Eggplant fries, sauteed zucchini, and charred baby bell peppers
Another Sunday afternoon trapped inside on a 98 degree day, looking longingly out the window. Yesterday I stayed out in the back yard until past noon pulling up weeds and raking up the dozens of plant litter piles that have accumulated around the yard. I was glad to get that all done but I was seriously overheated and worn out by the time I came in. I haven't sweat that much since El Centro... I was hoping to get some more digging done today, but when I woke up this morning the knots in my back indicated that that was not a good idea. I did collect a few barrels of compost and acquire a dragon fruit cutting as well as a pretty well-established hops plant, so at least the morning was put to good use. I know my back is grateful for the break, but I'm itching to get back out there nonetheless. This season's garden fever has begun. I've got nearly 200 little seedlings going, one of three new deep sunken beds dug out, all of the weeds and any spent summer crops pulled out of the old garden, a clean yard, and a plan. It's going to be a good fall, when it finally comes. Embarking on this new garden expansion is particularly exciting because I feel like I've finally got a good hold on things. I've gotten to know my yard, soil, pests, and predators well, and I feel armed and ready to transform this new area. There's not a time that I could go out in the garden and think, "no, there's nothing that really needs to be done around here". There's always more to do, and the more invested I get in working on this new project, the more I think of other things I want to do next.
Savory tofu crumble, pickled carrots and radishes, cucumbers, and cabbage
The other morning Chaco and I went for a hike with a couple of my co-workers. It was only the second hike I've gone on in months due to the unbearable summer heat. It was great to get my body moving in that way again. I've been practicing yoga fairly regularly this summer, but I haven't biked, hiked, or done any other cardio-related activity in far too long, and I miss it! Sometimes you don't realize how much your body needs something until you get it, and my body wants it to cool down so I can start hiking once a week and biking around town again. I've also been doing a little hard labor in the yard the past few mornings. I'm digging out a new sunken bed garden that will be ultra-gopher-fortified and Chaco-proofed. Between Chaco and the gophers, I've yet to have a successful winter garden. A year or two ago I started laying down chicken wire baskets in the ground before planting to protect the roots from gopher munching. It's been a fairly successful approach, but I've learned two important lessons. First, big cages are more effective then small cages. If the gopher can tunnel close to the roots, he can still cause serious damage. Second, even though gophers are mostly root eaters, they will come above grown and mow down the vegetative part of a plant if they really like said plant. And having attempted winter gardens for the past two years, I can tell you that gophers really dig Brassicas. Unfortunately, so does Chaco. So any brassicas the gophers missed, he readily gobbled up. I guess I can't blame them because we love them too, but I'm particularly fired up to have a lush, thriving winter garden after this less-than-excellent summer and I will not let these gophers (or my sweet, offey, vegetable-loving dog) take that away from me!
A flavorful, authentic tomato sauce made with fresh roma tomatoes reduced for four hours
I can't wait for fall. I know that it's almost September, but fall doesn't really reach southern California until November, so I still have a couple more months of heat to survive. This week, however, we have been graced with a few cool, cloudy mornings and it's making me long for the outdoors in a serious way. Sunday morning I I finally got a solid four hours of gardening in. Weeding, pulling up some diseased Solanaceae, a bit of digging, planning a new fenced-in winter garden spot... it was so lovely. I know for most people yard work like this doesn't equate to tranquility and enjoyment, but if you've ever fallen in love with gardening, then you understand. Sometimes when I'm lazily sitting inside, I too grunt at the thought of going out back and pulling up invasive palm seedlings or trying to de-scale the banana trees. But once I get out there, it's an entirely different story- feeling the dirt under my fingertips, smelling the fragrant volatiles released by the herbs, watching butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees dance around the yard... Gardening makes me feel connected to the earth. It awakens me to reality of this truly incredible planet continuously gives rise to the intricate complexity of life in its vast multitude of forms. I'm not just planting a garden, I'm facilitating the beginnings of a thriving garden ecosystem. One that I hope will outlive me.
Cheddar polenta, savory sauteed mushrooms, and tangy green tomatoes and pepperoncini
Man, have I been a serious grump this week. I've woken up everyday with a kind of chip on my shoulder- easily agitated, unfocused, irritable. And no, it's not "that time of the month". Sometimes these things just happen, but usually I'm quicker to recognize it and to confront myself about my poor attitude. This week, though, I just kind of stewed in it as if I had no control of the situation, no choice but to be grumpy and miserable. I think a lot of my discontent can be traced back to work. I'm scattered- working on several different projects and developing some new ones. And if you haven't figured this out about me yet, scattered is not my thing. I like lists, objectives, and deadlines- not ambiguity and flip-flopping. It's nearly impossible for me to really get in to something when I have to continually shift gears. And on top of that, I keep finding myself getting sucked into helping other people do their work. Long, hot overnights in El Centro to help a lab mate, going into the lab on a weekend (sacrilege!) to measure leaf traits for some other offshoot project... things I really don't want to do, but feel too guilty to decline. But the thing is, none of that is really an excuse. Just because certain aspects of my life are not ideal at the moment, doesn't mean I just get to throw in the towel and give up on having a good week. Work is not my life. My life has many other facets to it, and they (as well as poor Chris, whom I've been snapping at all week) shouldn't have to suffer just because I'm not really feeling grad school a the moment.
Creamy polenta with cheddar, a hit of pepper, and thyme
Happy Friday everyone! We've made it! Doesn't that feel like some wonderful accomplishment? Working is such a drag. I know, I'm supposed to be positive and appreciate my job (and even though I endured two miserable days of field work last week, I guess I do) but I don't think I'll ever get over this idea of exchanging a large fraction of the hours of my life for money to pay for me to be alive (and not a homeless debtor). It's just kind of a totally obscure situation to me... and weekends are my tiny little escape from this strange little world.
