Food Friday: Basil Bonanza

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There are so many fruits and vegetables in season right now that we are having a trouble keeping up with them. There is a veritable glut of strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, carrots, spinach and more. And lurking on our back porch is the biggest basil plant we have ever grown.

We haven’t done anything special to it except transplanting it from its grocery store plastic pot, and plunking it into the large pot it shares with a burgeoning heirloom tomato plant. I do mutter incantations over them when I water every morning, but that is it. No extra feedings of bionic growth elixir. No Miracle-Gro. The basil has decided to grow, and we are rushing to keep jogging along at its side.

We are always big fans of Caprese salad – it is so delicious and such an easy supper to whip up when it has been a frantic day in the Spy test kitchens. We tend to have a line up of tomatoes on the kitchen window sill all summer long (and it has been so hot so early that I am thinking of breaking out my bathing suit before Memorial Day!)and with the basil growing like kudzu on the back porch, there is no excuse not to invest in tomato futures. I plan to indulge in a fresh ball of mozzarella every couple of days to help keep our basil plant well-trimmed and busy.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/insalata-caprese-13232

Mr. Friday couldn’t find the dried up, gray parsley flakes he tends to favor for his Sunday morning eggs last week. He tossed in a couple of roughly torn basil leaves instead, and had a religious experience. Maybe this means we can go through the spices and toss out the decades old sage, rosemary and thyme, too!

We like a nice light pesto sauce for fresh pasta when the temperatures rise. Years ago we stopped adding the pine nuts, and instead make a nice thick paste of basil, olive oil, garlic gloves, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, that we swirl around the mini-food processor for a moment or two. If it seems too thick, we thin it with a little pasta water. We gave up the pine nuts because they were hard to find, are chock-full of cholesterol, and are expensive. Some people substitute walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts, so I have opted for simplicity.

Basic Pesto á la Spy
2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine basil leaves, oil and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced, and then smooth. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer, because you will need a container of sunshine in your fridge for a rainy day.

Mr. Friday has a new wok, and has been assiduously tempering and seasoning it. I play sous chef, and shop, and chop, and slice, and dice. One of his new recipes for a Chinese stir fry calls for the addition of fresh basil, tossed in the wok at the very last minute of cooking. Wow. So many ingredients (and two trips to the Oriental market!) but so deelish! https://food52.com/recipes/32284-taiwanese-popcorn-chicken

On our weekly Friday night pizza nights we have broken all the rules in our shambling learning process. We had the heat too low, or the cooking time was too long, or we put the cheese on first, or we burnt everything to a crisp. (When preparing something every week for years and years, it is amazing how many disasters we have had – and yet the pizza is always delicious!) It was companionable way to spend time with our children, practicing measuring, rolling out dough, learning kitchen skills and messing about in clouds of flour. I cannot recommend it too highly. We used to add fresh basil as a topping, but didn’t realize that like the Chinese recipe, the basil is so much more flavorful, and is still pungent and GREEN, if added at the very end of the cooking process. Instead of the basil turning into a crispy, flavorless cinder after baking at 550° F for 8 minutes, now it emerges from the oven, slightly limp, but oozing flavor and basil-ness. And it looks pretty; always a plus.

Go rescue a basil plant, and give it a nice home on your back porch. It will feed you all summer.

Here is a weekend challenge for you: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/tomato-basil-pizza-two-ways-an-experiment/

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply.
“Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?”
“Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?”
“Wasn’t there any change?””
-Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Roll Out the Rhubarb!

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Isn’t spring great? That’s if you can be flexible about the weather, and endure a couple of unexpectedly soggy days which can ruin your weekend plans? As you wander through the farmers’ market, or even the more prosaic grocery store produce department, you can see piles of lovely, gleaming, jewel-like fruits and vegetables, and you can feel the excitement of the recent discoveries of all the prescient food editors. Suddenly, you can see why Bon Appétit has a page about the beauty of rhubarb. Just look at it! Look at those pinks! Admire that green! Rhubarb could be a charming vintage Lilly Pulitzer print, without all the cumbersome Palm Beach pretenses. Rhubarb, that coy herbaceous perennial, is here, but it isn’t going to last forever, so get out your thinking caps.

