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April 2012
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July 2012

May 2012

Dance Like No One's Watching or The Treme Effect

Have you been watching Treme, the HBO series about life in post-Katrina New Orleans?

 

I recently bought both seasons' soundtracks and have just one complaint.  It's impossible to listen to them on a walk, without becoming your own personal second line

The feet find the rhythm first.  Then the hips start to sway, knees bend deep and before you know it you're wondering what would happen if you were to throw in a couple spins and full on dance-walk your way down the road. 

You've been warned.

Video of a real life second line in New Orleans

HBO version (opening scene of episode 1).


An Uncommon Harvest

Each day when I get home from work, I hang up my keys, set down my bag and head straight to my porch to see what (if anything) has grown since the day before.  I get down low and scan the tops of my many containers for any sign of green poking through the dark soil and compost mix.  This is my first time gardening in any sort of preplanned, even remotely educated way and I'm both giddy and anxious to see some sign that I did it "right".  Is there enough sun?  Did I plant the seeds too deep?  Should I have paid more attention to what the package said about soil type?

I was recently doing the same thing with a friend's six-year old son.  We were walking around their garden to see what new plants had appeared after several days of rain.  I told him about my after work routine and he laughed "You're Toad!"

"What?" Kids are well known for saying just what they think, but I couldn't imagine where this declaration had come from.

"You know from Frog and Toad."  He looked at me expectantly.

"I don't remember."  It had been a long time since I'd read the series.

"Toad was in his garden yelling 'Grow' at his plants.  Frog came over and said 'What are you doing?  We planted them yesterday'". 

Now it was my turn to laugh.  I am most certainly Toad. 

Peas 041712

Thankfully, there is a harvest ready to be enjoyed today.  This isn't one of those plants that people day dream about as they flip through seed catalogs on cold, wintry days.  No, these plants are the embodiment of persistence, resilience and a sunny disposition.  I think their very prevalence makes them all the more fun to discover as a food source.

Behold, my backyard bounty -

Uncommon harvest april 2012
A bowl of violets and dandelion greens  from my lawn; and a little thyme from my container garden.  I've long been a fan of dandelions, but eating them?  When I was a kid, my older brother convinced me that the "milk" in their stems was poisonous.  This so-called knowledge made creating dandelion chain necklaces feel incredibly daring.  Since then I've learned he was just messing with me, but hearing dandelion greens compared to arugula in bitterness scared me off all over again.  However, dandelions as food are everywhere this season. 

On Earth Eats they're cooking them up and debating whether or not they can actually be called a weed since they're useful.  On Firecracker Farm they're gathering the blooms by the basketful and making fritters.  In Taproot magazine they're using them to make dandelion vinegar, salads and medicines.  It felt wasteful to ignore this bounty blooming all around me.

I'm not used to searching my yard for dinner, much less getting down low to find the youngest, mildest dandelion greens.  As I picked them part of me didn't really believe I was going to eat them.  But once they were washed and placed in my salad spinner, they looked like any other green.  I hadn't planned to eat anything else from my lawn, but when I saw the purple violets I remembered all the beautiful cakes I've seen Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy decorate with them.  And I'm sure I've seen Amanda at SouleMama cook with them too - maybe a garnish on her famous basil popcorn?  Checking first for bugs, I tentatively bit into one.  There was a slight crunch and sweetness, like sucking a clover flower. 

I decided to add these home grown ingredients to my go-to after work dinner - a microwavable package of frozen rice and whatever veggies, nuts and beans I have on hand.  I finished it off with a littel drizzle of balsamic vinegar and voila, the taste of spring!

Dinner spring 2012



The Garlic Mustard Pull is On!

In mid spring each year, signs start popping up along the road side announcing that it's time for the annual garlic mustard pull.  In the library there are signs made by school children, in the center of town more professional placards make the announcement.  It's a right of spring.  On the appointed day, people of all ages can be spotted, bent in two, or down on their knees among the poison ivy and skunk cabbage that grow along our roads.  There's an odd air of festivity about it all.

For years I've believed garlic mustard was an herb that is only here for a short time, like strawberries.  So each year those in the know gather it when it's at it's peak.  This year, I picked up a handout on the annual plant pull, and as you've probably already guessed, I learned I was as wrong as wrong can be. 

Let me share with you a few of the things I learned:

  • The Europeans brought it over to use in cooking and medicines.  Of course nothing here eats it, so it just spreads and spreads unless people step in.  So far it sounds a lot like dandelions.
  • This next fact is so fantastic I have to quote it "One plant can produce up to 6,000 seeds that can remain viable in the soil for up to 7 years!" (Lincolnconcervation.org)
  • Once the plant has flowered, it will go to seed (see above) even if you rip it out of the ground.  So proper disposal is important.
  • Why does it matter if this plant spreads?  "garlic mustard eliminates native plants, which wildlife depend on, and it can stunt the growth of native trees....Even worse, garlic mustard roots produce a chemical that prevents other plants from growing in the soil!" (Lincolnconservation.org).

Garlic mustard 042912
For such a predatory plant, it looks quite dainty.  (click the link for more photos).  The leaves are like a rounded heart, similar to the leaves on violets, and the flowers are tiny and white.  Just like purple loosestrife (the plant that is taking over our marsh lands), garlic mustard is lovely until you realize all the damage it does. 

Garlic mustard clump 042912
I took a quick look around my yard and realized most of what was in bloom, was probably an invading, pernicious force.  I crumpled the leaves to check for the tell-tale garlic odor, and hoped that what I had was another white wildflower.  It was growing so well, I hated to pull it.  But the facts couldn't be denied, my yard was under attack.

I pulled the first few clumps reluctantly.  I've been trying to get things to grow in my incredibly shady  lot for years and now there was something not just growing but thriving!   I ripped clump after clump from the ground, and something changed.  I was on a mission.  I got a thrill watching the landscape change under the work of my hands, and it felt good to do something that was so unequivocally "the right thing".  How often does that happen?  I ripped and I pulled and I grabbed anything that looked remotely similar to this charming villain.   By the time I was done, I'd gathered 5 overflowing bags from my tiny (maybe 1/8 acre) lot. 

Those were grocery store paper bags, not the giant lawn bags.  It would be truly frightening if my tiny lot had produced that much.

Now I see garlic mustard everywhere,

along my commute,

in front of the post office,

in my neighbor's lawn, 

at an open house. 

I'm tempted to rip out each and every stalk, a sort of reverse Johnny Appleseed.