Well, Harper Lee must’ve never been a gardener, that’s all I can say. Because if she had been, she would’ve been like, ‘f— you, mockingbird!’
I was all set to have a great blackberry harvest–there were handfuls of berries just outside my front door (literally! the vine has a foothold in the door frame, and I could’ve picked berries without ever stepping foot off the welcome mat) but then…as they were juuust on the verge of ripe, somebody started eating them, leaving juicy purpled splotches on the siding and porch floor. I wasn’t quite sure who until one day I saw a mockingbird perched on a porch chair, his head cocked, giving the blackberries a sidelong staredown. And then, swooop, he flitted over to the vine and started pecking.
And so, this:
Nylon mesh from an empty bag of onions
Except that didn’t quite work either; the bird, in his persistence, was still finding a way to peck at the berries and get them to somehow fall out of the mesh, and so I had to resort to a 10′ length of deer netting draped over the entire vine, which finally stopped the blackberry thief.
I think I always say this, but I can’t believe spring has gone by so quickly. It always does, in a rush of seeding and transplanting, weeding and watering and re-seeding and then, the patiently trying to wait: for ripe tomatoes, for peaches, for cucumbers, for squash, for, in general, what is supposed to be the bounty of summer.
At this point in the season (for indeed, at this point we can actually call it a season), I feel as though I should be able to kick back; aside from a few stray weeds to pull and occasional watering during a dry spell, I feel like the garden should be able to take care of itself. Instead, there are still beds that are overcome by weeds, and rows that need reseeding because (ahem!) I forgot to water them and they died.
I harvested the first (very few) of the potatoes; I decided I ought to do it soon after the plants died back so that 1)I wouldn’t forget where they were; and 2)I could have that space for growing other, summery things, like tomatillos.
Andy has a potato joke that I will now share: A widow is standing in the grocery store holding two small potatoes in her hand and staring at them. She is looking kind of sad and weepy, and another lady comes over to her and asks if everything’s alright. The widow holds up the two potatoes and says, “These remind me of my late husband.” The other lady says, “What, the size?” and the widow says, “No, the dirt!”
Anyway, it’s supposed to be a joke about testicles, but I’m not quite sure I think it’s funny. Moving on!
The cherry and currant tomatoes are just starting their onslaught; the slicers have yet to ripen (although, in the doctor’s office the other day, I overheard an old woman describing in intimate, juicy detail the tomato sandwich she had had for lunch; and how there was so much left over that she was going to have the rest for dinner. Which means two things: that someone, somewhere has faster-ripening tomatoes than I; and that, old people still do not understand cell phone etiquette. I can’t decide which has been the bigger blow: tomato sandwich lust, or the one to my gardener’s ego.
At any rate, at least my plants are in the warm ground. Last year I was sooo late getting them in; this year I’m pretty sure I was mostly on time with both the seedlings and direct seeding beans and squash.
However, a word on the squash: just last week, when the first tender zucchini was about to ripen, when it was looking on the vine the way that travel-guide brochure photos look of vegetables at roadside stands in Italy; I found a horrible thing: the squash vine borers. Of course, right on time to ruin the harvest.
I’ve been trying to keep them at bay by squishing eggs and scraping out larvae with a straightened paper clip. So far the tally is: 1 zucchini plant dead; 13+ squash vine borer larvae dead; 0 squash harvested. So now you know where the record stands. And you can imagine my frustration when, on the radio, Garrison Keillor extols how prolifically the squash grow in Lake Wobegon; how they have to keep their cars locked and windows closed for fear of people unloading their excess, mutant zucchinis through a cracked window. Sure, I could be bitter about this; but I also remind myself that I don’t have to live through a Minnesota winter; so if that is the tradeoff, I’ll take squash vine borers any day.
Lately I’ve been glad that I’m not the type of woman who gets manicures. Because this has been the state of my nails:
One of my coworkers once told me that the best way to get rid of dirt from under your fingernails was to take a shower and wash your hair; that the shampooing and scrubbing the scalp would scrub all the dirt out from the nailbeds; and I have to say: she was right. Not that I get manicures, or that I care about the state of my nails. I’m just saying, that this is how they are.
