Relax

img_4808-jpg-version-3
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.

Relax

Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments

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.

img_3620And then, in June, I came open this odd, complicated looking plant at the far end of the field — featuring ranks of leaves and heavy pods.  Soon, there were fist-sized round pink flower heads that looked like fireworks in mid-explosion. I wasn’t surprised to learn milkweed is one of the most complex structures in the plant kingdom, comparable to the orchid in its many shapes and parts. It’s also one of the most beautiful — a fascinating thing to watch grow and develop. img_3440I wasn’t alone in admiring it. The milkweed had callers throughout the summer — bees, moths, wasps, beetles, and butterflies all came courting. Alas, no Monarchs, though I’m sure I spotted two in another part of the garden. I’ve just reseeded the field again, and hope for a larger crop of milkweed next spring. Hope, spring, and garden — three of the most beautiful words (with apologies to Henry James) in the English language.

MILKWEED

by James Wright, 1927 – 1980

While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments

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.

I think this pesto is as rich and satisfying as a Bolognese sauce — a hearty and healthy meatless entrée. Buon appetito!

Ingredients

Servings: 4

  • ⅔ cup walnuts
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • ½ cup (packed) basil leaves

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
  • Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.
  • Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.
  • Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.
  • Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.
  • Do Ahead: Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.  You can freeze it, too, for at least three months — and maybe more — but mine never lasts that long!

 

Posted in Blog | 7 Comments

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

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

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

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

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

Posted in Blog | 14 Comments

Putting in the seed

IMG_3166I spent most of the weekend on my hands and knees planting seeds in our vegetable garden. I’m a firm believer in the “square foot” gardening method developed by the late Mel Barthelme who advocated the use of raised beds and planting in tight rows inside 12 x 12 inch grids. Over the years, the grid has given way to a more relaxed and larger planting swath, but our eight raised beds — each about the size of a twin mattress — still yield enough lettuces, beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cutting Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments

Ferns

IMG_0994Here come the ferns again! At this point they look like bunched, slightly hairy yellow knuckles punching their way out of the ground. Within the next week or two they’ll be a foot high, grouped in small green pods, facing inward, like close-knit families of aliens.

There is something otherworldly about them. They reproduce from spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. Their fiddleheads unfurl into fronds as they grow, delicate as butterfly wings. Despite their seeming fragility, ferns Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

Royal terns

IMG_3046We watched the royal terns on Captiva Island last week gather in a group on the beach, facing the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. They clustered together in a loose V-shaped formation, alert and somewhat pensive. It was as if they were waiting for someone or something that was long past due. The thick black caps of royal terns grow patchy in the winter months,

Photo: Nicholas Atamas

Photo: Nicholas Atamas

making them look a little like grumpy old men with comb-overs that lift in the breeze. They eyed us suspiciously as we walked past, shifting from foot to foot, muttering amongst themselves. We’d seen them in groups like this before and remain puzzled by what they were up to — neither feeding nor breeding — but forced together like strangers on a train platform. Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

Darwin’s Finches

IMG_5300In another month or two, the families of birds who have kept us company through the long winter will disappear once again into the canopies of green. Black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, red-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays, junkos, woodpeckers, and a variety of finches — these birds of winter are often the only signs of life in an otherwise frigid and monotone landscape. Chattering at the birdfeeders or swooping in long, graceful swags across the fields, they have brought movement, color, and song into the darkest months of the year. In the spring and Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 12 Comments

Winter Landscape

IMG_2927I thought of John Berryman’s poem about Pieter Bruegel’s painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ as I walked through the winter wonderland this morning. Transforming the every-day, a snowfall makes you see the world more clearly — or in a new way — at least for a little while.

Bruegel’s paintings do the same thing, I think, which is probably why they’ve inspired so many poems over the years, including W. H. Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments

Winter Morning

IMG_2554.JPGIt’s been an oddly snowless winter in the Berkshires this year. The storm that is barreling up the coast will bypass us for the most part. All remains quiet, the ground a patchwork of tired brown and white. But winter is a state of mind as much as anything, a season of inwardness and contemplation. And so I woke this morning, thinking of this poem by the prolific and versatile American poet William Jay Smith who died this past year at the age of 97. Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments

Angel Slices — the most heavenly of Christmas cookies

IMG_2812When I left home after college, my mother gave me two books which I think she believed would fully equip me for life on my own: The Holy Bible and Irma Rombauer’s original edition of The Joy of Cooking. In those days I wasn’t much of a cook — and even less of a baker. So I was lucky to stumble upon a particular recipe at the very start of my baking career. It was in The Joy of Cooking for a bar cookie called Angel Slices. Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 16 Comments

Paris — a love story

IMG_4276Along with so many others, I’ve been in love with Paris for as long as I can remember. I lived with Madeline “in an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and I was there with Gigi “the night they invented champagne.” Victor Hugo, Colette, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald, they all added to the grand city that began to take hold in my imagination. A place of glowing interiors — Degas’ ballet studios and Vuillard’s wall-papered living rooms — and sweeping grandeur — Seurat’s public parks and Pissaro’s wide boulevards. I danced with Gene Kelly and turned a tearful face away from Bogart at the Gare de Lyon. A little later, I found myself torn between Jules and Jim. Continue reading

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments