Red Tomato, Blue Potato

Ah, food. So much better prepared and shared.

Chard
Chard

My struggling garden is humbly offering its meager treasures this year. It’s partly my fault. Procrastination and I were deep in conversation when the time came to amend the soil. Before I knew it, planting time was nearly over. Quickly, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers and squash were thrust into the soil. Then the heat came, and with the heat, the bindweed and pigweed and purslane, along with tender volunteer tomatillo plants. The garden and I took a break from each other. It wasn’t ready to give me any treasures, and I didn’t see that my dripping sweat would offset the benefits of burgeoning weed patch removal. Also, I have pretty recently learned from my Mexican mother-in-law that pigweed and purslane (and many other weeds growing around the property) are delicious and healthy cooked up in a salsa laden broth. So they grew in tandem, and I waited.

Gardening is not for the impatient.

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Squash Blossoms

Zucchini were the first to say hello. My mother-in-law was here when they showed up both in flower and the familiar grocery store form, so we grabbed them and made some fantastic quesadillas, al estilo mexicano, with real masa instead of tortillas. She continued to get up early and harvest flowers, chopping and freezing them to add sunshine to a long and dreary winter.

Our next visitor was the watermelon, an heirloom variety called Sugar Baby. It seems that it loved the heat. Now, I’m not a huge fan of watermelon, but in sharing it with my husband on a blisteringly hot summer day I may have been converted. It wasn’t quite ripe to the edges when we picked it, but boy, oh, boy was it sweet! All the way to the rind. Sadly, it was the only one on the plant.

IMG_20130914_161822Like mini Christmas lights, tomatoes are now beginning to color the garden. My industrious husband had the idea of stringing them up on hog panels, so they are the first thing you see when you come to the garden, little dots of red on smallish green bushes. They are Juliet grape tomatoes. I discovered them last year, and when they prolifically burst into colorful abundance, I got to work looking for things to do with them. If you have never tried tomatoes roasted in the oven with garlic, a dash of olive oil and sea salt, step away from your computer right now, go find some grape tomatoes, and try this. It’s that good. Last year we ate them like candy. I had hoped to roast and freeze them, but I was never fast enough. What wasn’t eaten on the spot went onto sandwiches and into eggs. My mouth waters at the thought of reliving this experience.

Garden Salsa
Garden Salsa

The Serrano chilies are blistering to the tongue, another effect of the early heat, I presume. We live in an area where summers are usually relatively cool, but we had a record breaking June and July this year, and the chilies are a late season reminder. I also planted a Padron variety this season. The Padrons I had tasted previously were mild, but this plant has some heat. I’ve used them in my salsa in place of some Serranos and find that they deepen the flavor, getting rave reviews from my daughter.

The rest of my vegetable garden is blanketed in pumpkin leaves. I groan at the work that lays before me, roasting and freezing and dehydrating pumpkin. But soon we will be sharing pumpkin bread and cookies and pancakes. We will try things like pumpkin curry and soup. A little work now for a wheelbarrow full of enjoyment later. I can deal with that.wpid-20141005_121713.jpg

And we are not the only ones benefiting from the garden’s bounty. Our little flock of hens devours anything we toss their way, repaying us with humble brown and green eggs for our Sunday breakfasts.

Food is more than just fuel for the body. It is connection with the land. It is shared experience, a way of drawing closer together, of learning things from each other and enjoying one another’s company. Preparing food for people is a way to show love. When we distance ourselves, whether by choosing pre-packaged, highly processed foods that are quickly prepared or eating mono-colored food passed through a car window, we lose some element of this. Life is not about existing. It’s about living. So plant a tomato, or head down to your local farmer’s market. Breathe in the heady, soil rich aroma of natural things. Peruse Pinterest and Food.com for recipes. Try something new, and by all means, gather together for food.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Red Pill, Blue Pill.”If you could get all the nutrition you needed in a day with a pill — no worrying about what to eat, no food preparation — would you do it?

Close Encounters

She settled into the grass with her book, stretching her aching legs and resting her back on her pack. He was already asleep. She envied him this ability to sleep whenever the moment arose. But for now, she would just sit back and enjoy the crisp high desert air and the warm sun.

The hike had been a little more arduous than she had imagined. Was it the elevation, or was she feeling her age? The sedentary life had not been kind to her, but since she had shed those extra pounds, hiking had become not only easier, but her personal rebellion against this modern life of convenience, computer, and television.

The birds wouldn’t let her read. They were rustling all around her. She watched them appear and disappear in the sage. A dragonfly rested momentarily on the branch of a small tree. There must be water nearby in this arid, dusty land.

She scanned the open range, marveling at the distant hills against the blue sky. Had she ever seen sky so blue? There was a dust cloud in the distance. Dust devil? The air around her was still, thankfully. It had been a chilly morning, and any wind would diminish the beautiful sun’s warmth. She tucked her book back in the pack and settled back in, content to take in the view.

The dust cloud was coming closer. There were dots moving on the land. She sat up, alert. She nudged her husband, and he stirred.

“What is it?” he exclaimed.

She shushed him, pointing.

“Holy crap!” he said, sitting up, wide awake now.

“Put a sock in it,” she hissed, grabbing his elbow excitedly.

The chorus of tweets and twitters had been joined by a staccato drumbeat of hooves. Wild horses. She knew they existed. She had seen them in other places, driving through Nevada and Eastern Washington, but never here in Oregon. But now that she saw them, she remembered there was a herd that roamed the flatlands around the Steens Mountains.

The drumbeats slowed, and the horses came to a restless stop not far from where the couple sat. They milled around, heads up and ears at attention, tails swishing wildly.

What a sight to behold, she thought.

One dun horse stared them down and shook his mane. He took a few steps closer, never taking his eyes off them. She looked over at her husband. She knew how much he wanted to grab his phone and start taking pictures, but to do so might startle the herd.

Some of the horses had followed the stallion, but he quickly turned them back before resuming his halting approach. He seemed as curious about the couple as they were about him. His ears twitched and he breathed deeply as he circled downwind. The other horses watched him, heads and tails held high, ever alert to the need to turn and run.

She held her breath. She wanted this moment to last forever. She thought of a book she read as a kid about a man who could tame wild horses without using force. They had called him the horse whisperer. She had dreamed about having that experience, about stepping into the ring with a wild horse, looking it in the eye and letting it know she understood. Yet here, sitting still, sharing the same space, she had a thrilling tingle of fear mixed with excitement. These horses were powerful. She could see the muscles rippling beneath their winter coats. She could feel the energy of the herd.

Suddenly, the stallion tossed his head, snorted, and turned toward the herd. In a flurry of manes and tails they were off as one, hooves pounding the staccato drumbeat of freedom as they raced across the plain.

She looked over at her husband, now standing, cell phone in hand.

This was so much better than TV.

Picture courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press