when summer starts to run away…
in which we continue in gazette-ian style, with bitlets and chunks from the week that’s just whirled by…..(as i roll toward end-of-summer editing deadline, the gazette affords the chance to gather up bits in between long hours of proofing pages and rethinking the occasional passage. the other big job of the summer is sending off queries to authors whose works are the high bars i reach for, including unproofed copies of the manuscript, humbly asking if they’d be willing to, ahem, read the whole darn thing and send along a few words, aka “blurb” the book. it’s a task that makes me tremble, but a dear friend reminded me to channel eleanor roosevelt, she who implored that we do something each day that scares us. and so i’ve been eleanoring. results: forthwith. but for now, a few bits from the week…)
if one’s farmer plot is in any way a mirror of one’s soul, i’m in trouble. my tomatoes are tangled with my cukes, all of which have invaded the raspberries. the thyme has up and died. and the dill is dangling on what’s left of a skeletal spine. you know it’s bad when a friendly neighbor who regularly ambles down the alley inquires if she might apply her know-how to your tangled mess. that’s how it is here in suburbia: even your back plot is subject to scrutiny. you can’t hide your agrarian mishaps under a cloak of anonymity, and you sure can’t pretend the plot is not yours. all of which has prompted me to clean things up out there, save what i can, and assuage my ignominy. i suppose i could chalk it up to occupational hazard, one that comes from stuffing your nose in a book––especially a book of your very own making––rather than digging into nightly rounds with clipper and twine.
it might just be that we’ve slammed smackdab into the dervish days of summer, when the heat is on high and the humidity’s higher. maybe the thrill of new growth has expired, and i let too much slide. or maybe the vines had a mind of their own, stayed up late in the night scheming how to outrun me.
the worst problem is that for all their tangled overabundance they’ve overlooked their original job: they’re flunking the fattening drills, wherein those delicious tomatoey energies plump up the wee little orbs that, according to instructions, are supposed to turn from green to amber to red. and plumpen all the while. instead, i have clusters of nouvelle orbs, orbs the size of a miniature overpriced grape, when what’s intended is a candyland red (a proliferous cherry tomato) to pizazz your whole mouth. or a cherokee carbon (an heirloom slicing tomato) a good knife might sink into.
i suppose the lesson my old plot is teaching this month is one that comes with double dose of humility. daren’t think that any old soul can muscle a trowel into earth, and make fruitful abundance appear. seems i should have gotten to work earlier on, nipping and pruning my runaway vines. perhaps it was a latent stinginess that kept me from cutting; not realizing the ancient truth that less almost always leads to more….
no matter the original sin; looks like i’ll mostly be bulking up on tomatoes the time-tested way: standing in line at the real-farmer’s market. where those who tend this blessed earth know bible and verse how to get vines to behave.
in the meantime, my scant bits of herbs are being put to work morning, noon, and night in a panoply of summery sides. see below for the latest iteration of cooking with mint.
when commonplacing is a way of being…
it’s a habit i can’t seem to curtail: an insatiable appetite for spotting and plucking fine little bits––poetries, wisdoms, epiphanies. as if a schoolgirl equipped with bottle of glue––might you remember those glorious clear glass bottles of amber-hued glue, with the pig snout of a pink-rubber slit-top through which the amber glue oozed?––i snip and i paste into my virtual scrap book, endlessly turning and filling the pages.
here are just a few of the snippets i’ve gathered this week:
from Karen Armstrong’s, The Case for God:
Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (as he explained to the court that condemned him to death) Plato’s Apology (i like knowing that no less than the old philosopher ordered us to pay close attention.)
“Socrates once said that, like his mother, he was a midwife whose task was to help the interlocutor engender a new self.” Plato, Theaetetus
Buddha to curious Brahmin priest (at end of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God): “Remember me as the one who is awake.”
Thoreau’s journal, August 6, 1853
“Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars?—sunflowers and asters and the single flowers of the golden rod.”
this week’s reading:
finished karen armstrong’s The Case for God; started The History of God, but switched to Joseph Campbell when my brother told me he was reading Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (on order from my friendly librarians). whilst i wait, i’m diving into campbell’s Thou Art That: Transforming the Religious Metaphor. i find it an especially lovely thing to read in tandem with someone you love. and reading alongside my brother david is an act of pure love. he has one of the deepest classical bookshelves i’ve ever known, a harvest from his years working with a rare book collector. a beloved cousin sent a magnificent copy of james farrell’s Studs Lonigan, and it’s about time i commit a few of those lines to memory. recounting the tales of a south side irish punk, it’s a book whose every sentence i can hear oozing through the faint brogue of this beloved and quixotic cousin. and for dessert, i’m indulging in all the john burroughs i can get my hands on; Signs & Seasons, and The Gospel of Nature, is where this latest trail of burroughs begins….
