Friday, August 29, 2014

Unintentional Gardening

I made big plans.  I worked the compost into the soil.  I mulched.  I planted seeds in neat rows.  And it all seemed to be working out.  In late May there was tender, green lettuce. 

June brought sugar snap peas, I trained the vines to grow up the chain link fence of the dog pen.  In spite of an unknown pest, the beans grew and I began to harvest them in July.  As expected, weeds and uninvited plants began to pop up here and there.  But I was able to stay on top of them by yanking them out and adding them to the mulch between rows. By midsummer, my garden was growing, producing and looking neat and cute in the back yard.

Then August came and hell broke loose. It seemed that overnight, volunteers overtook every available walking space I had made between the rows.  Suddenly, there were a few too many tomato plants.  Where did they come from?  Must be the compost that I used to enrich the soil. I was far too lenient by allowing (only) two "squash" vines to meander instead of pulling them out and throwing them in the compost pile.  I felt bad about ruining perfectly good plants even if I hadn't intended to plant them.  Perhaps "hell" isn't exactly the best way to describe a flowering, flourishing garden, is it?

I could make an attempt to clean up the madness.  I could pull out the bolted lettuce, get a handle on some the of the weeds that rival my tallest tomato plants.  And what I really should do is redo the perennial flower garden that provides a border along the house.  That Montauk daisy is out of control. But I don't want to do any of it.  I like it when the garden is a bit unruly, doing its own thing, growing and not caring if it fits inside my little make shift fence, or not.

I began to feel better about my lax rules in the garden when I saw that the two monster vines that are now beginning to overtake our entire yard have a few butternut squash growing from each one.  At least they are showing me that they are grateful for my generosity of spirit by producing something for me to eat.  As for the tomato volunteers, they all have tiny green orbs in clusters of six to eight that promise to turn red anytime in the next week, or so.  I can no longer access the bean plants as the monster squash vine has wound itself into a barricade.  It's o.k. I think the beans got tired and stopped growing anyway.  I've come to realize that it's best to plant the intention then let the garden do the rest.  And if that means there will be butternut squash soup, so much the better.

The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!

I'm all for tradition.  Hellman's slathered all over two slices of soft white bread, piled high with garden ripened tomatoes, that makes a pretty darn good sandwich.  But last summer I came across something that makes freshly picked tomatoes even better. I found a version of this recipe in Bon Appetit (July 2011). The page was torn out and shoved in one of my many folders full of recipes to try.  Only I actually had drawn a star above the recipe for "Chicken Breasts with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce".  Perhaps I tried it, liked it and filed this page away.  I don't recall.  I actually adapted this recipe for "Basil Rouille" from the recipe for a Bouillabaisse that occupies the same page as the chicken dish.  I never tried the Bouillabaisse. I don't plan on it.
Anyway, back to the "Rouille".  It adds the perfect amount of salti-umaniness to slices of fresh tomato.  It also allows me to utilize the basil "bushes" that Val miraculously grows in her garden.  Seriously, these plants are huge and someone has to take advantage of the abundant harvest. But the uses for this delectable spread don't stop at tomato sandwiches: it makes BLT's even more delicious, dollop it on salads, grilled vegetables or serve it as a dip. I can't get enough of it so I keep a batch on hand at all times for tomato harvest.  And I always lick the spoon.

Basil Rouille
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy butter
zest from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon
Mince garlic cloves and transfer to blender.  Add basil and olive oil.  Puree, stopping to scrape down sides, if needed.  Add mayonnaise, anchovy butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Puree until combined.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are you there Mom? It's me, Andrea.

A wave of nostalgia hit me while I was in Barnes & Noble helping Ava pick out some books. As we browsed the shelves in the young adult section, there it was. The cover looks different now, updated, sleek font on a stark white background replacing the old "seventies" style pen and ink drawing of a sad girl looking over her shoulder, yellow black and purple. The outward appearance tweaked to appeal to kids of Ava's generation, but the contents inside unchanged.  Judy Blume's coming of age books that revealed the secrets no kid wants to tell got me through the "tween" years that Ava is just embarking on.  "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret", "Blubber", "Then again, maybe I won't".  I can visualize all the cover art and remember the feelings I had when reading the worn paperbacks over and over again. After swimming in the pond near a friend's house, laying in my bed at night turning the printed pages, smelling the ink. Wishing I were not so chubby, that I had better hair, that I fit in, uncomfortable in my own skin.

