For three years now I’ve been walking the dog on the same path through the woods.
For three years we have walked through a litter of leaf and pine-straw, the seasons melting together like butter; the chorus of frogs in summer, the hushed early-darkness of winter.
And for three years I haven’t really noticed the woods, not really: they’ve been merely a blurred brown backdrop that we’ve clobbered through, stopping occasionally to sniff (the dog) or tie a shoe (me).
But this year I’ve been paying better attention: noticing, in spring, the one tree with clusters of white flowers arranged in a way that made me hope it was, perhaps, a mulberry; noticing, in June, the patch of wild blueberries, knee-high and with powder-blue fruit.
If it weren’t for the noticing, I wouldn’t have remembered that the tree I saw two weeks ago drooping with tiny black fruit was the same tree I thought was perhaps-a-mulberry in spring. I wouldn’t have come home to research it (i.e. google ‘tree with small round black fruit’) and, when I researched it, I wouldn’t have remembered the shape of the leaves (oval and edged with tiny teeth), or the texture of the bark (grayish-brown and semi-smooth; reminiscent of my mom’s Yoshino cherry tree), or how the flowers hung in racemes (the technical term I learned via ‘research’).
If it weren’t for the noticing, I would have never known what a wild black cherry tree looks like, or that its fruit is edible. I would probably have never known that they existed at all.
Once I knew what it was, I began seeing them everywhere—five, six more along the same path, two more in the overgrown thickets between houses.
I think that the art of noticing is a practice I’ve cultivated through gardening, that gardening is as much about noticing as it is about sowing & harvesting. That is, if you don’t notice the flea-beetle holes in the eggplant leaves, or the frass below the stem of a squash, or the yellow veining of a cucumber leaf, it’s all too easy to lose the whole crop, to let pests & disease spread. Likewise, if you don’t notice which varieties of vegetables are most productive, or best-flavored, then you set yourself up for garden mediocrity, year after year.
And I guess what I mean by noticing is: taking note. My Uncle Bert has a notebook for this; I started one, too, but can’t seem to remember to sit down once a week (or even once a month) to jot things down. I suppose my camera and occasional ‘Garden Snapshot’ serve that purpose, although I do really prefer the physicality of a notebook to the ephemera of a computer; I like something I can take a gluestick and colored pens to and leave sprawled out on a table without worry of spilling tea or breakfast on.
Once I knew about the wild cherries, I began to harvest them. I noticed that one of the trees bore fruit in tighter clusters than the others, making it so much easier to pick. That is the tree that I think I’ll be taking cuttings from, and seeing what takes root.
Wild cherries are full of anthocyanins, the antioxidants in deeply-hued veggies that are so good for us. Which is not such a surprise considering their blackish-purple tone, or that the juice it makes is a shade much deeper than even red wine, or the fact that your hands & kitchen will look like a murder scene after picking and processing them.
I turned my wild cherries into a simple syrup; just a shot of it in a pint glass of seltzer turns the whole thing crimson; with a bit of lime and some rum, it’s the perfect end to a late-summer evening.
Wild cherries are not as sweet as cultivated cherries; they have a slight bitter undertone to them, similar to a cranberry. Let’s call that ‘complexity.’
I would be remiss here, if I didn’t warn—like every other site I consulted—that the leaves and the pits of the wild cherry are full of cyanide (or more specifically, a cyanogenic substance that converts to cyanide during digestion), so don’t eat them. I mean, it seems like common sense that one would NOT eat cherry pits, or cherry tree leaves, but I guess I ought to mention it since everyone else has. They made such a big deal out of it that I was fairly certain that I was going to poison myself accidentally somehow, by perhaps inadvertently cracking the pits in my food mill, or something. I’m here to say I’m still alive. But still: don’t eat the wild cherry pits. Or the leaves.
If you are new to foraging (and I’ll admit it, I am), I’d say it’s best approached with one part bravado to two parts caution. Do your research first to identify the plant, and spend time noticing it: when does it flower? When does it fruit? What color do the leaves turn in autumn? Any chance you could be mistaking it for something else? The cherry laurel, for example, has leaves nearly identical to the wild cherry, and produces small black fruits the same size, and at the same time, as the wild cherry. But cherry laurel fruits are poisonous, they are dull instead of glossy, and slightly oval and pointed at one end. Once you’re reasonably sure you’ve correctly identified your plant/fruit and are ready to harvest, I’d also advise you to sample just a small amount the first time you eat it, just in case you have an unknown allergy. Like I said, two parts caution.
And don’t eat the pits.
Wild Cherry Spritzer
1 oz. wild cherry simple syrup (recipe follows)
juice of ½ lime
1 oz. light rum, if desired
8-10 oz. seltzer or club soda
Combine all ingredients over ice in a pint glass, adding the cherry syrup last as it tends to settle. Stir and serve. Garnish with a mint sprig if desired.