Smoky Eggplant Salad With Yogurt and Mint
By David Tanis, NYT
YIELD 6 to 8 servings
sumptuous is the word that comes to mind for this. i was intrigued by the smokiness, and the joy of spinning an orb of eggplant atop the flame. i made it for Shabbat a few weeks ago, on a night when i was grilling salmon (we have fish for almost every Shabbat, a testament to our Jewish Catholicism, or would it be our Catholic Judaism?) and i swore i almost levitated off my chair. i happened to have a years old bottle of pomegranate molasses in the fridge, and thank heaven the label specifically assured “will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge.” i took my molasses at its word. could not be easier. nor more delicious.
2 pounds medium-size eggplants
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt (i used nonfat, cuz that’s how i am and that’s what i had)
1 teaspoon crumbled dried mint (i used fresh)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, optional
1 tablespoon roughly chopped mint, for garnish
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley, for garnish
Red pepper flakes, for garnish
Put the whole eggplants on a barbecue grate over hot coals. Turning frequently, cook until the skin is completely blackened and charred and eggplants begin to soften and collapse, about 10 minutes. Alternatively cook them directly on a stovetop burner or under the broiler. Set aside to cool.
Cut eggplants in quarters top to bottom and carefully separate the flesh from the skin with a spoon or paring knife. Discard the charred skin. Chop flesh roughly with a large knife or in a food processor and put it in a fine-meshed sieve to drain excess liquid.
Transfer eggplants to a mixing bowl. Add salt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt and dried mint. Mix well, then set aside to rest for a few minutes. Check seasoning and adjust.
Put mixture in a low serving bowl. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, if using, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped mint and parsley and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
and that, dear friends, is the jumble of the week. is summer running away from you? how are you trying to catch it??
at our house, summer’s runaway is punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of early-august birthdays all strung in a row: my long-gone dad; my beloved brother; sweet blair; and teddy who turns 21 on monday. how in heaven’s name did that happen, the joy of my heart, the answer to my wildest prayers, for all of these heavenly years??? happy birthday, all you beautiful souls. xoxoxox
Your wit is showing through the vines, it’s wicked good.
(My gardens have been all but feral these last two years, sadly prior I looked at them as my life’s most precious work- gone.
The foresters/loggers took a wide swath to the woods just outside of our property, devastating seemingly the eco happenings there, but what could one do. The vernal pools once prevalent at their harvest site have seemingly moved on to our woods. Little frogs everywhere, barely pools of water laying like incubators all around the hoophouse host them. I had no hand in this, only regrets-though by allowing, I see more than might have been. Most thankful to have found this in my morning email- thank you dear. Gosh you write well…you truly do.)
feral gardens, i love that. mine are decidedly feral, and not willing to listen to the lifeguard’s whistle or the no-trespassing signs. i am sad to read that loggers took your woods. i can’t even imagine how lost the birds were, and the critters. and i for one am charmed by the thought of wee baby frogs hopping and peeping everywhere. sending a hug from here to your plot in maine. xoxoxox
Due to the weather, many gardeners have green tomatoes, never turning red this year. After getting yelled at in Chinese last year for not deadheading my tomatoes, I took the advice of professional gardeners and snipped those babies and tied them up like the vines they are. Indeed, the yield this year is incredible. Happy bday, T and B!!!
yowzer. you got yelled at in chinese, but figured it out through the gestural accompaniment?! mine came in polite and gentle english, and oh boy did i understand!! next year i need to find a trellis for tying as high as those babies decide to stretch. i’m guessing there are at least 10 feet of vine coiled and twisted out there….
She RIPPED my plants to shreds! If anyone has bamboo, just use the old canes as a trellis.
bam, my dad used tomato towers from Gardeners.com. A bit of an investment (of course, he usually had around 25 plants), but they fold up for winter storage and are good for years.
