Gardening

Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

Adhikara

I was first taught that adhikara meant “studentship.”  Although that is not a literal translation, adhikara implies a dedication and steadiness in the student that makes the student worthy of receiving the teachings (of yoga).  As I was steadying myself during this momentous time and working in the garden, I was thinking about how the principle of adhikara applies to so many aspects of life, including gardening and being a citizen.

One of the literal translations for adhikara is “competence.”  What is the competence one needs to have in order to participate in the study?  As I harvested the last of the peppers and eggplants and pulled up the plants, making room to sow another round of greens (not too late in my sunny, protected yard in the city), and decided to leave the orchids out for another week, I thought about how I knew what to do when in my garden.  By being present and observant for two decades in my yard alone, I have grown competent to know what will likely grow in my little patch of earth and for how long into the season, depending on the year’s weather.  My initial competence, when I started this garden almost 20 years ago, was some basic training in other gardens, reading technical books, and enthusiasm.  My consistent efforts to learn yielded results delightful to me from the beginning.  As I have continued my studentship in the garden, my appreciation grows.  The same is true for me also with cooking, relationships, and my participation in the community (not necessarily in that order).

The fundamental competence of a student is having the basic skills to participate at the level of the teachings.  For a gardener, it is recognizing our climate, our space limitations, and our soil, and being open to learning what can be changed in a particular space and what must be accepted.  For a citizen, it is knowing basic civics, what are the most relevant issues for us and society at large, and what we can change and what we must accept (I think knowing the subtle differences between what we can change and what we must accept is incredibly difficult).  For yoga, it is much the same:  we must know what are true limits and what are false ones and be consistently present, practice steadily, and be ever open, not only to studying, but to the fruits of study (expected or not).

I cannot change the weather, nor guarantee how other voters will vote, but I can continue to maintain the adhikara necessary to be a fully engaged student of this life on all days and not just the days it is fun or gratifying.  The yoga, on a day like today, is to act fully, accepting, and perhaps even appreciating, the limits on what I can control.

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Poor Man’s Caviar

Last year, when it was dry and hot early, I had an extraordinary season of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  This year, the peppers and cucumbers were not particularly abundant.  The heat came too late and the rain has been too inconsistent for them to thrive.  The eggplants, though, were ecstatic this year.  Every week brought at least two and sometimes four.  When cooking for one, it is easy to find two eggplants a week far too many.  It was a relief to go to Santa Fe, where I could eat seasonal vegetables that did not include eggplant.

I was delighted, though, knowing I was about to host a party, to come home to five eggplants almost ready to be picked.  What better base for a potluck party dish than eggplant?  Knowing the crowd, I anticipate baba ghanoush by the bucketful; could not make that.  The tomatoes are not longer succulent enough for caponata (they must all become sauce); that was out.  I chose, then, eggplant caviar.  Not a bad pick.  What could be a better offering for a party in Washington DC at this time in history than what is often called poor man’s caviar?

I do not know the historical basis for it being named poor man’s caviar.  It does not look like caviar.  Not really.  It does not taste like caviar.  You can put it on bread or crackers the same way you would serve caviar, but that certainly does not further the explanation.  It is, though, a delicious and festive dish that pretty much requires only having eggplant growing in the backyard (or a trip to the farmer’s market) and the time to take care of it.

Eggplant caviar is a dish that reminds me that with only a little space and the willingness to provide nurture and pay attention for a season and to cook a simple dish slowly, I can experience what it is to enjoy and share little luxuries without being entirely dependent on money.  I am finding that comforting and encouraging.  (I do recognize that there are those for whom a little space and times are luxuries they cannot even imagine.  For me, choosing the simpler luxuries allows for more to share and offer.  Going entirely without comfort would not help much of anything.  As for sharing and giving, I certainly do hope those help.)

Recipe (adapted from Thomas Keller’s Eggplant Caviar in “New York Cookbook,” Molly O’Neill)

Take 3 to 5 eggplants, depending on size of eggplant and number of portions desired. Cut them in half, score the flesh and salt it.  Let the eggplants drain cut side down, weighted by a heavy plate or pan, for 45 minutes to an hour.  Rinse and squeeze out the eggplant.  Roast, cut side down, until very tender.  (In my convection oven, that’s about 25 minutes at 350F).  When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and chop coarsely.  Drain again in a strainer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wisk together olive oil, pressed garlic cloves, and dijon mustard to taste (to be local, you could use walnut oil, and it would taste excellent; I expect, however, that there may be party guests who are allergic to nuts).

Squeeze out the eggplant pulp and mix it with the remaining ingredients.  Best if sits overnight or at least a few hours.  When ready to serve, adjust the salt and pepper.

Variation Make with mushroom.  Skip right to roasting (or even just mince finely and saute until juices evaporate).

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