Fresh mint

It was foolish of me to plant mint in one of the raised beds in my vegetable garden years ago. Mint was born to be wild. It refuses to stay boxed in. Every summer it seems to discover a new escape route — digging underground to pop up in the middle of the marjoram patch or making a bold public grab for purple sage territory. And I have to pull it out by the roots — a thick leggy network that always puts up quite a fight. But the smell that fills the air — that burst of pure freshness — is almost worth the struggle in itself. And then there’s the happy dilemma of what to do with handfuls of fresh mint.

Luckily, we had a lot people to feed this weekend and had to double the recipe for watermelon, tomato, feta, and fresh mint salad. We drank gallons of Mint Sun Tea. And we made what’s become my favorite summer potato salad because of its unusual medley of tangy flavors: lemon, mint, and scallion. Here’s the recipe, followed by a poem that also features mint as a main ingredient.

Potato Salad with Mint and Lemon

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds small waxy white or yellow potatoes, roughly about the same size
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more for serving
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts, more for serving
  • ¼ cup torn mint leaves, more for serving
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more for serving

Preparation

  1. Place whole unpeeled potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes depending upon size. Drain and cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch chunks as soon as you can handle them.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil.
  3. Transfer hot potatoes to a large bowl and toss with dressing, scallions, mint and black pepper. Let cool to room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to use. Just before serving, top with additional lemon juice, scallions, mint and black pepper.

 

Red Brocade

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

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Fireflies

The fireflies are back. Last summer they were a rare sighting, the occasional sad lone light, blinking on and off like a distress signal. But this year they’re out in force, drifting above the wild flower field, rising through the trees and above, to move across the path of the stars. Their bioluminesence is used to attract mates — “I’m here, where are you?” —not unlike teenagers carrying cell phones. And, like so much else about summer, they’re magical with memories of childhood: the jar full of them, glowing in the canvasy heat of a pup tent, the first night I ever slept out-of-doors.

Here’s a poem with fireflies in the first line, by the contemporary American poet Mark Doty. I love how, in his seemingly off-handed, colloquial way (“sparklamps in the grass”) he manages to say so much.

Deep Lane

by Mark Doty

June 23rd, evening of the first fireflies,
we’re walking in the cemetery down the road,
and I look up from my distracted study of whatever,

an unfocused gaze somewhere a few feet in front of my shoes,

and see that Ned has run on ahead
with the champagne plume of his tail held especially high,
his head erect,

which is often a sign that he has something he believes he is not allowed to have,

and in the gathering twilight (what is it that is gathered,
who is doing the harvesting?) I can make out that the long horizontal
between his lovely jaws is one of the four stakes planted on the slope

to indicate where the backhoe will dig a new grave.

Of course my impulse is to run after him, to replace the marker,
out of respect for the rule that we won’t desecrate the tombs,
or at least for those who knew the woman
whose name inks a placard in the rectangle claimed by the four poles

of vanishing—three poles now—and how it’s within their recollection,
their gathering, she’ll live. Evening of memory. Sparklamps in the grass.
I stand and watch him go in his wild figure eights,
I say, You run, darling, you tear up that hill.

 

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Jack-in-the-pulpit

A small congregation of jack-in-the-pulpits sprouted up seemingly overnight in a patch of newly spread pine bark mulch. I’m not sure whether they traveled as stow-aways in the mulch bags or transplanted themselves from our own woodlands, since these North American natives thrive in moist thickets from Nova Scotia to Florida. They reminded me of the Emily Dickinson poem about going to church by finding heaven in your own backyard. Of the many things I admire about Dickinson, her determination to eschew organized religion is right up there on my list. Continue reading

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Magic Wings

 

One Sunday when the world was still teetering between winter and spring, we drove east with friends through the Berkshire hills to South Deerfield, Massachusetts, home of Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy and Gardens. From the outside, the building looks something like a large community sporting facility — a skating rink or bowling alley, perhaps — but inside it’s heaven. This is the year-round home of some 4,000 exotic and domestic butterflies and moths, surrounded by a tropical paradise of hibiscus, ferns, bamboo, palm trees, lollipop plants, and an astounding variety Continue reading

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Shore birds

Shore birds are a tenacious lot, foraging for survival between the unforgiving sea and mankind’s ever-encroaching footprint. They’re adaptable, too, and clever. On Captiva Island a few years back, we watched a Great Blue Heron, standing in companionable silence next to a fisherman at the shore line. The heron, whose gaze was directed unconcernedly out to sea, appeared to be merely intrigued by his new friend’s surfcasting skills, but when a cut of the catch was eventually tossed his way it disappeared in a flash. Continue reading

