If We Lived for Food… Instead of the Other Way Around

_DSC4793
_DSC4784

/ / {I had a photo without Izzy’s photo-bombing hand in it, but this one made me smile, so I’m using it instead. Smiles over perfection win every time.}

.
I thought I would take a break from the typical post about one or both of my guys {even though those two are pretty much solely what my everyday consists of at this stage in my mom/wife life}. Instead, I’m posting about something that sings quintessential Summer to me… a favorite meal {or rather, dish, because sometimes this dish is nothing more than an afternoon snack} and a growing favorite pastime.. respectively, Caprese salad and gardening {herb and container gardening to be specific}.

Every year, I have the best intentions to plant a herb garden. Some years, those intentions evolve into action, and then action becomes reality… or a salad in my bowl.

This is one of those years, and it feels like it’s been a long time coming.

Our first two Summers in this house {which I still consider “new” even though we’re significantly into Summer No. 3 here} were a bust in the herb-gardening department. Well, that is to say, one year saw a failed attempt and the other saw my failure to attempt.

Last year, the thought of gardening seemed a bit overwhelming, and I imagined maintaining a garden of any kind would be a somewhat daunting task after the year we’d had.

However, our first year here, I planted a variety of herbs, but I used an existing planter box {which came with the house and is semi-permanently attached to it out back on the deck}. There was just one problem… most of the area where the planter was built is shaded throughout most of the day by the two large Red Cedar evergreens in our back yard, so it turned out to be a not-so-ideal spot for my herb plants, most of which need full sun.

I planted all the usuals… cilantro, basil, chives, dill and rosemary. When we were living at our last house, I grew oregano and mint as well, but found I so rarely used them that it seemed a waste to plant them. I think I had one or two other plants, as well, which were also rarely consumed. So this year, I pared down my selection. And this time around, I planted in movable containers that currently sit off to the side on our driveway, which is in the south-facing front or our property where they’ll get all-day sun.

A friend of mine gave me two jalapeño pepper plants and one kale plant last month, both of which I planted in containers as well. The kale started out great, but it’s been acting up lately, so I’ve got some research to do on that. I suspect it will take a bit more time before the jalapeño plants yield a crop of peppers {though I’ve seen one tiny pepper starting out}, so we’ll see how those go. If they go well, I’ll have a very happy husband. He likes adding them to much of what he eats. I enjoy the poppers he makes on the grill, so I suppose I will benefit as well.

I’ve also got a plant that will produce tiny yellow tomatoes… like the cherry tomatoes available in most stores, but yellow and much sweeter. My neighbor had one just like it on her deck last year from which I would sometimes eat the tomatoes… straight from the plant to my mouth, like they were pieces of candy. SO sweet and delicious. I had to search high and low for that plant so that I could eat them off my own plant like candy this year and, thus, feel less guilty about eating all of hers. I almost gave up on finding one, but then found that Walmart had some for sale in their gardening department, so I snagged one. I’ve already seen a few tomatoes on it. They’re still green, but soon, I’ll be like a kid in candy store… the kind that let’s you sample the goods whenever the mood strikes.

I wish the Caprese salads I’ve been making were made with my own tomatoes, but only my basil is ready, so red, store-bought grape tomatoes will have to do for now. I don’t know that the overall taste of the salad would be all that different if I used my yellow variety, but even if not, I sort of like the use of the red tomatoes in my salads. It’s what makes them look so pretty while eating… and photogenic!

Actually, the prettiness factor diminishes a bit once I soak everything in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sliced fresh mozzarella cheese always looks better before it becomes brown balsamic-stained mozzarella. But with flavors that compliment each other like that of these five simple ingredients, it doesn’t matter whether it’s pretty or not. In my house, it’s gone too quickly to matter.

I live for these salads every Summer!… which, in case it wasn’t clear, is what inspired my post title. To me, they are the quintessential meal or snack that makes Summer Summer. I know I could make this salad any time of year. But they’re somehow more refreshing in the good ol’ Summer-time… sort of like the way lemonade is more refreshing in the summer, too… especially when made from my very own garden.

Even doused in oil and vinegar, my eyes see these as the most inviting salad. And my taste buds always agree!
.

_DSC4795

.
So, what possessed me to take pictures of my Caprese salad? I don’t know. It felt like the thing to do. I don’t have an Instagram account, and I was never one for always posting a photo of what I was eating at any given time.

Here’s another view of my daily Cheerios.

Yum!… burgers again!

#blueberrycobblereveryday

It just isn’t my style. But I do love when people photograph food artistically, whether for use on a food blog or Instagram account, or just for fine art purposes. It’s something I’ve wanted to get more creative with for quite some time. That hasn’t been an intentional goal, because it usually just feels cumbersome to grab my camera when I have more pressing things to do, like clean up the mess my son made before I even had a chance to finish my own meal… etc…

But bright red tomatoes with the fresh green of basil next to the textures in the white mozzarella… well, it was all just calling my camera’s name. Georgia’s camera… come take my picture. This really happened. I could swear I heard it.

Seriously, though…

I remember once sitting on a bus next to my college choir director while on tour. I believe we touring Europe, but I guess it could have been here in the U.S., too. I guess it doesn’t really matter, except I like to think that the following conversation happened in a more memorable time and place, like an amazing month-long tour through Europe.

