Sunday, April 17, 2011

Flavoring the Feast

or A Lot of a Good Thing

Long-distance drives—you either love 'em or hate 'em.  I've always loved them.  The trips I would make from the Finger Lakes area of New York back to my parents' home in Denver are some of my favorite experiences of all time.  I'd load Luther T. Dog into the car with his treats, toys, pillow, leash, water dish, and plenty of et cetera, pack a picnic hamper and suitcase, and be off, driving the "blue highways," the back roads, for 1,800 (mostly) wonderful miles.*

Generally, I really enjoyed quietness in the car—no music or news, just the slow pace of miles and scenery and thoughts unfolding.  It was kind of a Zen thing.  Besides, Luther was the perfect traveling companion.  He was easily entertained by cows, which, across the rural midwest at any rate, made him pretty darn easy to entertain.  Since I was easily entertained by dogs who were entertained by cows, we were both happy for mile after mile after mile
after mile
after mile.

But as Steinbeck says in Travels with Charley,you don't take a trip, the trip takes you.  Sometimes the joy of a trip is over when you're still miles from home; the last 500 miles of a return trip especially can be pretty dreary.  For those occasions I'd bring a book on tape from the library and parcel it out in small doses to spice things up a bit, hoping to time it right so that I wouldn't run out of book before I ran out of road (while also trying to finish it before the due date).  The timing didn't always work.  I might be too stingy on the trip and find myself back at home, hurriedly listening to the end of a mystery so I could find out who dunnit before the library charged me a fine; I'm still a little fuzzy about the whole Orient Express thing.

All to say, Albuquerque ought to be safe from frost at this point, barring an act of God or some other adventure.  (Don't worry; we'll get to the logical connection in a minute.)  The mezzo-piano days of spring are over—even though the temperature is comfortable, the sun is strong enough midday that it actually kind of hurts.  The cool weather plants in the microgarden, which have been providing me with small harvests of pepper cress, arugula, and the occasional radish for a couple of weeks now, are about to rebel and bolt altogether, and (logical connection alert) suddenly I am harvesting in earnest. 

I've been comfortably, deliciously parceling out the harvest of greens—tossing them in a pasta salad, say, to stretch them out; adding flavor and freshness to other dishes so as not to use up the microgarden's limited wealth too soon.  Those days are over.  It's "use it or lose it" at this point.  So today I enjoyed a very large salad, full of the mustardy heat of pepper cress, the strong, peppery flavor of arugula, the cucumbery freshness of salad burnet, a handful of (gorgeous, gorgeous!) radishes and their equally flavorful leaves, some spring onions and garlic chives... All with the nice, strong herbal vinaigrette I had on hand.  It was a salad you noticed.  Whether you wanted to or not.  I will be eating another very large and flavorful salad again tomorrow.**

Note to self:  Some day, try parceling things out more generously to begin with...

* Especially at Christmas, whenever I was westward bound, the skies were invariably cloudy until the Iowa/Nebraska border, and from then on they were deeply, vividly, gloriously blue—my skies, Western skies.  Yes!

** For some reason, I've never been able to grow actual lettuce out here.  Mostly I don't mind, since my philosophy is that if we really liked lettuce, salad dressing would not be a billion dollar industry.  But sometimes, a little bit of plain old lettuce to toss into the mix would be OK.


  1. I have my mp3 player loaded up with old radio dramas for long drives. They're always fun to listen to.

    And I'm a bit jealous because my radishes are not quite ready yet. Lots of pretty greens up top but no major root development on the bottoms yet. They better hurry up before I get too impatient.

  2. I never minded a long road trip though I often had a companion (sister, father, husband, friend). The alone ones were a Zen thing. My thoughts and ideas racing along, free associating. Music sometimes, books on tape or silence. So very jealous of the harvest. I planted seeds under cover and they are reluctant to show up due to the overly cold weather we are having...very rainy , windy and cold. Seems our March weather is happening now. I am afraid though our May weather will turn summery and we will have very little spring. Oh well we make due and are joyful for whatever comes to pass ...

  3. I am looking at my lettuce, spinach, and radishes very closely these days. Like you, I want them to last, but know the 'trip' is almost over.

  4. Very jealous but then I only sowed radish and mixed leaf seed a couple of days ago. Which will explain why they're not really ready for harvesting yet.

    The Big American road trip? Well, we're saving up for it. Next year maybe. Or the year after....

  5. Mud--I actually grew an extra-early maturing variety this year, so don't feel too jealous--it's kind of like cheating, only tastier. Other years I've ended up with long, skinny roots and no actual radishes. :/

    Donna--I love that free-association aspect of driving. I was so happy to see some flowers on your last blog--you've all had such a long winter! Glad it's thinking about ending at last. You will still be harvesting cool, juicy radishes when we are trying to keep things from scorching in 100 degree temperatures.

    Holley, it's such a short distance between harvest and bolting--zoom! The warm-weather things are a little more long-term-relationship-y. (If they survive.)

  6. Dave, it's easy to see why you're a professional gardener--what masterful reasoning!

    The whole "open road" thing really is worth doing at least once in your life, as long as you have the time to stick with the back roads.

  7. Plain old? Have you tried nasturtium leaves? Lettuce is too delicate to venture trying here.

  8. I was actually hoping for something to tone down the pepper cress a little, Diana--I had forgotten quite how pungent it can be. I do like nasturtium leaves, although they didn't grow well for me the last time I tried them.

    But you know, the more I think about it, that's really a good idea of yours. :) I'll give them a shot again this year.