Wild Cherry Simple Syrup
adapted from this recipe
2 c. wild cherries
water to cover
4-6 T. sugar
Put the cherries in a pot, and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until the fruit has released most of its juices. Run the mixture through a food mill or another method of straining out the pits (cheesecloth, strainer, jelly bag, etc.). Add sugar to taste, stirring to dissolve. Store covered in the refrigerator up to two weeks. This makes about one cup. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could probably also can this as a juice, using more water and less sugar. Consult a reputable canning book for a recipe for berry juice and process accordingly. You’ll probably also need to have A LOT more cherries to make the canning process worth your while.
Another way to use wild cherries would be simply to soak them in liquor—rum, brandy, or vodka—for several weeks, and then strain out the fruit.
The eyes on this bee remind me of an alien, sort of.
There is a drama of birdly proportions going on in my front yard. The crows are strutting around in the grass, searching for whatever it is they like to eat, some of them panting open-beaked already from the heat even though it is not yet 10 a.m. The mockingbirds are admonishing them from a distance, perched on power lines. One crow is bobbling on a branch of the neighbor’s dogwood tree while two mockingbirds ‘greech-greech’ at him, and take turns dive-bombing. In the war of birds, crows would be the infantry; mockingbirds the fighter pilots. The crow hops to a lower branch of the dogwood, which makes the mockingbirds even more agitated; do they have a nest there? There is quite a commotion. I briefly consider going outside to yell at the crow but, since I’m currently braless and haven’t finished my first cup of coffee, I reconsider. And anyway, crow needs to eat, too.
The crow has moved on from the dogwood, but still the mockingbirds are going after him; there are three now, they’ve called for reinforcement. Maybe it’s just a territory thing? The birds are an opera, and I don’t have the program to tell me what act we’re in.
This summer is shaping up to be a summer of fruits.
The peaches ripened and I savored them, allowing myself one every day until they were gone, and in case you are thinking that there is nothing as self-satisfying as a peach, plucked from a tree you planted & mulched & tended-to, eaten while still-warm from the sun, well, you’d be right. If I were a peacock I’d fan my feathers out about it.
The blueberries are tapering off, while the figs have suddenly come in with a heavy, honeyed abundance. It’s hard to keep up with them; I haven’t had much time for baking the last couple of weeks, and even less time for canning, so I may resort to the strategy I used last year: slicing the stems off and popping them straight into the freezer to deal with later (although in all honesty, I never ‘dealt’ with them, I just hid them in smoothies (Andy declares that he hates a fig and will never eat one, owing to some unfortunate experiences with fig newtons when he was a kid)).
The ‘winter’ greens that went to seed (arugula, kale, mustard) have been sprouting where I scattered them; most of them low and slow, staying just an inch or so tall.
The squash are blossoming, but not setting fruit (setting vegetable?). I’m thankful, at least, that the vine borers haven’t taken them out—yet.
I’ve been getting handfuls of currant tomatoes, those sweet tiny gems, but nothing ripe yet from the slicers or paste tomatoes. My mom and I both vow that we will get our gardens in earlier next year. I say that every year, but gardening is like a drug in that way: you are always chasing that first high, though in this case my ‘high’ is the one summer I harvested baskets upon baskets of tomatoes, some of them as big as my face.
I have two melons; both of them appeared overnight. In each case, I had walked around the garden a day or two before, observing and checking-in, and then! next time, a melon appeared, already bigger than a baseball. It keeps me on my toes, and makes me think of writing a children’s book about the melon fairy, only I know that I won’t because I would have the main character exclaim, at some point, “Hot shit!” about her magic melons, and thusly lose my G-rating.
The cowpeas are two feet tall now; I had thought they would be creepers but they seem to want to be climbers. I think I heard somewhere that the new growth of leaves and stems are edible, similar to spinach if cooked. I just may try it; they are outpacing my tomatoes in terms of height.
The green beans are blooming, their purple flowers like ladies’ fancy hats, or like snapdragons.
The sunflowers are on a sad listing angle after the hurricane, yet they continue to bloom. The black-eyed susans & coneflower are blooming, the dahlias still slow to spread their petals.
The flowers keep the garden abuzz in bees and such, and sometimes butterflies. It means there is always something to look at, and it cracks me up to see the bees practically rolling in pollen, packing their leg-pouches full, ending up with yellow dust all over their bodies and enjoying every second of it.
I have a recipe for a raw blueberry sauce to tell you about (so simple & fresh; similar to this) but first I have to tell you about a goose, since it’s because of the goose that we became the lucky recipients of a gallon(!) of freshly-picked blueberries.
