our greatest expression & a first-in-twenty-years garden.

tomato-basilthere’s just something about having my hands in the dirt & watching things grow.

peaceful and grounding.

soothing. intentional. life-giving. healing. hopeful.

when i was 12 years old i had surgery, and when i got home after too many days in the hospital, apparently i walked straight through the house to the backyard to check on my vegetable garden.

for our wedding, we got a lemon tree instead of a unity candle. to commemorate our first anniversary we got a fig tree.

to celebrate the birth of our son and my husband’s sweet grandpa’s life-richly-lived, we got a beautiful Charles White peony.

my mother’s day gift this year was a little stunner of a rose bush. as if the sweetly scented, delicate, creamy-apricot-y blossoms weren’t enough, the name is fantastic: Champagne Wishes.

and this spring, i got to build my first garden at our very own house. to say that it’s been a treat to spend mornings and evenings watching things grow is an understatement. for Christmas and my birthday, i asked for a gift certificate for supplies. i poured over catalogues and websites hoping to find just the right mix of trusted, must-grow and fun, new-to-me flower and vegetable varieties to plant in my first-in-twenty-years garden.

as seed-starting and mother nature would have it, there has been plenty of trial & error, anticipation, shriveled seedlings, and excitement woven throughout these past few learning-laden months. i’ve planted & re-planted seeds. some sprouted the first time. some sprouted the second time. some sprouted when i tossed a handful on a patch of bare dirt a few weeks ago. others i’ll try again next year. we had a big storm in the spring with wind that scattered my fledgling vegetable plants, damaging many of them. and as for the raised garden, i planted it late in the season and for sure planted more than i had space for.

we have to start somewhere, right? and sometimes starting is the most important step, even if the rest looks a little more trial & error and a little less polished & perfected. as it turns out, i’m ok with this year being more about simply enjoying that i finally get to have a garden and a yard to experiment in, learning through experience, and tucking observations & tidbits away for next year. i’m a rookie, i tried some things i knew could be challenging, and i often learn best as i go. or maybe i’m just in la-la land since somehow my dahlias & sweet peas are blooming after having absolutely zero success last year. that alone is a gigantic – and beautiful!- win in my book.

florals

as i’ve spent mornings and evenings watering, weeding, and watching our backyard actually turn into something rather pretty, i’ve thought a lot about what it is about gardening that draws me in. because, truth be told, it’s a lot of work. much more work than i anticipated it being back in march/april when my mind was a swirl of idyllic daydreams. it was a fair amount of work & time to build the raised bed. planting took time to plan, prep, and actually do. since our yard was full of random overgrown bushes, digging everything up & preparing the beds was a task and a half. and now the watering, worrying about 90º+ days, and maintaining everything takes time away from other things i’d like to be doing.

but even with all of that, gardening brings me incredible joy & thankfulness, and i’m realizing two things.

dahlias

first, i want to pass gardening on to charlie in some way. not that he’ll want to be in the garden with me all the time or will be a farmer some day…but just the simple joy of watching something grow. the being-together-ness of it. planting seeds with him this spring was an experience i’ll always treasure, and it’s been so fun to see him still get excited to water the plants (tonight’s entertainment: him running back & forth between his water table & a planted container on the patio, watering the rhubarb).

i love that sometimes as he plays in the backyard, he’s running over to me with a bubble wand, as i prune the tomato plants, so that i can blow bubbles with him or with a toy from his water table, as i snip flowers for a bouquet, for me to come splash with him. i’m thankful that he sees and experiences what’s growing around him and that it’s all part of where he lives, plays, and is learning about the world around him.

gardening buddy

second, and probably the most enduring truth in my life about gardening is that it holds immense hope for me. and when so much these days feels uncertain, hard, or discouraging, getting my hands in the dirt, catching a new blossom opening, and watching our vegetables grow feels…healing. it causes me to take a deep breath. to slow down. it restores something that was missing…something that i can’t quite put into words but am deeply grateful for.

floret_truckthe process of creating our little garden began over the winter as i thought ahead to the promise of warmer days. then in march/april when we were all completely over winter, i was able to tuck seeds into their little piles of dirt with hopeful anticipation…waking up each day to see what had sprouted overnight, watching them stretch and grow. once the days were warmer, i nestled the seedlings that had soldiered on through the long, cold winter into the ground, believing that one day, a little bud just might pop out.

then one did! and another. and another! then things started to grow much bigger than i imagined (hello 6 foot tomato plants?!)…some budded but didn’t blossom…a storm/extreme heat left their marks. i know in my head that it’s just a garden/plant/seed, but when those things happened, i felt guilty for having been over-zealous and planting too much, for not planning better, for not thinking of all the random scenarios so that i could have avoided them. and you know what i’m learning (albeit very slowly and with lots of over-thinking)?

sprouts

it’s ok. the plants figure it out. earlier this spring, after a particularly damaging storm hit their farm, our CSA (and favorite) farmer said, “[the plants] mostly just simply re-grow…sometimes even growing back even bigger and more bountiful than before. what a lovely example of resilience for us all as we weather life.” oh my heart, if that it’s so. dang. true.

