A bit late this year!
Oh, how sweet it is — all this soft warmth, idle hours and thoughts.
I watch the runners in my neighborhood, and I watch the intensity of the shoppers at the food markets and I watch the speeding traffic. Who is going to educate them to slow wayyyyyy down?
I know that in Italy, Spain and Portugal, the afternoon siesta is going the way of the dodo bird. This is too high a price to pay for being a member of the global economy. I wonder if it will be in this millennium or perhaps the next one when the ambient weather will once again play a role in economics?
I leaf through my garden books where the essays are arranged by the months – and most of them will include lists regarding the chores that need to be done for that month. I looked today at August and read the long and oftentimes informative lists of chores. Then I went to the freezer, got me some ice cubes, and made a tall cool drink of water and lemon slices. Leaving the garden books behind, I pulled from the cookbook shelf a random selection of tomes and wandered through sections on vegetables, jams, and pickling elixirs.
Many of the new cookbooks now include advice for the gardener, along with great recipes. One of the first of these types of “cookbooks’” was “The Cook and the Gardener,” by Amanda Hesser. Her book is arranged by the seasons, and she is writing from the French countryside.
Yes, you feel as though you have been transported to the south of France. This is such a great summer read, particularly for all of us experiencing Stay-cations due to economic distress. You will find that all your cares drift away and the recipes make you salivate.
My current favorite is “Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch,” by Nigel
Slater, with photography by Jonathan Lovekin. It covers vegetables from A (asparagus) to Z (yes, that squash that we all love to hate due to its amazing proclivity to grow to gigantic sizes overnight).
Slater follows the same format for each vegetable, starting with an essay about the vegetable. These essays can include historical information, anecdotal remarks and a general review of the different types. These essays are followed by an essay with remarks and advice for the gardener, including further notes on different varieties.
Then there are his essays for the vegetable in the kitchen. These notes are dense with fascinating information. You might think this is too much reading, but his writing style is clean, precise, and highly informative.
His recipes that follow are accessible for the average cook. Their simplicity belies the rich flavors and textures that I have found to be inherent to his approach to cooking.
And then there are the photographs — just simply stunning, for they include the browned or burned bits, and they make you hungry. Going to the kitchen and surveying your vegetable selection suddenly does not become a chore.
Meanwhile, I linger in the garden, just sitting perfectly still in the warmth of the evening. Do we all have to relearn the exquisite wisdom in quietude?
Yet, there is also a sense of quietude when working with all the abundance from our garden and farmers’ markets harvesting days. Without Slater’s recipes, I can quickly blanche my haricot vert for storing in the freezer. Oh, to find those treasures in November, when summer is truly a past thought/feeling.
What about marinating yellow and green zucchini in lemon juice, adding some young, thinly sliced sweet onions and then freezing — for winter. Can you imagine this taste treat alongside a long-braised lamb shank?
I am in awe of my friends who take this time of harvest to such heights with their food preparations — I salute them. They are sustainable. They are teaching us how to utilize our summer bounty. They cherish this abundance with their dedicated, long hours. I watch with deep respect.
And then I get mesmerized by the late-evening slanting light through my mighty Madrone tree and the change, subtle yet persistent, within my Japanese maple trees.
Soon the sharp air of autumn will be here — I love the crispness.
However, I am taking a three-month sabbatical from writing this column — but not from the garden. I plan to use that time to finalize a book proposal and to do some serious rewriting on three manuscripts for children’s picture books.
I may send some musings along to the editor for consideration, but it will fall outside of the traditions of this column. I shall return to look again at the garden at the time of the Thanksgiving celebrations.