A little over three weeks of Moscow life and I’ve started to miss the garden in Lawrence. On days that are cold and rainy, the missing isn’t so bad. But on sunny days, I wish I could bike to the community garden and weed for a minute. Or just sit. Or see Nic, Michael, or Danielle and talk about which bugs are eating which plants or plan for the fall.

Even on the days when I don’t want to actually garden because of the weather, I miss the food. You have no idea how much LCGP swiss chard or kale I could put away if I could somehow access it. Ah, kale…where is the kale in Russia? And the spinach? I’m growing quite fond of cabbage, but cabbage, kale, and spinach are not the same.

Luckily there are lots of vegetables here. Really lovely outdoor markets that line the streets by the metro exits. So I normally stock up on fruit and tomatoes and eggplant and peppers there. I just learned, however, that if you’re foreign, you should wash all produce with iodine, which I haven’t been doing. And I eat a lot of vegetables. I learned this fact while I was telling an American friend about a 3-day long (and counting) serious stomach ache. I believe in my body’s ability to adjust to Russia and/or to fight this off, so I’m going to wait it out. [Today I developed cold/flu symptoms. So, I’m drinking ColdRex, which is a brand from New Zealand and I assume is similar to TheraFlu?] Anyway, I’m going to keep eating vegetables. The produce is good and, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think the eggs here are better, like just the normal ones from the grocery store. The yellows are yellow. 

Friday night we were out, and I picked up an expat newspaper called element. The writing is so-so, but it’s helpful for giving you an idea of what’s going on in town. And in English, nonetheless. It lists art exhibits and the showtimes for 35 mm, a theater that shows non-Russian films.  And there were advertisements for Irish pubs, pizza restaurants, and American looking bars. Daughtry and Nickelback are coming to town, but I’m not going.

Most importantly, though, I learned that The Slow Food movement would be in Moscow this weekend. Slow Food, the opposite of Fast Food, encourages people to grow their own food and cook meals that take time. And it was at Dorogomilovsky Market, a place I intended on going anyway. While the street-side markets are pretty and quite convenient, I want something bigger, like a Farmer’s Market. And I wanted to see people who like real food.

So, Sunday afternoon, I went. Unfortunately, aside from a few signs, I didn’t see much that seemed related to the festival. Maybe people there were talking about slow food, and it was just lost on me because it was in Russian. Instead, it seemed like what I would expect a normal Sunday at Dorogomilovsky Market to be. Despite not meeting my festival expectations, I still got to see and buy real food.

I began my “buying things in Russia” cycle. First, I wander around, slowly reading Russian signs to get a sense of what’s there and how much it costs. I saw fruit and vegetable stands that all seemed exactly the same. Then there was what I labeled the “pickled stuff” section. Then the dairy section. And then fish. And then I got to the section with enormous slabs of meat and entire chickens. And also rabbits; I’m 99% sure judging by the furry feet.

The second stage of the “buying things in Russia” cycle is when I freak out (internally, of course) and decide that I just won’t buy anything. The vendors here talk to you if you glance their direction, trying to get you to choose their stand, so looking at the produce without being noticed was impossible and examining something meant I’d have to speak in Russian or nod a lot. But then, I played the current scenario in my head–I ride the metro for 30 minutes, walk for 15 to the market, and then leave without purchasing a thing–and that just seemed stupid.

So I moved to the third stage, which is when I find a secluded corner and look up words and phrases in my travel book.  After I’ve practiced the phrases to myself, I use my fingers to save those pages and then I approach someone who looks nice. The bread ladies seemed nice; they weren’t. But, I asked “сколько они стоят?” and bought bread. And then, I went to the rows of vegetable pyramids. And a vendor motioned to my camera, indicating that I should take a photo. So I did. He also gave me a grape. He owned one of the few stand with lettuce that didn’t look like it was from the supermarket, so again I asked “сколько они стоят?” and the woman said “сто,” which I thought meant “100,” but I wasn’t sure so I typed it into my iPhone’s calculator and she said “да,” so I bought it.

By this point, I was feeling quite brave so when I found a stand with spinach (yes….spinach!), I walked right up and said “шпинат?” because that was one of the first words I learned and then “сколько они стоят?” The man said “пятьдесят,” and I double checked again on my iPhone and I was right, it was 50. I bought one bunch, and he asked if I was German.  I walked around a bit more and then realized that since this was the first spinach I’d seen, I should stock up. So, without being embarrassed, I went back and bought a second bunch. And I was so happy about the spinach that when I had coffee with a friend afterward, I asked her to take a photo of me with it; but frankly, I’m becoming quite fond of the Ride to the Fifteenth Floor Elevator Self Portrait. Expect more.