Spiced, carrot and oat muffins with bourbon cinnamon infused raisins
There's a switch in my brain that got flipped on Monday. As I've mentioned before, I am a planner by nature. More days than not, the plans that I devise for myself are flexible and adaptive. I have a rough timeline in my head of how the day will go, and I execute and adjust as necessary or desired. But when I'm busy, the switch gets flipped. And once the switch is flipped, the plan becomes a very strict, detailed timeline and there is no deviation. The plan is law. So Monday afternoon I got a call that we were moving a research campaign to Tuesday, staying overnight and returning Wednesday evening. I spent the better part of the evening ticking things off a mental list and constructing a strict plan of attack for the morning. There was one important errand that I had to run the following morning, so I wanted to have everything ready ahead of time, just in case it took longer than expected. But when I awoke on Tuesday morning with the plan engraved in my brain, I just couldn't do it. I woke up with a buildup of unpleasant sinus allergies, grumbling hunger in my belly, and a painfully swollen big toe form having the insides of an overstuffed closet fall on me the night before. And even though I wanted to get done what I planned to get done, and I was slightly disappointed and very internally resistant to letting it go- I just had to. I was tired, hungry, and not feeling well, and I had a massively long, demanding couple of days ahead of me- and I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe don't push it this morning. Maybe skim down your plan to just the essentials and spend the rest of your time and energy trying to put yourself into a better mental and physical state to take on the days ahead. Maybe jumping right into a million things is not the best way to feel prepared for the day. Maybe I have to just forcibly flip that switch back in the other direction."
A savory, hearty breakfast bowl with pickled radishes and sriracha cucumbers
Everything feels very quiet and still today. Chris left for a conference on Saturday and won't be back until Thursday. I always feel suddenly incomplete when we have to spend time apart. We're both fairly independent people who require a certain amount of alone time, but we've grown very content and comfortable in each other's company and it's just strange when we are apart. Joni said it best- "the bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide". I usually spend the first day after he's gone bumbling around, feeling off and a little lonely, and then perk up around the second day and try to pack it full of things. If I can get swept up in my usual string of passions, I can drift off into a world where I forget that he's not here and avoid the onset of boredom. This morning, I woke up early and decided I ought to head off missing his companionship by cooking a really hearty, savory breakfast dish. Chris and I have been entertaining this idea of savory, vegetable-infused breakfast dishes a lot lately, but we haven't done too much actual experimenting. I think mostly it has to do with time. We get up plenty early, but always manage to fill up our mornings with odds and ends and usually just try to throw together something quick for breakfast. But if I planned my mornings a little better, I could be eating dishes like this every day.
Tangy, zesty green beans with a kick
This past week went by in a blur. I feel like I wasn't even there to see it pass. Part of the week was busy, part of it a little miserable, and part of it enjoyable- but all of it was shrouded in a haze. I had this vacant, almost robotic feeling that I could neither justify nor shake. Just a strange, almost out-of-body experience, watching myself go through the motions. I've been struggling to stay engaged in work lately. I keep having to shift my focus between one project and another and it's made it challenging for me to really get into what I'm working on. I'm much better when I have something to focus on- clear objectives, consistent demands. I don't like too much ambiguity and I don't like having to hop between things unless they're quick and easy to complete. I'm an excellent focuser when I'm allowed to focus. But every time I have to change gears and attend to something new, I have to get over the hump of re-engaging myself, which ends up requiring a lot of mental effort without the equivalent reward. I have also felt strangely paralyzed by publishing this blog. I don't have any delusions about it being an overnight sensation and imposing great expectations upon me, but in publishing it, I all of the sudden felt a sense of obligation and, subsequently, that I was failing it by not having anything good to post this week. It's incredibly silly in retrospect, but it felt a little like when you make a job of your hobby and then it isn't fun anymore. At any rate, the combination of feeling disengaged and unfocused at work and frustrated at my lack of amazing culinary triumphs in the kitchen this week, just made me feel like crawling under a rock and hiding away from the world.
A rustic hand-cut pasta dish with creamy butternut squash and asaparagus
What a week! It started normally enough, but about half-way through it got kicked into high gear. After a long and unexpected day in the field, I had to scramble to redirect my attention to my dissertation proposal. This was followed by a not-so-excellent dissertation committee meeting, then a long day of errands and doing a ridiculous amount of laundry, and now (finally, the good part) hosting a couple of friends from South Carolina this evening. Over the past month or two, I've been maintaining a better balance in how I invest my time and energy. This week was not chaotic by any means, but adding a few unexpected long days and extra task to my to-do list just really threw me off for some reason. I found myself feeling anxious on Friday and started to fall into that "I have so much to do", "that deadline is going to be here before I know it", "how is time moving so fast right now?"- spiral. Moments like that feel as though there's this massive wave swelling in front of me and I'm just standing there watching- waiting for it to hit me. In reality all I need to do is snap out of it and get moving. Sometimes it's hard to recognize that in the moment but I'm glad I didn't let it overtake me. I spent the bulk of yesterday a tad more stressed than I'd like to have, but I've managed to have a pretty nice weekend. And the best part is still yet to come.
Hi there! I'm Cara- plant ecologist, gardening addict, and whole foods enthusiast. My whole life revolves around plants, including my kitchen. Join me here at LWM each week as I post local, seasonal, plant-based recipes and write about my never ending quest to find balance and tranquility in this crazy little world.