Anyway, he noticed me eating the apple that came in the bagged lunch that was provided to me by the European {or American??… depending on where the tour was} family who my tour roommate and I had stayed with the night before. As soon as I took it out of the bag, I quickly scanned it with my eyes to make sure there were no bruises or worm holes {is that even a real thing?}. I probably also picked the stem off, because I’ve been doing that since I was young, when someone told me that whatever letter I landed on {assigning a letter in alphabetic order to each rotation/twist} is the first letter of the name of the man I would some day marry. At the time… in college, so of course… I was still single. I usually had my eye on someone, so I was always adjusting the strength of my twists to accommodate whoever I was crushing on at the moment. Yes… I did say college. There are certain things from our whimsical boy-struck childhoods some girls never let go of. Well, now I’m married, so I no longer pay any mind to what letter I’m on when my stem comes off, but I always smile when it happens on the second twist… for my Mr. B.

But, wow! That was quite the digression. If I’m going to digress, it should definitely be about something worth digressing toward. So, I’ll get back to my first digression, which will hopefully hold at least some words worthy of savoring… or at least words that were not a total waste of time to read.

So… my college choir director, after seeing me take my first bite of apple, almost immediately {in his endearing and sweet Dr. Ed way} began to lay into me about eating my apple all wrong.

What? I thought. There’s a wrong and a right way to eat an apple?

I may have even asked the question out loud. And to that question {whether in the form of a bewildered look in my eyes or in the form of spoken words} I got a very though-out and lengthy reply.

I don’t remember his response word-for-word, because that tour was circa 1992 and my memory sometimes fogs up. But I’ll just write it out how I remember it in my head.

He said, “You don’t just eat an apple. You have to savor the apple before you take a bite and devour it away. You have to hold it in your hand and look at it. Notice its color. Its shape. Pay attention to the texture. You have to smell the apple. Notice the aroma.”

I wouldn’t even be surprised if he told me I should to listen to the thing before sinking my teeth into it.

Of course, I sat there stunned, feeling a bit guilty that I had, in fact, begun to eat this apple with very little appreciation for it. In general, I like apples for their taste. So, whether it was going to be a good one or not, I went into it feeling appreciative. I was grateful our European hosts included one in my lunch. And I appreciated the fact that there were no deal-breaking flaws on it. So, there’s that.

But he was talking about something much more sublime than just the act of consumption.

And I have to say, as goofy as it sounds, I agree with him!

His words stuck with me, and they’ve often come to mind while eating. It makes me chuckle a bit… how he thought we should be connoisseurs, of sorts, of everything… not just things like wine or fine chocolate… or what have you… but of even the simple things… like apples.

Well, I agree. Of course, who has time to savor every single thing in this way before it’s consumed? But therein lies a lesson, I think. Perhaps we eat too quickly, or too much to appreciate what gifts we are given in the food we receive… especially really good whole foods like these.

All that to say, that is part of my reason for taking pictures of my salad… and my herb garden below. It’s sort of an act of appreciation… savoring with my eyes before my tongue gets that chance.

And besides, greenery, especially accompanied by bright colors like red, is always a delight to photograph.

Or maybe I just wanted the visual record to prove that I finally did it!… I finally planted a herb {and other produce} garden that I’m actually eating from!

Take that, Grocery Stores and your over-priced herbs!
.

_DSC3949
_DSC3953
_DSC3964
_DSC3956
_DSC3954
_DSC3961
_DSC3967

.
It took me so long to finish this post {more than a week} that the container pots actually look quite different now, compared to how they are in these photos. I’ve not yet had any of the kale. Any leaves that didn’t turn brown from too much water {we’ve had a lot of rain this year, and I was watering them every day… unnecessarily, apparently} were eaten by some sort of kale-loving critter, which I have to learn the identity of so I can plan my course of action to ward it off. So, the once healthy, vibrant plant seen in the photos above is now tiny… like a baby plant starting out new, with only the little baby leaves that were hiding amidst the once-green, now-removed, wholly or curled up and withered leaves that were there back when I photographed my kale.

The basil has done quite well, and I’m using it often, as well as the not-pictured cilantro… the one herb I was able to keep in the fixed planter in back… which we enjoy at least one night a week for Taco Tuesday!

I haven’t used any of my rosemary or chives yet, but I plan to use one or the other this weekend in a special weekend-brunch omelet. Can’t wait! As for the peppers and tomatoes, I’ve gotten a few more, but still nothing like I’d expected. I’m wondering if the weird, atypical Chicago weather we’ve been having has to do with that. My neighbor kindly added some of his gardening fertilizer to my plants, so hopefully the growth will pick up soon.

Even if they don’t all prove to be a cost-saving addition to our Summer fare this year, I’m glad I can say I finally did it… and that we’re getting to take advantage of all my hard work. Ha!… compared to the work some of my friends who garden have put into their gardens, I can hardly call it work. But it’s still a step in the right direction.

Though I’m in my mid 40s, I like to think I can still become a gardening kind of girl… even a guru if I set my mind to it!

I recently discovered The Victory Garden’s Edible Feast on PBS and loved watching it! The artist in me really enjoys the way they artistically film and edit the show. But the wannabe gardener in me is inspired by the sustainable gardening lifestyle that they promote. After watching the first episode, I was excited and inspired to get to it!

Next year, I have bigger plans. I’ll be removing all the Halcyon Blue Hostas {that have somehow grown like weeds in full sun conditions} that line the West side of my house and replacing decorative plants with the edible kind. It will be my first real vegetable garden, and though it will be small in square footage, I intend to pack in as many plants as conditions will let me.

So, if I’m still blogging here then, I’m sure there will be posts about my vegetable garden escapades… with pictures of peas and cucumbers and whatever else makes its way into the garden.

I can hardly wait!

This year’s herb gardening will be my test… to see if I’m ready for the big leagues. If I can’t get this right, I guess I better think twice about next year’s plans.

But, so far, so good. {Please make it, tiny kale!}

.
.

Advertisements