As you might suspect, there are many ways in which to indulge your rhubarb yen. When the Spy was a shiny new publication, our esteemed colleague, Nancy Taylor Robson, shared a family recipe for her Orange-and-ginger-infused Crisp, which is still on the Food52 website, because it is brilliant, and very tasty, too. https://food52.com/recipes/4326-orange-and-ginger-infused-crisp-by-nancy-taylor-robson Nancy buried her lede, because this orange-and-ginger-infused-crisp also contains four cups of rhubarb. It is, as we like to say, yumsters. And four cups of rhubarb will help thin the rhubarb plant in your back yard.

Nancy emailed me the other day to say she had recently baked a couple of strawberry rhubarb pies. Note that she did not include an invitation to eat said pies. One can imagine that a pie baked by Nancy is quite divine. I am going to try my hand at this recipe by Deb Perelman and her Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2010/06/strawberry-rhubarb-pie-improved/ Her pie has been featured on NPR, and will be fact-checked and verified delicious.

I have a new website that I am exploring, and I hope you like it, too. I like a little levity, because all is too grim these days. Endless Simmer has a cheerful attitude. And some mighty fine recipe ideas. And I think Strawberry Scones (with chunks o’rhubarb) are a fabulous idea. Rhubarb doesn’t have to be just for dessert. It can be for breakfast, too. An tea! It is an all-purpose rhizome. http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2012/05/25/this-week-at-the-farmers-market-rhubarb-its-whats-for-breakfast/

But where would we be without some helpful hints from our clever friends at Food52? Not only do they have access to the extravagant resources available to New Yorkers, they are cutting-edge home cooks. I think their strawberry-rhubarb ice cream is so much better than last week’s asparagus ice cream. https://food52.com/recipes/4323-strawberry-rhubarb-ice-cream (I found dried angelica root here: https://www.americanspice.com/angelica-root/, but I am just skipping that ingredient. )

But I am saving the best for last – a Rhubarb Collins. This is the way to enjoy spring, a nice tall Collins glass in hand as you sit on the back porch, watching the cardinals dart from the bird feeder, while that bunny sits calmly in the back yard, nibbling the grass that you have no intention to mow today. Pour some more Champagne, please!

Rhubarb Collins

1 stalk rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
2 to 4 ounces Champagne

Make a simple syrup with the rhubarb and sugar: combine the rhubarb and sugar with 3/4 cup water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until slightly thickened and bright pink in color, about 20 minutes. Let the syrup cool then pour through a colander set over a bowl. Press down gently and toss the solids. (The rhubarb simple syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.)
Combine one ounce of the rhubarb simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with the gin and lemon juice. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously until completely mixed. Strain into a chilled highball glass and top with Champagne or Prosecco. Add a straw, and a strawberry for decoration. Drink. Repeat. Enjoy. Spring is fleeting!

“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.”
-Groucho Marx

The All Seasons Garden Club Show on May 23

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The All Seasons Garden Club (ASGC) will hold its biennial flower show on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, from noon until 3:00 PM in Wesley Hall of the Heron Point Retirement Community, 501 East Campus Avenue, Chestertown.  Attendance is free and open to the public.

2015 Blue Ribbon-winning entry, Best in Show, “Mothers Day” arrangement by Holly Boulanger.

The theme for the 2017 show is America the Beautiful.  Floral arrangements in five Design Classes will be presented. Each entry will satisfy rules of a specific design category and reflect one of the following lines chosen from the popular and patriotic anthem:  “For Spacious Skies”; “For Purple Mountain Majesties”;  “Above the Fruited Plain”; “From Sea to Shining Sea”; and “For Patriot Dream”.

In addition to the five Design Classes, there will be entries in as many as eighteen Horticultural Classes, which include dish gardens; window boxes; terraria; as well as individuals specimens of bulbs, evergreens, Columbine, Hosta, Lily, Peony, Rose, Iris, Baptisia, and Sedum.

