Quick trip to the garden

On my way up to the garden yesterday, I had just crossed the (now dry) river bed when I ran into traffic:


I didn’t have time to do much in the garden, just a little watering, harvesting lettuce (which at this point we have to eat as fast as we can before it all bolts. I think I have to be much more strategic about how much and how often I plant next year), admired foliage:


(That’s a bottle brush tree, a wintersweet shrub, and a Russian olive L to R)

…. and counted a few frogs.


Can you see any?


What’s up

A little while back, the amazing Celi at the Kitchen’s Garden wrote this post about what’s what in her garden. And in her typically generous manner, she invited us to show her what we her readers are up to.
It’s not all that grand and I shot these with my iPod because I hadn’t found my camera yet (but I found it today, at a baby’s birthday party, while rummaging in the deepest recesses of my bag for a diaper) but even so, here’s what’s coming up round us. We are on a mountainside, so our garden is on a steep slope that is terraced (not our doing), and each terrace has a (not very poetic) name.

That’s the strawberry patch in the foreground with the pea trellis behind it. (This is the cucurbit terrace because I grew cucumbers and squash here the first year we were here.) As you can see, if you are familiar with the trellis, there’s a lot more going on there now.

I’m especially excited about the purple ones. They’re snow peas. The others are shelling peas, a southern variety called Wando that is apparently on the heat resistant side.

Those are the first tomatoes I planted out, and the early ones are fruiting, though hard as rocks and quite resolutely green. This is what we call the “vegetable bed terrace” because there are seven veg beds on it (only one raised bed) with a lotus pond in the middle. It’s a bit wild and wooly because of all the rain we’ve been having.

This is Baki’s garden. It’s on the keyhole bed terrace, so called because there are three round beds there with another lotus pond in the middle. Right now the keyhole beds are pretty empty because I was letting a few things set seed and I just pulled them up. In Baki’s garden, we planted cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, with some marigolds (for color and bugs) and also something called fur balls. We’re not sure what those are, but Baki liked the sound of them.

Down at the bottom of the garden on the old water tank terrace there’s a raised bed full of onions and these two: a mixed bag of greens and roots and behind that a tomato bed. That’s a red plastic mulch that I was curious to try. Ali is vehemently opposed, so I waited until he was in Istanbul to lay it down (though I told him I would, so it wasn’t subterfuge). That way, he needn’t feel any sense of complicity. Anyway, the red mulch is supposed to increase tomato yields as well as suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. Worth a try, I thought, in the spirit of inquiry.

That’s one of the artichoke patches (there are three at the moment). Artichokes are one of the few vegetable plants that Ali favors, largely because they are perennials. If you are also interested in perennials, there’s a great book called Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier that’ll get you all worked up.

This is the first of three corn beds that I planted. This one is Country Gentleman sweet corn and that’s the asparagus gone crazy behind it. On the right side is the Maxmillian sunflower hedge. They are real survivors, those guys. It’s a perennial sunflower that blooms at the end of summer.

Our potatoes are growing on the site of our compost heap from two years ago. It’s a little shady, but they seem happy enough.
And that’s a look at our vegetables! When there’s more going on in the lotus ponds, I’ll take some pictures. At the moment, there are mostly frogs in the ponds now, and this may be why we’ve had a sudden explosion in the snake population in the garden. Ali and I have seen vipers slithering off in the vicinity of the ponds, and Baki encountered a garden snake on the stairs. And so I leave you with this deeply enjoyable poem by Emily Dickenson full of surprising pleasures (“unbraiding” just kills me, it’s so deft). It sums up the shivery thrill of our encounters.

The Snake

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,—did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,–
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

Other people’s letters

(bees drunk on last year’s lotus)

Perhaps because I grew up writing and receiving letters, and because I became (and remain) completely obsessed with mail, I love to read books of writers’ letters. Isak Dinesen’s letters written while she was in Kenya and Janet Flanner’s letters from Paris are among my favorites. A letter is such an intimate piece of writing, with its intended audience of one, and as such I consider them to be acts of great generosity.
A while back, the New Yorker published excerpts of notes that Roland Barthes had kept after his mother died. They were short entries, mapping his course through a period of grief, and the last entry was an excerpt from a letter written by Proust.
A friend of Ali’s recently lost his mother, so Ali asked me to copy the letter into an email and send it to him. Typing it out, I was, once again, so moved by it that I thought I would share it here. I feel sure it speaks to many forms of loss.