One of our friends lives in Lake Waccamaw. Her house is on the lake and it is full of windows and quiet, peaceful views. And she has a pet goose that lives in the backyard.
Though, it is not really her ‘pet,’ per se, it is maybe more of a mascot? Or maybe it is just a creature of habit who enjoyed nesting at the base of her tree, and who our friend took pity on and brought her fresh bowls of water and scraps of bread while she was brooding so she wouldn’t starve.
Anyway, the goose became friendly with her, and began visiting her back door on a daily basis, quietly honking to request her bread rations, and—occasionally—allowing herself to be petted in exchange for said bread rations (whole-wheat, preferably; she does not care for white).
The goose has had sort of a sad life, I’m sorry to tell you. One spring she sat on her nest for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks, and though she grew weaker and skinnier, nothing happened within the nest. Her mate kept a watchful eye on her from the water, never straying more than 50 feet away, but still; it became clear that nothing was going to hatch from her nest, though she would keep sitting there until she died.
So Andy and his friend took pity on her; they picked her up and carried her to the water, where she was met with much honking and excitement by her mate. They looked in her nest only to find…a golf ball. The goose was trying to hatch a golf ball.
And then the goose’s mate died. (Andy’s theory is that someone shot him because they were tired of his honking. He may have also used the word ‘redneck’ to describe that someone, but I am not here to name-call).
The goose was sad, you guys, to have lost her mate, and maybe also a little bereft to not have been able to hatch her golf ball. She swam around by herself honking, calling for her lost mate and generally looking very lonely. There is a children’s book story here, I am sure of it.
Later that summer she ended up adopting a small flock of ducklings whose mother had died, and everyone was happy: she herded the little ducklings around and honked at them, and they swam behind her in the lake. And it was so freaking cute! I can’t even tell you, but it was. The ducklings were trying to be a goose, and the goose was finally a mom, and she had purpose and companionship. I told you there was a children’s book story here!
The ducklings grew into ducks, and still they stayed a companionable flock: after all, how much difference is there between a duck and a goose? They both swim, they both have feathers and can fly if they have to.
You may notice the duck following the goose into the house. I am pretty certain that what is going on here is illegal.
Well, things were fine, and then: one morning our friend woke up to find the goose had a broken wing; bent somehow and twisted backwards, the bird in distress.
So she did what any mascot-caretaker would do: she took the goose to the wildlife rehabilitator.
I’m really regretting that I didn’t ask for more details, because how does one capture and transport a 30-lb. injured goose 50 miles in a car without a crate?, and I am partly imagining the scene from Forget Paris with the pigeon, but mostly imagining a lot of distraught honking and possibly only minor hair-disheveling.
There was good news and bad news from the wildlife rehabilitator: The good news was, the goose would survive. The bad news was that they might have to amputate her wing, and, if they did, they would likely release her to a nearby farm that had a pond and a few other aquatic fowl. Which is not so terrible, really, if you are a goose, but it is a little saddening if the goose has been your friendly mascot for several years and have grown quite fond of her presence, and her honking personality and requests for bread.
To console herself, and because it was nearby, our friend went blueberry-picking.
And I think that goose must have meant a lot to her, or maybe she just had a lot of time on her hands, or she is a really fast blueberry-picker, but she picked a lot of blueberries.
She showed up at our house with a gallon bucket-full, saying, these are for you, and I said, Are you sure? Did you save some for yourself? and she said Oh yes, I’m actually going to stop by and visit all my aunts and give some to them, too.
So I guess she is a very fast blueberry-picker, or maybe that goose kind of meant a lot to her, or maybe a little of both.
We have several of our own, by the way: blueberry plants. (Though: I really want a pet goose now, too).
Andy & I bought a foreclosure and, while hacking away at some overgrown shrubs, we found out that it came with several mature blueberry plants; six-foot tall shrubs drooping with berries and producing just fine in spite of a stranglehold of vines.
What I guess I’m trying to say is: we’ve been swimming in blueberries, which is a lucky fate indeed; twice a week I harvest a half-basketful and freeze them for smoothies.
On top of that, I’ve found a copse of them in the woods; they are wild berries, small and with seeds that crunch beneath your teeth, but a flavor oh-so-much-greater, a flavor like the truest-blue that a blueberry could ever be.
I’ve been making things with our windfall. Besides smoothies there have been whole-wheat muffins; a pie similar to this but with added cream cheese; and a blueberry sauce, to serve atop ice cream or shortcake, or, I bet, delicious over a slab of toasted pound cake, still warm from the oven.
