White-gray morning sky and the icon on my desktop said rain. I didn’t have to water the seeds I planted last week—the mesclun, spinach, arugula, kale, and peas, the carrots, radish, and beets that came later.
I love spring and summer rain because I don’t have to water my gardens. I love the rain because sometimes I need a day to catch up on errands or inside projects, things I don’t want to do when the day calls me outside.
The rain will sink into to the dry soil. It will help open up those seeds and wake up the peepers.
I’ve been in a writing drought. I’ve found myself resistant to writing. My notebooks are filled with what I’d consider grumblings not writing. I’ve sent out letters. I’ve abandoned my blog. The half written article and the not quite right essay get shuffled from place to place.
I tried writing prompts, but instead of new words, I thought of ones I’d already written.
“I’m tired of my own story,” I thought.
Back in January, an editor had nudged me to submit an essay we had talked about. The timing felt terrible, but I did it. The digital edition came out earlier this month, and the magazine itself, arrived over the weekend. With it came responses—an email from a friend, a call from a neighbor, a FB message, comments on the digital version, emails to the editor. Gentle rain.
Each response reminded me that one of reasons I write is to share experience—to connect.
Writing is discovery and self-understanding.
Writing is capturing memories—or letting them out to let them go.
Writing is communication and sharing.
Writing, over time, allows us to notice patterns and change.
Writing, whether letter or essay or blog post or book, is expression.
The writing in my pile of notebooks and the nested folders on my computer matters. Writing is in part about the process. Writing shared matters in a different way.
This is why I’ll struggle with the stubborn essay on my desk that isn’t taking shape and find my way back here again, why I’ll keep trying to find a home in the world for an essay that did come together, why I’ll keep coming back here even when it feels like it’s been too long.
Whether it’s writing or something else you’re feeling stuck with, go back to your whys.
Tell me about your why.
“What happened?” my big girl asked from the seat behind me, her question mirroring my own momentary confusion.
“Somebody hit us,” I said stunned.
She was OK. I was OK, but shaken, badly. All week, I was tight and anxious. All week, my stomach has churned as I called the insurance company, filled out forms, waited for call backs, avoided thinking about what could have been.
All week, still off-kilter, I needed grounding, so I stepped outside. I welcomed the golden afternoon autumn sun, warm on my back. I breathed deep the cold smell of fall. While my kids jumped in piles of yellow and browning leaves, I pulled plants soft and straggling after our frost. I loosened the cold earth and dumped wheelbarrows of compost. And I planted garlic.
Garlic was the most satisfying thing I grew in my garden this year. I don’t know why I haven’t grown it before. I loved every step from the early green points poking out of the earth to the graceful curved scapes that I cut off for pesto to the bulbs themselves that I dug a few months ago and hung to dry.
I love this starting point too. It’s time to plant garlic again, now when everything else is wrapping up or just hanging on. Now while I’m pulling dead plants and putting the garden to bed for spring. I love the hope of planting, even if it means a long wait. All winter, I’ll know that my garlic is out there under the soil, under the snow, waiting for spring sun, ready to push up shoots and get going.
Garlic didn’t ask a lot of me. I picked the scapes and dug the bulbs. I ate the scapes quickly, and the bulbs will stick around for a while (though we go through garlic pretty quickly around here).
Garlic was simple in the garden and it’s simple in the kitchen. I’ve been making this easy garlic bread for more than 20 years now, since I first learned it in an Italian kitchen.
1 loaf good, firm bread
1–2 cloves garlic peeled and halved
kosher or sea salt
- Slice the bread and toast it under the broiler just until it starts to take on a little color. Flip the bread and toast the other side.
- Arrange the toast on a platter, and while it is still warm, rub one side of each slice with the garlic.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with salt.
One of my favorite fall dinners is this garlic bread served with greens (sauteed with more garlic) and white beans. Some nights I’ll add sausage (my favorite is garlic and cheese—yep, more garlic—from our local market) or mushrooms. Some nights I just keep it at beans, greens, and bread. Simple. Quick. Satisfying.
Last weekend we had a killing frost. In the Saturday morning chill while my big girl got ready for soccer, I trotted up to the garden. I filled a plastic grocery bag with jewel-toned chard, crimson and gold threading through deep green leaves. I picked a quart of green beans, a handful of jalapenos and miniature bell peppers. I left the carrots and the beets in the ground; they’d be fine. I considered the basil, but it was looking anemic.
Just before I got in the car to head out for the weekend, I cut flowers—bright red dahlias and zinnias—orange-red, pale to deep pink, more red—and filled an old canning jar. There will be mums still and asters, but it’s my last cutting of these brilliant hues.
It’s a time of endings in the garden. Wrapping up.
And yet, cilantro is sprouting all over. Johnny-jump-ups raise their little smiles. And garlic is ready to go into the ground, with hopes for the spring.