There was a cart of small desserts I’d been eying since I walked into the market. They seemed free, like part of the festival or something. I had walked past the cart three times trying to decide if they were or not. I saw a group of men hovering around them and eating them, so on my way out I grabbed one of the bigger pieces of baklava. Then I heard a woman say something loudly. She was probably talking to someone else, seeing as how the market was loud and many people were yelling and how there was clearly no cash register or stand connected to this cart. But, the thought of being caught stealing in Russia alarmed me. So I exited quickly and purposefully and inhaled the evidence.

Now that I’ve gotten sentimental, The Best of the LCGP in Chronological Order, as Told by Kara M. Bollinger. Mostly photos and links, few words. I’ve already written about these things, after all. I’m sure there are more I’ll remember later.

1) Weeding as stress relief. In particular, the spring day I was super pissed about school and life in general and got rid of a huge section of pesky crabgrass. There were many days I got rid of tons of weeds, but this one felt particularly gratifying.

2) Any time friends wanted to visit the garden. The best was when I got to give them food:

Katie W and J Nish during my first Lawrence Garden Tour

The best parties ended at the garden.

3) Winning The Great Corn Debate of 2010 by growing lots of corn.

4) Receiving green beans in the mail.

5) Learning. So much learning. How to cook new vegetables, like swiss chard and collard greens and beets. How to identify edible/delicious weeds (like lamb’s quarters). How to make pickles. How to build a trellis. How to compost most effectively. How to dry and preserve garlic and chamomile and rosemary and all the herbs.

6) My first ever garden mate, Amelia.

7) All the people.

8) Falling in love with peas.

9) Garden Watch Parties

10) Doing things men do, like unloading mulch and/or compost.

11) Ah, spinach.

12) My last spring in the garden.



This is me with my friend, Rachel. She took it at a party, which is why her head is a little cut off.  Rachel and met during my second semester at KU. We worked at the Writing Center and I were in a class together that really served no purpose whatsoever. Then we went to Balitmore together…I think our friendship was solidified when I fell asleep at the airport and drooled all over myself. Or when she took me to Ed Poe’s grave. Or when I took her to a super sketchy market.

The best thing about our friendship is that we have nothing in common. Seriously…nothing. We don’t like to do homework at the same times, we don’t really like the same coffee shops (or coffee, for that matter), we don’t like the same kind of food, we don’t like the same music, and we definitely don’t have the same hobbies (she hates the outdoors…and well…I garden). However, we are both good story tellers and good listeners and good laughers.

Even though she doesn’t really care about gardening at all, Rachel is also one of my most supportive blog readers. If anyone wants to try to compete with her for that title, I’ll gladly host a competition, but at the moment, I’d say she’s somewhere near the top.

Recently, we discovered that even though we may not like the same food, we do like some of the same restaurants downtown. We ate out once together. The next time, I asked if I could cook something for us. The only other time we’d cooked together was to make salsa–few can disagree on tomatoes and cilantro. I knew she would be skeptical, so I had a plan–pizza. She responded with “Can we have pesto pizza?!” so I knew she had been keeping up with the blog (see pesto frenzy here). She agreed on broccoli as a side, “only if it was the same crunchiness as it is in Chinese food.”

She had agreed to bring dessert. About an hour before she came over, she asked if I liked smores. Another true testament to our friendship, I replied “I really don’t.” Just like I ignored the face she made when I said there would be spinach on the pizza, she ignored my “no;” I am lucky that she did.

After dinner, she created her dish, stating “If the only legacy I leave behind is smachos, I’m okay with that.” Smachos= Teddy Grahams + chocolate chips+ marshmallows. Then you bake them for 10 minutes or so…maybe less. Though simple, they are excellent, and as Rachel pointed out, even better when they’ve been in the fridge for a day. Rachel said that I could blog about them but that she had copyrighted them. So, you can make smachos, but all credit goes to Rachel McMurray.


