Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stylish Garden Aprons

Fashion is a way of not having to decide who you are. Style is deciding who you are and being able to perpetuate it.
Quentin Crisp

So, what else can I do when it’s too hot to garden outside? I’m so restless, I’m almost at the point of knocking on somebody’s front door and running away and hiding behind a tree and giggling. If my Mom was around, I’d call her and say, Maaaaahhhm… there’s nothing to do!

So, I went shopping. The local quilt store has rooms and rooms of fabric, and I fit the perfect profile to be wandering about a quilt store: pudgy middle-aged person in need of a project. Fifteen minutes and $73 later, I had six different patterned cottons all on a vegetable theme.

I made six aprons, lining them each since the stupid quilt store only carries the thin cotton stuff suitable for quilts, and I want heavier aprons with pockets because I loose about a pair of clippers a week if I don’t have a pocket to put them in while I work. The first apron took an entire afternoon because I use the sewing matching so rarely these days I have to re-learn how to thread bobbins and correctly thread the machine itself. Then, I had to undergo the humiliation of moving up, yet again, to a larger needle to do the hand sewing because I can’t see the damn hole in the damn needle any more. Damn.

By the time I was on the last one, I had it down to about 45 minutes, and could even re-wind a bobbin without resort to profanity or medication. Of course, by then, I was on liquid medication, it being happy hour. The happiest part of this is that I set the sewing machine up in the living/dining room where we can close the doors to the rest of the house and turn on the old air conditioner. I can’t hear the TV with the AC on, but I was rocking out to the iPod anyway.

So, now I’ve got stylish aprons for my teammates who volunteer with me to maintain the veggie garden. Since nothing can grow without being subject to grasshoppers, bunnies and squirrels, nothing can grow outside of our custom made chicken-wire cages. This is our in-between season when the tomatoes are about done but it’s too hot for the broccoli to consider growing. It just hunkers there under it’s chicken wire wondering what we were thinking to plant it in the heat.

We all know who we are. We may not be good gardeners, but we’ll look stylish as hell in our veggie-themed aprons.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glitter and Aromatherapy

‘I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Anybody help me out? No.’
Craig T. Nelson, telling Glen Beck, with a perfectly straight face, why he’d like to stop paying his taxes.

The real world is pretty crazy these days. Nelson personifies the un-contemplative mindset so much in evidence these days. He makes as much sense as those opposing government healthcare while on Medicare. In order for me to hold on to the shreds of sanity that I have left, I sometimes have to retreat inside.

If you read about the history of gardens, you’ll find that one of the oldest forms of garden: the hortus conclusis, or enclosed garden, was created by religious people provide a peaceful quiet place to retreat from the noise and stupidity of the outside world.

Perhaps this began as an attempt to recreate the original garden, since once in the garden you couldn’t take two steps without tripping over some religious icon or symbolic plant – like the white rose which everyone knew stood for the purity of the BVM. I find that when it’s too hot to retreat from the political news to my own backyard garden, the world inside my head works just as well.

Whenever watching the news or reading the paper gives me a headache, I can always undergo my own aromatherapy cure. There’s nothing that beats the smell of roasting tomatoes with plenty of garlic and onions.

While the oven performs the miracle of caramel-ization, I entertain myself with clip art and make creative labels. Whether it’s Dirty Girl or Green Monster, I always finish off a label with glitter.

Glitter makes the dirty girl’s bathwater or the dragon’s scales sparkle. There’s no therapy like the aroma of garlic, Photoshop, and a glitter pen to make things right in my world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Choosey Beggars

“The rays which stream through the shutter will be no longer remembered when the shutter is wholly removed. No method nor discipline can superseded the necessity of being forever on the alert.” Hank Thorough (sic), Walden

Gardeners always want it all in the garden. Both perpetual spring, the lovely labor of summer, and still we want to welcome the harvest of fall and light the first fire in the fireplace. Whether you are rich in worldly wealth, health and happiness, or a beggar beneath a bridge scratching a lettuce garden . Forget those rays of summer sunshine, coming through the west-facing bedroom window. Stretch across the bed at 14:00, turn on the fan and nestle with your cat for a last summer afternoon nap.

