Stop And Smell The Garden
I spent the weekend weeding, cutting back weary perennials, ripping out spent annuals, trimming back tomatoes to coax the last fruits to ripen, planting garlic and sweet peas. Every time I pulled a long strand of bindweed, yanked out mint, cut a tomato stem, or collected sweet pea seeds, I noticed the scents; sharp, pungent, spicy, sweet, all woke up my nose despite my usual seasonal allergy symptoms. As more information comes in about the way covid19 virus affects people, the loss of smell ranks high as an early indicator. A few weeks ago, a study from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that over 60% of patients experienced loss or reduction of their sense of smell. Because of said allergy symptoms, I’ve freaked out about having the virus several hundred times but swooningly fragrant sweet peas always convince me that so far, I’m ok.
But am I really ok? Perhaps for a given value of ok, sure. I still get up in the morning, even after a rough night. I almost always get dressed. My work gets done, the house is staying pretty clean (full disclosure; our basic cleanliness is the work of our friend Ariceli, not me), even my workspace is astonishingly tidy. However, those last two might be considered early warning signs, since clean and tidy are not usually super high priorities around here. Keeping everything in its place feels like a way to enjoy the beautiful illusion of control. The cleaner my desk is, the more anxious my mind has grown. In my experience, anxiety does grow; it especially feeds on The News, which all too often plunges me into despair for the planet and its people. It’s tempting to blame media madness for fomenting anxiety, but reading through women’s historical accounts, it’s clear that not knowing, waiting endless months or years for news, can be every bit as anxiety producing as knowing too much too fast. I keep wondering if it’s sane to be sane right now.
More Media Fasting
When I’m not too sure about my own sanity, when I can’t sleep, a day or two of media fasting usually gets me back in balance. Since RBG died, I have had to stay away from the news feeds all week just to stop crying. The news is so toxic and so is the very air, if not here in coastal Washington, then in California and Oregon, where wildfires still rage like the people in the streets, like I rage in my heart, wafting out poisonous smoke. For relief, I turned to a favorite science briefs source this morning and read: “Hello Nature readers, Today we hear about ‘apocalyptic’ fires in the world’s largest tropical wetland, explore a comprehensive review of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine landscape and discover that birds have a brain cortex and can think.” Ack! (That’s not really what I said but you get the picture.)
Call me a wimp but I headed right back out to the garden. (Ok, I read the bird article first and it was really fascinating though, naturally enough, brief.) The dry 2020 summer left a legacy of the most abundant whitefly infestation I’ve ever experienced (of course it did). Since the best remedy is water, I went wild with the hose, spray hitting my kale like a tropical downpour as huge clouds of tiny white insects billowed out like flurries of animated snowflakes. Naturally, I turned the hose on them again and again as more and appeared. Eventually I had drowned enough that they stopped fluttering out from every plant in the garden. I calmed down, reduced the spray velocity and started playing with the rainbows, making them appear and disappear. When I followed one through its arc, it reached from a sagging hydrangea to land in a big tub. News flash! The end of the rainbow is not after all a shimmering pot of gold, but a beautiful Midnight Snack tomato plant, still stalwartly producing ripening tomatoes, dark as night.
Kinda Sorta Sane
Now I’m wondering, are neighborhood chickadees and warblers bitterly disappointed in me for drowning their favorite snack? (Both consider whitefly to be tasty treats and they are very welcome in my garden.) And how does that deep concern rate on the sanity scale? Or maybe that’s an ok thing to focus on; after all, distraction and denial are excellent coping skills, right? In the garden, the sweet peas are sporting a new flush of bloom, thanks to last week’s abundant rains. The blossoms smell as rich as ever, but the vines are lean and lanky now, brittle and nearing the end of their time. As I trim off the dead bits, I start worrying again: How will I keep myself sane when the sweet peas are over and I can’t smell them every day? I pluck a handful of leaves, mingling mint and oregano, rosemary and thyme, sage and the spicy-sweet, licorice flavored foliage of the Drop Shot marigold (aka Irish Lace). Together they make a full bodied living perfume that assures me that my nose will stay awake all through the cold dark winter.
This same handful of leaves can brighten a salad, enliven an omelet and turn a cup of hot water into scented, delicious garden tea. Instead I made a layered Italian pie, alternating ripe tomatoes with fresh herbs, adding bread crumbs to absorb the juices and a little cheese to deepen the flavors. (For a vegan version, use some nutritional yeast instead.) Every summer I make this pie at least a few times and it’s never the same, because the combination of tomatoes and herbs is always different. If you make this celebratory end of summer dish, be sure to sniff deeply before eating it, since our faithful noses teach our tender mouths to taste. Onward, right?
End Of Summer Tomato Pie
1 pie crust (any kind)
1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
6-8 cups ripe sliced and/or chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon basil salt or your favorite herb salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Up to 1 cup fresh chopped/stemmed herbs*
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino or any hard cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a pie dish with the crust, crimp the edges and rub bottom and sides lightly with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle tomatoes with 1/4 teaspoon basil salt, set aside. In a bowl, combine remaining oil and garlic with remaining basil salt and pepper and gently toss with fresh bread crumbs. Fill crust with alternating layers of crumbs, tomatoes, herbs, and cheese (if using), beginning and ending with crumbs. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 F and bake until browned and bubbling (30-40 minutes). Serve hot or warm. Serves at least one.
* Suggested herbs include 1/2 cup sliced basil (I used four kinds), 1-2 teaspoons rosemary (stemmed and chopped), 1-2 tablespoons oregano (several kinds mixed), 1-2 teaspoons stemmed thyme (I used English and Lemon thyme), 2-3 tablespoons chives, and 2-3 tablespoons flat Italian parsley, but feel free to make your own combination.