Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Pleasant Afternoon Outside?!?

It was, actually.

Thus the astonishing power of shade. Matt's installing a sprinkler system in the shade garden to coddle some of our pickier cultivars. I'm especially concerned about the oak-leaf hydrangea, which is sensitive to drought and doesn't yet have much of a root system; the cordia, which needs to establish a root system and needs to grow quickly to replace our decrepit ligustrum; and the tiny wisp of a palmetto (one sad, scrawny little leaf), which, if it keeps a positive mental outlook, eats right, and gets plenty of exercise, could someday form a very nice component of our privacy screen. The Iris virginiana and the Japanese maples are also looking a bit dubious about life here in Elgin, so I wanted to reassure them. Eventually, this ghastly drought will end. For the shade bed, it ends now.

So, in my role as consultant/cheerleader, I perched on the porch glider and, you know, consulted. And what was really mindblowing and amazing was that it was nice. There were breezes, some of them cool. There was gently filtered light. And the temperature just wasn't particularly oppressive--maybe 85F or so degrees in the shade, compared to 95+ in the sun (this was in the early afternoon--it's probably closer to 101F now in the sun. And I'm no longer outside). And before Matt buried the system, he had to test it, which I felt wasn't reason to enough to get up off of the porch glider. I may have looked slightly crazy to the neighbors sitting blithely under the spray, but lemme tell you--the kids are on to something. Playing--or in my case, lolling--under sprinklers feels good. And all of this pleasure is due, ultimately--well, largely to Matt--but other than that, to the power of our giant cottonwood. Hail cottonwood! Long may you reign, Father of Gardens!

I'm also rather excited about having a more formal irrigation system with actual sprinkler heads--it seems so bourgeois and la-di-da. One or two paychecks down the line, I'll buy a 12-station timer as well, which we will eventually use to control irrigation throughout the property from one centralized, automated location. S-e-x-y!

That said, the hope is that after this area is a bit more established, we won't need to use the system very often. I do feel a bit guilty watching all that precious water arching profligately through the air. But we are in the middle of a drought, so even xeriscapes need water these days. And it isn't as though we're watering our lawn, anyway. Just our young trees, shrubs, and perennials that will ultimately help to cool the property, consume CO2, and, uh, do other productive things for Planet Earth. Provide earthworm shelter or something. Yep. No rationalization here.

Surviving a CSA
Or, What Do I Do with All These Zucchini, Pattypans, and Oriental Cucumbers?
To return to what is, for the summer, my domain (the indoors), I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) a couple of weeks ago. The interesting thing about this project--and it is very much a project--is that I'm forced to come up with ways to eat things that I--let alone Matt--would never ordinarily eat. So it's an adventure!

We get a box every week, plus eggs every other week and an extra--jelly, pesto, &c--on intervening weeks. Thus far, we've gotten some good stuff (tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots, and garlic), some indifferent stuff (Oriental cucumbers, zucchini), and some horrors (beets, chard, yellow squash! Bleh!)

I'm rather proud of the interesting ways of prepping veggies that I've tried. Zucchini became chocolate chip zucchini bread--oh hell yeah! Tasted like chocolate chip cookies. One batch of beets became beet-and-tasso consomme (adapted from epicurious)--which was surprisingly tasty. Probably helps that they were golden beets, so the soup didn't look like blood--always a plus. Last night I broke out the mandoline to make fritto misto out of the squash and zucchini (adapted from, plus dill and smoked salt). It was delectable--crispy, salty; so good, I didn't even make a dipping sauce--that would have obscured the flavor. The bacon-zucchini quiche wasn't half bad, either. Thing about zucchini--if you slice it thinly enough, it loses both flavor and texture, and then what's to complain about? And the squash-lemon-poppyseed muffins are okay, too (loosely adapted from a GardenWeb forum). Not fantastic, but better than a kick in the head.

And there have been the bombs. Underdone stuffed pattypans, overly charred chard, inedible chard-based eggs sardou, dreary little cucumber sandwiches--I must be the only person in the world who can't make a decent cucumber sandwich.

For this week, I've used up most of my Oriental cukes in a cucumber-based gazpacho (threw in the last of the yellow cherry tomatoes, too), and I'll be tackling a beet risotto for dinner. Hopefully, the sherry and parmesan will join forces to mask the fact that beets taste like dirt.

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