Late summer. It’s LATE SUMMER. Because just like my students, I am fighting to push back the Start of School — specifically the entrance and settling-in of School-Year Mentality into my head, there at its worst to hollow out and colonize my mind — as late as possible. What do I mean by that? College-professoring is the job I am meant to do on this earth, and I am lucky to have it. But all professors (and really anyone in any position of responsibility) know(s) what School-Year Mind at its worst is: vicarious worrying over stupid bullshit you can’t control, namely other people’s projects and destinies over which they refuse to exert any SELF-control. (As the great Tim Gunn says on “Project Runway,” “I can’t want you to succeed more than you do.”) Jung says that worry is not a subsitute for action. I say, additionally, that letting the boundaries of your own self and your own projects be overrun by this type of worry and vicarious involvement – which is really about making your own self feel important, falsely — kills your soul a little bit at a time. Needless to say, it completely kills your artistic and fitness goals. And I will resist. Of course, I make this resolution every year with varying degrees of success. But I’m feeling a bit more braced-up and ready for the flood these days.
I’ve been writing (a travel essay on Mary Wollstonecraft), biking (mileage days up into the 20s and even 30s), and of course gardening. And continuing the money-management journey. And beginning, too, of food preserving and harvesting. (More pictures of the basement food-storage setup will follow once I get it all fixed.)
This is Thai basil food-processed with a little water and frozen in ice-cube trays, ready to pop out and store in freezer bags when done: I’m going to do the same with cilantro. Genevese basil does well processed and frozen in ice cube trays with olive oil, especially if your main use for Genevese basil is pesto! Thai basil and cilantro (plus mint) do so well in my favorite strawberry preserves recipe (from Canning For a New Generation) that I may have to succumb to the urge to make some more of it midwinter, and with these cubes I’ll be ready. My second crop of Thai basil and cilantro seedlings are growing so sweetly out there that I hate to let them go to waste.
Here are some other delicacies from the garden…. chimichurri sauce with my herbs (recipe from “Keeping Chickens with Ashley English,” which I have been reading avidly), my own tomatoes, and mozzarella from the co-op. And, of course, my own okra. With some “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” bread from its container in the refrigerator, it’s pretty easy to eat pretty well.
In a few weeks, I will be part of the Decorah DigIN Green Expo “Yarden” Tour, leading a walk through my yard to talk about fall planting in particular (although I’m still kind of a novice at that) but even more, I hope, just to inspire people who want to expand or build gardens to give it a try. Because that’s how I got where I am with my garden: plunging in and proceeding by trial and error. The lessons keep coming, too.
For instance, if you look back to the very first entries on this blog, you’ll find my recipe for my favorite winter stew by Daniel Bouloud, which features big bulbs of fennel as one of the ingredients. When I was a kid back in Alabama, my mama paid me a dime per stalk to yank what we called “dog fennel” out of a pasture — the only way to rid yourself of it completely, just like digging thistles. I remember how proud I was to fill my little red wagon to the top and report for counting, then payment. There’s still not a stalk of fennel in that pasture. So it was with a slightly ironic but fond smile that I excitedly started fennel seedlings this winter and planted them this spring, then harvested them last week….
…and then took them in the kitchen to cut them up, intending to roast them with some of the new blue and white potatoes and Chioggia beets I have started taking from the ground. Well. If you take a closer look at the roots of this fennel, you can guess that I did not exactly get the bulbs of which I dreamed.
Looking down at the herb garden this summer, I thought these white things looked like the bulbs I had intended to raise. But, as one of my two main gardening gurus, David Cavagnaro, would say, I did not “observe closely” enough. From a height, these little jodphur-shaped bulges at the base of the fennel looked like bulbs. But in reality they are little scoopy-shaped stringy fennel-stalk pants (I don’t know another way to describe them) and unfortunately, even after a hopeful roasting, mostly not edible. Consulting the books tells me I should have been shaping the soil differently around the base of the plants to encourage the bulbs to form. Luckily my other guru is my neighbor, who is very patient with cries of “My fennel won’t bulb! What should I doooooooooo?” Better luck next year. In the meantime, I am letting the fennel continue to wear its pants and go to seed, so I can add it to the stash accumulating in the basement. Gardening is so much about learning from your mistakes — even more than I knew it would be when I started out.
And very soon it will be time to try canning my first-ever batch of tomato sauce. Stay tuned!