Letter from Proust to Georges de Lauris, whose mother had just died (1907)

Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will be forever cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power… that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that will constantly remember her more and more.

(Translated from the French by Richard Howard.)

Madeleines are all well and good, but this is what lionizes Proust for me.

smells and squeaks

The garden is full of scents! A honeysuckle that we planted in the outdoor kitchen is in full bloom, and the scent of it wafts about, making kitchen work positively dreamy.

The stinky and the sweet: fresh garlic and the honeysuckle by the kitchen.

As I worked on lunch, Ali wandered over with a flower from the white peony. It’s got a scent that reminds me of lily of the valley, but the scent of it in say, a talcum powder.

Can you spot the spider? Who could blame it for choosing such a sweet smelling home.

I was working on getting some lunch together — bubble and squeak and rarebits. My dad was a great fan of bubble and squeak — I think he liked to say it as much as he liked to eat it. There’s a nice article in the Guardian that breaks it down into a simple formula (equal parts potato and cabbage by volume not by weight, fry well). I thought it would make a good lunch for Kaya as well.

At the table, Kaya happily submitted to eating a few bites of the bubble and squeak that I had pureed for him, before making a lunge for my rarebit. I broke off a piece and gave it to him, and he tore away at it with his new front teeth. He demolished about half of it, eating it as fast as I could give it to him. It was a minimalist sort of rarebit (no beer, for instance), but as he liked it so much, I thought I would share the recipe. It’s a nice thing to make to go alongside a soup or a vegetable dish.

Bare bones rarebit:
1 1/4 c. milk
1 bay leaf
2 T butter
2T flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 t mustard
Worcestershire sauce
2 slices bread (you may have enough sauce for more than two, depending on the size of the bread)

Put the bay leaf in the milk with a few grinds of pepper and heat to boiling then shut off and let them get to know one another. In the mean time, melt the butter in another pot and add the flour to form a roux. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the milk in three installments, stirring well to keep things from getting lumpy. Cook the resulting sauce for another two minutes before removing from the heat. Add the cheese and stir vigorously to melt it. Then stir in your mustard and add a bit of Worcestershire sauce as well if you like.
Heat the broiler and toast the tops of your bread under it before spreading a thick layer of cheesy sauce on them. Set them under the broiler, but not too close, and let the sauce get hot and brown.
Keep out of reach of babies, or else make a helping for any babies present.

Hands off my rarebit!

And while I am on the topic of food that Kaya loves, I have to also make special mention of a wonderful recipe I found at one of my favorite blogs, From the Bartolini Kitchens. It’s for polpettine (diminutive meatballs), a new staple in my kitchen. We had them the other night, and Kaya was jumping up and down in his seat for more (even Baki, the world’s pickiest eater, tucked in happily). What’s so interesting to me about this is that the blog is dedicated to sharing family recipes, many of them tied to wonderful memories and stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Kaya learned to make polpettine so that he could bring back his memories of eating them under the garlic braids in the garden kitchen.

Have your roses and drink them too


I was talking to my mother as I weighed the sugar to add to the rose sherbet. We will be visiting her in NY in a month, so there always seems to be plenty to talk about.
“Okay,” I said, “the sugar is weighed and I can add it with the water.”
“Are you going to taste it??”
“Oh wait a second, mom, I can’t find the camera. Maybe I left it in the truck…”
I got Kaya and went out to the truck, but no camera.
“Aren’t you going to taste it now? Oh, we’ll have to serve it in tulip-shaped tea glasses.”
“Sorry, can’t do it now. I have to take pictures.”
(The camera appears to have been left behind in the garden, but I did manage to find the iPod.)
After week one, with the rose petals steeping in lemon juice, I ended up with about two cups of ruby juice, redolently rosy. I strained it into a ceramic pot and added half a kilo of sugar. Then it sat for another week.
It was a bit warm here, so I put the liquid in the fridge once in a while. Probably nothing would have happened if I hadn’t, though.
So now it was time to add yet more sugar:

A liter of water also went in, and after much stirring I managed to get it all to dissolve. Then, the moment my mother had been waiting for. Mixed with cold water, the sherbet became pale pink. Its flavor was sweet of course, but the lemon juice gave it a pleasant acidity. I think the proportion of syrup to water is quite important- too much syrup, and it would be too sweet.
The rose flavor literally bloomed in my mouth as I drank it. Have you ever smelled a rose and wished you could put it in your mouth so the smell could fill your head? Well, get out your glass jars and dig out the lemon squeezer; this is a way to smell your roses long after the last bloom has faded.