Blueberry Sauce Recipe
adapted from Lee Bailey’s ‘Soup Meals’
The original recipe was for a blackberry buckle with blackberry sauce; I subbed blueberries and the buckle ended up being nothing special (sort of dry & crumbly, like a coffee cake), but the sauce is a keeper, and easy, too. I reduced the sugar as it seemed too sweet for me; adjust to your personal preference.
1 cup fresh blueberries
5 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Mash all ingredients together or puree with a blender or food processor. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
My Guy: The next time you go to Sam’s could you get me some Goop [hand cleaner/degreaser]?
Me: Yeah. They don’t have it at Costco?
My Guy: No.
Me: I wonder why not?
My Guy: Because people who shop at Costco don’t work on their own cars. They pay people to do it for them.
I am watching a tropical storm out the window as I write this (or, tropical storm-ish: the outer bands of Hurricane Arthur). The trees heave and yaw, their leaves peel back to reveal silvered underbellies. The wind comes in heavy gusts, but sometimes not at all; likewise the rain: sometimes it falls in sheets, sometimes not at all. The peach tree is now listing ever-more dangerously to its side, making me wish that I had staked it up, but the time for that is past, and anyway it is still a young tree, its branches supple enough.
The last time I looked at the radar, the eye of the storm appeared to be heading straight for us. The weathermen are, however, certain that this is not the case, that it will be veering out to sea, and I suppose I tend to trust them. Whether they’re right or wrong doesn’t much matter, though: either way we will still be safe and dry, hunkered down in our house in a state of near-sleep, well-sated.
I have a chicken carcass simmering on the stove, with ends of onions and thick fingers of carrots. It’s a day of slowing down, and the dog is all too agreeable with this plan, sleeping sometimes on our bed, sometimes on hers; sometimes in the middle of the floor.
Today has been a day of noises: the wind hits the house at an odd angle, and the windows give a keening moan; over lunch (open-faced toasts of turkey and Vidalia onion dip, broiled and topped with jalapenos (Andy) or sweet pickles (me)) there was a loud pop like a gunshot: a transformer blew. And then, a short time later, the sound of a wood-chipper chewing up branches. But most strangely of all were the sirens: long, howling wails of them that seemed of the sort that would announce an air raid, the sort you would hear in a movie. We turned the radio on, but they were talking instead about Afghanistan, so we turned the radio off and decided to take a nap. I couldn’t shake the feeling that these sirens meant something, something important, so I turned the tv on only to find a tornado warning, and the map of the city zoomed in to street level, and blocks of red shaded firmly over our neighborhood. The weathermen seemed pretty agitated about this, so I decided to take it seriously. “If you see rain moving in two different directions, that means there is a strong potential for a tornado,” he said. I looked out the window, and the rain did seem to be moving in two different directions, so we debated putting helmets on and crawling into the bathtub, but then we didn’t have a helmet for the dog, so we thought about getting in the truck and driving to a different neighborhood, one that did not have bright red blocks shading it on the map, and then we debated maybe just getting back in bed and continuing on with the afternoon nap. By the time we were finished debating, the red blocks had moved away from our neighborhood and into someone else’s, and then a few minutes later there was suddenly no tornado warning anymore, and the tv station cut back to a cheesy soap opera. But anyway, now we know what that siren means.
This morning found me digging up garlic. It wasn’t an ideal time to do it, but it needed digging and I had the time and a yellow rain slicker. I wrapped the bulbs in a sheaf of newspaper; by the end both the harvest and I were sodden and smeared with grit. My shoes squelched with each step, and then in the house with shoes off, my socks made wet slapping sounds across the tile floor.
Tonight the garlic (20 cloves of it!) will go into a stew with lentils and sausage, and a hearty glug of red wine. It will be thick and bracing, hearty fare. The dog will have her usual kibble and, if she is lucky, perhaps a spoonful of peanut butter later on.
The storm will move offshore, or it won’t.
Either way we are sheltered here together against pelting rain and lashing wind; we have bread enough and water, fragrant lentils and wine and although some days it doesn’t seem like enough, the storm reminds us that indeed, we are lucky in what we have.
It’s hard to believe that so much has happened in the garden in the two months since I last wrote about it; yet in some ways it feels like so little. I still haven’t finished planting the rest of the tomatoes, but most of them are in and growing well, and about half are blossoming.
I feel as though I’m late to the summer-garden party. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been direct-seeding squash and beans, much later than my other gardening neighbors whose squash plants are already 2 ½ feet wide and blossoming, whose beans have tendriled their way to the tops of their teepees. I planted a row of whippoorwill peas and they shot right up, their leaves like heart-shaped arrows.
The arugula went to seed. Like last year, instead of trying to save it, I shook the seed stalks out over my garden beds and lo! they have sprouted into multitudes; most of them continue to stay small and low-growing, but one plant has grown large and multi-leaved, wider than an outspread hand and ready to be harvested for salads.
