Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Accidental Gardener

Let's get one thing straight, right from the get-go: I am not a farmer. Not even remotely close to anything like a deliberate self-grower of food. I buy 98% of my food from the store, where the veggies are (generally) organic, the meat & fish is unrecognizable as animal life, wrapped serenely as it is in its sanitary plastic wrap, and the beans are in a big hopper and I shovel out as much (generally more) as I need. In other words: I try to make intelligent shopper decisions, buy local when I can, and organic/free-range/antibiotic-free on other mainstays. But I do not "make" my own food.

Which is not to say that I dislike the idea. In a romantic, philosophical sense, I love the idea of gardening. This kind of disassociative mental meandering includes visions of black earth, moist and loamy, and planted with neat rows of peas, carrots, beets, sweet (and pop!) corn, with perhaps some berry bushes on the side. Onions. Loads of garlic. But, this is ideological only. I hate weeding, and while I really enjoy the taste of home-grown food (especially that which hasn't had the bejesus sprayed out of it), I don't appreciate the work that goes into gardening. Trust me: my mother-in-law is an insatiable gardener, to the point where her back is almost always "done-in" because she spends so much time bent over, weeding and picking and generally fussing over her plot. Nope. No thanks. Not for me.

So, it comes as rather a surprise that I/we have grown a rather bumper crop of food this summer, at least by the standards of our household. After picking literally a BOWL full of ripe berries this evening, I set out to photograph our tomato plants that are, Killer-wise, taking over our deck.

So, yeah. This represents those fruits that were ripe today. I'm sure there will be this many tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. And here I thought nothing would ever be able to overcome the bushels of mint we have growing in this same space...

Looking around, I realized I'd forgotten about our squash. Yup, you heard me: SQUASH. See, I'd bought an acorn squash sometime in the early spring, but it went bad before we could eat it. Not wanting to waste it - and trying to make up for the black walnuts I elminated as a food source a year ago - I simply cut the squash open and threw the halves out back for the squirrels and birds. And, in that wonderful way that life has, this was the result:

Risking life-threating cuts from the unnecessarily sharp-edged leaves, I poked around and found at least a half-dozen of these: having GROWN squash before, can anyone tell me when I harvest these little cuties??

Moving around the yard, we come to the annual pots of peppers. Tomatoes haven't historically done well in pots for us, but peppers seem to thrive, and this year is no exception:

It seems we'll have enough for a second harvest of rhubarb, which I guess means it's pie or crisp time...

And, two non-food items, but still requiring some combination of minimal green-thumbedness and maximum luck: here are the ferns that we transplanted from the Island last summer...

And, last but certainly not least (inasmuch as their lush height is coming close to preventing access to my front door): here are the sunflowers which, like their squashy brethren, are volunteers which bravely soldier on down the front planter a little further every year, filling in late-season bare spots with their silly yellow goodness.

Seems I'm not the only one who enjoys these flowers: we've had bunches of happy bees nectaring in these blooms for weeks, including this little guy, so fluffy with pollen that he could barely fly:

'Kay, that's it from me. I gotta go open the good bottle of wine I refrigerated for us, settle in, and watch our future president deliver his nomination acceptance speech. baROCK & ROLL!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kansas Kraziness

Just recently returned from a great trip out west/down south to perform and visit old friends in Kansas. It's funny: we travelled a significant distance BOTH west AND south...and yet Kansas is neither of those places. It's not "out west" in the way, say, New Mexico is, since it looks lush and verdant and, well, pretty much like Michigan does in the summer, with lots of gently rolling landscape and huge...tracts of land! (Kudos if you said that last bit in a flagrant Monty Python accent.) And it certainly ain't "down south" in the way Georgia is, since Kansas advocated freedom for slaves during the War Between the States, and most people I talked to spoke with a very recognizable, very flat Midwestern non-accent. Add to that the fact that Steph & Eric, the old friends we stayed with, live in Lawrence - believably the sister city to our own fair Ann Arbor in terms of laid-back college coolness and fiery liberalism - and in many ways it hardly felt like leaving home!