About a month (or was it two?) ago I harvested garlic scapes and whizzed them all into a pesto; two weeks after that I harvested all the garlic, and boy, it was a mighty haul:I nearly filled a whole muck bucket (that’s almost 2 bushels, for you non-muck-bucket-owners) with garlic bulbs, some of which were as big as onions. Now I’m just trying to talk myself into cleaning all the dirt off and finding a good place to store them in the house–a place that is not a muck-bucket, that is.
This is one of my massive garlics. It looks bigger in person. (that's what he said!)
I’ve been picking wild blueberries in the woods; it’s time consuming because the berries are so small and sparsely spaced, and yeah, if we were going to put a dollar value on my time, it would probably be cheaper to buy them at Costco. But! Where else can you immerse yourself in the meditative act of berry-picking, and be alone in the forest with only your thoughts and the occasional birdsong? Instead, I can say I’m forest bathing (turns out that is a thing), and getting some ‘me’ time and free berries in the process. I think that I may have also gotten bit by chiggers while I was out there, which I guess makes this into a win-win-lose type of situation.At any rate, the chigger bites have faded, but we are still enjoying the wild blueberries in our smoothies. So maybe I will just pretend I got those chigger bites somewhere else.
Happy gardening, friends!
Nearly every day after school when I was a kid, I would go over to my best friend Ashley’s house and go inside without knocking. Their kitchen was a galley-style affair, with black appliances and a side-by-side refrigerator before the days when those were even really popular. The refrigerator was closest to the entrance and so, the first thing I would do when I went inside, sometimes before even yelling ‘Hey!’ up the stairs to Ashley, was to open the refrigerator and look inside.
Because my brother was a Type 1 diabetic, and because my mom was a semi-health-nut (the kind who made granola before that became a cool, hipster thing to do), the foods we had at home were rarely ones that I was excited to eat. For instance: Frookies. I am trying to think of how to describe the taste of a Frookie, because (in a ‘nam-style flashback sort of way) I still do remember the taste and the smell of them, but I am at a loss for words. They were like a soggy unsweetened graham cracker, maybe? Or perhaps I could describe them to you as: the only cookie in the world that, when you offer them to a child, the child will say “No thanks.”
In contrast, Ashley’s house always had Keebler Soft Batch cookies (that were best warmed for 8 seconds in the microwave on a paper towel) and Oscar Meyer bologna (best eaten folded in half, with many small bites taken out of it in order to create an abstract sort of meat-snowflake or a very creepy/sad rendition of a human face). On the bottom shelf of the far corner cupboard was a gallon-size crock of Penrose hot sausages, neon-pink and alarmingly sour, their strange combination of pucker and heat that was enticing after the first bite, but too nose-wateringly overwhelming for you to finish even half the sausage.
And then there was the chocolate frosting. It lived on a lower shelf of the refrigerator door, and this was not frosting that was leftover after making a cake or cupcakes; this was frosting that was bought specifically for eating right out of the jar. So my afternoons usually started like that: with a spoonful of chocolate frosting which, taken straight from the refrigerator, had a taste and texture reminiscent of Christmas fudge. It was not against the rules to go back and have a second spoonful of frosting, but if you did, you ought to get a clean spoon. I don’t have to tell you that it was waaay better than a Frookie.
I still have the habit of fridge and pantry-snooping. When I go over to my parents’ house, the first thing I do is open the fridge and look on all the shelves; next I move on to the pantry, then the cupboards, and lastly, the freezer. When I stay overnight with friends or family, I take stock of their refrigerators; if I’m staying longer than a night, it’s likely I’ll find out what’s in their pantry, as well.
It’s not that I’m even hungry; I just like to see what’s there and maybe, if it is something that sounds good or intriguing, I will (mentally) talk myself into having a snack even though, if I had been sitting at a table and you had asked if I wanted anything to eat I would’ve told you, “No, thanks.”
And this is how Andy and I got ourselves on a tabbouleh kick.
While visiting Aunt Suzy and Uncle Bert in Maine last summer, and rummaging through their pantries, in the dark forgotten depths I found two half-empty packages of bulgur; a dusty can of hearts of palm; a small and nearly-expired jar of artichoke hearts; and in the crisper drawer of their refrigerator, various vegetables that were quickly losing their crisp.
With just some boiling water, lots of chopping and can-opening, within twenty minutes we were all enjoying some healthy, hearty tabbouleh alongside our sandwich lunches.