The All Seasons Garden Club was organized in 1985 and draws most of its members from Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. The ASGC is pleased to have its 2017 show open to participation by members of garden clubs in the two county area.

Flyers describing the Design Classes for the show as well as other aspects of the judging are available by emailing Frank Creegan at fcreegan2@washcoll.edu.

Chestertown’s “Taste of the Town” Celebrates 10th Anniversary

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Taste of the Town celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 7.  From noon to 3:00 pm, Fountain Park was filled with guests enjoying samples from 18 local vendors.  There were food and drinks from an even dozen restaurants plus four wineries and one brewery.  This is the first year that the vineyards and brewery participated – a welcome addition to a popular Chestertown tradition.

Co-chairs Tara Holste and Andy Goddard did a great job organizing the event.  About 250 people from all over the region filled the tent in Fountain Park.   The tent even had a large sunlight section in its roof. Attendees voted for their favorites in three categories:

Attendees voted for their favorites in three categories: Most Creative – Best Use of Local Ingredients – Most Flavorful.  Ballots are currently being tabulated.  So stay tuned for the results of these People’s Choice awards.

The Whistle Stop Winery was one of five wineries at the event.  Also present were the Clovelly Vineyards, Crow Vineyard & Winery, Dove Valley Winery, and Olney Winery.  Beer lovers got to sample the wares from the Bull and Goat Brewery.

Lockbriar Farms ice cream was very popular!

Fish Whistle – Jeff Carroll and one of his cooks prepare Clovelly Beef Sliders.

Participating restaurants were Barbara’s On the Bay, Chester River Yacht & Country Club, Evergrain Bakery, Figg’s Ordinary, Fish Whistle, The Kitchen at the Imperial, Lemon Leaf Cafe, Little Village Bakery, Lockbriar Farms, Luisa’s Cucina Italiana, O’Connor’s Irish Pub and Procollino’s Italian Eatery. Serving wines were Clovelly Vineyards, Crow Vineyard & Winery, Dove Valley Winery, Olney Winery and Whistle Stop Winery. Beer drinkers could sample the products of Bull & Goat Brewery.

Figg’s Ordinary serves gluten-free goodies – flatbread with assorted toppings.

There were over 20 raffle prizes that covered a wide range of items, including gift certificates to many restaurants and local stores, two tickets to any Garfield Center for the Arts production, a hanging basket from Unity Church Hill Nursery, and a jar of goodies from Gabriel’s of Chestertown.

Taste of the Town is presented by the Downtown Chestertown Association with the help of many volunteers and generous sponsors.  Tech support was provided by Butch Clark. For more information see Taste of Chestertown,   Downtown Chestertown Association (DCA),  Chestertown.com

Food Friday: An Abundance of Asparagus

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What a great time of year! You will be groaning under the weight of the asparagus harvest you will be hauling home from the farmers’ market in your re-usable bags this weekend. It’s asparagus time, and it’s time for a little asparagus boot camp to get you ready to enjoy all that copious sweet green goodness.

Asparagus might not be quite as versatile as the potato, but you can bake it, grill it, stir fry it, roast it, steam it, or toss it into a salad. How about some tasty tips in your eggs on Sunday morning? Don’t feel like a big dinner production? Get out a baking sheet and fire up the broiler. In a few minutes, with a judicious drizzling of olive oil, a smattering of salt, and a quick squeeze of lemon, you have an elegant dish that you can eat with your fingers out on the back porch as you count the first fireflies of the season. Seize the moment, and all the asparagus plenty that you can carry.

