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!!

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