Sorry if this harshes your August mellow, but we have been talking and playing a lot of school lately. For long stretches of most days we are "Teacher Mommy" and "Schoolgirl Bee." Even Baby Dear and Baby Love and the finger puppets have gotten in on the act; in the lower lefthand corner of the picture, you can just make out a black shock of hair belonging to Teacher Ernie, holding forth from his foam tee-pee as the babies pay rapt attention. A month from today Bee will have had her first day of school. We are all pretty excited.
What I need is garden school. Imagine how you would feel if you had never made so much as a box-mix cake successfully, and suddenly you were in charge of feeding a family of four nutritious and appealing meals three times a day. That approximates my feelings about our yard. Having never even kept a houseplant alive, I am a little nervous about doing right by a woodsy quarter acre. I want to keep the good stuff healthy, organize the chaos, introduce some beauty, plant some vegetables, and have fun. Heavens!
I'd hate to lose the hydrangeas; they must be hardy if they're in so many yards here, right? This freshness was a few weeks ago. Andrew, who is good at pruning and clearing brush and hacking suffocating vines off of trees and digging dirt for potting and all that stuff, says that they are hard to do in.
It was Andrew who insisted that we buy baby tomato, cauliflower, and cucumber plants as soon as we got here. The day was hot, Bee was not happy to be at the nursery, and I did not like the idea of spending our limited money and time on plants that would almost certainly be gobbled up by our hordes of rabbits and chipmunks. But at that point in the early stress of unpacking and getting settled, it was not worth having a disagreement about a few plants. I must admit that it has been fun to watch them grow, even though the critters have done all the eating. We were left with three green tomatoes in a pot, and I looked forward to the day when we would harvest one tomato per family member, since we thought our animals were more interested in flowers and leaves than fruit. Alas, two days ago there was only one tomato left; and yesterday there were none.
(I already have a sense that gardening will be full of life lessons and fraught with metaphor. While I was noodling around gathering photos and thoughts for a blog post, our tomatoes were eaten. A garden, it seems, can bear only so much procrastination, moving on whether you're ready or not. Also, we saw a garter snake on the fourth of July. He has not made another appearance, but he is on my mind: evil temptation or fruitful knowledge? And while I'm in parentheses, may I admit that after the first time I potted something--basil for the back porch--I looked down at my hands and thought, with displeasure, dirty. I am not yet on good terms with dirt. Or worms, even though I know they are good guys in the garden. I think--no, I know--I am driving Andrew crazy with my attempts to buy dirt at the garden center instead of using the dirt in our yard. I am one-half in thrall to the square foot gardening guy and one-half hoping to minimize my contact with worms. I know, lame.)
Despite the disappointment of the tomatoes (and the general discomfort with dirt), I am trying to be good about just diving into things instead of heeding my instinct to read five books before starting. I planted fall lettuce in three places, one of which is a planter covered with a homemade chickenwire cage. It occurs to me now that we could try radishes again, too, since our tabletop attempt in San Francisco was not a success. Food has been an afterthought (and, says my scale, an ill-advised comfort) for most of this summer, but I did find--finally!--a way of eating radishes that I love, thanks to At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. I made these on the fourth of July to nibble instead of chips before hamburgers. They were popular with Bee, Andrew, and his parents, but my mother and sister, who ate them on a different occasion, thought they were a little "stinky." Good for nibbling, good for lunch with bread and goat cheese, here are Madhur Jaffre's seasoned radishes:
Remove greens and stringy tails from one large or two small bunches of medium radishes (you want about 12 medium, although I have also cut down large ones). Wash well and cut into bite-size chunks. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Toss every once in a while for three hours, then drain and serve.