I went to Madison, WI for a Writing Center conference last weekend. Madison was great for many reasons, but gardenwise/farmwise:

1) The Farmer’s Market is enormous, one of the largest in the country. There, I saw my first brussel sprout…um…tree? I was amazed. Isn’t it beautiful? I wanted so badly to buy one but since we were riding the train, I wasn’t really sure how I’d get it back to KS. I also talked to a nice old lady who explained how they grow. If it’s possible to grow them in KS, that might be next year’s project.

2) Cheese. Cheese could have its own entry. I didn’t know I loved cheese, and then I went to Madison. Imagine how great it would have been if I had gotten to visit an actual dairy farm.

One night we went to this super hip restaurant near the Capitol building: The Old Fashioned. It was so hip that there was always a wait. We had cheese curds as an appetizer. Then, a lot of my friends had macaroni and cheese. I had a grilled cheese.

I ran to Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning at 7 am before the conference to buy it. I ran around the entire Capitol until I found what I thought was the most authentic, most Wisconsinian cheese: Raw Milk Cheddar from a nearby farm. I’m assuming that since it has whole milk, it probably has about a million calories, but it’s so good. I told the people I traveled with that I would carry the cheese in my running tights if I had to, but that was all just for a reaction from them…cheese fits in your hand quite easily.

Since getting back from Madison I have had this cheese every day. I think I have three days worth of cheese left. Then, what happens? I hope they ship here.


Actually, this has no relation to the garden/etc, but I’ll tell you anyway.

I did not dress up. The party I was supposed to go to was on Friday night and I could not not watch the World Series. So, I got some guy friends to skip the party with me. I was going to be Bruce Springsteen for Halloween anyway, and I’m 99.9% certain that Bruce Springsteen would have watched the baseball game. It is also that time in the semester where I am tired and busy and more inclined to do what I want as opposed to what might be considered most normal or appropriate in social situations (ie most 24 year olds go to Halloween parties).

I did not, however, skip out on Pumpkin cookie, my most favorite Halloween tradition. Sunday night I had a reading in Lawrence (yes–reading in public again!). I read a serious thing again and then a funny thing. Apparently that’s my go to structure. There were lots of supportive friends who came, and though I did not read anything spooky, it was awesome and fun. Afterward, I invited some of my most special, longest-standing friends over. Whoever invented pumpkin cookie (Dawn Bollinger) is mostly a genius.


Every August, the Merc (Lawrence’s hip, organic, as-local-as-possible food Co-op) hosts the “Eat Local Challenge.” You buy local food and get stickers for buying that food (1 sticker=$5 worth of food at the Merc, one local dish at participating restaurants, 1 bag of food at the Farmer’s Market). This year they added a cool new way to earn a sticker—take a photo of yourself in your garden (we all know I have a lot of those). I think this is an important change because growing your own food is about as local as you can get. When you earn a certain number of stickers, you officially complete the challenge. And you get a prize.

I know…it’s like I’m in kindergarten again, earning stickers on a chart for pushing in my chair and putting away my crayons. At least I’m not convincing other people to give me their stickers and promising to give them a small portion of the stickers back at the end of the challenge like my sister did in first grade. At the end of the year, she cashed in on pencils, erasers, markers of various colors, and candy. Lots of candy. She was shrewd. Or those kids were dumb.

Last year, the prize was entrance to the Merc’s fancy end of the challenge reception (complete with a local food, a band, fancy sodas in glass bottles, and Free State beer) a free t-shirt, and packet including postcards with tomatoes on them and a “Kaw River Valley” local food bumper sticker. At this reception, I got interviewed by the Lawrence Journal World and they took my photo. I look like Billy Idol, though, so I’m not posting a link.

This year, the prize was a $5 token to the Farmer’s Market, which is way more useful than a t-shirt. I know what you’re probably thinking—“How much money did Kara spend to get a $5 token?” Not that much, honestly. I only bought things that I would normally buy—veggies for the week at the FM, Kansas flour from the Merc, a cantaloupe for a potluck.

I think it’s the word “Challenge” that gets me.

One, who doesn’t like a challenge? This is America, dammit.

Two, I attempt to live out this challenge every day. I garden, I go to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, I try to make as much of my food as possible from scratch. Yes, I still eat my weight in animal crackers, but I’d say that as a whole, I do a good job. I really love that the challenge encourages people to eat local, but if other people are getting a prize for something that I already do, then I definitely want a prize too. What will I buy with my $5 token? I dunno. I will think about it, though, and I won’t spent it all in one place.