The garden has been a successive parade of blossoming: phlox and iris gave way to coreopsis and pink sundrops, which have given way to marigold, geranium, and sunflower. Next, I hope, are dahlias, which I planted last spring and didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, blossoming only once and about a week before the first frost. So far at least three are coming back out of the ten or fifteen tubers I planted. We shall see.
The sunflowers in my garden this year are volunteers from when I let last year’s go to seed (and then some: I left the seed heads in the garden all winter for any birds who happened to pass by). Now I have several more—with no effort on my part—and they are 6 ½ feet tall and thriving, one a buttery-lemon-yellow, another deep golden. This is my style of gardening: come-what-may, grow-where-you’ve-sprouted. It is certainly easier on my part to let nature do its thing.
Another word about volunteers: they seem to be the hardiest of all my plants, and this summer I have an over-abundance of volunteer tomatoes and cantaloupes from my compost bins. In fact, the first green tomatoes showed up on a volunteer even though they’ve been growing in mostly-shade. The tomatoes are small and heart-shaped, and perplexing because I don’t recall ever eating (or composting) anything similar. Perhaps they’ll surprise me further by growing into a different shape entirely.
I’ve harvested a handful of strawberries; the tiniest, most tenderest things. I justify their place in my garden with not only their sweetness, not only their frilled, evergreen leaves. When I proudly showed Andy my (small) harvest he said, “You know, you can buy those in the store.” But that is not the point: you can have your mammoth supermarket strawberries; cut them open and their flesh is mostly white, partly pink. Cut open a homegrown berry and it is deep crimson, through and through. Ounce for ounce, a homegrown berry wins, always, for flavor.
The blackberry vine has put out its berries. The birds, not knowing that red in this case does not mean ‘ripe,’ sampled a sparse few before turning up their noses—or beaks, so to speak—at them. I’ve been picking them one or two at a time, and popping them straight in my mouth, still-warmed from the sun: gardener’s treat. Unfortunately the lack of rain (I think) caught up with them: instead of continuing to ripen to a deep purple, the berries turned from red to white, shriveled and hard. Another lesson learned, but today I noticed another spur coming off the vine, with several berries ripening to red. One leg of the vine has made its way up to our porch and to our front door. “Feed me, Seymour,” it seems to be saying. It may be time to put up a trellis, but I partly like the roaming wildness of it, the way it seems to want to come inside.
In just a month, the peaches have gone from yellow-green fuzzes the size of a silver-dollar to nearly fist-sized and orangely glowing. The tree shed a few more fruits of its own accord, so we’re left with a half-dozen of them and unfortunately they are all on the same side of the tree, making it lean uncomfortably to the left. I should probably stake it? But I likely won’t.
The garlic scapes have come and gone. I made two batches of pesto, one for pasta and one for dipping, and now it is already time to harvest the garlic.
Two weeks ago I was bemoaning the lack of rain; since then—well praise the lord—the rains came and the creek filled; the heavens opened up and nearly every day there’s been a rain-shower. Mid-afternoon thunderstorms and fresh tomatoes are tied at the top of my list of summer favorites. One night the storm was so severe—thunder that rattled our floorboards, thick raindrops pelting the windows—that I woke from the middle of a deep sleep, only to be comforted by the thought of a roof over my head, the garden being deeply watered, and two warm bodies beside me in bed (one of them being the dog, who sleeps in the space carved out by the crooks of our knees because we find her too cute to tell her no.)
This mockingbird has been stealing my blackberries. In case you're wondering why our yard looks like a desert, we don't irrigate.
Lest you think it is all berries and raindrops, there is a garden pest (or two) that is giving me fits. It’s killed at least 8 of my tomato plants (which is not so terrible, actually, since I had so many extra), several beans and peppers, and at least a melon or two. It could be slugs but I think it is actually pillbugs (also known as roly-polies or sowbugs), as I’ve seen several of them in the mornings munching on the stems of poor, soon-to-be-dead-tomato plants. The internets tells me that this may, partly, be our own fault: for piling the mulch so deeply over the beds that when we plant, the mulch spills back down to the stems of the plants, giving the sowbugs easy access since they favor damp areas, decaying matter. Next year before I plant I will rake back the wood chips to leave mostly bare ground in the beds.
After the hectic seeding of spring, these days seem to be a paradox in the garden: not much else to do but weed and wait; but always, something.
The last time my computer broke, two-thirds of the screen went black, permanently. The other third of the screen still functioned fine, so I would drag and scroll things up to the 1/3 screen as best I could. After several days of this I found out that the glitch, as it turned out, was some sort of hardware (motherboard?) problem and that the company was offering free repairs. I called customer service, and the woman on the phone was very friendly and helpful and seemed like she understood my problem. And then she asked me when I had bought my computer. I told her, and then…she laughed. Out loud, on the phone. And then she told me to buy a new computer, and she hung up.
