Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's Hear It for the Fig

My little fig tree, Ficus negronne, a self-pollinating dwarf that I got from Wayside Gardens early this spring is happily bearing fruit. We've just sampled our second of its offerings today for lunch. It has a delicate and subtle flavor, but when I bite into it, I'm registering a powerful amount of delicious satisfaction simply because I grew it myself.

Even though I've had to share a lot of my harvest with my intruder friends--the squirrels, deer and raccoons--this year's garden has been delivering all sorts of sweet surprises--the tomatoes, the occasional cuke, the eggplant and the squash, not to mention all of the arugula, mint, sage, basil, oregano, lemon balm, rosemary and lavender.

The garden seems to be offering us a rather interesting trickle down effect. Nothing miraculous, of course, nobody is jumping up to say, "Hey Mom, should I go out and weed for you? Can I mow the lawn? How about I sweep off the sidewalks and the deck and pick up all the sticks from the storm." (Call me a failed parent?)

But instead, the garden has been slyly infusing our lives with an overwhelming desire for delicious, nutritious foods. One example a bunch of bananas grew dark and unwanted in the fruit bowl on the counter top. It looked time to pitch the contents of the bowl, when Patsy decided she would make us a banana bread. Herbal teas and infusions are the drink of choice. And nobody has any desire for fast or frozen foods. When I ask what they'd like for dinner, the girls come back with requests like salad nicoise or brussel sprouts. I even cooked up and served a bowl of dandelion leaves one evening and while we all thought the flavor too harsh and bitter, everyone dug in, eating the greens if only to benefit from its healthful properties.

So let's hear it for the fig! The Putterer

Monday, July 26, 2010

In A Pickle

I crave a pickle. I want the kind my grandma used to make and I don't have her recipe. So I made some this weekend and I've got my fingers crossed that they'll at least be a close approximation.

I had to buy the pickling cukes at the farmers market. I was growing cukes in the garden, but the deer chewed them to the quick.

These pickles will have to sit in the fridge now for two weeks.

Let's just hope this will satisfy my intense craving. The Putterer

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Not So Nettlesome Nettle

“Yield stinging nettles to mine enemies.” – Richard II III.ii.

Today it will be 105 degrees and I will venture little in the garden. Even in the shade, the humidity makes any outdoor activity akin to a death wish. But still even on the hottest day of the year, the garden delivers.

I am snug inside my air conditioned home, drinking a tall glass of stinging nettle tea over ice. I made it with a dried herb, one cup to one quart hot water (not boiling), and left to sit overnight. It tastes like a glass of fresh goodness, giving first an aroma of a hay-filled barn on a hot day and a vibrant flavor of wholesome greens.

Quick Wiki: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a dioecious herbaceous perennial, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals.

Now, I have often seen this plant in my garden and pulled it out and tossed it as any common weed. But this gardener promises to redeem herself from now on. In my quest this week (I had two weeks off from work to recover from surgery. And while the body mended, the mind was free to range) to learn better solutions for coping with the symptoms of menopause, I've discovered a range of plants that offer solace. Nettle is practically the Wunderkind of garden herbs.

Herbalist Susun S. Weed crowns it with "miraculous" abilities. As a source of calcium, magnesium potassium, silicon, boron, zinc and vitamin D, it is an agent for healing and restoration. Weed says it energizes the endocrine glands (critical to women who have lost the hormonal function of their ovaries); it nourishes the cardiovascular system, normalizes weight, eases and prevents sore joints, relieves constipation, and helps to maintain supple skin and healthy hair.

So on this hot day as the body continues to mend and the mind to wander, I'm thinking of the possibilities. Newly restored, refreshed and energized, I look now into my crystal ball and see multitudes of ideas and opportunities. How is it that a simple green friend had so much to offer and yet, grew in my garden weed-like overlooked and unwanted?  This week, I walked the trail in Sligo Creek Park, the tendrils of unknown plants tickled my legs as I navigated the path, and I felt the magnitude of my botanical ignorance. I want to know more of the secrets of plants. And so a new quest begins.

Gardener of flowers and vegetables seeks herbal wisdom and knowledge of nature's ways. The Putterer

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sage Advice

This afternoon, I clipped six leaves off my sage plants and made an herbal tea for me and Patsy and Claire. I poured  hot (not boiling) water into the teacups (two leaves a piece) and left the mixture to steep for ten minutes. The drink turned out to be a soothing minty-flavored tea and we all enjoyed it. The tea idea came from some sage advice found in the book, "New Menopausal Years: the Wise Woman Way" by Susun S. Weed.

I went kind of crazy on Amazon, recently, with one-click shopping and bought enough books on menopause that it should take me into the next decade to read all of them. But the most appealing one so far is Weed's. She didn't start off first with a patronizing sermon about losing weight and starting an exercise program like one silly book did. It didn't start off, either, listing all the symptoms in a terrifying sort of mantra of doom and gloom as another did. And it didn't ask you to purchase a confusing and likely toxic recipe of expensive bottled nutritional supplements.

Instead, Weed's Wise Woman Way appealed to my inner goddess, or rather my strong woman credo. Her sensible advise and soothing words explained that this path is just like any other of life's hardships, one to face bravely and to conquer, but to do it with acceptance, grace and commitment. (Alice must slew the Jabberwocky! Me, I've already done that. Bring on Menopause!) And really it went straight to my heart with a rather appealing idea that any gardener would appreciate. Weed's approach is to enlist "herbal allies," common plants found in most backyard gardens.

