Such sweet things

Our first strawberry

Our garden’s reveling in the summer sun, throwing up signs of contentment in little shoots and buds. Sprouts of questionable heritage yielded spindly little seedlings, which eventually transformed into our little patch of controlled chaos in the backyard. Along with it, creatures emerged — little slugs and aphids, butterflies and ladybugs. Signs that soon (well, now, actually), we’d be competing for the very produce we made possible.


I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, which makes the transition to the “wilderness” of the national parks we just visited back to civilization an interesting one. It’s a comfortable book, meandering through the seasons — and his garden, in each — with a thoughtful ease. And while it’s preachy at times, I think his point about America’s view of nature is dead on. Yes, we invented the concept of national preservation areas, where wilderness could be preserved for all to see. And yes, as the ranger in Prairie Creek State Park pointed out, we have cleared virtually every single old growth forest outside of those preservation areas since we decided to settle here. Pollan’s explanation of this is that we have an “all or nothing” view of nature, and how we manage it;

Once a landscape is no longer ‘virgin’ it is typically written off as fallen, lost to nature, irredeemable. We hand it over to the jurisdiction of that other sacrosanct American ethic: laissez-faire economics.

Yes — big developers. Because who wouldn’t want more condos? It’s already ruined, right? This is despite the fact that, as Pollan points out, man has had a profound effect on nature as we see it. We’re part of it, and we influence it, in our introduction of foreign species, our management policies, and our understanding of our role in its history. Most of the time, we’ve had a more profound effect than we know. His point? We have, in essence, become “gardeners” of our landscape, responsible for its care and general health.

We’ve done a good job, in some cases (the State and National Park systems, an example of which is shown above, are a case in point). But in a lot of instances, I think this all-or-nothing concept (which seems to pervade our thinking, really — politically, environmentally, economically, and socially) is dangerous. It gives us license to write off our responsibility, to ignore our role in the planet’s future. Yes, it’s easier to manage; the lines are black and white, easily placed into the law books for all to see. But just as industrial ag is easier on a large scale, it’s not necessarily better.

I guess that’s why we started this garden. And why I’ll keep it up. I didn’t think I’d like it… I thought it’d be just another chore. I mean, this is me — I barely water the house plants; I used to kill them before James came along and started watching over them all. But I find myself going out to visit it every morning, to keep tabs on the soil condition, the new buds, and the creatures I find myself learning more about, in order to defend our plants’ tender leaves. It’s all the more interesting when you can’t just spray a few chemicals about to take care of whatever your problems are. So far, everything is doing pretty well. We’ve had to share our strawberries with the birds, and had some hungry leaf miners eat through the first leaves of chard. Other than that? We have strong, healthy tomato plants, and some amazing squash and cucumber coming along. Our carrots seem happy, and the potato we planted from the Union Square greenmarket is finally pushing a few buds up out of the soil. And we have more lettuce than we can eat — a few plants are going to seed, and I’m just going to let them, just to see what happens. Oh — and I can’t wait for the tomatoes.

So, with that, I’ll leave you with a recipe. Well — this isn’t really a recipe. I just threw a few veggies, some pasta, and a sauce together and called it lunch. But it’s really tasty (with sort of a satay flavor), and makes use of the garlic scapes that seem to be the only new and interesting thing at the Wooster Square farmer’s market at the moment. It’ll be perfect with our yellow pears, carrots, and spring onions later in the season. I only hope I’m still in New Haven when things start to get really exciting.

Satay Pasta Salad

I’m not going to give quantities here, because I’m not sure I can. Taste as you add — it’s a good thing to get used to anyway — and you’ll have something you enjoy. You’ll need a few special ingredients, which you should be able to find at your local Asian market.

Serves 4?

  • 4 servings whole wheat pasta, cooked
  • handful of peanuts, crushed. I used a mortar and pestle to break them up into crumb-sized pieces.
  • a carrot or two, grated
  • handful of broccoli
  • a few garlic scapes, cut into 1/2″ pieces. These are actually the buds of garlic flowers, and they’re pungent, garlicky, and totally delicious raw or cooked. If you don’t like garlicky flavors, you’ll want to leave these out or cook them (steam them or toss them in oil for a few minutes).
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • a glug of oyster sauce
  • a glug or two of sweet soy sauce (It’s kind of thick, and is the main ingredient in pad see ew)
  • a little bit of fish sauce (Cock brand is probably the best I’ve tried, but I’m no expert. It at least seems stable at room temperature, which is fine by me.)
  • a glug of sesame oil (go light on this; it can be overpowering, depending on the brand you have)
  • a glug of Chinkiang vinegar – this is a black rice vinegar, typically used in Chinese cooking. Any rice vinegar would probably do, but I like the flavor of this particular kind. It isn’t anything like balsamic, contrary to what some sources may say. You can safely substitute any rice vinegar, though — the sweet soy and oyster are the primary flavor components in this salad.
  • fresh ginger, grated, to taste

Mix all sauce ingredients (all but the veggies, peanuts, and pasta) together, tasting as you add each one. Once you’re happy with that, toss the veggies, peanuts, pasta, and sauce together. Chill and serve. Easy enough, right? This is delicious on a hot summer day, and would go really well with a sparkling white wine, a sauvignon blanc, or a wheat beer. Oh — and play with the veggie combinations. This is by no means the only way to make this pasta salad.


Filed under books, carrots, environment, gardening, garlic scapes, ginger, main, pasta, side, vegan, vegetarian

3 responses to “Such sweet things

  1. Mmm, what a lovely pasta

    I think your perspective on Americans’ perspective on Nature is very interesting. It rings true with my experience.

    I hope that this recent sort of “integrated design” movement will bring us back into connection with nature. More and more, Trendy Green brings plants onto rooftops and into homes.

    Oh, totally random topic jump, this just reminded me of something we saw while wandering through the MoMA. All over the walls of the exhibit Design and The Elastic Mind, there were projections of plant shapes (reed-y bushes, flowers, etc). These projections were based on wheather sensors attached outside – the plants actually swayed in response to the external wind. I can’t decide how I feel about it. (a) how nifty is that, cool, and (b) shouldn’t we have real plants inside instead?

  2. wheather = weather 😀

  3. liz

    😛 I can’t lay claim to it — It’s Pollan’s perspective; I just happen to agree with him. But you have a good point — even the new health services building is supposed to have a rooftop garden, and be sustainably designed? I think it’s a great idea, in concept, at least. If only the architect took the laws of physics into account in the design…

    As for MoMA, that’s a good question… It is cool! But maybe they should have both? I don’t know how easy it would be to do something similar in concept with indoor plants… Not make them move with the wind, but I’m thinking of a scene in planet earth, where they show fast motion scenes of plants growing throughout a single day, and how much they move in response to sun, etc. It’s fascinating to watch …

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