Seems like an odd, unconnected trio, doesn’t it? For me, the three are deeply intertwined, especially now, during the growing season. All three are great passions of mine and, happily, all three weave in and out of my days from about mid-May through mid-October each year.
When I need a break from glaring at the computer screen, one of the best ways I’ve found to clear my head is to visit and fuss with my garden. I grow everything in containers on the enclosed deck protected from the deer, bears and other munchers. Yes, there are plenty of bears in New Jersey.
Growing up, we always had a pretty extensive vegetable garden. For about 10 years, in an earlier career, I owned and ran an organic garden center specializing in exotic herbs. Loved working with the plants, but dealing with perishable retail products was a challenge.
I’m just getting started with this year’s garden. Around here, we can still expect frost as late as the end of May, but I always risk it and get going by mid-May. On the first warm day in May, I ducked out of the office to check out the local garden centers. Fortunately, there are at least half a dozen within about 15 miles. Each has a little something special to offer and the unusual stuff sells out early. I wish more of them carried organic products. I’ve bought just about all the plants I need and I’m hoping to start potting things up this weekend, in between the raindrops.
Mostly, I grow the same things each year – a few kinds of tomatoes, kirby-type cukes, sometimes tomatillos, a nice array of herbs, some showy flowers, and some subdued flowers. With a penchant for anything purple, I have to remember to balance the flowers with some neutral colors.
Each year I try a new vegetable or two and a few unusual flowers. The unusual flowers don’t seem to have the staying power that the standard ones have. Poblano peppers were a big success last year. Two plants yielded about 5 dozen peppers and they had a beautiful sturdy tree-like stance, opening at the top like an umbrella. I’m hoping to find the plants again this year. San Marzano tomatoes were a first last year too. I had 2 or 3 plants. It was a challenge keeping up with the production.
That kind of abundance drives the way I cook. I love stretching my imagination in direct response to whatever I have to use up quickly. Some great recipes were born out of necessity. The poblanos were terrific grilled, peeled, stuffed, sauced and then baked in a casserole with interesting variations.
When I had a big batch of San Marzanos, I cut them in half lengthwise, tossed them in a bowl with olive oil, black pepper, and fresh thyme, then spread them cut-side up on a baking sheet, cooked at 275 F for about 2 hours, and after cooling them a little, I roughly pureed them in the food processor. What a heavenly sauce! I ended up with so much of it in the freezer, I didn’t use up last year’s supply until this March.
It feels like a luxury to take a few steps outside and grab a handful of herbs for whatever’s on the stove or cutting board. The novelty never wears off. And, to me, there’s nothing better than a fresh green salad sprinkled with tons of humble parsley leaves, tossed with a great virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar. As simple as that.
I fully understand why gardening is good for the soul and eases stress. My gardening breaks from resume writing really are refreshing and diverting. Thoughts of a current client’s job search challenges and their resume do creep in sometimes, but usually in a gentle way. While I’m noodling around out there, I come up with some nifty turns of phrases for resumes I’m working on. The lightbulb goes back on and I’m gently nudged back to writing.