Posted in musings

cauliflower and coronavirus

While my sweet potato vines were still forming a solid wall on the south side of one of my garden beds, I planted some seeds in the rest of the bed. They sprouted, and stayed alive, but didn’t grow very well since they weren’t receiving enough sunlight. I forgot whether I had planted cauliflower or broccoli, and as the months went by, I decided they must be stunted broccoli plants that wouldn’t produce because the shade had reduced their growing season by too much.

Then, one day, I sat down on the flagstone at the end of the garden bed to shell some peas and happened to glance over at the plants – to discover a little white cauliflower head peeking out at me!

I poked around in great excitement and found a much larger one, ready to be harvested, on the neighboring plants.

Since then I’ve discovered 4 more heads lurking among the leaves, a quite unexpected and satisfying harvest in the midst of more serious and negative unexpected news. We may have significant changes to our social patterns and routines, and soon people we know and love may get sick and make the virus more frightening in its nearness – but in the garden, life goes on, each plant quietly growing in fullness and beauty (I do really think the cauliflowers are beautiful). And so in our own homes, with our own families, we can continue to quietly grow in love and wisdom and holiness, doing the small and silent things that cultivate life. We may end up surprised at the harvest that results from the seeds of virtue we can plant now, even if we forget about them for a time when life returns to more normal patterns!


If you have a random surplus of cauliflower (who knows, maybe it’s the only vegetable left at the grocery store when you get there!), I have three recipes good enough to make multiple times (and no pictures of any of them. Sorry!)

The first is a Moroccan-inspired dish that basically consists of me tossing chopped cauliflower into a sauté pan with diced preserved lemon, chopped dates, olive oil, a touch of smoked paprika, salt and pepper. I want to try adding cardamom next time I make it. I think a unifying sauce to hold all the disparate ingredients together would have made this better, but I didn’t know what base to use. So, this was good but could definitely be improved (and I’ll be playing around with it again soon, once my new batch of preserved lemons is ready to use).

The second is a simpler recipe; I just sauté the cauliflower in olive oil and butter and add parsley and toasted sliced almonds at the end. This always ends up tasting wonderful and goes particularly well as an accompaniment to fish.

Finally, I tried Smitten Kitchen’s silky cauliflower soup recipe last night and fell in love with it (the recipe is 14 years old and I’ve been following her blog for at least half that time – I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid it this long. Don’t make my mistake!) It is so easy, doesn’t require any special ingredients, and has amazing flavor. I would recommend using a broth that you particularly like as the base for the soup, however, since there aren’t many ingredients and the flavor will come through.


I hope all you readers are staying healthy, finding positive ways to fill in the gaps left by cancelled events, and managing to hold on to calm and peace with so many extra anxiety triggers floating around – I’ll be keeping you in my prayers in general but especially with regards to the COVID-19 situation.

Posted in family life

winter (spring?) in the desert garden

It’s somewhat confusing referring to the current season here in Phoenix. By our position relative to the equator and the sun, it is winter. The deciduous trees, having finally turned color and shed their leaves in early January, also proclaim that it is winter. On the other hand, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom around the valley, heralding the spring. And here in my garden, the harvest is overflowing – dill and cilantro reach higher than my head, the broccoli plants that have put me off grocery store broccoli for life are sprouting countless side heads for the secondary harvest, and the peas are persevering through the late frost to round out the last few weeks of their pod production. I suppose that would be late spring/early summer in most of the country?

But here it’s just the brief unnamed transition between the cool season and the warm season: the final ripening of all the plants that thrive in the chilly winter weather, and the first stirrings of the short-lived beauty that is the spring wildflowers, and the preparations for the summer planting in just over a month.

Now is when some days are cloudy and windy and we have to bundle up well against the cold, layering jackets upon jackets – but now is also when we can spend all day outside, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, climbing and running and imagining and snacking on the bounty of the garden.

In between shelling peas, the kids pretended they were giant spiders and the climbing dome was their web: the teal bars were the sticky threads to catch prey and the grey bars were the non-sticky threads that the spiders could safely travel across. Aubade kept getting her skirt hooked on the handholds but was quite adept at getting herself unstuck by the end of the afternoon 🙂

So whatever this season may be, we are definitely enjoying it!

Posted in family life

jack-o-lanterns in july

The unique gardening calendar of the low desert means that we’ve been harvesting butternut squash and pumpkins for the past few weeks, and enjoying all the traditional fall flavors and activities as we go.