My current computer is even older than the other one had been at the time of its demise and I am filled with dread every time I think of sitting down to it. The internal modem no longer works; if I try to run spellcheck on a document the whole program crashes. The operating system stopped being able to be updated about three or four years ago, which means that there are various functions it cannot effectively perform; for instance, being compatible with the external hard-drive we bought for its promise of idiot-proof automatic backup. In the years before this, I had been using a different file-backup system. It was called: Asking My Dad to Do It.
Around Christmastime, we saw a laptop for sale on QVC. It seemed like a not-bad deal, and we very nearly got it except for the fact that once we did, we would then be the kind of people who buy things from QVC. And there could be no un-doing that.
All this to say: due to some technological glitches, here are some pictures from my phone . Due to a non-technological glitch (dirty phone case), they are a little hazy. Which I guess is all right, because that will give you a sense of how the summer’s been going here: hazy, with little chance of rain.
I saw this dog downtown and immediately wished I had sunglasses for Snooki.
Spring flew by, as it seems to do, and it was surprisingly cool and pleasant, and we lived with the windows open and the air off, for a while. And though technically it’s not quite, it got hot, and we may as well call it summer.
I wouldn't normally consider myself a clog-wearer, but I got these for free and they seem to do the job of keeping the fire ants from my toes.
I didn’t know this until a few years ago, but we have a dry season and a wet season here. I had thought those terms were reserved for places like India that get endless, drenching monsoons, but apparently not. Our wet season is in the fall and winter, when the plants don’t transpire as much and the rain that falls seeps deeply through the soil, recharging the aquifers. The dry season is now, and it shows in the plants that droop and the creek near our house that now runs dry.I’ve been taking Snooki for lots of walks through the woods. She gets to fully express her dogliness by Smelling All the Smells and staying on High Alert for Squirrels. She snuffles her snout through the tall grasses and gets dew on her nose, and doesn’t mind a bit.I’ve decided (maybe) to try my hand at dandelion wine this summer. However, you need I think a gallon of petals for this. A gallon! So I’m gathering just a handful at a time, plucking and freezing them immediately. Andy thinks I’m nuts and I may well be, since at this rate I’ll be lucky if I collect enough by winter.
We took a last-minute (and brief) vacation to Florida. And by last-minute I mean: at 10 a.m. over coffee and late breakfast we debated, then decided on going. By 1:30 we were packed and on the road (well, more or less on the road; there’s a story here I don’t want to go into detail about, but basically that story ends with us never renting a car from Enterprise. Ever. Again.)It was in Florida that I had this grapefruit beer we picked up at Total Wine (Dear Total Wine: when are you going to build a store in Wilmington? Soon please?). I chose it, if we’re being honest, partly for the refreshing-ness it promised, but mainly for the design of the packaging. And yes, it was refreshing, and yes, it tasted like you would expect a grapefruit beer to taste. That is to say: sort of like a Fresca.
And now let me leave you with a bewildering question posed by a mountain of trash on the side of the road:What is going on with that collection of Newport cigarette packs? Why would someone collect them in the first place and, if they were collecting them, why, then, did they throw them out? More perplexingly, the bag of empty Newport packs was one of the first things garbage-picked from this pile, before even the laundry basket or the men’s blazer. So apparently this is a thing? Collecting empty packs of Newports? Maybe you get a prize if you collect enough of them, and that prize is cancer.
The weekend before last I was a bridesmaid in my friend Ashley’s wedding. Things went as they normally do (hair, makeup, dress, bouquets) until, as we were walking across the lawn to go into the church, the sole of my shoe fell off.
But the problem was it did not fall completely off; the heel portion was still attached, leaving the front part to go flopping about and, on every other step, get bent backwards and caught up underneath my foot. ”What do I keep stepping on?” I asked myself as we were walking towards the church. I looked down, realized i was walking on my own shoe, and thought, Oh shit.
I asked if anyone had any gum. One of the bridesmaids had some, but it was in her purse which was in the wedding coordinator’s rubbermaid tote box. I shuffle-ran to the tote box, found her purse, and started pawing through it, looking for gum. I could not find the gum and the wedding coordinator had already started sending the other bridesmaids up the aisle. Not only did I definitely not have time to chew up any gum and stick my shoe back together, but I was holding someone else’s purse which opened at a precarious angle, which I realized only as the contents began falling to the ground. I did the best I could with one hand since the other hand was holding a bouquet of flowers, snapped the purse shut and handed it off to the wedding coordinator as I passed her to walk into the church.