Roasted Asparagus
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013972-roasted-asparagus

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-asparagus-recipe

Grilled Asparagus
This is almost as much fun to prepare as our Big Love Pizza. It is time to get the grill out of the garage and back up on the back porch. Grilled asparagus is deelish and there are no cookie sheets to wash! Be careful that you don’t burn your fingers as you gobble up these rich, sweet asparagus spears.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/grilled-asparagus-242259

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/05/simple-grilled-asparagus-recipe.html

Baked Asparagus
This isn’t quite as spring-y, but it is deeply satisfying. Who doesn’t love molten cheese?
http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a52405/cheesy-baked-asparagus-recipe/

Pasta with Asparagus-Lemon Sauce
Because we all have a vegan friend or two, and they will love this at your next dinner party: http://minimalistbaker.com/creamy-vegan-lemon-asparagus-pasta/

And if you are not a vegan, but are ready to swim in lemon-y cream: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pasta-with-asparagus-lemon-sauce-103382

This recipe has a slightly simpler approach – cooking the asparagus along with the pasta. https://smittenkitchen.com/2009/05/asparagus-goat-cheese-and-lemon-pasta/

Asparagus Toasts
Sometimes written recipes can just look so intimidating because every step is bulleted, numbered or set in bold-faced type. Heavens to Betsy! We make a lot of bruschetta because inevitably we have French bread that is stale-ish and should be tossed to the ducks if we don’t use it up soon. We slice it into rounds, and grill it under the broiler. Then we rub garlic cloves on the (cooled) crunchy toasty rounds. Then we drizzle the bread with a little olive oil, and pile on the chopped tomatoes, cilantro, basil, green onions and crumbled feta cheese before putting it back under the broiler to melt the cheese. Easy peasy, right? Now, go back to the step right after we rub the bread with garlic. Instead of piling on the vegetables, we schmear the bread with sweet fresh ricotta cheese, and plunk down some tender green asparagus spears, which we have trimmed to fit the bread. Back under the broiler. Then into our greedy mouths.

Now here is a many-stepped recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/asparagus-and-ricotta-toasts

Asparagus and Bacon
Of course, Martha would combine two of the best ingredients known to humans: http://www.marthastewart.com/897471/sauteed-asparagus-bacon

But I have saved the best for last: Asparagus Ice Cream. Yumsters.
http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2012/05/29/endless-ice-cream-asparagus/

https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/22-how-to-cook-asparagus

“… asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world.”
-Marcel Proust

Food Friday: Growing Season

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We are still fussing with the plans for our new raised garden bed, so I am concerned that we will not be getting the tomatoes in the ground this weekend. Last night I ran out to the grocery store for a bottle of cheap white wine (it’s been a week) and I saw some sad, limp and leggy tomato plants for sale on a table set up just outside the entrance. “2 for $5” read one sign. “$10/plant” read another. Yikes!

I’m too late to start seeds for this season, but I have started looking around for a good balance of plants, hybrid and heirloom, so I can hope to have at least a modestly successful harvest. The plants at the grocery store were not labeled, so one can only imagine what sort of homes they came from. I am not sure I need to be completely artisanal, choosing only heirloom, Brooklyn-worthy plants. I tend to lunge at the bright shiny objects, or the ones with vaguely poetical names: Brandywine (I think Andrew Wyeth would approve), Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple or Green Zebra.

For the Mid-Atlantic states, Mother Earth News suggests Amish Paste and Brandywine tomatoes. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-tomatoes/amish-paste-brandywine-tomatoes-zmaz10fmzraw

I like to have slicer tomatoes lolling in the sun on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a nice sun-warmed tomato. But then Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil as dressing. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

Mother Earth News also suggests putting plants in every couple of weeks. This staggering spreads out the growing season. I am stealing that idea as pure genius, and to cover for the fact that I am so late starting seeds. And then I can keep up with the weeding.

There are plenty of places on the Eastern Shore you can visit to get your tomato fix: http://marylandsbest.net/?dir-search=yes&orderby=post_title&order=asc&s=%22heirloom-tomatoes%22 CSAs and farms and farmer’s market abound.

And what will you prepare with your summer-long tomato bounty? Besides deelish tomato sandwiches?