Another cool change this year is a community potluck hosted by the Merc (instead of a fancy reception). Preparing a local dish earned a sticker. I had explained my sticker collecting obsession to my friend Sam, so she came along to the picnic with me. I made a quiche with: local eggs, swiss chard, basil, onion, and flour for the crust. Sam prepared a local broccoli and potato salad with a lovely vinaigrette. I’m proud to say our dishes were some of the tastiest. They had a band and local businesses giving out samples and Free State beer. There was also a $50 Merc gift card awarded to the “People’s Choice” dish, but a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler won out. Desserts are hard to beat. I think having this potluck was a positive change—the community got to come together, celebrate local food, and cook for one another.

Even though we didn’t win the gift card, we did get our photo in the newspaper. And nobody looks like Billy Idol.


June 16, 2011

Disclaimer: This feels long. For that, I apologize. Stick with me because you like/love me.

I have had quite the birthweek. Uncle Kevin created the birthweek and I think it is great. After all, there are 365 long days in a year, why shouldn’t we get to celebrate our birth for a whole week? A day (and a short one at that) is nothing. Most of the things in this eventful birthweek have been good; one is not so good. I’ll tell you about that at the end. And don’t worry, kids. I’ll connect it back to the garden somehow.

June 9, 2011: A Stellar birthday. In the morning, I went on a run and ran through sprinklers and saw a squirrel fall out of a tree and land on its feet! I also taught the students. I spent the afternoon downtown taking in all of Lawrence’s free birthday stuff–iced coffee at La Prima Taza, a movie at Liberty Hall (though it was super low budget and a little silly, it was plant-related, so that was cool), and free popcorn at the movies. Then, I had an exciting party and lots and lots of friends came. Though last year’s party had a mojito theme, this year I decided that unthemed was best. Themes are best when inspired and unforced.

I still wanted to have a cool cake though. Since my favorite is vanilla on vanilla (which is decidedly not cool, in fact, is boring) I decided to add something from the garden–chamomile. So, I took this recipe and modified it a bit–no berries, dried chamomile, and an accidental modification (no eggs). The chamomile gave the cake a special (chamomile-y) flavor and made it speckled, which was cool. I had decided to tell no one about the egg mistake…but then I made a birthday speech. There were few secrets.

Mostly, I have a nice family and cool friends who care about me and do a good job of showing me that and who like to have fun. For all these things, I am thankful.

June 10, 2011: Also pretty cool. And still garden-y. In the afternoon, Clare took me to the house she was house-sitting. These people have a totally neato modern, simple house. It has a raised bed garden and horses and dogs and chickens. For most of the afternoon, we sat inside and read (and napped). The dogs were hyper but the chickens were very fun. They sort of just did their chicken thing, which was walking around and making weird noises and eating, while we did our thing, which was walking around and not making noises. Before we left, we had to gather the eggs (is there a one word verb for that?). Some of the chickens did not want to get out of their little hole things, but Clare pushed them out with a stick because she was the boss.

There might be too many chicken photos because I liked them a lot.

The night, Truman friends Sarah and Alison invited me over to make homemade sushi for a birthday meal.  I’ve been wanting to make sushi for quite some time but didn’t want to figure it out myself. This invitation worked out really well for me because they had made sushi once before and are basically experts. Even though they asked me to get all the meat out of the crab (maybe the most difficult part of our particular sushi-making process), I’m pretty sure Sarah and Alison still love me. I thought our sushi rolls turned out quite nicely.

June 11, 2011: A wonderfully typical Saturday. Went for a run, made some middle aged friends in the garden (One woman was smitten with me: “You garden and you read Michael Pollan? I love Michael Pollan.” Yes, I read Michael Pollan, along with a good portion of America’s literate public), coffee shop, and a wedding + party bus (okay, party bus is not typical).

June 12, 2011: This is where excellent birthweek gets a little less excellent. I was in pedestrian and biker friendly downtown Lawrence on a coolish Sunday afternoon. I had just finished having a nice cup of coffee with friend Mark at favorite coffee shop LPT. I was behind a van on my sweet Panasonic bike (complete with a brand new birthday bell from friend Justin) and we had a green light. I was hit by a car; she didn’t see me. Don’t freak out! Though I am bruised and have a slight headache and am sore, I am fine. There were lots of nice people who made sure I was fine and then helped me get out of the street. They stopped commenting on my shaking after I finally said “I’m probably shaking because I got hit by a car.” Luckily, friend Jeff was at LPT. He took my bike to the shop for me and then made sure I got home okay. Clare gave me some homemade pizza and epsom salts. Roommate Katie reminded me to ice my neck/shoulder/leg/knee before bed. I’d post photos of the bruises but that seems weird and a little too personal for the internetz. Just trust me, they’re cool.