I’ve seen them!! I might need the John Hancock of tomato towers. Maybe BK can dream one up.xox
Beautiful! I especially appreciated Socrates quote of an unexamined life. Reflections on this first Friday of Aug. as summer begins to run away. . .
i loved that one too…..there is little i love so much in life as stumbling upon a sentence that suddenly lets down a drawbridge and i enter a kingdom of wisdoms……i think i need to add straight-up socrates to my reading list……
Across the decades I’ve ruefully noted that when my house is neat as a pin, my shelves are in good order and my latest embroidery is flourishing that my gardens are quite the opposite. And when my gardens are manicured and just so, everything indoors is decidedly… not so. Such is life. It’s not like you haven’t had anything else to think about this garden year with edits and cetera. Next year will be silver bells and cockleshells! But surely some of your pretty produce will ripen for you. Might any of your green tomatoes ripen in a sunny window, or in a brown paper bag, like pears? I know next to nothing about homegrown vegetables. Re: your summer stack, there can never be enough of the magnificent John Burroughs. His books are a prominent fixture on my shelf, and his way of seeing has long comforted me in this too-modern world. Oh, to see the Catskills of his youth… Such stuff as dreams are made on. xx
ahh, we do seem to be pulled to the same corners of the bookshelves. and your wisdom is spot-on about the corners of our lives that are tidy and those that are left to their own whims. i’m told other tomatoes along the alley are still in green robes, so i’ll not fret yet. nor employ sunshining tactics. we are beginning to wonder if the wee tomatoes (blair now refers to them as our “micro tomatoes”) might intend to be wee. the one or two i’ve had are exploding with flavor. so maybe wee gumball size is their destiny. i shall research that right now! xoxoxoxox
aha!!!! now we know: the candyland red is a CURRANT tomato. who knew?!?!? they are supposed to be the size of a small grape. to pop straight in your mouth from the vine. so i suppose i should just set up two chairs and a table right by my pickety fence and dine true al fresco. i’d best go report to the birthday boy that this is how the heavens intended the wee tomatoes to be……
Oh Barbie, you brought back a delicious memory for me! Our Aunt Donna grew Candyland Red tomatoes all along her front walkway each summer so that we could pluck a few and toss them into our mouths as we approached her front door. And she’d always send us home with a big bag full of them. Yum! Toiling with tangled vines can be as frustrating as trying to remove a knot from a necklace chain-both require an abundance of time and patience. So nice of your neighbor to point out the state of affairs of your vegetable garden, couched in an offer to assist you! I think that you should feel proud about the amount of time you’re taking to proof your book. There will be many more people reading your book than there will be people scrutinizing your garden, that’s for certain!
that is so amazing that you know from Candylands! i’d never heard of ’em till this year. and, yes, it is like nature’s gumball machine on a vine. and they’re delicious! i love that they sprung a memory and a heart ping for you. swing by any time and pluck some! (the chipmunks sure do!!!)
BAM, I so appreciate pulling up a chair at your table each week! Your reflections today made me think that the tangled vines are images/metaphors for life in our world these days. The good news is that although they are tangled, they still produce great fruit…and veggies. You see I am always looking for rays of hope!
Happy August birthdays to your family!
i love that you search for the metaphor. and find the hope! xoxoxox
This week’s offering reminds me of the Galena Gazette, which my mom subscribed to even after she and my dad could no longer go out to their little cabin on their two-acre hilltop plot. Whenever they stopped in at a neighbor’s place, they were sure to see a notice about her “afternoon callers” in the next issue. Sweet memories.
At least your feral garden is in the alley. My failings are in full view in the front yard and parkway–on a double lot to boot. Oh well, a garden is always a work in progress, as anyone with chlorophyll-colored fingers and humus-packed nails knows. And despite criticism (and my condo association has plenty), I think garden wisdom says accept where your plants want to grow, even if it’s not where you originally dug them in. Grass be damned.
I love the idea of little tomatoes lining the walkway.
ah! only you could describe muddy paws as “chlorophyll-colored fingers and humus-packed nails”!!!!!!!! might i tell you my other bodily bruises and slights and you might thusly describe them in poetic-scientific terms???? yes, yes, the notion of the little tomatoes lining the walkway charmed me too. as do you, always…..(charm me, i mean….)
I did forget to weigh in on August birthdays. I arrived smack dab in the middle of the month some years ago. (Pause to laugh hysterically at those last three words.) By the time candles-on-cake day arrived when I was a kid, it seemed like summer was being cut short with hardcore back-to-school shopping (and countdown anxiety) during the few full days left to savor a new doll or bike or book, let alone carry out all the plots and plays friends and I devised to fill deliciously long, balmy days. Thankfully, my family always attended the colorful Ginza Holiday in Old Town, a celebration of Japanese culture, which fell between my mom’s birthday and mine. But I have always put the brakes on ending summer, or any talk of it, until the trees tell me it is so as they shut down their chlorophyll alchemy, which literally defines the verdant season.
Well, my friend, happy almost light-the-candles day!!!