Monday, October 8, 2012

Putting the Garden to bed and Veggie Pot Pies

I've decided that the startling beauty of a New England fall's chief purpose is to mitigate the melancholy of summer's gone and the dread of a long long winter ahead.  Were it not for that neon pink shining alongside salmony red sliding into orangey yellow rubbing up against yellowy green, I may sink into the presnow blues that ain't gettin' no better as the trees get bare. 

You see, I love closure! 

All summer long, we make daily pilgrimages to our beloved lake club only to realize that the season is over one blustery day in September when we haven't been there for a week and even if the weather turns back to toasty, the water will be too cold to go in.  No closure. 

I've been working on putting my garden to sleep for the last month, but as the frost date quickly and steathily approaches, I realize just how much still needs to be done.  Lettuce and chard transplanted to the greenhouse; tomatillos, leeks,  lettuce, arugula, broccoli, bok choi, carrots and fall brassicas harvested; potato area raked out (this will never get done); rest of the tomatoes pulled and stakes stored.  The list goes on.  I'll keep working on it, but there will come an icy morning when whatever I haven't done (raking the potatoes) is going to be past doing.  The garden will be abed.  Most likely, no closure. 

But there is also something cozy and timely about this time of year.  A time to come inside, both physically and psychically.  For me, this means tackling the nether reaches of the house, spending time on the floor playing board games and puzzles, luxuriating in the tub, dusting off the sewing machine and the treadmill.  It's also a time when we never let a warm and sunny day get squandered.  It is a time of shared chores.  Just take a drive on a crisp Sunday afternoon and see all your neighbors out raking, organizing, putting summer away, just like you'll do when you get home.  It is a time of fairs and festivals, sharing community one more time in case next week's event is canceled due to poor weather.  In case the bad weather hits and there is no closure to that fall feeling.

My sister died 15 years ago, not quite 35 years old.  In the months after the accident, what I could not reconcile was that there would be no closure to our issues.  We'd never sit around the table holding our coffee cups with both hands and put all our childhood, childish drama aside.  Fifteen years later, what I've learned is that, despite my yearning for this kind of neat little box, tied with a neat little bow, there never would have been the kind of closure I imagined, probably no closure at all.  Had she died at 85, me an old lady right behind her, I'd be left with open questions, unresolved feelings and the same loss.

For me, therein lies the lesson.   I mean THE lesson.  This need to have closure, to wrap things up neatly to avoid all these mixed emotions is merely evading the present.  The reality that things never wrap up easily, that mixed emotions just means I'm engaged in this part of life.  If I stay mindful and in the present, I'll let go of yesterday's easy routine of garden, kids, lake, garden and find the next easy routine that I need to make my life NOW make sense.   

I love Buddhism because its first tenet is that everything changes.  I hate Buddhism because its first tenet is that everything changes.  But because I also love true, I love it more than I hate it, because I know that in the acceptance that closure is meaningless in the present, I'll find true contentment and I'll make room for much more.  Eckhart Tolle explains that regret and nostalgia are merely reflections of a mind fixated on the past; worry and fear reflections of a mind fixated on the future.  It is only in the present that true happiness can thrive. 

But still, they are calling for a frost on Friday night, so you know where I'll be tomorrow.  Out there in the garden, trying to get closure.

Nothing more humble and satisfying on a cold night than a pot pie.  These are super versatile and delicious.  Feel free to exchange the veggies I list with absolutely anything.  Sometimes I replace the tofu with grilled soy sausage and pair it with peppers, shitake mushrooms and loads of greens.  The recipe below is for the traditional carrots, peas, potatoes that especially appeal to my little people.

Veggie Pot Pies
Make six individual or one large

For the Dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
4 oz. cream cheese

For the filling:
3 or 4 large cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup carrots
1/2 cup cauliflower
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup peas
2 to 3 medium potatoes

One brick of extra firm tofu cubed

For the sauce:
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup veggie broth
salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

Make the dough:  In the food processor, fitted with the steel blade, pulse flour and salt 2 or 3 times to combine, add butter, pulse 10 times until it looks like cornmeal, add cream cheese, pulse until the dough comes together.  Turn out on floured surface.  Knead to form into a log with blunt edges.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Make the filling:  Chop the veggies that need to be chopped and sautee starting with carrots and cauliflower, a minute or two later add onions and potatoes, then corn and garlic and last the peas.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reserve the tofu.  When veggies are fork tender remove from heat.

Make the Sauce: Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk in flour and cook for a minute or two.  Slowly add milk while whisking to keep the sauce smooth.  Let cook for a couple minutes until starting to thicken, then whisk in broth slowly.  Cook over medium heat until sauce is thickening, about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, then remove from heat.  Stir in veggies and tofu.