June 13-15, 2011: Normal Kara activities–reading, writing, smiling, teaching, seeing friends–mixed with less normal Kara activities–no running, doctor visit, police station, bike accident drama, telling the same story over and over again (okay…well…I might do that sometimes, friends will vouch). The best thing about this incident is that I’ve been having nice early morning walks and garden visits instead of running. There are usually sprinklers and old people.

June 16, 2011: First, a birthweek event worth using an exclamation mark on: I got the call today that my bike is ready, so I should get to pick it up tomorrow! I am so excited that I might post a photo when I get it back. In normal circumstances, June 16th would mark the final day of the birthweek. Like I said, though, I am taking 2 weeks. I got hit by a car. I think Uncle Kevin would okay this decision.  If anyone wants to buy me ice cream or a drink (for birthweek or bike accident), I would accept.





May 12, 2011

Today was the last day I had to go to class. In my early class, we were supposed to have a (partial) first draft so we could read and give each other feedback. There were also bagels. My draft was 14 pages long, but next Tuesday when I turn it in, it will be longer and better. In my other class (the one that keeps me on campus until 4:15/4:30 but lets me talk about creative nonfiction and see a few special friends), I mostly just had to be there to talk about a book. That story could be a whole blog post in itself, or a book I guess (since it is).

I was real antsy today. It took me about an hour to finish the last 20 pages of that book even though I really liked it (young man + nature + search for identity + a moose killing on June 9th (my birthday) + private journal entries/thoughts +  edible/nonedible wild potato plants). I made it through, though. Somehow.

Tomorrow I see my students all together one last time. I liked them. They were, for the most part, funny and sweet and hard working.

There are still a few things due next week and still a few things (and will be more things) to grade, but I think that I will make it through that too.

Since I was antsy, I gave myself a mini-summer this afternoon. This mostly consisted of going to the garden. I’ve maybe spent more time in the garden than I should have in the last few weeks. I could maybe be done with my paper and my grading if I stopped going to the garden and picking spinach and lettuce.

There is so much food in the garden right now. Today I picked a shopping bag full of spinach and it doesn’t even look like I picked anything. Tomorrow I’m going to try blanching and freezing it (blog to follow). There are also radishes, which I’d never tried. They are cool when they’re ready–you see this little red globe coming out of the dirt. There is also a lot of cilantro–I’ve been making enchiladas with garden ingredients (cilantro, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes from Grandma Pat).

While all the food is exciting, the coolest thing that has happened in the last week is the construction of a trellis for the peas. You weren’t expecting me to build things were you? Me either.

About a month ago, I built my first “trellis” (quotation marks because it was not a trellis.)  The peas need a trellis because they have these cool thin vine-y sprout-y things that they use to attach to other plants/things. Without a trellis, they will grow into one another and then they will just kind of rot. They’re kind of like people. Then the peas grow up the trellis. They need support. For the first “trellis,” I put bamboo sticks into the ground at the end of each row. Then I walked away. I was going to come back and tie rope to them (to make them into an actual trellis and not just bamboo sticks sicking out of the ground) but it was windy and they fell over.

Last week, I (re)built the trellis with friend Justin. Not to discredit Justin’s help, but: Let it be known that I had a plan for the trellis (a plan that I had concocted after looking at other gardeners’ trellises and after drawing a blueprint [sort of] in my ENGL 780 notebook during class). I did not need a boy/guy/male/whatever-word-works-best-here to tell me how to build the trellis or to build it for me. Justin commented on this, and I quote: “[Kara] did most of the work. I just helped [her] hash out the details. And I hit [the trellis] with a hammer.” (I also used the hammer).  It was mostly nice to have company for the trellis building. I think it’s adorable. Aunty Sandy and I once described our garden as something out of Winnie the Pooh; I think this trellis fits.

One week and the peas are bigger and seem happy, though it’s tough to convince them to not cling to each other. One week and it’s still standing. It’s stable.


