Sunday, April 27, 2008

Signs of Spring, Part I

I spent most of the winter counting the days until I could get fresh, local produce again. As I longed for a plump, juicy tomato that didn't have a mealy texture, some kind of winter madness overtook me. I decided to grow my own produce.

I've been growing herbs for a couple of years with a respectable amount of success (overlooking the involuntary herbslaughter of last year's parsley and thyme -- honestly, I thought "cutting them back" was a good thing). And if reducing the distance my food travels to a few dozen miles was helping the environment, surely cutting it to a few dozen feet would shrink my carbon footprint to the size of a bronze bootie.

Besides -- and these are the words that get me in trouble even more often than "What do you mean, last call?!" -- how hard could it be?

I read dozens of articles on the internet to prepare. And by "read," I mean "skimmed." Or even, "skimmed the first few paragraphs." They all talked about direct sunlight, well-drained soil, pH balance, planting zones, blah blah blah. I couldn't be bothered with that kind of detail.

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before?), we dug up a long-neglected planting bed in our backyard (uncovering fossilized landscape fabric and decomposing building materials) and established a new vegetable garden. We planted asparagus, four kinds of peppers (green peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, and red chilies), yellow crook-neck squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, and corn.

Some of them are doing really well in spite of me, but we have no idea which ones they are. Almost immediately, Jack the Beaglador ran off with all of the little identifying plastic tags that we poked in the ground next to each plant.

We also filled some gaps in our herb repertoire by adding basil and cilantro and replacing the parsley and thyme. I have to be sneaky about my caretaking, though, since Jack tries to snatch anything in which I show a remote interest (like the plant tags).

Today's victim was the lone thyme plant, leading to a morning filled with jokes about losing thyme, running out of thyme, and grieving over the thyme we've squandered. (For those of you who chuckled at this -- thank you, and please come hang out with us.)

It will take a while for our own garden to start breathing on its own -- so thank God for the local farmers. The official opening of the Farmer's Market is this Tuesday, but a few vendors have already started appearing.

Yesterday I was able to get a nice cantaloupe, a couple of pounds of roma tomatoes that will become salsa, cherry tomatoes for salads, whole wheat bread and peach jam produced by an Amish family in Belleville, and two redfish fillets that were naively swimming in the Gulf as recently as Friday (bless their little hearts).

We baked and served them with a citrus beurre blanc and crispy leeks (just typing "beurre blanc" makes me feel like I'm ready for my own Food Network program -- or that I watch it way too much and could spend that time more constructively, like reading about planting zones).

It was delicious. I would love to identify and recommend the vendor who provided the redfish, but I already have enough trouble getting to her fast enough to get some of the fresh gulf shrimp she usually provides -- so stay away.

In droves.

Go to Kroger, they have it nicely packaged and conveniently frozen.

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