Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back To Where We Started From

Okay: I give - and these words may never have been uttered in this order in all of history: what in glamorous tarnation happened to my fucking swiss chard?

One afternoon a couple weeks ago, I went outside to gloat about my sprouting planters and verdant garden beds, gloating, you understand, requires a significant investment of time, not to mention warm compost. Which is worth it. When I came around the corner of the picnic table, I found about half the chard leaves blistered and browning. This is hard to describe without sounding like a Discovery Channel special. But here goes.

When I was eleven, my parents had only just turned thirty and separated, so I spent a great deal of time unsupervised and at least once, burned down the kitchen. We ate a lot of take-out Chinese for a while, and Mom got a new stove out of the deal, but also, I watched with scientific detachment as a huge blister rose on the back of my left hand where a giant glob of molten wax landed, ending my career as a candlemaker. The blister was huge, the skin taut; I couldn't take my eyes off it. I was sorry when it healed, as slathering it with emollients had become my hobby.

So I was both horrified and fascinated to observe that chard leaves have top and bottom surfaces that can separate and resemble a blister. The leaves were taut, like a Ziploc bag sealed with air inside. I had never seen this before, so I did what any idiot would do: I got gardening shears and trimmed off the blistered and browning parts before they ate up the rest of the leaves. Nom nom nom. Of course, a gardener who knew what she was doing wouldn't have pictured her swiss chard stepping all over Tokyo and munching on a subway train, but I can't help but wonder if this could have been avoided somehow. What happened? Did the roots hit a chunk of something they didn't find tasty, maybe?

Pete and I are trying to jar or freeze something fresh every weekend. Last summer, we worked hard at it but we were also doing so much work on moving and the house that we didn't have much energy left to devote to preserving. Even so, we put away quart jars of Pete's tomato sauce that carried us through the raw, frigid days of February, when - let's be honest - if even dinner's no good you just want to kill yourself. Last night, Pete made both basil pesto and arugula pestos, which we put into the freezer. We have arugula growing on every surface, and the flavor has been peppery and sweet and totally fantastic, so its addition to regular pesto adds spice and bite and a nice change. On Friday, I picked up peaches at the farmers market, so this afternoon we're going to make a peach barbecue sauce we both love so much we'd eat it off a garbage can lid.

As a gardener, I leave much to be desired. Our next door neighbor's garden is lush and gorgeously green. The houseplants Topaz and Sweetpea tortured all winter came outside and promptly withered. I don't understand it. Last summer, in the exact same locations, the houseplants did everything but sing. This year: we pull them out at the anemic roots. And for some reason, I may be the only person in history who can't grow strawberries. They're weeds. Last summer, I planted strawberries that grew for a matter of minutes before they took one look at me and went to horticulture heaven. In May, I planted strawberry plants that gave me the raspberry, so last month, I planted more. These, finally, grew like gangbusters. Two days ago, they started to droop. I have every confidence these will be pinin' for the fiords by the end of the week. But at least I'm consistent.



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