March 28, 2011

Last weekend, Jeff and Dawn came to visit me. They were my Spring Break. They bought me lots of great meals and ice cream and cookies and cinnamon rolls. We went on a run together. When the rain canceled our hike, we saw an afternoon movie (the height of relaxation). They brought lots of peanut butter and flour from the (Amish) Country Variety Store outside of Kirksville. There was even an anti-UFO-censorship convention in town; we literally had to tackle Jeff to keep him from buying himself a ticket and abandoning us for the entire weekend. They also took me to Target and the Borders clearance sale. Who needs Cabo when you’ve got parents?

We went to Wheatfields for lunch one day, where I had a vegetable curry empanada. I was inspired. Actually, I was inspired a few months ago when I saw a friend order a Wheatfields empanada. I vowed to make them, but then decided that I should actually try one myself before attempting replication.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have a lot of green onions from the garden. At first, I thought the guy who grew them was just lazy, allowing the herbs and onions in his plot to just grow and grow and take over. Then I met him one day and learned that he used all that extra stuff to keep people from taking the other vegetables he has hidden in his plot, the stuff you can’t see because of the overgrown herbs and onions. These onions are technically Egyptian walking onions (“walking” because they do this cool thing where they fall over after fully grown), but I’ve been using them like green onions. This seems to work well. I invited some friends over for dinner Wednesday night, promising either Missouri sweet potato and garden-fresh onion empanadas or my fallback, quiche (also sweet potato and onion), depending on how I felt.

Luckily, I woke up feeling adventurous on Tuesday, so after working on an annotated bibliography and taking a walk downtown, I made the dough for the empanadas. It actually took me awhile to find a dough recipe. There are hundreds of empanada recipes, but most of them talk about already made or prepackaged dough and then give instructions for making the empanada filling. I didn’t need help figuring out what to put in the empanadas…I’m pretty confident in my ability to mix things together that taste good. The dough was what I needed help with. Finally, I found one that seemed like it would work (http://latinfood.about.com/od/appetizersandsnacks/r/empanada_dough.htm). I made the dough, and as the instructions indicated, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I started cooking the sweet potatoes and onions about two hours before my dinner guests were to arrive. This was a good idea. Making the stuff to go inside was no problem: sweet potatoes + onions + butter + garlic cloves + spices I’ve forgotten + mozzarella cheese. The dough, however, was another story. When I started rolling it out, I missed Alyssa, baker extraordinaire, more than ever. I struggled through 4 empanadas, before realizing that adding water made the dough a lot more workable.

After over an hour of rolling and filling and sealing, I had 11 empanadas and just enough time to bake them. Whew. I was alone in the apartment, but I imagine it looked something like an episode of a cooking show that culminates in a major competition, the contestant untying her apron, washing her hands, and wiping the sweat from her brow moments before the judges enter the room.

I can’t say that my empanadas were as pretty as the one I had at Wheatfields (note the holes and uneven edges). Nor can I say that the crust of my empanadas was as flaky. They were a good start, though. I did get rave reviews from my guests, but these guests were some of my favorite, most supportive friends.

Perhaps a different dough recipe. More practice. More skill with a rolling pin. More dinner parties.


Ode to Technology

September 21, 2010

You’ll recall from previous posts that I’m not a huge fan of technology (or at least I am not a fan of certain things…obviously I like modern amenities–running water, Pepto-Bismol (Pepto-Bismol was at one time, I’m sure, innovative), the internetz). If you don’t remember reading this, you should consider getting your reading comprehension checked.

I did it, though. I betrayed good, old-fashioned American hard work (and instead bought into America’s new(ish) value of immediacy). I betrayed the authentic Italians who chop and chop and chop basil and garlic.

I betrayed myself, betrayed my morals. I may have even betrayed the pioneers. All for a little bit of pesto.

Oh, what we will succum to when we find ourselves faced with an overabundance of a particular crop, a squirrel-like compulsion to stock up for the winter, a lifetime’s worth of Emerson-isms on self-reliance, endless emails from students, and an inordinate amount of readings on creativity. A friend offers a food processor, we accept. The next thing we know, we’re buying pre-sliced everything and frozen pancakes. It’s a slippery slope.

The basil on the left was reduced to what’s shown on the right in approximately 30 minutes. Most (or all) of the wait time was my doing…taking the leaves off the stems is still time consuming.