While I worked on clearing the limp, blackened plants from the garden, my girls raked the yellow leaves that blanketed the yard, hoping for a huge pile to jump in. The wood piles grow. Dinner is less about grilling and salad than something that can go in the oven—shepherd’s pie, pork and apple pie—or simmer for hours on the stove—pea soup, squash soup.
It’s a time of endings, but it’s a beginning of this next season too. Snow flew briefly on Sunday. The girls ran out to greet it. I didn’t welcome it, not yet. This season on golden and crimson leaves will end soon enough, shifting to the brown of oaks. Even the cilantro and parsley and mums, holding out for now, will succumb to the cold. And then I’ll welcome the snow (though maybe not too much of it?). Then I’ll shift from cider to cocoa.
But for now, I’m cleaning up from the summer I’ve already said good-bye to. I’m embracing the smell of chilly mornings and wood smoke, and rotting leaves. I’m soaking up the sun and watching the busy bees, knowing I have much to do too, but feeling lazy.
Last night I sautéed some of that chard with mushrooms and my own garlic. I added white beans and grilled eggplant and bright roasted squash. I toasted bread and rubbed it with more of my garlic, sprinkled it lightly with salt, drizzled thickly with olive oil. Bright colors, rich and earthy flavors. The last of my garden bounty becomes one of my favorite fall meals. An end, a beginning.
What’s wrapping up for you right now? What’s beginning? Write about a time of transition whether it’s seasonal or something shifting in your own life?
Waiting for green coriander—and keeping the pollinators happy
Tick Tick Ticktickticktick
A cluster of tiny green seeds rolls through my fingers into a plastic bowl.
“I think everyone really loves my green coriander pesto,” my big girl says as she strips seeds from the plants I’ve pulled. “Well, except for some of the kids. Because they’re picky.”
She’s been anticipating this moment since early spring when I began finding cilantro everywhere. We noticed the plants getting bigger and sending out feather, carrot-top like leaves. We watched bees buzz the tiny white flower clusters. And we found the first tiny green seeds. Now, some of the plants have gone from full flower to full seed.
To everything its season, and this is the season for green coriander.
Two years ago, I cooked with green coriander for the first time, making the green coriander–marinated chicken from Grow, Cook, Eat. Picking green coriander (and later the dried, brown seeds) became a summer afternoon activity with the kids asking if we could pull one more plant to strip. As long as everyone had their own plant and their own bowl, squabbles were minimal.
Last summer my big girl decided we should make pesto with the green coriander. We talked about the things that usually went into pesto and she picked what she wanted to put in. Here’s what she came up with:
K’s Green Coriander Pesto
1/2 cup green coriander (roughly seeds from 3–4 plants)
1 scant cup parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
Two good squeezes of lemon juices
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Romano cheese
- Run the green coriander, parsley, garlic, and walnuts in a food processor until smooth-ish. (The green coriander will still be a little pebbly, but all the seeds should be somewhat ground up.)
- Add the olive oil and lemon and whiz to combine.
- Stir in the cheeses.
- Taste and add more lemon juice or oil if needed.
This has a crunchier texture than most pesto. We love it on chicken and crackers. We’re less fond of it on pasta. I imagine that the bright green, citrusy flavor would be good with fish or shrimp.
My big girl was so excited to bring green coriander pesto chicken to a pot luck last night. If rosemary is the smell of jealousy, maybe green coriander is the smell of pride.
What are you creating with summer’s bounty these days?
Four tomatoes hung in a small cluster, orange-red, with a bit of yellow on the shoulders. The other plants hold hard only green stones or tiny yellow flowers. I picked the first, held it warm from the sun. Every year when I pick the first tomato, I want to hold it up reverently, slice it ceremoniously, share it in the celebration of the first tomato.
Every year I remember that my kids don’t like tomatoes and my husband would think the first tomato celebration silly and a bit much. So I savor it myself, slicing it and sprinkling the ribbons of basil, drizzling the olive oil, sitting at the picnic table to eat because that burst of summer should be eaten outside. Or I stand in the garden, sun-warm tomato in my hand and eat it, slowly, juice dripping down my chin. Either way, a celebration.
I walk through my garden regularly, seeing what’s ready to be picked, what needs some attention, what’s going to be ready to pick. (Keep an eye on those zucchinis.) I enjoy all the foods that come out of my garden, but I don’t look forward to many of them the same way I look forward to tomatoes.
This year, four came ripe together and I bit into one in the garden, bursting its skin, the juice coming out with almost a pop. I ate the others under the pear tree, ignoring bickering at the dinner table and licking a bit of juice-flecked oil from my thumb.
More tomatoes will come and I’ll enjoy them fresh and slow-roasted with garlic. I’ll make sauce and simmer them into salsa. I’m looking forward to tomato bounty (fingers crossed against late blight, a problem I haven’t had yet, and septoria spot, which I have), but I celebrate that first tomato.
What part of summer are you celebrating right now?
Celebrating tomatoes is really about slowing down and savoring. It’s about finding and holding joy in small things.
What can you celebrate today? What can you notice? Think small and focus on your senses. Enjoy!