veggie babes

and i figure it out, too. i trim the squash back to keep them from trampling the carrots. i found 6 foot polls to stake & secure the tomato plants. i let the shallots go & will plant them in a different spot next year. the peony is in the ground now (so its growth won’t be confused by my planting it too late), and i’m guessing it will be just fine. i’ve learned how to prune a rose bush and lemon tree. i’ll try ranunculus again next year.

garden bouquet

while there are things i’ll do differently next year that may result in a few more wins, there will still be lots of learning. and that’s a really good thing. because it means i’m still trying. still hoping. still getting to have these crazy fun, life-giving, special experiences with my boy.

while i have the wonderful gift of gathering little fistfuls of blooms that i grew. watching tiny cantaloupe buds turn into actual growing melons…streaky red-yellow tomatoes grow, slowly but surely…peppers slowly transition from green to bright red.

both/and. the tension of growth & learning, letting go & transitions, holding hope & trusting.

for a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone. the shell cracks,
its insides come out, and everything changes.
to someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.

~ cynthia occelli

 

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a happiest place & veggie fried quinoa.

cooking is, and has always been, one of my happiest places. it soothes, refreshes, motivates, & heals me. i like to start with a clean kitchen & open work surfaces so i have a full arsenal of vessels & tools to pick from and plenty of space to spread out. then a little more cleaning – this time the ingredients – before prepping, & chopping. i love the sound of the water, the rhythm of the knife, the colors as the ingredients find their order, & the aromas as it all comes together…mmm.

there are pictures of me in the kitchen spanning almost every age, i think. one of my favorites (that i’m still trying to find) is of me standing on the open dishwasher door, probably not even 2 years old. my mom was making brownies, & i wanted to help mix the batter :o)

my love for the kitchen grew deeper as i grew up. i had cookie parties with friends, i baked with all the kids i babysat ([insert unfathomably messy toddler & kitchen images] – totally worth it), & in college my roommates & i cooked dinner on thursday nights before Friends came on. the connection that cooking creates for me is indescribable. it connects me to deepest places in my spirit that i can forget in the hustle & bustle of a tedious day. it connects me to family & friends. as if that wasn’t enough goodness, over the past 5 months, i’ve been able to experience yet another connection: i’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to share my love of cooking with my most favorite cooking partner of all.

i can’t wait to keep sharing & learning together in the kitchen. cooking through what i can already see will be a growing collection of incredible cookbooks, trying new ingredients, supporting our beloved CSAs, exploring farmer’s markets, gathering loved ones around our table. sharing life, joy, sorrow, celebration, stories.

and, one day, passing our passion on to our own family. what a gift this life is!

:: veggie fried quinoa ::
adapted from peas & crayons

veggie fried quinoa

you can truly make this recipe your own in so many ways. you could simplify everything by subbing frozen veggies. if you pre-cook quinoa & keep it in the fridge or freezer, that makes things even easier. sometimes we soak our quinoa*, and sometimes we cook the quinoa in vegetable or chicken stock to add a little extra flavor.

2 cups quinoa
2 1/2 – 3 cups water or vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken, ground pork, shrimp, etc., optional
1 tbsp butter or oil (coconut or olive oil work well)
1 small onion, diced
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup peas or edamame
2 – 3 eggs
2 – 4 tbsp low sodium tamari or soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground ginger, optional
1 tbsp sesame seeds, optional

to prepare quinoa
first, rinse quinoa in mesh strainer for a few minutes (to rinse of the bitter outer coating). add rinsed quinoa to medium sauce pan & enough water to cover quinoa by a half inch. bring the water & quinoa to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until water evaporates (7-10 minutes). quinoa will be al denté.

to prepare veggies/protein
in a large sauté pan, heat butter or oil over medium heat. add half of the onion & cook 1-2 minutes. if you’re including a protein, add it to the pan with the onions and sauté until cooked through; remove from pan & keep warm in a medium sized bowl.

return pan to heat and add remaining onion, carrots, & celery. stirring occasionally, cook vegetables until they are tender (about 5 minutes). next, add garlic & peas or edamame and cook 1-2 minutes longer. remove sautéed vegetables from the pan, adding them to the bowl with cooked protein.

place pan back on stove. if needed and/or if you want, now might be a good time to add a little more butter or oil to the pan. crack eggs into pan & scramble, cooking to desired texture.

to assemble
once eggs are cooked, you can begin adding everything back to the pan: quinoa, veggies, and protein, if included. add tamari or soy sauce, salt, & pepper. if you are including ginger or sesame seeds, you can add them now, too. mix to combine & warm all the ingredients.

* soaked quinoa has a softer texture, but it also has nutritional benefits. i first learned about soaking quinoa from summer, then read more from the nourshing gourmet. it is an easy, almost entirely hands-off process that includes rinsing the quinoa, covering it with water & mixing in a little lemon juice, raw cider vinegar, or kefir, & letting it sit for 8 hours or so before cooking it however you usually do.

may god bless you.

may god bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may
live deep within your heart.

may god bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

may god bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy
.

and may god bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

:: franciscan benediction ::