I've been having lots of flashbacks, lately. I went to parent night at Morse Pond School (the middle school for 5th and 6th graders) last week.  I was awkward in fourth grade but it all came to a head in fifth, my first year at Morse Pond.  Mixed in with all the other former fourth graders from the three elementary schools across town, in a classroom with no real friends, cast aside by the group of popular girls.  I was on the fringe.  My "friend" (let's call her Jane) was in the popular clique.  During the years between the ages when we were four to ten years old, our mothers created "play dates" for us on Saturdays. Most of the time I went to her house, her mother thinking I would keep her out of trouble.  Instead, "Jane" bullied me into submission and tortured me to be silent and go along with her mischief. Once we arrived at Morse Pond, "Jane" knew that associating with me would mean her social death, so she ditched me.  And she was mean.  And I was fat and so totally uncool. I especially hated recess, the playground. A social free for all. That's when it's apparent that you have no one to hang out with. Could it have really been that bad? I must have had a few friends. It's hard to remember when you have spent most of your life blocking it out.

I look at Ava every day and I am thankful for her that she is beautiful, athletic, graceful.  She has friends and likes recess.  After lunch, she plays soccer and kickball.  No one ever wanted me to be on their team.  The boys would audibly groan when they got stuck with me. Most of the girls didn't care about winning. But I am also happy that Ava doesn't seem to hang out with those kids who intentionally exclude others.  I know who they are.  I observe them. I see them when I volunteer at school, while they walk down the hall. I am watching when they think no one is looking.  I hope Ava stays away from them and continues to be the oblivious, happy, kind child I know she is. But these are my issues, I hope they will never be hers.

Ava reads as much as I did. She brings books everywhere, reads them in the car.  Back then, my favorite time to read was after a summer day spent on the beach, laying on my bed, my clean, wet hair making a damp spot on my pillow. Ava does this, too.  I like to think she has all and only the best parts of me.  I wonder what she will think of "Margaret" and Judy Blume.  Ava is more open with me than I was as a child at her age with Val. There are times I can sense when she doesn't want me to go to far, to push.  I pull back and create some space for her privacy and secretly cross my fingers that she will confide in me when she needs to. For Val, it was like pulling teeth to get me to divulge any embarrassing and sad details from my daily life at school.  My fifth grade self could never believe that she may have ever felt that way. To rehash the days events made it even more painful, burying it deep and trying to forget, praying I would wake up the next morning to be a different person with cooler clothes was a better solution in my eleven year old mind. I'm sure Val knew this. But how can a mother make it all better?  At least when I got off the bus everyday, I could count on her being there. I could count on the square Tupperware container filled with chocolate chip cookies or some fresh brownies still in the pan.  I could count on that one moment when I didn't have to worry if I was good enough, cool enough, or that I was wearing hand-me-downs instead of a new pair of Levi's cords and an Izod shirt.   Perhaps the chocolate chip cookies and tall glass of milk added to my baby fat.  That would probably be a concern for parents now, the ones that don't see the importance or what the whole thing represented to me. I still believe that a homemade cookie after school and the few uninterrupted minutes shared before homework, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, soccer practice, etc. can make everything all better at least for that moment. I think Ava does, too.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

See Me

I'm actually a list person. I make lists mostly of things I need to do.  Sometimes I number the entries and list them in order of importance, especially if I feel that I have limited time  to accomplish the tasks (which is most of the time). I triage what takes precedence like paying that pesky electric bill before the lights get turned off and baking cookies for a school party tomorrow that my daughter just now told me about.

Val has always had a list. She writes them on small white scratch pads, the kind you purchase in a pack of six at the grocery store. Hers are very neat and are made of up of just a few one word entries like "manure" and "dust". They are written in her meticulous handwriting, using a fine point Bic pen in either black or blue. I write mine on any scrap that is lying around. I often resort to using one of the kids' dull pencils.  There are cross outs and descriptions with my entries.  Sometimes, I can't read my own handwriting.

