We've had an incredible Spring rise from the dirt here on Minnow Creek Lane -- the wisteria is in full bloom, arching over our stone patio. The jewel pink roses I inherited have begun to blossom, and the blushing peonies have opened their pom pom eyes. We've been eating gorgeous greens for over a month now - Bordeaux Spinach, with its red-wine stems, sautéed over toast and topped with a poached egg; Roquette Arugula pureed with walnuts, garlic, and parmesan for a refreshing pesto; French Sorrel gratineed with potatoes, cream and gruyere; baby Valmaine Romaine tossed in a mustard vinaigrette and topped with blackened Coho Salmon; Lacinato Kale stewed with shallots and finished with apple cider butter; baby Rainbow Chards with sesame soy glaze over soba noodles; and countless mixed green salads with garden radishes and a simple vinaigrette. I'm thankful this season for the distraction of an armful of greens and thinnings. Greens are good for the body, but lately, they've been feeding my soul.
Living with our bountiful kitchen garden is an exercise in creativity and economy. Each morning I tally the haul and decide what needs to be used first. A recipe evolves after perusing the pantry or the freezer to see what special concoction hasn't been brought to life for awhile. A meal is then finished with one or two of the many herbs I've over-wintered from last year or started in late winter. We've been eating from the land for most breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, supplemented with a supply of locally sourced fish, the neighbor's eggs, and the occasional piece of Orcas raised grass-fed lamb or beef. I am thankful we both love "greens" in their many incarnations - from turnips and beets, to cress and endive - it's the time of year when we eat mostly vegetarian, fueled by the freshness of what I've just plucked from the earth. After a winter eating stored squashes, rich stews and Indian food spiked with home canned preserves and chutneys, and the frozen remnants from last year's harvest, the bounty of spring is invigorating, and renewing.
It's been particularly nourishing this season, as G and I grapple with our own growing pains. We decided a few months ago we were ready to grow the farm -- beyond the chickens -- and get started on a few rug rats to help out with the harvest. I hate to even call it a "process", but those who have been there, understand. This is a process. And this process has been hard. "Duro," the Spanish word for hard or difficult, seems more appropriate...it feels more drawn out, more uncertain, and more like what we've been feeling. Duuuuuurrrrrrooooo. We were thrilled to conceive last month; and then crushed by an early miscarriage. For awhile, all I could do was cook and plant, and plant and cook some more.
I've never taken lightly having things I've wanted withheld from me. I'm used to having more control. Both the garden, and the kitchen, remind me of all that cannot be affected by my eager hands. The weather, the soil, the amount of sun, wind and rain - creates a calculus that I play only a small part in. Baking sourdough bread with wild yeast teaches the same lesson -- I can knead and rest, and tinker the recipe all I want, but if it's too cold out, my bread won't rise. I'm not in control. It's the same feeling as swimming in the ocean where the largesse of life beyond little me, waving my hands and feet to stay afloat, is unfathomable. It is the same with family, growing one, and I suspect, nourishing it once you've created it. Control is something best surrendered. I'm still learning.
You might wonder why I'm talking about this, you may actually be uncomfortable and not sure what to say. I usually hold my cards somewhat close -- but many of you have been in my shoes, or have friends who have, or will, one day, and so few of us talk about it. We are advised to wait 12 weeks to share our pregnancy - to share our joy - and yet if we experience miscarriage, we are mostly alone, with our partners, in our pain. That doesn't make sense to me. It's normal, and it happens. It's part of the "process" for many. And duro, it most definitely can be. It is not something I am willing to face alone.
Yesterday I plucked the first few sugar snap peas from my overwintered vines and felt hopeful. Life goes on, all around me, carrots are sprouting, turnips and beets push around the dirt, and tiny little pears, peaches, and plums have set on the trees. They didn't have an easy time getting here, and yet they are here, beaming with life and promise.
I've made a lot of sweets these past few weeks, coping with sugar, my old friend. Here's a syrupy, floral compote featuring the Queen of Spring, the lovely lady Rhubarb. A little sugar, a little lavender, a squeeze of lemon; she's a stunner, jewel toned in her jar.
Lavender Rhubarb Conserve
Adapted from Christine Ferber's Rhubarb Jam in Mes Confitures
Try this on buttery shortbread, spooned over pannacotta, or slathered on plain old toast with butter.
Makes about 6 half pints
- 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) rhubarb, or 2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) net
- 3 3/4 cup (800 g) granulated sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons dried lavender buds, gently crushed and separated
Rinse the rhubarb, cut the stems in two, lengthwise, and cut into a small dice. Macerate the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice overnight in a ceramic bowl covered with a bit of plastic wrap or parchment paper. In the morning, add the lavender buds a few hours before you plan to proceed.
Pour the preparation through a sieve. Bring the collected juice to a boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Skim and continue to cook on high heat. The syrup will be sufficiently concentrated at 221 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Add the diced rhubarb mixture. Return to a boil, mixing gently. Skim again. Continue cooking on high heat for about 5 minutes, continuing to store. Remove from heat and put into sterilized jars and seal. If you are not water bath canning (see note below), fill to the brim. Otherwise leave 1/4 to 1/2 inch and process for 10 minutes.
*Next time I will add a 1/2 teaspoon butter to the syrup to help keep the mixture from foaming up and reduce the need from so much skimming
*I will also try keeping the lavender buds in a sachet during the soak and adding about half the amount to the final product to reduce the amount of buds (but not flavor) in the final jam
*Note that I did not water bath process this batch. It has a sufficiently high sugar and acid content that I am happy to follow a more traditional approach - AND it saves a step. Just be sure to thoroughly sterilize jars and lids - I heated my jars in a 225 degree oven for 15 minutes before filling and sterilized the lids in a boiling bath of water for a few minutes.