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Valentine

‘Paterson’, the new movie by Jim Jarmusch, is about a week in the life of a poet/bus driver whose poetry is inspired by such every day items as a box of matches. The movie’s poems were actually written by Ron Padgett whose work has brilliantly straddled the every day and the absurd for decades, but I’ll save him for another time. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I hasten to bring you this poem by Continue reading

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Cooking with Cast Iron

I inherited a beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet from my mother who very likely had inherited it from her mother. It’s an 8-inch Wagner Ware Sidney O model, and a little on-line research into its lineage indicates that it was produced in 1922 by the Wagner Manufacturing Company, based in Sidney, Ohio. There’s something Continue reading

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Dust of Snow

I had the good fortune a few years back of hearing the former U. S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan argue for the importance of clarity in poetry, a concept that would seem to go against the grain of contemporary poetics. That’s just one of the many reasons I admire Ryan, whose short, dense, powerful poems often remind me of Emily Dickinson’s. Reading a Ryan poem is like unpacking a Christmas stocking; each is loaded with treats and the joy of discovery.

Ryan’s not afraid to say what she thinks. Like her poems, though, her ideas are often more nuanced and complicated than a first Continue reading

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Relax

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As the days darken, both literally and figuratively, and the cold months loom ahead with unexpected bitterness, I find myself seeking solace in poetry as never before. Like so many others, I’ve turned to such masterworks as W. H. Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’ (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/september-1-1939) and Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dover-beach) which ring with truth and meaning. But lighter fare can offer sustenance, too, such as this wise and witty poem by the contemporary American poet Ellen Bass. Continue reading

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Milkweed

img_2749Last fall, I was given some milkweed pods by a fellow gardener who had turned over her entire garden to plants beloved by birds, insects, and butterflies. It was, as you can imagine, a magical place. I’d been hoping to plant milkweed to help sustain the struggling Monarch population, and I proudly took my prize home and opened up the pods at the top of the wild flower field. I watched the seeds drift like an army of tiny parachutes over the brown stubbled landscape. Winter soon descended, though not much snow, and I assumed the milkweed had been blown away when nothing sprouted up this spring. Continue reading

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Cherry Tomato Pesto

img_3685This long stretch of hot dry weather has left me with an embarrassment of cherry tomatoes. Though nothing’s quite as satisfying as a ripe tomato hot off the vine, I’ve discovered a pesto that freezes beautifully and keeps the cherry’s bright summery taste alive right into the winter months. The recipe (from Bon Appetit) calls for walnuts, anchovies, and basil (and luckily I have bushels of lemon basil on my hands right now, as well). I’ve also made it without the anchovies, adding extra salt to help balance the tastes. Continue reading

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Morning glories

IMG_0674Morning glories shoot up like something out of a fairy tale — Jack’s bean stalk or the roses that twined around Sleeping Beauty’s castle. One morning they’re a tiny cluster of heart-shaped leaves, the next they’re cresting over the garden gate — a wild tangle of blue trumpets and tightly twisted vines. Once they get established in a place they like — they’re not picky about soil, but tend to like sun — they’ll come back year after year.  Continue reading

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Nasturtiums

IMG_1385After a slow start, my nasturtiums are finally hitting their stride. I love these bright, happy flowers! They’re versatile, even-tempered, and ever-willing. Toss them into a salad — “no problem!” you can almost hear them say. Add them for color and drape to a window box or planter, surrounded by more hoity-toity annuals, and nasturtiums will find a way to fit right in.   Lately, I’ve been experimenting with pestos. Parsley, IMG_3530arugula, tomatoes have all gone under the Cuisinart knife. And wouldn’t you know it? The spicy nasturtium turns out to be the perfect foil for pine nuts, garlic, and parmesan. Fold it into a seafood risotto or spread it across a fresh baguette for the base of a wonderful sandwich or — what the heck, it’s summer! — just lick it right off the spoon. Continue reading

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Poppies

IMG_3219The poppies are in bloom in what I call my sun garden. Though it’s actually more a haphazard collection of flora, thrown together on a stretch of land that’s half hill and part swamp. It’s a cutthroat kind of neighborhood for plants, and only the intrepid survive. But those that do — monkhead, monarda, shasta daises, blue lobelia, goose-neck loosestrife — tend to thrive. Like most toughs, they’re constantly angling for more territory, and I tend to just let them fight it out. Continue reading

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