And whenever I come across something that is made with whole grains and/or vegetables that Andy actually enjoys (i.e. does not complain about) eating, I make a mental note, and then I try to make that thing as often as possible.
Which is to say: our workday lunches have been going a bit like this: tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh. I make a double batch on weekends, and we scoop it into tupperwares and eat it all week.
I’ve been making it with quinoa for added protein instead of bulgur, also because I don’t ever have bulgur on hand but I always have quinoa (thanks, costco!). I tried making it once using millet, but the texture of the millet after it had been refrigerated was unappealing (it was like the texture of cooked rice after it’s been refrigerated, i.e. sort of hard instead of chewy). So, we stick with the quinoa.
Quinoa ‘Tabbouleh’ Vegetable Salad Recipe
3 c. cooked quinoa (or whatever amount you get after cooking 1 c. dry quinoa in 2 c. water; or what I usually just do is cook 2 c. dry quinoa/4 c. water and have some with dinner, and whatever is leftover goes in the ‘tabbouleh’).
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced*
1 very large (‘hothouse’ type that is shrink-wrapped in plastic) or 2 regular cucumbers, diced
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1-2 teaspoons other dried herbs (I usually use a combo of thyme, oregano, and Italian seasoning)
1/2 c. crumbled feta
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
~1/3 c. pine nuts, optional but highly recommended; for garnishing
Combine all ingredients except pine nuts and stir gently until well-mixed. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper, and more herbs/vinegar/lemon juice/feta if needed to suit your tastes. Serve garnished with pine nuts.
*The color of the bell pepper is just for looks, really. When I make a double batch I’ll use one orange and one yellow, but if all you have on hand is a green or red pepper, feel free to use that instead.
Saw a dead rat in the Bojangle’s parking lot.
I mean, I still went inside and ate, what do I look like, a health inspector?
Turns out that in the South, summer’s arrival is not determined by a date on the calendar, but rather by the season’s first sighting of a guy driving his pickup truck with no shirt on.
Some context clues in case you’re not from Wilmington: The Triangle is a local dive bar, and Bob Townsend is a local newscaster. (Also, it should be noted that one of the Yelp reviews for the Triangle has what is probably the most apt description of any dive bar, anywhere: “If you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.”)Did I mention that I have ringworm? I’m going to blame the dog for it.
Andy: Why is there so much pollen?
Me: Um, I dunno…it’s just that time of year.
Andy: But why is there so much of it?
Me: You mean like, Why is there pollen?
Me: That’s how trees have sex. You know, ’cause it’s not like a tree can just walk down to the bar and find some lady to hump.
Me: Pollen is like tree sperm. Just think about that every time you go outside.
Andy: Oh god, that’s disgusting.
Me: Your car is covered in tree sperm!
First of all, you should buy and cook a corned beef. Just do it, and follow the package directions, because you know it’s delicious. You should not, under any circumstances, try to roast it. I made this mistake so you don’t have to, unless of course you like eating shriveled slabs of dry, tough meat. Boiling meat in water seems kind of dumb and uninspired, but it turns out that this is how a corned beef likes to be cooked. If you’re feeling fancy, you could add some apple cider and bay leaves to your boiling pot, too.
Secondly, you should make irish soda bread. Substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the flour so that you won’t feel too bad about consuming the entire loaf in two days.
Thirdly, you should buy loads of cabbage, I’m talking like ten pounds or so, since it’s only 25 cents a pound this week. With some of it, you should make this to take for lunches. With another head of it, you should make this or this to serve alongside your corned beef (unless you just want to boil it and be lazy).
Then, with the rest of your cabbage, you should shred it up and make sauerkraut so you can have reubens with your leftover corned beef (which is arguably the best thing one can do with corned beef).
How to Not Fail at Sauerkraut
Firstly, shred your cabbage. You can make it as fine or as chunky as you want, I don’t care. Then toss your shredded cabbage with lots of salt—way more salt than you think you would ever use in your lifetime. It doesn’t have to be exact, it just has to be salty. Pack it into some sort of jar or crock and tamp it down as firmly as possible (a gallon pickle jar works well for this, especially if this is your first time making sauerkraut, since it is free (with the pickles) and since it’s see-through it will help you keep an eye on things in case something starts to go horribly wrong. It should be sort of creating its own juice to ferment in, but if there isn’t enough liquid to cover all the cabbage, add some more (I usually have to). The water should be really salty, probably add 1 or 2 teaspoons per cup of water you put in. Then you should put some sort of weight on top to keep all the cabbage submerged. A cheap way to do this is to fill a ziploc bag with salt water (salted so that in case the bag leaks it won’t dilute your brine) and put it on top.