This is the most popular salad recipe on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/864620828431353119/

NatashasKitchen.com

Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad

Ingredients

2 avocados
1/4 cup cilantro
1 English cucumber
1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons of juice)
1/2 red onion, medium
1 pound Roma tomatoes (or run through the garden, and see what beauties you have)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt (we prefer Maldon, just like the Queen!)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Our clever friends at Food52 always have something delightful to say about tomatoes. I was particularly charmed when a period of time was described as a “load of laundry” – my kind of time frame. This is a slightly more involved tomato dish, but it will be fabulous in a few weeks, when your first green tomatoes are harvested: https://food52.com/blog/17762-the-chickpea-tomato-salad-that-presented-a-moral-dilemma

The USDA has a price per pound and a price per cup listing for most fruits and vegetables. They are not so specific about the myriad tomato varieties – just grape and cherry, Roma, and beefsteak make their catchall list. In 2015 grape and cherry tomatoes were more expensive than beefsteak – but only just: $3.29 per pound versus $3.16. Romas were the bargain at $1.24 per pound. In the dead of winter I buy Romas at the grocery store, because they have more flavor than the soulless slicing tomato option. I bet our tomato crop this year is going to set us back a few more dollars that we would have spent at the grocery store – but I will save a lot of seeds, and stick a PostIt on my 2018 calendar, and I will get cracking earlier next year.
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/fruit-and-vegetable-prices/

Update: today at the garden center, while also eyeing the foxgloves, I bought four starter tomato plants: two Black Cherry, hybrid cherry tomatoes for Mr. Friday, and two German Queen heirloom tomato plants for me. Let the garden games begin!

“I feel old and vulnerable. I now realise that I knew nothing and know nothing, but back when my career was beginning, I thought I was a man when, in fact, I was a dewy-eyed boy who’d not seen an avocado or eaten a tomato.”
– James Nesbitt

Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners Announce Bay-Wise Landscape Consultations

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Homes on the Eastern Shore are within a half mile of a stream or other waterway flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Creating an attractive yard is important to all of us, but how we do it can make a huge difference in property value and environmental impact. We all contribute–knowingly or unknowingly—to run-off, seepage, and airborne pollutants that affect the health of the Bay. Critical awareness of the environmental effect of our landscape choices and practices underlies the University of Maryland Extension Bay-Wise Master Gardener program.

pictured L-R: Master Gardener Jane Smith, Master Gardener Cindy Riegel, homeowner Laura Rocco, Master Gardener Betty McAtee, and Master Gardener Joyce Anderson.

The Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners’ Bay-Wise program kicks off the 2017 season of Bay-Wise landscape consultations. Master Gardeners, are volunteers who are trained by the University of Maryland Extension, will come to your home or business to evaluate your property. They can answer landscape and gardening questions and offer advice on sound environmental practices. This is a free service sponsored through the University of Maryland’s Extension office. Home owners and businesses are encouraged to schedule a consultation.

Call or email the University of Maryland Extension Queen Anne’s County Master Gardener Coordinator, Rachel Rhodes, at 410-758-0166 or rjrhodes@umd.edu to initiate a consultation on your property. A Bay-Wise trained Master Gardener will then contact you to arrange a convenient date and time to meet with you at your property. A consultation usually takes about one to two hours, depending on the size and complexity of your yard. Consultations focus on practices of healthy lawn maintenance, storm water management, insect and disease control, composting waste, and selecting native plants and trees that enhance your property with minimum upkeep.  You are welcome to request advice about flower, fruit, and vegetable beds that beautify your yard and provide friendly habitat for wildlife like songbirds, butterflies, bees, and humming birds.

Complimentary Bay-Wise signs are given homeowners and businesses that demonstrate sound Bay-Wise practices. The University of Maryland Extension Master Gardeners hope to reach even more homeowners this season. Advice on improving your landscape, while helping the environment and saving time and money, is only a phone call away.  For further information on the Bay-Wise Program and other environmentally sound practices, please visit www.extension.umd.edu/baywise or see us on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/QueenAnnesCountyMasterGardeners

University of Maryland Extension programs are open to all people and will not discriminate against anyone because of race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, or national origin, marital status, genetic information, or political affiliation, or gender identity and expression.

Food Friday: A Soupçon of Danger

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As a enthusiastic home cook, I invest in gadgets that claim to make food prep easier. Perhaps I am just fantastically lazy. I have a drawer full of good intentions. I just love those bright, shiny, time-saving and ultimately, dangerous widgets. I can rummage through that drawer and remember all the blood that was drawn, the toes that were smashed, the knuckles that were scraped, and the fingerprints that were artfully grated. But my prepared dishes were beautiful. I obviously listened to my high school art teacher. When Mr. Preu was instructing us in the proper way to use the paper cutter, he warned us to never get blood on the artwork.

