When I announced plans to build a raised-bed vegetable garden on our little strip of grass out front, I really meant it. But my husband challenged my desire to grow things; he wondered whether I lusted after other people’s garden spaces because I wanted to dig in the dirt so badly or because I simply felt obligated to grow things. He had a valid point; I once sewed an entire quilt for our bed so we could have a homemade quilt, not because I have any love for sewing. And I’ll never do it again.
Anyway, I wanted to harvest my own carrots and garlic, and yell at my own cat for pooping between the rows, but I couldn’t truthfully answer him about the digging in the dirt part, because I’ve never really had a garden. I didn’t know what I wanted.
With the arrival of this persimmon tree; we were forced to actually begin the transition from new homeowners with gardening dreams to garden planners with pen, paper, and calculator. We spent a few days hemming and hawing over what size bed(s) to build, what to grow, how high to make them, etc. Then we started pricing things out. And then we decided to become more passive gardners, enjoying the fruits of fewer, larger (and less expensive) things for the time-being and saving a massive vegetable garden construction project for later in life.
Saturday morning, after a serious breakfast (which I’ll get to eventually), we began raking and planting and digging in the mist – a wide, shallow hole for our edible menorah (an espaliered apple tree with three different varieties), little holes for the herbs, unruly holes for the dog for whatever it was she’d been planning to put in them. And as we worked, I realized why so many people who enjoy cooking also enjoy gardening: both bring up a constant thread of unexpected memories for me, associations and smiles and sadnesses somehow sparked by whatever it is I’m touching.
Weeding the rhubarb, its shriveled pink heads protruding through the earth like so many little alien brains, I thought of the gaint rhubarb plants the big boys blew up with bottle rockets every year at a family Fourth of July party we used to always attend. Poking little chive seeds into my (first ever) seed-starting pods to put on the windowsill, I thought of the woman in Woods Hole who gave me chives the first summer we lived there.
As I planted and weeded all morning, people just kept walking through my head, like long-lost friends at a reunion somehow sparked by the gardening experience. Discovering a peone bush reminded me of a friend in Boston who loves them; the I-think-I-can leaf buds on the blueberry bush we bought last year (thank goodness it survived the winter!) aren’t too far from where the bushes near our apartment in Blue Hill, ME were, when we arrived there in early June for the summer of 1998. Even the seeds for the salad mix I’m going to plant in windowsills hanging off the porch banister (high, so the dog can’t eat them) made me think of something. In my friend’s hand, they were colorful like the after-dinner candy my then-8-year-old sister and I got at an Indian restaurant once in Paris.
As we worked, I got more and more into it, and learned that I might be the type happy to dig away in the dirt all day. Maybe we should have planted a real vegetable garden, so I could make carrot salads from carrots grown in my own yard. But the farmers nearby will always do a darn good job of it, and I think I’ll find I can constantly harvest other valuable things from whatever comes up on our land.
Recipe for Carrot and Walnut Salad
Recipe 63 of 365
I dug out my rarely used mandolin to make long, thin, ribbony strips of carrot, but cut them however you choose; you can also use a vegetable peeler to make long strips, or grate them on a box grater or using a food processor.
Use good-quality sea salt, vinegar, and oil for this recipe.
TIME: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes (or overnight) to marinate
MAKES: 4 – 5 servings
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and either ribboned or grated
1 cup toasted walnuts
Juice from about 1/4 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, parsley, or dill
Whisk the mustard, vinegar, and a little salt and pepper together in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until the oil is fully incorporated. Add the carrots, toss to coat, and let the carrots marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes (or overnight in the refrigerator), or until the carrots begin to soften, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
Just before serving, add the walnuts, a big squeeze of lemon juice, and the herbs, and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.