Thursday, June 27, 2013

a peek into my garden journal

Readers of this blog know that I have once again gone the kind of bonkers that only other gardeners know.  A little while ago, my husband invited some neighbors over for a barbecue and there was a veritable party going on in my house.  I'm skulking around the perimeter of the house tying this down, pruning that down, weeding this, watering that.  I'm near the screen door and no one can see me because it's already dark out, but I can hear them: Is Wendy going to eat anything? No, she gets a little crazy once she gets going.  Well, you can send her to our house!  

Then everyone starts laughing.  

Anyway, this year, my goal was also to fully EXPERIENCE my garden.  Unfortunately, I spend so much time worrying on little tasks that need to be done, that I'm never able to see and appreciate my garden like I would like to, just find things I need to do.  One way I was going to slow myself down was to OBSERVE things going on a little more.  Colors, fragrances, insects, birds... I bought a moleskine book to record my thoughts.  Contrary to how I'd imagined it to go, there is no poetry inside, no little philosophical garden-inspired insights.  Just more to-dos - but these are at least accompanied by sketches and other recordings.  

I've been hesitant to keep a gardening journal.  A few obsessive compulsive reasons have prevented me.

  • I like my journals to be pristine.  In the past, my perennial garden sketches have been placed in sheet protectors.  That way I don't get them dirty as I'm outside - usually with muddy garden gloves on. This year, I'm living on the wild side and the water spill that wrinkled the paper above doesn't even bother me.  
  • I didn't like the idea of mixing a permanent page (garden plan) with a more temporary page (to-do list).

  •  Recipes, of course, go in the recipes binder, not scribbled in the journal.


  • Temporal things (like seasonal veggie garden plan) should never be mixed with a permanent thing (like the recipe - that shouldn't be in the journal anyway).

What I love about this journal is that it's always by my side.  I don't have to go to several different places just to search out the info I need.  I also think that keeping all my garden-related info in one book - however disorganized and unpoetic- puts all the pieces together that make me a gardener.  I see all this and realize that I am a dreamer.  I am a designer.  I am a planner.  I am an executor.  I am an analyzer.  And I am also a mother and teacher of new gardeners.  Below, the scribble scrabble (that should have been scribbled on scrap paper and recycled) that illustrates to my 8 year old the importance of thinning the carrots in her own garden bed.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why food preservation is "fun" for me

Dried Thai chili peppers.  Throw them in stir fries.  

When I told a good friend I would be giving a talk about food preservation - freezing, drying, pickling, canning, etc. I think she responded in a way that I could only describe as...scoffing.  If I didn't adore this woman, I'd be really offended.  Here's where I think she's coming from:  being a former farmer, canning and other forms of food preservation were a part of her household duties.  Sow the seed, weed, harvest, figure out how to save the abundance to feed your family the rest of the year.  As a relatively new canner, I've mentioned how "cool" it is to be able to cook and process food so that it's shelf stable.  It's kind of miraculous, no?  I mentioned how "fun" it is.  "Fun", she did not like.  That's the difference between us, she said.  I do it for fun, she did it because she had to.

Holy basil.  Dried leaves are great made into tea.

Yes, I live in the burbs.  I have a small garden plot - far from being able to sustain my family.  I'm not sure I'd even be able to feed my pets on what I'm able to grow.  Gardening for me is for fun.  It's actually soooo freaking fun.  So is being able to put together a gift basket with some good olive oil, a crusty loaf of bread, and a jar of bruschetta made from my own heirloom tomatoes.  I love to pull my bright red lingonberries out of the freezer to top my Irish oatmeal in the middle of winter.  It's totally fun to dry my own peppers and announce over a nice spaghetti dinner - red pepper flakes anyone?  However, in my defense, it does go a bit beyond fun.

Dried Chinese dates.  Throw in soups, cut and use to decorate breads,  or rehydrate in water.

My father is from a rural, but educated, well-off family.  No one would know this though because with the onset of Communism, all material wealth was stripped, and villagers in Shantung, China starved for decades.  My father tended a farm and a smaller garden plot solely for survival.  Napa cabbages, radishes, turnips and a few other crops did well in their climate, but there were certainly no pantry items, no means for jarring tomato sauce, no freezer to store berries.  Before the ground froze, my father and other villagers would dig giant pits in their nearby family garden plots.  In the pit would go all the cold weather harvests for winter storage.  Each week, he would remove the snow and dirt cover and dig out a few cabbages to feed his brother and mother.

Gigantic winter melon.  Stores up to 6 months in a cool dry area.  

A few summers ago, I was given the task of running out to the pier over my parents' pond to bring in the fish before it started raining.  These fish, wrapped loosely in paper towels, had been sun drying for days now.  After drying fully, they would be preserved in salted oil.  I had never had this salted fish before, but they said it was a thing.  A simple, homely dish - a little bit of salted fish with each bite of a plain, white, steamed bun.  We all looked forward to it.  It was delicious.

What my parents don't know is that despite the salted fish with steamed bun being flavorful, simple, and satisfying, each bite also brought me closer to the life and part of China that I would never know.  A life that is told to me in fits and starts, but never really as a joyful reminiscence.  Eating the foods they ate, saving foods in the way they did (despite the fact that my survival does not hinge on it) brings me closer to them and their world in a way that words cannot bridge.
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