"When we consume phytoestrogen-rich plants we allow our individual bodies to create precisely the hormones we need," says Weed. Phytoestrogen plants are those that contain an estrogen that is similar in chemical structure to human estrogen: seaweeds; roots of dandelion, carrot and yam; seeds like nuts, grains and beans; buds like artichokes and berries. Women who consume these estrogen-rich plants in their diets "don't need to adjust their hormone dosages the way women on pills and patches do," says Weed.

Well, I'm down for that. I'm not taking any more pills. I'm already a tamoxifen junkie, who has to pop an aspirin every other day so that the darn tamoxifen doesn't cause me to stroke.

I'm going to carefully study each of the ten herbs that the Wise Woman recommends. Today, I went to Weed's sage page (p.159). I'm growing sage (Salvia officinalis) in my container garden on the deck just outside my kitchen door. An old wives' tale says that "where sage doth grow well and vigorous, therein rules a strong woman." Huzzah!

According to Weed, it will prevent and regulate night sweats, reduce mood swings, calm your crazy side, ease inflammation, aid with digestion (be gone flatulence I trounce you with sage!), help with headaches, strengthen your liver (Woo Hoo,  Margaritas?), vanquish joint pain. 

And for you still youthful ladies, it will sooth menstrual cramps, too.

Let's hear it for the sage old sage plant! How about you come over and we mix up a pot of sage tea? The Putterer

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Rainy Day Recovery

I probably shouldn't be blogging just yet. Doctor's orders say I should avoid operating heavy equipment, or signing legal documents, (really it says that on my orders). But early mornings are my favorite time of the day and since I've spent the last 18 hours sleeping or dozing, I'm feeling not so bad. The weather is working out well for me, too. After about 10 hot, hot dry days, in which I diligently maintained my container garden with rain barrel water, it is raining. It's a slow steady soaker, the kind that a gardener appreciates. And the rain barrel is filling up again. In this picture, you'll see my rudbeckias and my Russian sage and the moonlight coreopsis all commingling together at the front fence. In the heat of the past few days, over 100 degrees at times, these plants thrived, casting an ethereal beauty to the entrance of our home. When you walked through the gate and passed alongside them, there was a sense of a slight drop in temperature and maybe even a fragrant breeze.

And now the rain coming down makes me feel at peace and content to just do nothing at all but snuggle in for a few days and let myself heal. The Putterer

Saturday, July 3, 2010

As the Garden Matures, So Goes the Gardener

I'm thinking about how we age and what that means. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy and I was caught up with a passion for admiring old women. Worried that I might not get to be one, I was entranced by women in their 60s and 70s. I studied the wrinkles around their eyes, the soft flesh on their arms, the heft of their stout bodies. And I saw these women as beautiful, desirable, admirable. I wanted more than anything else to live to be an old woman. To age, by most accounts, is something to fear. In our culture, where youth and beauty is a commodity, the aging process becomes ugly, sad and frightening.

The July garden is an aging garden. In places, the plants are wrinkled and browned at the tips for lack of rain. The early blooms are limp on the stems. The soil is cracked and parched. Some of the flowers are nipped and damaged by the deer. The grass is thinning. But, like an aging woman, a mature garden is a thing to behold. Now in July, the rough and ready coneflowers make their sturdy appearance alongside the cheery rudbeckias and the phlox are emboldened by the bright, hot sun. The tomatoes ripen. The leaves of the basil grow rich and full. And for the gardener, the task of gardening becomes nothing more than clipping, watering, mowing  (if the grass will grow) and untwirling the bindweed tendrils from around the stems of the hydrangeas.

And so with little to do in the garden, it is appropriate that I choose July to advance myself into the world of the old woman. Next Friday, to hedge my bets against ovarian cancer, I'm going to have the last of my reproductive organs removed. My ovaries will be snipped and removed through tiny laparoscopic incisions. The urgency to do this presented itself a week or so ago, when doctors discovered that a few ovarian cysts were producing whooping levels of estrogen--not a good thing for a survivor of an estrogen-receptive breast cancer. The irony is I'm young again these past few weeks, since I'm hopped up on estrogen. I'm feeling remarkably well. My hair is thicker and more manageable. My skin is soft and clear. I'm sleeping through the night. I have gobs of energy. Nothing aches. This morning, I slept in until almost 10--something I haven't done since before Claire was born.

So I'll age like a garden in one season. Lush and lovely one moment. Mature and fading the next. The doctors call it surgical menopause and they use phrases like "dramatic" to describe my symptoms. I have no idea what that means but I wonder if instead of hot flashes, I'll experience something more incendiary? The other symptoms are simply too gruesome to talk about in polite company. But the upshot is this, I'm certain to be a sagging, flatulent, bone weakened, ornery, sleep-deprived old hag by the end of the month.

Okay seriously. It's not that bad. No worries. In fact earlier this week, a friend--a fellow survivor--had a terrible scare when she thought that a large mass in her ovary was cancer. It wasn't, thankfully. But for a few terrifying days, she feared for her life. The entire incident put some perspective on my situation and vanquished my pathetic petulance. Life is good and I'm going to get old enjoying more of it. And maybe my super hot flashes will provide some extra warmth to keep all my tropical plants alive through the winter. The Putterer