A Little Winter Garden Chit-Chat

November 1999…

Seems like months ago I was preaching about planting Y2K gardens. I actually took my own advice for a change and my back yard is beautifully boisterous with adolescent winter crops – sown from seed in mid-August which was perhaps a little late for some things, but looking fresh and gorgeous now.

I’ve got carrots, beets, rainbow chard, purple kale, leeks, green onions, Mr. Big shelling peas, broccoli, cabbages, a couple of Brussels sprouts and cauliflowers, spinach, lettuces and a space for garlic that we’ll plant after Thanksgiving. We had some trouble with birds and the lettuce, but once we finally got them covered up with netting, the nibbled-off plants grew right back.

Once the leafy greens reached about 3 inches tall, we started thinning gradually – pulling out or snipping off every other one in the row, then doing it again as they got larger in order to use the tender young babies as salads and give the remaining seedlings more space to mature. Bob went down to the transfer station in Ben Lomond and bought some of their nicely composted mulch (cheap at $6 for a little pickup load). He trundled  back and forth with the wheelbarrow for most of a sparkling weekend several weeks ago after I did a final thinning of the young plants. All the beds are tucked in now under a crumbly, friable mulch that will deflect the powerful compacting forces of our coming rains, and keep the roots and the earthworms happy over the coming season.

Last November I visited friends in Kona on the big island of Hawaii. One evening I cooked them a wonderful dinner, trying to use only foods that were locally grown. We grilled some fish, baked purple Japanese sweet potatoes, and picked butter lettuce from their garden. I spent an hour sitting on the steps with a cup of their own coffee, whacking macadamia nuts with a large rock to make a shortbread crust that was filled with bananas, whipped cream and chocolate – a toothsome tropical dessert we called Haole Holiday Madness.

It was a pleasure to have them here last night for dinner. I was able to prepare another very local feast from my own back yard. I can’t think of anything that makes me feel more gracious and pleased with myself than to cook something delicious for friends that I’ve grown in my garden – like Madame Martha Stewart of the San Lorenzo. It was a healthful meal as they are both vegetarians now.

I cut up a nutty, orange-fleshed squash called Blue Ballet, peeled the chunks and sauteed the 1 inch pieces in a little olive oil and garlic, then added some water, salt and pepper and simmered them until tender. Then I sprinkled in chopped parsley and fresh sage, and a handful of toasted pine nuts for an Italian peasant flavor. I made a crisp salad of baby spinach leaves and young lettuce, with the tiniest of baby carrots. (They are the one vegetable I am not sure I sowed early enough in the fall for them to size and color up and develop full-sized roots before the soil gets too cold.) A tangy vinaigrette of olive oil and homemade Santa Rosa plum vinegar set of the spinach well. I tosed tofu in a little garlic, ginger and oil luntil slightly brown, then added a giant bunch of frilly red kale, tender stems and leaves chopped to 2 inch pieces. Cooked until meltingly tender, the slightly bitter, hearty greens played on the sweet squash nicely. My friends brought a bottle of San Lorenzo Valley wine, and for dessert we savored a warm apple-raspberry crisp. Five fat green-golden Pippin apples were peeled and sliced into a baking dish, then topped with a cup of the summer raspberries that I had picked and popped into the freezer in the heat of September when I was too busy to make jam. The fruit was crowned with a crumbly topping of whole wheat pastry flour, butter, oatmeal and brown sugar that bubbled and blended together in the oven into a fragrant, beautifully carmine, syrupy dessert that balanced the rather macrobiotic dinner. All sighed with replete happiness and pushed back their chairs.

So as we get ready for this winter season, with squash in the pantry and greens in the garden and our good soil all sheltered, we feel as snug and smug as two bugs in a rug, and give the thanks of the season for the gifts we can give and are given. Happy holidays!

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