Every Saturday morning and some days after school, there was a list by the phone for each one of us kids.  (Although Ethan's always had b.s chores like, "rest" and "eat".  Every Saturday he had a hockey game or practice not to mention he was completely unreliable when it came to real jobs like vacuuming. But he got what was coming when he became a teenager and his job was to de-tick the dog every night after our beloved "Spock" spent the day running through the woods in the backyard.) There were separate lists for each of us each labeled with the first letter of our name. For instance, mine began with an underlined capital "A" , below that she wrote things like "pick raspberries" and "sweep porch".  Sometimes she needed to elaborate or show us how to do a new task. To indicate this, Val added "-see me" after the entry.  The dreaded "see me".  This meant we had to endure a lecture of sorts.  Something as benign as "bathroom- see me" became a dissertation on wiping the toothpaste out of the sink and a demonstration of the proper way to hang a  wet towel after bathing. We hated "see me".  It always meant dragging out the process of doing chores and possibly missing the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

I don't add that loaded phrase to my to-do list. I don't want anyone to interrupt me while I'm paying the bills or writing a blog entry but I do make a separate entry for Rob, labeled with his name, underlined.  Instead, I insist on explaining every entry before he begins which I am sure is annoying in its own way.  He puts up with it.  Probably because he can now record his favorite show to watch later instead of missing it and I must admit that I am quite generous for allowing him to fold the laundry while watching the Red Sox game.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Assessment

I finally raked off the flower beds on the side of the house where I drive in and park the car. These are the ones that I see everyday, so they needed to be addressed first so that the thought of not getting to it wouldn't drive me crazy. Tonight, Stella and I were able to inventory and assess the rest of the yard on the other side of the house.
I put on some sweat pants, an old inside out sweatshirt and rubber boots. After pouring myself a generous glass of red wine and dumping a handful of Cape Cod Potato Chips (Sea Salt and Black Pepper) into a bowl, and setting it on the deck, we set out to survey the little patch of land at 33 Hampden Road, me with glass in hand and Stella with her favorite "baby" a stuffed hedgehog, encrusted in drool.
Lots of raking is left to do along the white picket fence with the paint peeling off (another project, yet to be addressed) and the grass needs some major TLC.  The compost area demands a complete overhaul.  I don't know what has been digging underneath, (perhaps the culprit is Stella?  I wouldn't be surprised.), and there are old toys, broken wiffle balls and a variety of candy wrappers and popsicle sticks that have revealed themselves before the hostas and other greenery flourish and hide them again. (Thanks, kids!) Well, Hallelujah!  The day lillies seem to have popped up overnight!  Daffodils against the front of the house are just about ready to bloom, which can only mean that I need to get my @$$ in gear and get ready to amend, plant, water and mulch until I can't stand up again.
I checked my gardening diary.  (How else am I going to remember what happened, what I did, last year?  I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night!)  On April 7, 2013 Rob had already rototilled the vegetable garden plot and I planted Ava's lettuce seedlings (a project from a Girl Scout meeting a few weeks before).  By April 13, I was planting radishes and spinach.  O.K. I guess based on my progress from last year, I shouldn't panic, yet but I still feel like there is so much to do before Mother Nature decides it's time for the lettuce come up!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ready for Spring

The first thing to do is, rake.  I wanted to pull all the dead leaves off the sprouting crocuses and already blooming snowdrops that were peeking through, desperately looking for some sun but I knew I had to wait a bit longer. March is such a tease around here.  And wouldn't you know it.  Snow and hurricane force winds arrived on March 26th.  They even cancelled school the night before in anticipation of this one.  It's a good thing I held off I thought, as the kids and I hunkered down for what we all hoped was the last snow day of the year.  Even though Ava and Declan are still in elementary school and excited about a day off from school, even they are sick of the snow. Ready for baseball and dreaming of jumping off the raft at Megansett beach....well at least it will melt quickly at this time of year.
So, when I finally got out there to rake, I wasn't at all crabby about it, which can be my nature at times. (It's shocking that I can have that attitude, I know, but there you have it.) I was actually excited!  Excited to get going, get planting.  Suddenly, there are so many things to do.  Rototilling the small patch for the vegetable garden, turning the compost, preparing the seeds and I'm already behind.  I've got to get some pansies for the steps by the mind drifts to thoughts of summertime when I'll suddenly stop and wonder,
"Where did Spring go?"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Odd Things in Freezers