We had so many pumpkins that I really didn’t know what to do with them all. We have cups and cups of seeds (some roasted, some dried for crafting), two quarts of pumpkin juice (for my inner Harry Potter fan), and quite a few bags of puree in the freezer (although that is mostly from the butternut). I’ve made butternut pasta sauce, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, and Thai butternut curry so far – and more pumpkins and squashes keep ripening on the vines. (Everything was good except the pasta sauce, and I knew it was a risk when I tried it. What can I say, I was getting desperate.)

So, I’ve been letting the kids draw faces on the extra pumpkins, carving them out, and using the resulting jack-o-lanterns as nightlights! It may not be October, but we’re certainly enjoying our autumnal friends this summer 🙂

 

 

Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

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My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in family life

mary, mary, quite contrary

Finally, finally, our yard has come to life.

It’s been almost two years since we moved in to a home with a large empty dirt yard, and  slowly began to shape it as time and budget allowed – and the final step, this spring, was to add irrigation and plants.

  1. Instead of grass, we planted a lawn of clover and herniaria. And then on impulse I threw in a bunch of wildflower seeds and they took over. Not so great of a decision there – but they brought all the butterflies to our house while they lasted, and they aren’t perennial so the main staples of the lawn should eventually fill in the space. Rondel spent a few days prowling through the wildflowers with an old salsa container trying (and succeeding, surprisingly often) to catch the visiting butterflies.191140
  2. On another impulse, fortunately with a more fortuitous outcome, I planted a row of mammoth sunflowers along the eastern side of the lawn, in between the lawn and the gardens. They still have another two months to grow (and won’t those bright blossoms be a gift in the hottest, most barren part of summer here in Phoenix?) and already the largest is taller than me! 

  3. On the west side of the yard we planted our first two little saplings, a lemon and a peach (we have room for three more on the east side, but the ground isn’t ready). And the little peach tree has the softest, fuzziest baby peaches on it right now! We pruned off most of them so the tree wouldn’t be over-stressed, but we left a few – I don’t know exactly which variety it is but I believe it should typically finish ripening by mid-May, depending on the weather. 191138
  4. Speaking of weather, our cold, wet winter has turned into an uncommonly mild and rainy spring, which I really appreciated when I realized that my cantaloupe vines were taking over everything and I seriously needed some sort of trellis to provide them with the necessary space to grow. Two trips to Lowe’s (something is always forgotten) and many hours of work later (spread out over several days), I got them built and in place, and un-tangled and tied up as much of the viny mass as possible. They’re like tunnels over the path between the garden beds and if the cantaloupe grow to the top I will be very happy but not at all surprised as they are already halfway up. Word to the inexperienced: have ample space or trellises in place before your cantaloupe have seven-foot long vines twisting around each other and trying to take over the neighboring garden beds! 

  5. Cantaloupes are not the only vining plant we have growing right now, though the others are still much more restrained. Opposite from the cantaloupe on the north side we have cucumbers and butternut squash, and on the other side of the southern trellis from the cantaloupe we have pumpkins. I am doing my best to train these up the trellis as soon as they are long enough to reach it to avoid the tangled mess that is the bed of cantaloupes…191150
  6. In the remaining un-trellised bed I have mostly herbs: lavender, rosemary, oregano, purple basil, sage, mint, and dill. It is so convenient to have those herbs on hand when I’m cooking (especially the dill, which I love and which is expensive and doesn’t last well when bought at the store). I am, however, going to have to put a barrier around the mint to keep it from spreading, as I ignored everyone’s advice about it when I planted it and have been amazed at its rapid growth in just the past two months. The basil has also grown like crazy and I’m thinking there will soon be enough to make purple pesto. This bed is probably the kids’ favorite since they can pluck a leaf off any of the plants for a quick bite whenever they walk by 🙂191146191147
  7. Finally, out front, we have a blackberry bush filling in the planter along the front wall! We are in the middle of blackberry season right now and Limerick makes sure to go outside at least twice a day to see if any more berries are ripe! There aren’t a ton of berries this year, but given the amount of new growth, next year’s crop is going to be insane. (And yes, that’s a tomato cage. I didn’t have any stakes and I wanted to encourage one of the main stalks to grow more vertically…)IMG_5399

How does your garden grow?

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of today’s linkup!