I ended up having to do a sort of limping-shuffle-walk up the aisle, which I’m really hoping the videographer did not catch. Later on we fixed it with some super glue scrounged from the bottom of the coordinator’s tote, and later that evening I told all the guests a story about how Ashley and I, when we were kids, used to sort-of prank call an old lady. It made Ashley’s dad want to retroactively ground her.
This was (if I’m remembering right) the 8th time I’ve been a bridesmaid in a wedding. This means that I am the proud owner of a royal purple dress with puffy shoulders that I’ve been saving on the off-chance that someone invites me to an Ugly Bridesmaid’s Dress Party, and two–Two!–strapless turquoise dresses. Which is one more than anyone needs.
The first of the turquoise dresses was from my friend Helen’s wedding many, many years ago in Austin. I flew out a few days early to see the city, staying at a hostel where, for a few extra dollars a day, I could have rented a locker to protect my valuables. I didn’t though, because the most valuable thing I had there was my bridesmaid’s dress and really, what would a tattooed hipster want with a dress from J.Crew?
While I was there I visited the original Whole Foods, where I bought some vegetarian tamales that were too spicy to actually eat, and Book People, where I bought The Guide to Getting it On and had it gift-wrapped by a 20 year-old boy who did a fairly good job of trying not to blush. He did a better job, actually, of not blushing than Helen did when she opened it the next day in front of her mother and several aunts.
The day of (or maybe the day before?) the wedding, my friend Angel picked me up so we could meet up with the other bridesmaids at The Arboretum. I was unclear on the details, but somehow it involved mani/pedis and a few people getting hair and makeup done. I thought it was a little strange that this was going to happen at an arboretum, but figured that maybe they were doing it as a picture opportunity, like, ‘Look at the girls braiding each other’s hair in a field of wildflowers’ kind of thing. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought–mostly I was just enthused to be going to an arboretum and looking at plants, and if I had to put up with a little bit of hair-braiding to do it, well, so be it.
So Angel drove us to The Arboretum. She turned off the highway and into a very large strip mall-type place and I thought, Well that’s weird, but maybe she knows a back entrance to the Arboretum, and then she pulled into a parking space. Clearly, there was too much asphalt and too few trees for this to be anything close to an arboretum. ”So…” I asked Angel, “where’s the arboretum?” She looked at me blankly. ”Aren’t there supposed to be, you know, trees and flowers?”
“Oh!” she said. ”No, this is The Arboretum. It’s the name of the shopping center.”
Oh, of course it is, Texas.
This was the most disappointing news I’d heard all week (tempered, of course, by the news that there would be a margarita-slushie-machine at the reception), as it meant that I would now have to endure hair-braiding and mani-pedi-ing without even the benefit of a field of wildflowers.
While waiting on some of the other bridesmaids to finish up, Angel & I decided to get lunch. We found a cafe/deli-type place in the shopping center and while perusing the menu behind the counter I saw that one of their ’soups of the day’ was Frito Pie. I had never heard of a frito pie before, so I asked the guy behind the counter what, perhaps, that could be. He explained to me that Frito Pie was just Fritos topped with chili and cheese; this was, clearly, not a soup and also not a pie.
I turned around to tell Angel about the ridiculousness of the Frito Pie but before I’d even finished her eyes got big. ”They have Frito Pie?? I think I might get some.”
I tried to warn her away from it, explaining that it was not actually a pie but she did not care. ”I know what it is,” she said, “and I kind of really want some.”
She got the Frito Pie. I was a vegetarian at the time so I didn’t try any, but with all the cheese on top it really did look pretty good.
And I have been wondering about it ever since. (And also wondering if the state motto is: ‘Texas: We Name Things Whatever The Hell We Want.’)
A few weeks ago we had some leftover chili on hand, and Fritos were on sale and lo! we also had cheddar cheese. So of course we had to make a Frito Pie.
Really, it was quite good, once we got over the fact that we were eating an entire bag of Fritos for dinner (it helps to have a beer first, so you will not be thinking about it so much).
You can go two ways with this: make it in a casserole dish, or make individual servings in each person’s bowl. We went the casserole route which made for not-as-crunchy leftovers, though they still tasted just fine.
Frito Pie Recipe
1 10.25-oz. bag Fritos
~5-6 cups of your favorite chili (we added ground turkey to this one)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Optional: chopped green onions & sour cream for serving
Preheat oven to 375.
Dump the whole bag of Fritos into the bottom of a square casserole dish. Crush them a little bit with your hands if you want to form a slightly more solid ‘base-layer.’
Spread chili (if using leftover chili, make sure it has been heated thoroughly before spreading) evenly over Fritos. Top with shredded cheese. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling.
Serve immediately with green onions & sour cream on the side, if desired.