My freezer is a jumbled mess.  Half opened bags of frozen fruit, a random assortment of leftovers once thought worthy to occupy space to be eaten later at some point ( I don't know when and they inevitably get thrown out by me, the person who froze them in the first place during a mad purging spree.), 2 hotdogs in a ziploc bag and other essentials such as coffee and ice cubes for cocktails, it's all in there.  I also have trash in my freezer.  This idea I stole from my mother, Val.  Meat wrappers that would otherwise end up all over the yard before trash day, chewed to bits by neighborhood dogs and raccoons are now safely hidden away and smell free while cluttering up the freezer and camouflaging the ice cream.  But all this seems normal to me.

Other people have their own ideas of "normal" freezer etiquette.  My father allows his friends to put anything they see fit into his own freezer located in my parent's barn.  "It's a good thing you haven't gone into the freezer."  he said to me one day in an off handed kind of way. I was puzzled that he would bring such a thing up and why would I need to open the freezer in the barn?  "Billy's mink is in there."  

Obviously, he wanted me to ask why Billy's mink was in his possession. To humor him, I bit. It seems during the winter months, minks are illegal to hunt, only muskrats are fair game.  Billy did not want to get caught with the contraband that accidentally ended up in his trap but it was far to prized a pelt to cast aside. My father being a good friend and always up for a bit of mischief and minor crimes, assisted him by offering space in the freezer at 540 Old Meeting House Road until early spring when the minks are legally up for grabs, again. I have no doubt that the frozen stiff animal lay aside exposed ice cubes and popsicles that will be offered to my children in the warmer months.  Gross.

Believe it or not, frozen animals stashed in home freezers for purposes rather than eating, is not new to me.  In college, I had a dorm mate who kept her cadaver feral cat in the common room freezer between study sessions in which she had to identify various muscle, ligaments, etc on its skinned corpse.  But I still don't understand why she was studying what looked to me to be a common house cat. She graduated with a degree in physical therapy.  For humans.

To be honest, I have experienced bizarre items for human consumption in Val's well kept freezer.  Back when we only had one freezer in the house, a brick red Frigidaire to match the stove and dishwasher, there seemed to be lots of items brought home by my father and stashed away neatly by Val.  Along with the Hood harlequin ice cream ( my sister Karyn and I always requested only chocolate as this was the first flavor to go and she always responded that the store didn't have any.  I swear to this day, that she did this because my younger brother, the "Crowned Prince" never liked chocolate anything.  Well, he didn't really like ice cream either, being undiagnosed lactose intolerant so the vanilla and strawberry would sit and crystallize until someone gave in and ate it or it got thrown out.) there were often stuffed quahogs and the occasional blue fish filet which may seem exotic to families who live elsewhere in the country however are normal meal ingredients here on Cape Cod. But by far the worst to topple out and land on my foot had to have been the headless eels.  Their black bodies were coiled up and tied securely in a clear baggie. My father fished them by plunging 5 pronged spears through the winter ice.  I don't know what was more traumatic, seeing the frozen snake like creature ( I admit to being afraid of snakes.) or knowing at some point that Val would be chopping it into 2 inch pieces, breading and frying it up for dinner to be served along side mashed potatoes and green beans. Even now, I can envision my father devouring this meal holding the breaded fish as corn on the cob and cleaning the spiny bone of all the flaky white flesh with his teeth as all three of us children ( and I think Val did, too although she hid it well) looked on in disgust.

When I think about it, a freezer is like any other "closet" in a house, revealing clues about lifestyle and personal stories. Just as a pair of muddy boots tells of toiling in the garden or a little black dress holds memories of cocktail parties, weddings and New Year's Eve toasts. There's probably fodder for a therapy session in my messy freezer: my life is chaotic and I feel often that it's out of control. But I'm not going to focus on that right now.  Instead I'll choose to savor the homemade mint ice cream I made for my son (his favorite flavor) and unearth those few hot dogs for dinner tonight.