Gardening As Active Meditation
My new meditation app informed me this week that, according to recent studies, humans spend on average about 47% of our waking hours in a distracted state of mind. What’s more, we feel less happy when we are distracted than when we are focused on absorbing activities. I find that figure staggering but not really surprising. Who among us has never found a pair of socks in the refrigerator (just as a purely random example) or the car keys in the laundry basket or…. Lately I’ve found myself reading the same page over and over without taking in the sense of the words and realizing that my mind is whirling. Sometimes the distractions are world woes or family issues, and sometimes they’re practical issues that need attention. Sometimes I think I slip into distraction mode out of sheer habit. Or out of denial? Lalala I can’t HEAR you?
Whatever the cause, that response has become so automatic that though I’ve adjusted my workload to reduce what’s on my plate, it’s taking me a while to adjust to feeling calmer. Apparently I’ve still got the habit of hurry and I can still get revved up in a heartbeat. However, as our weather shifts from heatwave to mere summer warmth, I’m rediscovering the active meditations of gardening. There are walking meditations of course, but I really enjoy a good pruning meditation. I noticed that a recent tree renovation session left me calm and invigorated, maybe because it required both thoughtful attention and assessment and action, and the activity was fruitful and satisfying. When no tree needs attention, there’s always the neoclassic bindweed meditation, peacefully reeling in a mile or two of vine like living yarn while setting the captives free.
An Endless Cycle, A Fresh Start
Prepping beds for planting fall starts is even more soothing. Renewing the compost coverlet for heat-weary soil, watering deeply, tucking in hopeful young plants, all feel comforting to me and they’re clearly refreshing to the garden. Rather than fuming over some fresh political iniquity, I find peace in pulling weeds, grooming flowers, planting fall vegetables. The timeless work makes me feel connected to generations of gardener ancestors who did this same work in other places, other countries, going back for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
Gradually, this gentle, healing work absorbs my attention and helps me stop arguing in my head with people who aren’t here. A wholesome distraction from the toxic kind? Bird song replaces my inner ranting. My hands feel the life in the soil, the health in a vigorous young plant, the fatigue in an aging one as it slides toward slumber or slow decay. Here in the garden, all these states are equally natural; the growth and the resting, the new life and the ending life. Peace, it’s wonder-ful.
Running Julia’s Tian Through The Garden
When zucchini starts appearing on my porch, I don’t panic. Instead, I make a family favorite casserole which always gets eaten up eagerly (maybe because I never mention the main ingredient?). Golden-crusted and smelling like summer, this simple dish is delicious right out of the oven and makes lovely leftovers. It’s great as an omelet filler or a pleasing stuffing for roasted tomatoes or sweet peppers if your family leans that way.
My recipe started off as one of Julia Child’s classics, Tian de Courgettes au Riz. We find this streamlined version to be tastier, lighter, and fresher in flavor; instead of draining the grated zucchini, then adding more liquid, you simply add a bit of liquid to the vegetable juices. With less oil and no butter, you don’t get an icky oil slick oozing from each serving. Fresh corn and grated vegetables add color and flavor, and swapping Parmesan for Asiago or Pecorino are fine options. See what you think!
Julia’s Zucchini Plus
2 teaspoons avocado or olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon basil salt (or any salt)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup raw long grain rice
About 2 pounds zucchini, grated (6-8 cups)
1 or 2 cups raw corn kernels (from 1 or 2 ears)
1-2 cup grated green beans (optional)
1 cup chopped sweet peppers (optional)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cup sliced basil leaves
1/2 cup milk or broth
3/4 cup grated Asiago or any favorite hard cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rub a 3 quart casserole with oil. Heat remaining oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat, adding the onion and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring a bit, until soft and slightly golden (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add raw rice and cook, stirring a bit, for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with flour, pepper, and remaining salt. Add corn, green beans and peppers (if using), basil, the milk or broth, and half a cup of cheese, toss again, then stir in the rice mixture. Mix well, then spoon into the oiled casserole, cover tightly (use foil if you don’t have a covered casserole dish) and bake for 60 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F, remove foil or cover, sprinkle on remaining cheese and bake for an additional 15 minutes until crisp and golden brown.