Well, in the time since I’ve been meaning to write this (about a month), the peach tree has blossomed, leafed out, and set fruit. I’m now set with the task of thinning out the fruit so that what remains will (hopefully) be a good crop.
The daffodils are mostly done blooming; the phlox, too, is on its way out, along with the azaleas.
The coreopsis and oxalis are blooming, their pops of orange and pink a good foil to the soft purple of the creeping phlox.
The irises are blooming, all frilled, lush and velvety. Between them and the late-blooming daffodils, I’ve been cutting stalks-upon-stalks of flowers, and making fresh vases every week. Which is about as close to Martha Stewart as I’m going to get.
The asparagus is coming up; the first best taste of spring was a slender stalk snapped straight from the ground and eaten raw: crisp, tender, vegetal. The rest of it we roasted in the oven briefly with salt and olive oil.
It took me all of March to get my cool-season veggies in the ground; I’m only just now starting to plant out tomatoes and peppers. I waited too long to pot up my tomato seedlings—they grew leggy, and then one day of heavy wind wreaked havoc on them, ripping leaves and breaking fragile stems. Luckily most of them have recovered (except, maybe, for the ones I overwatered, or forgot to water. Mistakes like that always seem more painful early on, before the plants are in full-on grow mode. Now, though, that I have more plants than I have time or space for them, I hardly remember all the ones that didn’t make it).
I’m trying to grow more peppers this year; somehow I seemed to have forgotten how slow they are to grow but how useful they are in the kitchen, and how much I’d like to have them homegrown, cut up and waiting in the freezer for the winter months. So! Bell peppers, this year! Hopefully. One thing I didn’t have trouble with at all this year were hot peppers. In fact, I have more than I know what to do with and so have been foisting them off on unsuspecting friends. I’m not even sure what kind they are, just that they are spicy and will be making their way into batches of hot sauce this summer.
My sweet potato slips became infested with—something. Mealybugs, maybe? At any rate, in typical lazy fashion I ignored it, thinking the plants could outgrow it, or fight it on their own, or that maybe—hopefully—it would just go away after a while. It didn’t, so now the sweet potato slips are in quarantine beside the kitchen sink, where every day I examine them for invaders, and squish tiny bugs—they remind me of miniature trilobites (8th grade science class, anybody?)—with my fingernail or the tip of a toothpick.
The garlic is growing well, with occasional outer leaves turning yellow. It will be time to harvest soon, which I’m thankful for as I’m out of garlic, and I need that space in the garden for summer veggies. There are no scapes yet, but I’ve got my eye out for them.
The potatoes have sprouted and are now a few inches tall. I’ve been spraying them with homemade ‘deer-away’ spray (garlic, eggs, hot pepper) to try to keep the deer from eating them. I had thought the green parts of potatoes were poisonous, but apparently the deer didn’t get that memo.
I planted a thornless blackberry vine two years ago. Each year, where the vine tips touch the ground they root and grow another plant. So where I started with one, I now have five. I have a sneaking feeling that I ought to transplant them, or at the very least put up a trellis and impose some order before they take over the garden, but in reality I will probably just let them do their thing. The vines are blossoming now but I’m being realistic and not expecting more than a handful of fruit. Last year I harvested only three berries from them. Three! Maybe even five.
If I had a motto for my garden, it would probably be this: Low expectations, high hopes. But maybe also: I’ll weed next week.
Me [to coworker]: What is this check for?
Coworker: A cannon.
Me: A cannon?
Coworker: Yeah, you know, from the pirate ship.
Me: Ohhh. Right. The pirates.
Coworker: Yeah, they actually offered me a job.
Me: No way. Like, being a pirate?
Coworker: Yeah, I guess he thought I looked like a pirate.
Me: Because of your beard?
Coworker: I guess. Musta been something, because he even called to the other guy he was with and made him get out of the truck and was like, “Come look at this guy, wouldn’t he be a good pirate?”
Me: I think you could pull off the pirate look. Is the pay any good?
Coworker: More than I’m making now.
Me: Oh my god, I really think you should do it. Then we could all come see you be a pirate.
Coworker: Yeah, except I’d have to leave work around 1 to get there in time.
Me: I don’t think BossName would mind. Plus, then you could be like, “Sorry, I’ve got to go change into my pirate outfit.”
So now all of our work interactions are filled with pirate euphemisms.
Me: [Text message to Coworker]:Has Customer picked up yet?
Coworker: Argh. I’ve yet to see those land-lubbing scally-wags.
Me: OK, when they come by they owe Xdollars. If they don’t have a check with them make them walk the plank. Or get an address where I can invoice them. Argh.
Coworker: OK. Can you order more ProductName?
Me: Aarr righty.
Because work is so much better with pirates.