This week’s share: Arugula, Basil, Cilantro, Escarole, Garlic, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Scallions, Strawberries
I sat in the waiting room for 45 minutes while Will had his dentist’s appointment, which gave me ample time to catch up on a little daytime TV. Dr. Phil was doling out tough love to a hapless young woman who, at least for the sake of an appearance on his show, claimed she did not remember allowing her stepfather and his new wife to adopt her baby. It is certainly the sort of thing that can slip your mind. Or maybe she was just trying to say she felt some regret and desired a role in the girl’s life. Or maybe she was lying about nearly everything because she is a drug user with a penchant for creating havoc in other people’s lives.
Which was it? That was the dilemma we were asked to ponder, whether or not we wanted to. Because it turns out that even when you urgently wish to tune out, your brain won’t let you. Especially when the sound on the TV is turned up to a level that suggests you are in an otologist’s rather than a dentist’s waiting room.
Our brains seem to have evolved to pick up and hone in on meaning. A handy trait, no doubt, but one now ruthlessly exploited. There are few places one can go these days and not be assaulted by messages. TVs await us not just in dentists’ waiting rooms, but in their examination rooms too. There are TVs playing constantly in airports and stores and restaurants. There are TVs in hotel bathrooms. Messages line the sides of our roads and cover our clothes and even our skin. Packaged goods are awash in messages. You would probably find more printed material in your average grocery store than all of early Renaissance Europe. And now we carry around irresistible little devices that can spew out streams — rivers, even — of messages wherever we go.
Well, actually I leave my cell phone in the house when I farm. We get poor reception in most of our fields. At least, that’s the excuse I offer. Mostly, I just want to be left alone. And a farm field is one of the few places where you can still be left alone.
When I am out weeding onions I can look up and see all sorts of things. Onions, for instance, and weeds. A patch of buckwheat. Dirt. Grass. A stand of hardwoods at the top of the hill to the west. Killdeer. Toads. Our neighbor’s farm. Probably a Red Tailed hawk overhead. The power line. Randy Lamb coming home in his tractor. The crew picking strawberries in the next field. More weeds.
I am not all alone out there or completely cut off from the modern world. Nor have I escaped all meaning or messages. I am surrounded by bird song. But I have managed to get beyond the reach of the daily media diet, connectivity, social media, brand management, the 24 hour news cycle, spin, talking heads, beyond the reach of all the ceaseless chatter that marks our current age. I don’t even wear t-shirts with writing on them when I work. It is just me and this patch of earth and all the things that live here and the quiet repetitive task of pulling up the weeds in the onion patch.
But how do I keep myself from getting bored without access to the latest insanely funny cat video? Well, sometimes I get bored. This happens to everyone. Or it should. But mostly I spend my time thinking. I make no special claims for the value of these thoughts. Most of them are like mayflies, fragile flitting shiny winged creatures soon dead. But that hardly matters. Just having the quiet space to think my own thoughts is enough. Musing is an invaluable form of independence, one that we should fight hard to encourage and protect even if it makes us less tractable consumers and voters.
Plus musing really helps to distract me from the fact that I am weeding, which is crucial when you have a lot of onions to weed.
Vegetable notes: This week’s share may just look like a box of leaves, mostly because it basically is. But leaves with a range of characters and uses.
There’s a head of lettuce and bunch of peppery arugula that would make a nice salad with a lemon vinaigrette (juice of half a lemon, a few tablespoons of good olive oil, generous salt and pepper, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a splash of cream, a little grated parmesan).
You can use the sharper mustard (bagged) as a salad green too, with a dressing of oil, rice vinegar, a dash of soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil, a little honey and freshly grated ginger. Or steam it briefly and serve it with poached salmon.
Or perhaps you would rather have a herb sauce on your fish. In which case, puree the cilantro (the bunch of frilly leaves) with sour cream, some lime juice, garlic, a touch of hot pepper, salt and pepper. Or finely chop the basil and some garlic and a couple of scallions, and mix with olive oil, vinegar, salt pepper, perhaps a little smoked paprika (which everyone should have) and diced tomato. Or skip the fish and use either of those sauce on gilled steak or boiled potatoes or rice and beans or grilled bread or, well, just about anything.
You can use the inner leaves of the escarole (the heavy head of green leaves) in a salad, but it is best cooked. Chop out the small core and steam the leaves until well wilted. Drain out as much water as possible (if you really want to get water out of steamed greens, wrap them in a dish towel and twist the gathered corners as tightly as you can). Chopped the drained escarole roughly and sauté in oil with garlic and hot pepper. You can just eat it as it is (hot or cold) or use it as a pizza topping or mix it with cannelini and sausage or use it in soup.
We don’t usually hand out the whole garlic plant, but a fair amount came up from the bulbs that got left in last year’s patch, which we needed to pull up. And you can use the whole plant. You will find some young cloves in the bulb that are juicy and sweet. You can also eat the curly thing at the top, the scape, and the part between bulb and scape will impart its garlic flavor to soup or stock (it’s probably a little tough for eating).
As for the strawberries, I doubt you need me to tell you want to do with them. And anyway you have probably already eaten them.