I’ve finally realized as of late what really makes me happy in between crying jags over my lost brother is to have my fingers sunk deep in the earth or rapidly slicing something bright and green on my bamboo chopping block. What better combo is there then but gardening and cooking? It couldn’t have come at a better time, this realization: My mother-in-law, wife and I are in a serious weight-loss challenge (the first person to drop 20 pounds wins two $20 gift certificates to the store of her choice).
For Earth Day (but really for our own personal slice of happy home on earth), my wife and I spent the weekend judiciously selecting plants for planting, and then I turned around and made all sorts of fun (and surprisingly delicious) vegetarian meals.
On Sunday afternoon, my trusty helper and I got started.
OK, truthfully, that was snapped during Leo’s nap and Mama’s quickie trip back to the gardening store for more potting soil. But we did plot out how exactly we’d rule our yard during this rare one-on-one time.
Once all four of us were properly suited up in our lesiure yard clothes, diapers were changed and the laborious snack routine finalized, we got started laying out all our plants, from the veggies we’ll hang our next three grocery bill bets on to the fig tree that might one day be our bread and butter to the citronella plant that will save Mama and Leo’s sensitive skin in the summertime from all those crazy skeeters who don’t have any use for Rocco’s and my German blood.
Perhaps the most exciting plant for me is the rosemary bush, which takes me straight to heaven in a single whiff. I’ve no idea why though perhaps it’s the idyllic childhood I longed for–one wrapped up in homemade pasta sauces, filets and pastries instead of the tastes of Hamburger Helper and Kool-Aid still sourly burning the tongue attached to the latch-key kid I wish I weren’t. I think perhaps that’s what has me hell bent on providing my children with a true farm-to-table childhood, and I am thankful my wife feels the same way. She grew up privileged with a lemon tree always ripening for lemonade and limoncello in her grandparent’s backyard, a loving mother and doting grandmother cracking and cackling away at some feast in the kitchen for a dozen or more for there were always people wanting to come by and welcomed when they did.
We planted among other things green bell peppers (pictured above), golden bell peppers and yippee-kai-yay jalapenos to spice up our salads. My love already has a healthy lettuce garden donating handfuls of greenery to our bowls almost nightly.
My son, forever dubbed “meatball” because he ate far more than his fair share in the twin beds he and and his brother took up residence in while in utero, aims the hose at whatever interests him. As soon as my hands entered the soil to get dirty and happy, I no longer had access to the camera. And that made me happy, too, since it was another step from removing myself from technology. Though I’m sad I haven’t got the proof of our joyful gardening afternoon, except this fabulous Celeste fig tree we potted, just in case we move, in which we’ve invested probably too many hopes and dreams.
However, I did go veggie crazy starting last week, preparing all sorts of scrumptious vegetarian delights (who knew barley made an excellent substitute for risotto?), and I bought an enormous collection of Swiss chard. I’m admittedly a Swiss chard virgin, and I didn’t really even know what I was looking for as I scanned the veggie section at my local grocery store. And before you nutty shop-local-or-you-get-the-stink-eye folks get up in arms, know that I must shop only in places that offer me and my twin toddlers a double-seated grocery cart.
Today I skipped working during my sons’ nap for a chance to enjoy myself in the kitchen instead, slicing off the leaves of Swiss chard and prepping them for our vegetarian burritos tonight.
I took full academic pleasure in learning how to slice Swiss chard, which, if you don’t know, you cut the leaf as close to the rib vein running down the middle, roll the leaf into a tight cigar and slice it from there.
After my concoction of corn, black beans, fire-roasted tomatoes and Mexican seasoning simmered in the slow cooker for a hefty 4 hours, I chucked in the chard for 20 more minutes to let it wilt enough to be delicate to chomp through. I added the mixture to warmed wheat tortillas, heaped on the all-important sour cream, cilantro from our herb garden and some salsa verde and called it a night.
That’s what made me happy today. What about you?