In about 1 hour, I had 4 batches of pesto. You’ll remember that my last pesto adventure resulted in 1 batch of pesto after about 1.5 hours; I was quite amazed. There was enough that I could make an entire pizza, use it for at least 4 or 5 meals, and freeze 8 servings.

The only thing the food processor doesn’t do is clean itself. This actually took a while–cue good ole work ethic.

A few days later, I got the food processor out again. I wanted to make more, put more in the freezer while I had technology on my side. I also wanted to make pesto for the friends that let me borrow the food processor; sharecropping is tough.

I picked basil on a Saturday, intending to make the pesto either that day or the day after. I didn’t get around to it until Monday…so by that time, a lot (okay, almost all) of the basil was moldy. Wet basil = mold, so the dew from Saturday morning + 2 days in Tupperware =(ed) mold. I felt the dual guilt of using the food processor and allowing 3 cups of basil to mold.  It was almost more than I could bear. I still ended up with roughly 1.5 batches of pesto.

This morning I saw a squirrel with 3 nuts fanning out of his mouth at once; I got it.

Herbs are interesting. No really, they are.  Let me tell you: They produce extremely quickly, and in my experience, in large amounts. They spread a lot, too (see blog entry on chocolate mint).

This was my first summer with herbs, so in the beginning of June, I was extremely gentle with our basil plant, only picking a few leaves at a time. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t over-harvest the plant or kill it or anything; I would make super-authentic-Italian-things with these four or five leaves, like grilled cheese sandwiches with basil or baby-tortilla-pizzas with basil and mozzarella. Then I realized that it didn’t really matter how much basil I picked, the plant would someone manage to fill itself up again in a week’s time. If you don’t keep up with picking the basil, it will “go to seed” (like most things in the garden). So, I started picking a lot.  On more than one occasion, I’ve left it bald…really, bald…and the next week the plant is full again. When the fridge was full of basil and I started getting worried that my roommate would be annoyed (first the pickles and now the basil!), I realized I had to actually do something with the basil…I couldn’t just collect it.

My first project was drying basil. This is about as easy as it sounds: pick basil, poke holes in a paper bag (finding a paper bag might be the most difficult part), hang bag with basil upside down and wait two weeks: dried basil.

Next, I made caprese salad (see Moving and Tomatoes.)

The end of communal gardening time is by far the most exiting. We lay all the produce out and pick what we want; mid-summer this generally resulted in us pushing tomatoes at one another and Danielle promising to make everyone pickles.  About a month ago, the basil in the communal garden started producing. And then we planted even more basil and it started producing too. Basil quickly became the new thing we had too much of.  Every week basil would lay on the table and every week everyone would say “I’ve already got a lot of basil”  until someone would volunteer to take it. But, because it would go to seed (and therefore stop producing), we had to keep picking it. I still haven’t figured out why we needed something to keep producing if everyone was tired of it, but here I am, a few weeks later, still fretting about picking the basil. I do not claim to understand everything.

One week the group convinced me that making homemade pesto was really easy, so I volunteered to take some basil. After doing a little internet research, I learned that pesto was really easy…if you have a food processor. I, someone who enjoys doing things the “real” way and appreciates the value in dicing an onion on my own, thank you very much, do not own a food processor. I am also in grad school and do not have money (or space) for such newfangled luxuries.

I feared that my pesto-making adventure had ended before it began until I found a website that explained that in Italy, they don’t use food processors to make pesto, but that they chop the ingredients by hand. If I knew an Italian expression for “A-ha!” or “Success!” or “Huzzah,” I would insert it here.

First, I chopped two garlic cloves and sauteed them in olive oil. Then I started chopping basil. I chopped basil for about 30 minutes. At this point, Katie declared that heaven will smell like nut-free pesto (nut-free because Katie will have a severe allergic reaction if I put nuts in the pesto). Then I chopped for awhile longer, but I won’t tell you how much longer because it’s embarrassing. It looked very pretty once it was all chopped and put together. Then I added olive oil. The woman whose blog I was using (the one who had claimed that real Italians chop their own ingredients by hand) said that most people add 1/3 a cup of olive oil but that she adds 1/2 a cup; because I liked this woman’s authenticity,  I followed her lead.  Finally, I added the Parmesan. You probably noticed the repeated use of different forms of the same verb in this paragraph: chop, chopped, chopping. Making pesto=chopping.  And chopping. And chopping.

