Japanese eggplant

Sleek, thin-skinned, and mild, Japanese (Ichiban) eggplant is an entirely different animal from its larger, fleshier Italian cousin. Obviously, it’s not an animal, but eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes, and therefore classified botanically as a fruit. I put in half a dozen Japanese eggplants early this summer and have been rewarded with a sweet, succulent, almost seedless harvest ever since. Their leaves are a lovely dark green with purple veins, their stems a sticky dark purple, but it’s the periwinkle blossoms that make growing these plants such a delight.  Delicate and festive as cocktail parasols, the newly formed blossoms surround bright yellow stamens, though the flower heads soon start to droop with growth, the petals eventually melting into a thick crown around the top of the fruit.

Japanese eggplants are made for grilling, sliced lengthwise or into the “white moon circles” described with such affection in Peter Balakian’s poem below which, I believe, serves just as well as a recipe.

 

Eggplant

by Peter Balakian

I loved the white moon circles
and the purple halos,

on a plate as the salt sweat them.

The oil in the pan smoked like bad
days in the Syrian desert—

when a moon stayed all day—

when morning was a purple
elegy for the last friend seen—

when the fog of the riverbank
rose like a holy ghost.

My mother made those white moons sizzle
in some egg wash and salt—

some parsley appeared
from the garden

and summer evenings
came with no memory

but the table with white dishes.

Shining aubergine—black-skinned
beauty, bitter apple.

We used our hands.

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Local peaches

These days you can consume most kinds of fruit any time of the year —apples in May, strawberries in November.  Many are shipped in refrigerated trucks and airplanes from around the world and can pass for fresh and edible. But peaches, the most delicate and succulent of stone fruit, don’t travel well.  It’s true that they can be trucked up from Georgia during July and August, but even then they’ll suddenly turn airy and tasteless as paper towel.  The best peaches are local (ours are coming from Germantown, New York), and we’re in that sweet spot— Continue reading

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Bishop’s weed

Look carefully at the photo to the right and you’ll see, nestled between the proud crimson plumes of the two astilbes and surrounded by the delicate leaves  of epimedium and heuchera, the innocuous-looking face-in- the-crowd that is bishop’s weed. Also known as goutweed and snow-in-the-mountain, bishop’s weed is hiding in plain sight in every shady nook of my garden.  It’s a shape-shifter of a plant, insinuating itself into a gaggle of ladies mantle, hovering in the shade of astrantia fronds, trying to fit in — and almost, but never quite — pulling it off.  But pulling is what you’ll do if bishop’s weed gets a foothold in your garden.  Not only does it spread by seed, but it quickly establishes large underground networks of rhizomes, strong as plastic netting and almost impossible to rout out. Continue reading

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Peonies

It’s that wonderful moment in the garden when everything is possible again. The damp chilly spring meant a slow start to the growing season.  But now the freshly minted grass, dew-laden in the morning, is thick and spongy as a bathroom rug. Even the finicky continus shrubs and rugosa roses are showing signs of life— their rows of hard red bumps erupting into leaf overnight.   The great classical orchestra of perennials is assembling, each starting to keep time to an inner music that a gardener, looking out across the greening world, can almost hear. Continue reading

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Dandelions

I’ve always loved dandelions. As a child, I thought they were named for dandy-looking lions — with those round yellow heads and shaggy ruffs.  Though, in fact, the name apparently derives from the French dent-de-lion or lion’s tooth, referring to their jagged leaves.  That doesn’t take away from their whimsical, almost magical appeal. They can be both food (my father
used to pick them for salads) and drink (dandelion wine and as an ingredient in root beer), and they’ve been used for medicinal purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years. Along with forsythia, witchhazel, and daffodils they play in nature’s proudly loud brass section, blaring the news of spring. Continue reading