Nextly—and this is very important—you should cover the top of the jar with a cloth or strong paper towel (something to keep dust and fruit flies out) and secure the towel with rubber bands. DO NOT be lulled into a false sense of okayness-without-the-towel-ness by the fact that your fancy fermenting crock has a very nice-fitting lid because if you do, it will be a very big surprise to you when, in three weeks, your sauerkraut has turned into the world’s largest and most disgusting fruit fly farm. Oh my god, it is a terrible, terrible thing, and I am saying that as the kind of person who is not usually grossed out by those sorts of things. I had to leave it outside under a downspout for a month before I even wanted to look at it again.
Finally, let it sit for a week or two or three. Add more salt water if needed to keep it submerged, and taste it every few days to see if it’s reached your desired level of sour. Serve on reubens or with pierogies. Keep any leftover sauerkraut in the fridge, where it should keep indefinitely.
Or you could forget all of that and just go out and do some heavy drinking for St. Patrick’s Day. That is, if you’re still in your twenties and/or have no shame about calling in hungover for work the next day.
Well! It is now March, and signs of spring are here. It looks like we might actually have more than three days in a row of temps above 60, halleluia for that.
Robins are flocking to the yard in Hitchcockian numbers. They root around in the mulch, pockmarking the garden beds with fist-sized craters. If I hadn’t seen them doing it, I probably would have blamed it on squirrels. The dog sits at the front window like a statue, staring at them all. ’Snooki TV,’ we call it. Her head is just barely the right height to see out the window–looking at her from outside all you can see are eyes and ears.
The house finches have returned and are busy rebuilding their nest in the porch eaves, though they might have already decided to abandon it after they saw me spying on them through the window blinds.
I planted peas the first of February, and last weekend I was ready to call the whole row a loss and sow more when I noticed the first few green shoots poking up, short as a thumb, not yet unfurling their leaves. For a gardener, I can’t think of a more hopeful sight.
My daffodils* started blooming about a month ago (the first ones on the block, I’d braggingly like to add), just in time to be hammered by some brutal cold (for NC standards, that is)–temps down to the teens and twenties, and a day or two of ice. Turns out the flowers are a type of thermometer: when it goes below freezing they droop down until they’re face-down on the ground, and gradually perk themselves up as the temperature climbs.
*Botanically-speaking, I know they are really probably narcissus or jonquils, but I don’t care because I prefer the word ‘daffodil.’
The buds on the blueberry bushes are swelling. I’ve transplanted a dozen of them over the last couple of months, making a sort of hedgerow next to our neighbors’ driveway. I dug them up from the backyard of the foreclosure, where they had been planted in a weird sort of circle in the very center of the yard. I did just a few at first, in case they didn’t make it, but they didn’t seem to die (kind of hard to tell when they’re dormant, anyway) so I did a few more the next weekend, and a few more after that, then mulched them with pine straw raked up from the backyard (free mulch! woot!). They seem to be faring well, and every time I check on them the buds seem a little bit bigger. Edible landscaping is where it’s at, y’all. Because when’s the last time your privet hedge gave you the ingredients to make a pie?I’ve been itching to get my hands in the dirt, but–aside from the peas–it’s not quite time yet. I’ve been satisfying the gardening urge by sowing seeds indoors–first a flat of peppers and eggplants, then two weeks later a flat of 18 different kinds of tomatoes (this is probably a mistake) and a flat of cool-weather stuff (collards, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, etc.). Last week I started melons and herbs, which have just started to sprout. I’ll move them under the grow lights this week once I take the cool-weather veggies outside to harden off.