Soon, with the tilt of the globe, the sun will depart earlier, the weak winter sun will permit the blinds to be completely open for the first time since last Winter. Mail order catalog season is upon us. No more summer sunshine naps, feeling the warmth of cat and sun mingle on my skin.

Henry David Thoreau seems to be saying that if we just pay attention, we will be rewarded. He goes on to elaborate that more valuable than the most prestigious advanced education, just learn to see what there is to be seen.

Here’s what he wrote about he learned in his first summer at Walden:

“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, admist the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.”

If all you have is one window that faces west, this is the moment to sit or stand there and watch the garden one late September afternoon. Pay attention as the golden sun fades into the trees across the canyon, and dusk creeps in. Even beggars don’t have to chose our favorite season, we can savor them all.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mother Nature’s Spa Day

For lying broad awake, long ere the dawn,
Staring against the dark, the blank of space
Opens immeasurably, and thy face
Wavers and glimmers there and is withdrawn.
And many days, when all one’s works is vain,
And life goes stretching on, a waste gray plain,
With even the short mirage of morning gone,
No cool breath anywhere, no shadow nigh
Where a weary man might lay him down and die,

Lo! Thou are there before me suddenly
With shade as if a summer cloud did pass,
And spray of fountains whispering to the grass.
Oh, save me from the haste and noise and heat
That spoil life’s music sweet:
And from that lesser Aphrodite there –
Even now she stands
Close as I turn, and O my soul, how fair!”
- E. R. Sill, Venus of Milo

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thank You for Not Gardening

“Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” – Homer Simpson

Now, I don’t claim to have a perfect marriage to Tech Support Guy. We like to joke with the cops replying to the 911 call that we’re one restraining order away from a perfect marriage. But lately, I love the guy.

Because late into the night last night he photoshopped >100 photos so I could open them w/o crashing the computer and do my monthly newsletter. Which is just as well because it’s once again so freaking hot outside that the potted plants are becoming mummified and the plastic flower pots are melting.

So, it’s back to the newsletter for me. And just because I have a short attention span doesn’t mean

Friday, September 04, 2009

Roasted Tomatoes and Red Wine

“Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat history class”.
- Some Guy

So, one thing I have learned is that it’s too bleeding hot to grow anything outside besides fennel vulgaris that seems to invade every empty lot, roadside and unplanted corner, incidentally making brush fires burn hotter and longer. Thank god for farmer’s market tomatoes.

I quartered 6 pounds of very ripe tomatoes, added a whole yellow onion and a whole head of garlic. I toss them in a bowl with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and a little sugar to jump start the magic of caramelization. I add whatever fresh herbs look good: in this case, some oregano, red basil and some fennel seeds. My daughter taught me that you can spread this in a cookie sheet, put it in a 250F oven for FOUR HOURS, and they taste like heaven. Okay, this doesn’t help the ambient indoor temp, but boy, does the house smell delicious!

After the pan cools, I shovel the lovely muck into a food mill, using the middle blade. Some tomato seeds get through, but the peel is left behind. It takes about 4 batches in the mill, turning until the only thing left in the top is dry-ish peel. Between batches, I wash the food mill to clean out the holes and remove the skin. (I can’t compost what’s left because of the oil, and I’ve learned that the coyotes don’t care for it if left in a bowl outdoors overnight, so I grind up the peel etc in the garbage disposal.)

The longer you roast, the darker the sauce. Plus, I’ve learned that the difference between a juicy tomato sauce and a thicker tomato paste depends on roasting time.

I put the sauce in a saucepan and simmer it while I’m sterilizing the glass jars, and depending on what I want, I might add some red wine to thin and darken the mix.

I’m getting better and more organized about the actual canning process. I always clean more jars than I think I’ll need – better to have too many than not enough. Notice the glass of red wine, which I sip while working. I’m pretty sure this enhances the sauce.

The filled jars are left in the canner for 20 minutes. I want to be sure this stuff keeps until the gloom of winter when a zesty fresh tomato is mostly a figment of my fevered imagination.

We couldn’t resist the lure of the dark red paste however, and made some of the best pizza in the world with a whole wheat dough in the bread-maker, grated fresh mozzarella and Romano cheese. I also add some of the sweet onion and thyme relish and more fresh herbs.