Until the heat set in, of course. I just...I just don't do well with heat. For that matter, I don't do well with extreme cold either, but I can really bundle up and grow my beard and store fat and pretty much ward off sub-zero temps. Heat, though...heat's really a betch. Maybe that knitted-cap-equivalent I call a hairdo doesn't help things any, but still...yecchhh. I don't like being sweaty, I don't like being sticky, and I hate - HATE - swampass, which I am all too prone to having even on a GOOD day. I suppose, for the sake of honesty, I'd have to admit that it wasn't SOOO much hotter there than in mid-Michigan. The heat really felt like it had a WEIGHT, though. Sort of...a presence, if you will. Heavy, humid, and really not all that pleasant. Ah well. Steph & Eric might have avoided replacing their broken-down dishwasher, but thankfully their air-conditioner was in fine working order!

So, the trip was ostensibly to perform at the National Flute Convention in Kansas City with our friends Andy & Carmen. (Side note: Carm & Andy tour extensively as the duo Folias, and Andy does ALL of the driving. He's a machine, and got us from Grand Rapids to Lawrence in something like 11 hours. Thanks, dude!) We recently recorded a CD of our Latin Dance Project, and this was kind of the culminating experience with the tunes we've been playing for some 18 months. The gig was a blast: we performed for more people at this one show than all our OTHER gigs combined! It was a big conference room in the hosting hotel, and Carmen estimated there could have been as many as 150 people there. Sweet.

The rest of the time was spent hanging out with Steph & Eric. Carmen & Miss Tessmacher went into KC every day for the convention, at least for a little while. And, the four of us did rehearse on Thursday & Friday. But, really, there was a lot of free time for me & Andy. Steph was a gracious host, taking me record shopping at a great Lawrence store called Love Garden Sounds. Don't go to Lawrence without stopping there! Indulgent acquisistions included two Randy Newman LPs, Sweet's 1977 effort Off the Record, and a Shy album from early 1990 that's getting harder to find. Reasonable prices all around, and I was a happy camper. I kept pressing Eric to buy a turntable, extolling the virtues and superior sound of inexpensive used vinyl. He was intrigued...but I'm not sure I sold him on it. You kinda gotta really EMBRACE the whole LP culture, if you know what I mean.

Nights were spent in a flurry of cooking and drinking. Steph and Carmen are veg-heads, which pretty much means the rest of us were as well. Inasmuch as my cholesterol would like LESS meat in my diet anyway, it was an eye-opener to find that there were so many creative things to do WITHOUT meat. In a really memorable lunch experience, this simply came down to eating LESS, which is also something I'm after. Steph prepared corn, tomatoes, and delicious bread...and that's it! I would have had all of those as SIDES, plus a burger or something. Know what? The burger was totally unnecessary. I was full, everything tasted great...PLUS I didn't eat an extra 300 or so calories! Nice.

Of course, lots of those meat calories were replaced with nutritionally useless (but psychologically required) booze calories. Eric is a brewer, so I enjoyed several quarts of his beer, plus we all drank our body weight in wine...especially since Andy is, like, our resident wine guru and will tolerate no crap whatsoever. Then, when we were BUYING wine, Eric found Absenthe that he just HAD to try. So we brought THAT home and did the whole pour-water-over-sugar into the booze, and drank it, and it was the most deliciously intense licorice flavor I've ever had. VERY good, and very, VERY boozy. Like, 110 proof, compared to a typical 80 proof for whiskey or vodka. And you drink it straight, so there's no mixer aside from a few trickles of water to melt the sugar cube.

Good times, good people, great conversations, and a superb performance on top of it all. The only regret is that we eventually had to leave. Steph & Eric are great kindred spirits, and it's depressing to think of them being so far away. I tried to convince Eric to get a job in Michigan, which prompted much laughter and eye-rolling. So, I guess not. Still, they are missed, and now I'm trying to figure out how to convince them to "come home" for an extended visit. The doors are open!

A man & his's a beautiful thing.

Waiting for food...

A man & his's a scary thing.

After too much Absenthe, crazy things can happen...

The only photo of me from the trip, and I feel about as hung-over as I look.

Impromptu tango dancing breaks out after dinner.

Everyone cooks!

Parting shot...