I took a tape measure outside and staked out my beds, and let me tell you, this is probably one of the most important things you should do when you start a vegetable garden. (Also drawing it out on graph paper helps). Turns out, last year’s veggie beds and paths that I had eyeballed the widths of were waay narrower than I had assumed I made them. Last year’s 7 veggie beds have turned out to only be 5; some of last year’s paths are turning into this years beds and vice-versa, but that’s okay; I’m convinced that they’ll all be so much better this year. Per The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible’s advice, I’m also extending my beds to 15 feet long and keeping them covered with a light mulch of straw (which will hopefully help keep the neighbors from complaining, since all this is happening in my front yard. Though at this point, I’m fairly certain that it will be my own husband who calls Code Enforcement on me; “What are you doing to my grass?” he forlornly asks every time he sees me outside with a shovel).
Andy’s going to be in for even more of a shock once my bare-root plant order arrives; after poring over catalog upon catalog from mail-order nurseries, I finally bit the bullet and ordered: 20 asparagus crowns, 50 strawberry plants, 2 elderberries, a plum tree, a cherry tree, and hardy kiwi vines. So long, front yard, and hello, fruits! If you’re thinking of adding any fruit trees or shrubs, now’s the time for ordering and planting bare-root varieties. You can plant containerized plants at any time of the year, but the drawback to them is that there’s usually less of a selection to choose from.
I just recently found out about Big Horse Creek Farm, a small family-owned North Carolina nursery that specializes in heirloom apples. It’s too late for ordering this year, but next year my planting budget is going to go primarily to them; at any rate, it will probably take me that long to read through all their varieties of apples and whittle down my list to must-haves; even after narrowing it down to just warm-climate varieties there are still 100 to choose from.
I’m planning to go to Whole Foods sometime soon and see if I can’t scrounge up some Jerusalem artichoke tubers and a small horseradish root to plant in the ground. Everybody warns that these things are aggressive as hell, but I’ve managed to kill them both in years past, so I’m not terribly worried. Plus they’re edible, so if they get too out of control you just eat more, right? Like my mint patch that turns into a summertime excuse to have mojito parties. (Here’s a list of some other things you can grow from the grocery store).
I have potatoes full of green eyes sitting on a window ledge that ought to go in the ground (or that ought to have already gone in the ground, actually, but all of February seemed too cold for it). There are sweet potato slips that sprouted (unintentionally on my part) from tubers in the cupboard and that I ought to be rooting now; thank goodness for the extra evening hour of sunlight we’re getting now.
Nurse: How are you doing? Are you feeling nervous?
Andy: Yeah, a little.
Nurse: Is this your first time?
Andy: No, I’ve felt nervous before.
Well, in case it isn’t abundantly clear from every possible news media outlet, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.
Admittedly, I’m sort-of an eye-rolling grump on the subject (for instance:cut flowers. Most of them are cultivated under horrifying working conditions, flown thousands of miles, die after a week and are laden with pesticides. Because nothing says “I love you” like slave labor and chemicals, and money spent on something that will soon go into the trash can!). My significant other has been instructed that if he ever buys me a bouquet of flowers, I will punch him in the face.
I have been out to dinner exactly once, ever, for Valentine’s Day, and once was enough. The restaurant was overcrowded, the wait times were incredibly long, and the waitstaff was stressed–none of which combined well to create a romantic, intimate atmosphere (though it was clearly memorable, especially when we witnessed the restaurant owner yelling at his 80 year-old mother for not filling out a ticket correctly).
So tomorrow Andy and I will commemorate this romantic-est of holidays by opening a $3 bottle of wine and eating leftovers on the couch in our sweatpants, and exchanging no gifts. Which is pretty much what we do every Saturday, which is to say: that’s exactly how we like it.
But in case you’re feeling the need to mark the occasion but you weren’t able to get a reservation at a swanky fondue-ery (or you don’t want to change out of your sweatpants), here’s an easy recipe for Chocolate Fondue. I usually make a small amount, just for myself, because Andy says that peanut butter is poor people food.
Easy Chocolate Fondue for 1
1 heaping Tablespoon creamy peanut butter (not the all-natural kind)
1 small handful chocolate chips (splurge on the good kind, like Ghiradelli dark) [You're just kind of eyeballing the amounts here; probably about a 1:1.5 or 1:2 ratio of peanut butter:chocolate chips is what you want here, but it's not critical to get it exact]
Combine peanut butter and chocolate chips in a small bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals until melted, stirring often.
Dip whatever snacks you want to in it–pretzels are highly recommended, but also strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, graham crackers, etc.
You’re gonna want to put this on vanilla ice cream, but just a warning that it hardens pretty quickly on contact with the ice cream.