Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bonus Days - Sicilian Style Greens

Today is one of those spectacular fall New England days. Frank calls them bonus days. He doesn't like to call them Indian Summer, so for a long time he called them Native Summer days, but that didn't ring quite right either. So now he calls them just what they are: bonus days. Bright, sunny, warm. I spent about three hours gardening. It felt like a matter of minutes. Weeding the asparagus bed, planting the garlic, harvesting greens, and HOORAY, digging out oregano. This is the story of long-term relationships, invasive plants and how quickly things change.

Once upon a time we planted an oregano plant along with sage and thyme and lemonbalm in a neat little circular herb garden within the greater veggie garden. We built a little rock sculpture in the center and had concentric circles out until it kind of squared off near the beds of vegetables growing around it. It was too fussy a plan and wasn't terribly successful. I have no idea what happened to the other herbs, but the oregano spread ... and spread . . . and spread, until it had taken over not only the little herb circle, but that whole area. In fact, that whole section of the garden has been pretty much fallow, taken over by oregano and a few other WEEDS for the last 10 years. Why? Because Frank likes it. He says he likes oregano (we rarely use it in cooking), he says he is going to dry it (we're still trying to use the container he dried 10 or more years ago), that maybe we should sell it (I keep explaining that no one wants to buy it. It isn't that useful culinarily and it is essentially a weed, anyone can grow it and anyone who does, has too much of it themselves). So he just shrugs and says he likes it, don't pull it. And I grumble. It is hard to take care of, the leaves gather in its stems in the fall and it is a pain to clean up in the spring. I suggest all kinds of ideas about using the space, no go. I try to compromise, I'll dig out this area and leave that area. He likes the flowers, he likes the smell. We don't need that space, lets just leave it. UGH. What is a girl to do? To tell the truth, I haven't just left it alone. I have mercilessly composted any new piece of oregano growing anywhere else in the garden so it doesn't continue to spread and have encroached on the oregano area whenever and wherever I thought he would not notice. But he knows I want it gone and I know he wants it there. Fast forward. A couple weeks ago we had a debate about buying seed garlic. I wanted to buy the usual 2#, Frank wanted to expand to 5#. We walked out to the garden to see if we had space. He has a point. Even though we harvested about 120 nice size heads this year, we'll go through that easy. So we still don't have enough to use as our own seed. It would be nice to make the investment just once more. But do we have the space? The most obvious space to fit all the garlic is the bed where we've been growing our vines: cucumber, pumpkin, winter squash. But if we use that space for garlic, where will the vines go so they can trail around without encroaching on the rest of the garlic? And just like that. As if the last 10 or 15 years of grumbling and rolled eyes and consternation had never been, Frank suggests. "Why don't we pull up all this oregano and we can put the vines here?" "Yeah," I say all nonchalant, "we could do that."

And then the orchestra in my head began to play and I was twirling around and around and around, in my head that is, finally the oregano will be gone. Outwardly I just nodded, "okay then, five pounds it is." And so today I was out there digging up the oregano (not an easy task let me just say). I didn't get it all up, but I made a good dent and the next two days are supposed to be nice so it could all be gone before the first snowfall. End of the oregano saga.

It was bliss out there. I'm very lucky that my kids have always loved hanging out in the garden, doing a task or two before heading off on their own journey. Climbing the plum trees, pushing brother down the hill on one of the baby scooters and then negotiating who pushes it back up the hill, picking flowers, digging, collecting, you name it. They were in their zone and so was I. Before today I was a skeptic of walking meditation. There is so much visual and auditory stimuli that I just doubted whether you (or I really) could empty my mind of all that I was experiencing externally. But today I know that it is only through being totally present in that experience that the mind can be sufficiently emptied. I was so engrossed, so present in my tasks that I was beyond thought. There was no "after this, then this." There was no planning, no lists, no judgment, no I wishes, or I should have or I am going to. It is only now that I am reflecting that I am happy that I was able to accomplish so much or that I am thinking about tomorrow and next year. While I was working, I was content. In the present. This is how I used to be in my studio. Usually I would go through frustration at how I had left the studio. Worked through that until it was workable. Then I would struggle to figure out where I had left off. All this was really just trying to get back to that moment when I could be totally present in the act of creating and when I could leave all past and future behind. That was the part of the process that was so fulfilling and the part that I miss not having a daily (or monthly) creative routine. Today in the garden was a reminder of all that. And having felt that reminder (along with several others this very week), I know I'll always seek out those endeavors that shed the ego and reveal my true self.

It is not always that way in the garden. There are times when the work at hand is overwhelming and I can't get past the list: as soon as I do this, then this, then this, then this. But today it was not so. True to the idea of the bonus day, whatever was accomplished was over and above and glorious just for itself.

Sicilian Style Greens

A big giant bunch of Spinach, Chard, Kale, Collard, Tat Soi, or any combination
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
handful golden raisins
handful pine nuts
shaved parmesan or romano cheese
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar

In a small dry pan, toast the pine nuts on medium until they start to brown, turning them often. Wash and pat dry the greens, but leave them damp. Heat olive oil in a saute pan or skillet. Add greens, then garlic. Saute until greens are tender, add a small splash of balsamic and the raisins. Let saute for one more minute. Take off the heat. Let them rest for a minute before putting them in a bowl. Add pinenuts and shaved cheese on top.