I was having friends over for dinner that night and decided to use the pesto instead of red sauce for pizza.  After all my chopping, I had hoped to have a little left over, but I ended up using it all. It turned out pretty well, but I regretted trusting the olive oil suggestion; the baked pizza ended up being super olive oily (delicious, but a little crunchy). When questioned, my friends would not say there was too much olive oil, but I knew.

A few weeks later, after I’d forgotten about the chopping and the garlic/basil smell my fingers retained for three days, I decided to make pesto again. It did go a little bit faster this time. Katie and I decided to just eat it on pasta. I had a little left over, which I found to be a really tasty addition to generally anything I sauteed in a skillet. Apparently an ice cube sized amount of pesto is enough for one serving, so I froze a few servings in an ice cube tray (before adding the Parmesan cheese), too. I forgot to take these out and put them in tupperware, though, and later when a friend was looking for ice at a party, he only found pesto. Actually, I think they’re still there right now, un-tupperwared.

The basil keeps growing. I haven’t picked any for two weeks. I’m trying to talk myself into making pesto again. A friend said I could borrow her food processor. This poses a moral dilemma.

Moving and Tomatoes.

August 14, 2010

My move to Lawrence a year ago (almost to the day) marked a transition for me in about every way possible. A big one was that I was on my own financially for the first time. My parents weren’t going to pay for groceries anymore. They weren’t going to pay my rent or my other bills (although they were still going to help me keep my insurance and my cell phone (hence the reason I am the only person my age without texting (I am secretly really proud of this))).  This actually wasn’t that bad…except for one day last September when I broke into tears about the outrageous cost of my eye exam and contact lenses ($149!); my parents said that I had to tell them if I wasn’t going to be able to eat. It never got that bad.

I like this independence. I like being an adult.

I do not, however, like the idea of packing all my things into my car and driving them to my new house and then packing more of my things into my car and driving them to my new house and then doing that over and over again for an entire afternoon. I don’t like the idea of learning to drive a stick shift just so I can borrow a friend’s truck to haul my bed, dresser, bookshelf, and desk.

When I made my big transition to being an adult in Lawrence (because I apparently wasn’t one during undergrad?), I’m almost positive that I promised to never ask my parents to move me again.  I should probably just not say that; it’s a promise I can’t make. Sometimes your family are the only people you can “force” to do these things.

I wasn’t going to ask. But when they offered all on their own volition…

Really, moving is crappy. You have to carry stuff and it’s hot and you get sweaty and you always end up pulling a muscle in your back or disassembling a table at the last minute to get it through a door or moving your bed to three different spots in the room before you’re happy with where it is (okay, maybe the last one was just me). So, I wanted to say “thank you.” I also wanted to show off my gardening and cooking skills. I know some people who are into “skill sharing.” I always avoided these invitations to “skill share” because I didn’t think I had any; I think I’ve developed a few this summer, though.

I decided to make my family a meal with three items featuring garden (or farmer’s market) produce. I’d made the main dish before (Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: http://italiandish.squarespace.com/imported-20090913150324/2008/11/8/roasted-vegetable-lasagna.html), so I was pretty confident it would be successful. One of the items was salad with rainbow chard; I don’t think it’s possible to mess this up.

The last item was something new: caprese salad. Obviously caprese salad isn’t that interesting or new, but it was new to me, so I was interested.  I had this for the first time about 4 years ago, and for some reason, I thought it had it would be really difficult to make. It wasn’t; its only ingredients are tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil, and salt & pepper. Since the garden was pretty much overflowing with tomatoes (and has been ever since) and basil, I decided to give it a shot. After completing my salad, I remembered a tiny detail: I’m the only one in my family who actually likes tomatoes. Oops.

Our finished meal was nice. Before I let them eat, I told them where each part of dinner came from (salad: rainbow chard (community garden), peppers (my parents’ garden in Missouri); lasagna: zucchini (Lawrence Farmer’s Market), carrots (Omaha Farmer’s Market), basil (my garden), pasta, cheese, ingredients in homemade sauce (Checkers…I did not roll my own noodles); caprese salad: tomatoes (community garden), basil (my garden), mozzarella cheese (Checkers).) I spouted that off in about 25 seconds…and I still remember (two weeks later). If you ever get to eat a meal I make during garden season, get excited! 

We ate it sitting in the living room floor of my old apartment.

After dinner, we went to the garden…obviously.