, fresh intention, and not something I’ll have the energy to repeat anytime soon. But so good!

problem solving

June 4, 2010

Wednesday morning, 5am: Roll out of bed. Practice. Weed. Thin seedlings. Select lettuce and herbs for girls’ night salad, plus a handful of greens for breakfast. Wash the various leaves. I’m firing on all cylinders but still pretty focused and calm. Open refrigerator to check for a lemon.


The night before, I came home to a refrigerator not doing its job. It was late, I was tired, so I decided to believe that I must’ve left the door slightly ajar all day. After all, the freezer was just fine. More important, I do not have time for this.

The door was definitely shut tight all night, but the temperature has still not dropped. And I definitely do not have time for this. Luckily, this time of year there is not much in the fridge, or at least not much that needs to be there. I tend to use the appliance as a pest barrier for things like flour and sugar…. most of my diet in the summer goes straight from the plot to the plate. But there are eggs and cheese that must be dealt with. OK, frittata time. I can use up the perishables, have a piece for breakfast, then keep the rest in the breakroom fridge and eat for lunch or dinner or snacks.

Chop potatoes. While they’re cooking, cut more greens and crumble cheese. It is almost seven and I am teaching at eight. Will the potatoes to cook faster. Layer everything in pan, throw in oven, jump in shower, get dressed. Check frittata. Not yet. Throw mats and laptop in truck. Check frittata again. It is now 7:25. Reason that if it is not quite done, it will finish cooking in its heavy pan, even after being removed from the oven. Run under broiler. Throw hot pan, Tupperware and spatula in truck, figuring the frittata can cool during class and be put away afterwards. Drive away feeling slightly frazzled, slightly triumphant. Realize that an equally acceptable response to the broken fridge would have been boiled eggs.