Monday, September 26, 2011

Yelping about Food and Gardens

Garden bounty
We were up in Clarksburg on Saturday, dropping the dog off to be groomed and so with two hours to kill, we thought wouldn't it be nice to go out for breakfast. Both of us were thinking about coffee, eggs and bacon, so I downloaded on my new iPhone the Yelp app and asked it where we should go. Nothing nearby looked promising, but a Bob Evans.

Now Yelp is asking for a review and like all social networks, I already have four new "friends" on Yelp, who include a work colleague, a cousin, an old friend from high school and a gardener. If I write my first Yelp review, these four individuals presumably will see it and I'm a little concerned that my reputation will be tainted for the very reason that of all the great places to eat around the DC area, I will be noted for having eaten first at Bobs.

But never mind that. Here is my review. A bright, cheery facade falsely promising the healthy and hearty. Modest attempt to look clean, resulting sadly in a soggy seat with drizzled drops left behind on my chair from the wipe rag, which was surely soaked in dirty dish water. After swapping out chairs, a friendly waitress came by and gave us a book-length menu filled with every combination of breakfast fare. We read it and couldn't find what we wanted. Two eggs scrambled, toast (Jim), grits (me), bacon and coffee. Waitress pointed out classic breakfast, which we happily agreed to. Out in the parking lot, I watched two couples get out of their car. The girls were beautiful, the boys not so much. The boys had cigarettes, the girls waited with them until they finished smoking. One of the girls continuously tugged self-consciously at her shirt, pulling at it to make sure it was covering her tummy. I sipped my coffee and the blue mug felt warm and comforting in my hands and I closed my eyes and enjoyed the calm of just sitting and waiting to being served. I measured breath going in through my nose and out my parted lips, calling up my yoga instructor's mantra and thinking only if only, I could ever learn to relax and just be in the moment. The food arrived. The eggs were that flat yellow cafeteria material, rubber and tasteless. My biscuits, which came as an un-asked-for side, where oddly white. No integrity. Nothing held them together and they crumbled when you buttered them. The grits, also ghostly white, were soupy and of course, tasteless. I peppered them. Didn't help. I salted them. Not good either. Jim tried dunking the bacon in. But the bacon was rough. It was hard to bite into and when it finally chewed up, little bits of it parked into the crevices between my teeth. I looked around the room, remembering now why I never go to these places and felt sorry for all the people who do. We paid our $20 and tipped the nice waitress.

And like all things in my life, connected and interconnected, the New York Times on Sunday was spot on with their article by Mark Bitman, "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper," which argued that the real cost of preparing good wholesome foot at home, was merely the time and energy it took to do it. Lost to our culture is the desire to make and serve food. And so off people go to Bob Evans to eat ghastly food. Eating and growing and preparing food is a huge part of my life, now. I do it because I enjoy it. And the results are so rich and tasty. That poor girl in the parking lot, pretty but very overweight, her gross boyfriend, baggy pants and shaggy face, sucking on his cigarette. I know, I'm a snob. I'm sorry for judging. I'm sorry, really I am. But oh, if she was my adopted daughter, I think I could help her.

Most weekend, Jim makes me my breakfast. It's his favorite food to cook. That man can scramble an egg that tastes like manna from heaven. The toast is served perfectly hot, dripping with butter. The bacon is salty and a perfect combination of crispy and chewy. He always finds a fruit to decorate my plate, some berries, a melon, a pear. I eat it happy.  Dear Bob Evans, the only thing I can say for you is that I liked your coffee. But I won't be back for any more visits. The Putterer

Friday, September 16, 2011

Making a Plot a Home

This is the entrance to my community garden.

And this is what it looked like in early spring.
Two gardens this summer kept The Putterer in fit gardening form. The community garden on Fenton Street is my new favorite pastime. I got a 10 foot by 20 foot plot in full sun but built on top of an abandoned lot with plenty of nasty stuff in the soil. The county did an awesome job of plowing, prepping and soil testing, but the first year was touch and go. Though after a buying into a share of compost, I did harvest a huge bunch of tomatoes, plenty of basil, some squash and eggplant and pile of pole beans.

Last weekend, I pulled all the tomato plants out. And this weekend, I'm planting a cover crop of clover to help nourish the soil this fall and winter. I'll turn that back into the soil (my back is aching already in anticipation) and next summer, I'll dump a pile more compost in and then, oh what magic will grow there, I can't wait.

But I think the best part of the community garden this summer had to have been my plot neighbors. I got so lucky because I'm just across the path from Gordon Clark, our resident master gardener and just up the way from Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener. I have new friends Anne McDermott and Pamela Trochesset and Colette Rausch and Natasha Hurwitz. The Putterer

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Empty Nests and Spider Mothers

This spring, a mother built a nest at my door. Today, it's empty.
I started this blog in 2009 to collect my crazy ramblings. Here, I record the thoughts that bubble up in my brain, while my hands are busy in my garden. Over the last two years, while my garden took shape (and a few gray hairs grew), young mothers would stop by and tell me how they yearned for time to putter in a garden. My kids, by then, were away from home more often than I cared to actually count. So even as I was a little envious of the children clinging at their knees, I would tell them that we go through phases in our life: childhood, our teens, young adulthood, then parenthood, and finally, gardener.

And the garden is rich with metaphor, fuel for this blog.

This spring, a wren built a nest in the hanging basket at my door and two chicks emerged from eggs carefully laid. If I took a peek, mother bird would sometimes angrily swat the back of my head in a perfectly executed dive bomb from her perch in the nearby crepe myrtle. Despite her warning, I routinely checked on them every time I went in or out my front door. And then one day they were gone. [Full stop, wipe tear here.]

The world has given me plenty of metaphor this past week. We had an earthquake, followed by a hurricane. Monumental events. My house and garden survived both, but they look look like a tsunami hit. All summer, I ignored them, as I sped from shopping mall to box store to specialty shop, spending until my credit card glowed warmly from overuse. Farewell parties. Last suppers. Long talks and long walks. Heartfelt conversations over tea and coffee. It was as if both girls, just like their mother, secretly had a need to shore up and stow away enough nurturing and sentiment to last them the many weeks of their individual journeys.

This morning, I went out to get the paper and a large spider had spun her web straight across my doorway.

Spider mother at my door
You can not ask for more metaphor than this.

"The Spider is an ode to my mother," the artist Louise Bourgeois has said. "She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."

One of Bourgeois's spider sculptures holds court in the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden on the Mall. I pass it every day on my way to work. Called simply "Maman," her bronz head and thorax hover high overhead and her eight legs drop down around her on the Earth, like pinpoints on a map. Where legs touch down, I've always thought, a child resides. Ever vigilant, spider mother watches over them from on high. When my kids were in school in Maryland and I was away all day at work in the District. I morphed into spider mother. Out there in the world, they were growing, learning, living without me. But I was close enough. (Spider mothers, unlike helicopter parents, are far more nuanced in deciding when they might swoop in.)

Maman's legs now pinpoint further locations on her map. One in St. Petersburg, Florida, the other in Quito, Ecuador, my girls are out there now. And me, I've got some gardening to do. The Putterer