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Mud time

Mud time arrives in the Berkshires like a bout of anxiety. The clearly defined whites and blacks of winter give way to a queasy beige.  There are downed branches everywhere, hummocks of gravel spewed up by the snowplow.  Everything seems slightly off kilter in
the unforgiving light that lingers too long into the afternoon. The frozen dirt road with its well-defined runnels turns overnight into a quagmire — more dangerous than ice.  One road over from us a car sank to its bumpers in the muck.  It’s impossible to imagine that the world was ever green  — or will be again. And then the first of the chives, thin as cat whiskers, push through the dried mat of last year’s bounty. Continue reading

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Heart to Heart

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

Continue reading

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Leaden Sieves

I’ve long admired the fearless, even reckless way Emily Dickinson flings metaphors around. “It sifts from Leaden Sieves” is a perfect example. This short poem about snow which never actually mentions the word throws together leaden sieves, alabaster wool, wrinkly roads, unbroken foreheads, and celestial veils —
all within the first three verses. Each metaphor makes sense when taken apart and examined on its own, and the accumulation of them — four or maybe five more follow — piling up one on top of the other, results in a blizzard of symbols that somehow cohere. The poem sounds and moves like a snowfall — the quiet repetition of “it,” the unhurried pace, the echoing rhymes and slant rhymes “face” and “east” and “room” and “them.”  The last two lines are a brilliant sleight of hand, whipping the rug out from under all the poetic artistry that went before and leaving us alone with the hushed beauty of freshly fallen snow. Continue reading

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How to see deer

One recent morning around dawn, I spotted a family of deer picking their way through our back woods. Deer tend to blend into the background this time of year, their coats the same color as the bare trees and fallen leaves. I probably would have missed them in the half light if it hadn’t snowed the night before. They moved slowly and silently, glancing warily up at the house from time to time as if they knew I was watching.  Then they disappeared from view. It wasn’t until an hour or two later when my husband said “look at that!” and pointed to the woods that I realized they’d come back.

Now they were curled up under the trees. There’s been a lot of construction up on the mountain nearby, and I suspect the deer were refugees from some safer and more secluded habitat. I’m not sure why I found their still silhouettes so moving. But I sensed they were exhausted from scavenging for food, and they had no choice but to let us see them at their most vulnerable: asleep, right before our eyes. Continue reading

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Peaceful Transition

Did you manage to scrape together a decent reason why you were grateful on Thanksgiving?  I trotted out, as I probably do most years, some platitudes about poetry, mainly because poetry offers such an effective antidote to the mundane and obvious. Oh, and it can stave off loneliness and transform despair into irony, all while sitting quietly on the printed page.  These Continue reading

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Cutting back

I’ve spent the last few days taking down the garden, cutting back the ranks of shasta daisies and phlox that stood sentinel all summer over the more free-spirited orders of pulmonaria, anemone, and bleeding heart. They’re mostly stubble now, except for a few stands of echinacea that I left for the birds to finish off.  It was cold work.  But satisfying, too, harking back to the age-old practice of bringing in the sheaves.  As the leaves fall, Continue reading

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Hummingbirds

They’re gone now, the families of ruby-throated hummingbirds who spent the summer with us.  The males, with their natty bright red waistcoats, flew south at the beginning of September, leaving behind the females and young. I was puzzled, at first, to see no young males among the crowd that continued to zip from flower to flower in Continue reading

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The Zucchini Festival

For a decade, our little town of West Stockbridge held a Zucchini Festival every August.  The brainchild of the local Cultural Council, it began as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to that most underappreciated and, by the time August rolled round, largely unwanted garden vegetable. Lenox had its Tanglewood. Becket its Jacob’s Pillow. West Stockbridge? Continue reading

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Summer rain

For the rain it raineth every day — from Twelfth Night 

It’s been a month of on and off rain.  Dull steady downpours.  Wild wind-driven tempests.  Lukewarm, almost weightless morning mists.  Thunderstorms have been in the forecast nearly every day — for weeks on end.  More often than not, the clouds that billow and darken into a mountain of threatening postures Continue reading

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