One of my favorite details in the original Jurassic Park film was the car mirror that had a helpful warning label: “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” Do the characters in the movie pause to consider this valuable information? Of course not, because then the movie would have ended abruptly and without any teeth-gnashing fun. The show had to go on.

My first brush with kitchen equipment peril came when I was standing in a store, reading the side of a kitchen mandoline box. I had wanted one for a long time, and here I had found quite a fancy one, and it was on sale! A mysterious woman passing by reached out and tapped the box with a long, bony finger. “They are so dangerous! I had to go to the emergency room the first time I used mine!” Heavens! Were perfect waffle fries worth the pain? Certainly. Could I endure exsanguination for wafer thin cukes in a translucent Scandinavian salad decorated with frothy bits of lacy dill? Yes, I could. And so far, except for minor, shallow, and quickly staunched wounds made while fitting the cunningly complicated blades into the apparatus, I have not been seriously scarred. I do use the clumsy “safety food holder” provided by the manufacturer (no doubt at the urging of their liability lawyers) to keep my fingertips protected from the guillotine-sharp blade when slicing. And doubtless one of these days I will learn the double-weave-waffle-technique. It takes a lot of potatoes to master all of the cutting techniques.

I recently bought a microplaner, because I kept seeing it mentioned in recipes and because, unlike the mandoline, it can go in the dishwasher. Last week I used it to grate cheese, garlic and lemon zest. And my right thumb. All for one pasta recipe. But, still. It is dishwasher safe. And the hydrogen peroxide got rid of the blood stains on the tea towel.

Grilling season is almost upon us. It’s time for me to start making shish kabobs and pricking my fingers like a latter day Sleeping Beauty. The skewers are not so dangerous when I am actually skewering the meal and veggies; they are sneaky, and poke me when I am rooting around in the drawer looking for something completely different – like the basting brush or the cork screw.

In the dishwasher there lurk other pointy objects – like the steak knives that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named continues to put in the basket with the sharp tips pointing upwards. Ouch.

Be careful in the kitchen. Don’t perform home vivisections with any of the groovy mod cons. Even slicing a bagel can be dangerous. And since dining out nightly or 24/7 room service are not practical alternatives, listen to my old art teacher: don’t get blood on your creations.

Pasta with Lemon, Garlic and Parmesan Cheese,
with a Soupçon of Microplane Danger

Serves 4 to 6
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Maldon salt
1 large clove garlic, grated with dangerous microplane
1 lemon, zested with lethal microplane, and juiced (watch out for seeds!)
1 pound pasta (I prefer Penne)
2 to 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated with menacing microplane
Freshly ground black pepper for a flourish
Decorative parsley

Combine in a large bowl oil: salt, garlic, lemon juice and zest. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, retaining some water. Quickly throw the pasta into the bowl. Toss everything together well, and then add the parsley, cheese, and pepper before tossing again. Yumsters. Add salad, garlic bread and cheap wine. Bliss.

“…Goldfinger could not have known that high tension was Bond’s natural way of life and that pressure and danger relaxed him.”
― Ian Fleming

Ecosystem: Through Gaian-Colored Lenses by Leigh Glenn

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No matter the season, life always seems to want more life, especially as we observe it in other species. The beautyberry in our front yard outside Annapolis is one example. It appears dormant late into spring, even after a good pruning. By mid to late summer, it’s magenta berries, bright against brilliant green leaves, are a wonder to behold. Through winter, robins and cedar waxwings balance, sometimes precariously, on its stems and devour the dried berries. And then before I know it, it’s time to prune again.

All species cycle through birth-death-rebirth as they work to sustain themselves, reproduce and rest. In contrast, human technologies and cultural artifacts — from language to money — have erected a barrier between us and these cycles and the systems they represent. But the barrier is an illusion. Our lives depend upon the consistent functioning of these systems. What will it take for us to respect these cycles and behave as part of these systems? To appreciate our powers of observation and our creativity, to cultivate our innate biophilia?