Putting it all together:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  I use those ramekins with the handles for my pot pies.  If you don't have large ramekins on hand, you can make it as one giant pot pie in a deep pie plate.  If you are making them individually, cut your dough into 12 circles (otherwise, cut it into 2 and roll one for the top and one for the bottom).  Flour your work surface and roll each circle out, reserving the larger ones for the bottom of the ramekins.  Fit six of the circles into the bottom of the ramekins.  They don't have to come all the way to the top perfectly, but should come most of the way up all around.  Spoon the filling into the ramekins evenly.  Lay the remaining circles of dough on the top of the ramekins tucking the edges of the dough into the edges of the ramekins.  Beat an egg throughly.  Then paint the egg on top of each pot pie.  With a sharp knife, cut three slashes into the top of the pies to let steam escape.  Put the pies on a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, and slide the cookie sheet into oven.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pies are golden brown on the top.  Remove and serve!  And enjoy!!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Garden as Metaphor for Life and Sicilian Style Cauliflower

There are any number of reasons why I love gardening, but the one I want to talk about here is that gardening is a great metaphor for life.  Just as each person is on their own unique path, each person gardens in their own unique way.  No two gardens are exactly alike.  Gardens reflect the unique sensibility of the grower.  In fact, gardens are a reflection of the personality of the gardner.  I know mine is.

In my veggie garden, volunteers are often welcome to stay when they are gloriosa daisies or johnny jumpups or cosmos (or anything else that is pretty and not too invasive), so the effect is loads of color among the veggies and sometimes difficult paths to get to where you are going.  The one so justifies the other.  Perennials are left wherever they have blown off course until such time as I can scoop them up and put them back into their own habitat with other perennials; except that lovely lavendar malva that I let stay wherever it wants, often planting veggies right around it.  It is one of the loveliest cuts (twice if you deadhead it), does not transplant well and doesn't sprawl too much.  This particular malva is a finicky self seeder, so I just let it go wherever it will and that is why I've had it for the last dozen or more years; sometimes bisecting a row of carrots, sometimes in the middle of an aisle, sometimes behaving itself on the edge of a bed.

My rows are never straight.  The whole effect is somewhat disheveled, but beautiful.  Just like me.  A little haphazard, but productive.  Just like me.  It has its over the top successes and its dismal failures.  Just like me. 

But it's not just on the surface that gardens mirror life.  It was this August when I was picking snap peas that I started thinking about it.  Yes, you didn't read wrong.  August, snap peas.  Same sentence.  And no, I didn't get my peas in late.  They just lasted and lasted and lasted.  I had six weeks of peas.  And don't ask me why.  It was hot and dry in July.  Neither condition would I say is conducive to long standing peas.  But there ya go.  Just when you plan to rip out the peas to make room for the cucumbers you planted along the edge, they just keep on giving.  It was a great plan to put those cukes there.  It made total sense.  The timing was perfect.  Except it didn't work.  This year.  And something so ephemeral as peas, that is what got me thinking.  The thing about gardening is that no matter how much experience I may have; no matter how many lessons I've learned and put into practice in subsequent years; no matter how prepared I think I am, every year throws another learning curve.  Just like life.  Unexpected gifts (like the peas) stand right next to huge disappointments (this year the green beans top the list). 

Here I am going along thinking I've got it going on and that I've learned all these lessons, grown, put ego aside, put mindfulness into practice, and then whammy, life hits.  Conditions in the garden are unique from year to year and the challenge is not to get discouraged with the failures. People change too, my kids make developmental leaps that challenge me to my very core, not to mention midlife crises coming from left field.  But the thing is, it's pointless to say, I'm giving up (I did throw my hands up with the chard when some critter nearly ate my giant patch to the ground in June, only to have the critter go away and the chard come back with a vengeance late in the season when I want to be eating chard).  It's fruitless (literally) to say I'm not growing green beans again because I have these awful soft bodied beetles eating the plants and this year they got the better of me and my beans.  No, I say, I need to get out there with the red pepper wax daily next year and get on top of the (expletive deleted) critters.  And I also point to the long standing peas, the amazing corn, the carrots, yellow, gold, orange and purple that we've been eating since June and will probably enjoy into February. 

I hope I have the same philosophy with life.  I can get up from a sucker punch and keep moving forward; with joy and enthusiasm to boot.  But lest I get complacent, I need only think about the dismal green beans and eggplant that flowered but didn't fruit to know that there are challenges ahead.  And with that, I'm saving my seeds, preserving the harvest and jotting down all my little wisdoms in my garden notebook.  As if they will be relevant next year.

And since I'm writing this as my fall crop of cauliflower is coming in ever so close to the frost date, here's an old, but consistent favorite.

Sicilian Cauliflower

One head cauliflower
One head garlic
2 TBS. grating cheese (romano or parmesan)
3 TBS. bread crumbs
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cut the cauliflower into large(ish) flowerets.  Blanch cauliflower in fully boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.  While cauliflower is in the boiling water, put ice and cold water into a bowl.  Drain cauliflower and submerge in the ice water.  Peel and chop garlic.  Drain cauliflower from the ice bath.  Heat olive oil in a skillet, add cauliflower, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste if you are using.  Sautee until cauliflower is browning, shaking or stirring the pan every minute or so.  Once cauliflower is somewhat brown, take off the heat and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes.  Turn oven on to broil.  Transfer cauliflower to a pie plate, making sure you get all the garlic from the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs on top.  Put under the broiler for about 5 minutes until the cauliflower really colors on top.  Serve hot.  I like to serve with baked potatoes because the garlic, cheese and breadcrumbs make really yummy crunchies that you can put on top of the potatoes.  Enjoy!!