I felt relieved last month when Maryland legislators and Gov. Larry Hogan supported the ban on the unconventional gas extraction method known as fracking, short for hydrofracturing. My fellow Marylanders out west, who stood to make money off gas leases, were not wrong for wanting to do so. But like all of us in a variety of ways, they still operate under a dying story — the story of infinite growth, in which we constantly trade the living (the natural world) for the dead (money).

If I have any worldview, it’s a Gaian one. The Gaia Theory, now Gaia Paradigm, was developed by NASA researcher and chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the late microbiologist Lynn Margulis. The science of Gaia demonstrates that Earth is a self-regulating, complex, non-linear, emergent system — emergent in the philosophical definition of the word, describing a property that is more than a sum of its parts. No single entity coordinates the multiple actions required to maintain homeostasis that is conducive to life on this planet. The emergent property of homeostasis cannot be reduced to the aspects that created it and now sustain it. More simply, Gaia reaffirms what many indigenous people have long understood — everything is connected.

Today, humans are the wild card in this system because of the enormous scales at which we operate — from fracking, which is spreading around the globe, to our vast factory farms, from our dams to the huge amounts of waste we all generate. We’re at a crossroads: The story of infinite growth is collapsing under the weight of living realities. It’s time for a new story — one rooted in the principles of earth systems science, Gaian science.

“The motivating story of ‘growth for growth’s sake’ is a losing proposition for humanity,” says Martin Ogle, former chief naturalist for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and founder of Entrepreneurial Earth, LLC, based in Colorado. “We need a completely new underlying story,” says this long-time proponent of the Gaia Paradigm, “[a story] that reflects that we are a seamless continuum of Earth’s living system, not disconnected beings on a rock transforming that rock to our satisfaction.”

But what does this new story require?

For starters, we need to understand the story we’re outgrowing, which portrays each of us as a discrete being, separate from everything else and acting only in our own interest. The idea that we’re separate is what allows us to frack, to decapitate mountains hundreds of millions of years old, to clear-cut communities of trees, to spray herbicides and pesticides without thought.

We also need to vigorously examine our core fears: fear of abandonment, of not having “enough,” of death. In trying to outrun these fears rather than work with them, we often create more of the same — more comparing ourselves with others, questioning whether we are “good enough,” and continuing to live small instead of realizing that each of us, just like snowflakes, clover leaves and redbud blossoms, is unique. We each have something to offer that is beyond ourselves and beyond our wildest dreams — if we permit ourselves to dream and not act according to some old script.

Our converging calamities confirm that we are connected to what brought us to life and sustains us. We share DNA with myriad others and many of the building blocks of our physical selves are the same elements that make up Earth. When we intervene in those systems, modify them to suit our purposes, we deprive ourselves of access to clean air, clean water and healthy soils. But the harms go beyond the physical, whether we want to admit it or not. Our biophilia — our innate love of life, of living things — takes a direct beating and can easily lead to despair. Then we reach for distractions that keep the infinite-growth story in place.

If the Gaia Paradigm is to be read closely, yet metaphorically, then fracking is like drilling a hole in one’s body and injecting chemicals. How long and how much of that could a body sustain before getting sick and dying? Earth is vast, but it’s not immune to our perturbations. We humans need to mature. Our continued existence depends upon our growing up.

Which leads me to this: The new story can be a beautiful one — abundant, fulfilling, allowing us to grow into our best selves. How do we see ourselves in this story? In truly accepting that we are an aspect of Gaia — that there is expansion, not diminishment, in this — and in working with our fears, what great things might we achieve?

We may need look only as far as our front yard for ideas. When pruning the beautyberry recently, I found a welcome oddity: A side stem had broken during the winter, but stayed connected to the shrub. It had coppiced itself, taking root in the narrow mulch path next to the plant. How might we coppice the best of ourselves?

Leigh Glenn is a freelance writer, hooking artist, permaculture practitioner and herbalist based in Annapolis, MD.