I was sitting at the kitchen table editing a document and drinking hot tea, when I heard a beating of wings against the window. It was in the inside, not the outside. A cabbage butterfly. I do not know how it got inside or where it found a place to grow and open in the house, but here it is in the middle of winter. It soon gave up beating its wings against the window and found the orchids that were blooming and rested there. What a lovely surprise.
I was talking to my Dad earlier today. My parents live on Long Island, where they are in the middle of getting three to six inches of snow. He said that the weather forecasters indicated that they were just missing having a blizzard, and he was grateful they were not. For the same reason Long Island is not getting a blizzard, we are seeing sun instead of a couple of inches of snow. We actually needed the snow. Last week’s ice was the first precipitation in almost three weeks, and now, once again, a storm has shifted away from us. It is good to see the sun, but it would be better for the trees to get some rain or snow.
We get what we get and then we have to choose whether to be happy or sad about it. I am happy not to be shoveling. And the chard is starting to come back. Next week, with highs forecast in the 40s and 50s, I’ll be harvesting again.
Went out into the backyard despite (or perhaps because of) the freezing rain. The greens had a thin coating of ice, but were still bright. Picked big handfuls of mixed asian greens, arugula, and chard. The ice cracked off as I picked them. Later in the morning, I will saute the greens with tofu for a nice brunch. I have dough rising for pizza for the neighborhood solstice open house. I think about making crackers.
Tomorrow, some of the greens growing will be frozen food. I’ll make an italian bean and greens soup with those leaves. When it gets back up to 50F, which it is supposed to do within the 15-day forecast, there will be new growth. The chard just might make it all the way through the winter. The arugula — it’s less likely.
Yesterday (latest in the season ever — see interesting articles in the New York Times last month about Thoreau as a climatologist) I spent the morning bringing all my tropical plants inside. Part of the reason it was later is that I have learned that the orchids and night-blooming cyrius like nights in the low 40s and can tolerate the occasional single night in the high 30s, but most of it is that it is a warmer season than any in the decade I’ve had a significant number of tropical plants. I also bring inside the lemongrass and lemon verbena (annuals here; perennials where they are native). I also like to bring in rosemary in a container. Also, what were once small plants in growers pots are now a huge jasmine and a bay tree. When I bring all of this inside in the winter, I transform the house into a retreat. When I bring it all outside in the early spring, my tiny yard is full and lush before the annuals start flourishing.
Once the tropicals were all inside, I cleaned up, tended the beds and containers, and strew some more winter kale and baby spinach seeds (no frost in the forecast for the next 15 days — so I could have new kale and spinach through December; also, some of the seeds will wait and be the early ones that come up during that warm week we always have in February).
Putting the garden to bed has a sweetness to it. I prepare for next year, but also engage in tending what will flourish best when the days are coldest and shortest. It is a going inside, knowing that there is a need to go inside and let some things be dormant in order to flourish fully when the sun is bright and hot and calls me outside.
This type of gardening is stressful for the lower back, hips, and shoulders. Throughout the hours I am gardening, I like to engage my alignment by intermittently doing some poses, strongly integrating my shoulders, hips, and core: working strong “shins in/thighs out” I practice uttanasana (standing forward fold), utkatasana (chair pose), and adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and maybe even handstand. It is critical to make sure not just to bend from the knees, but also to make sure you have a good lumbar curve and your tailbone is tucked, when picking up containers or other heavy objects.
At the end of several hours of gardening (bringing the tropicals inside also entails vaccuuming), I need to realign, stretch, and reintegrate, but I’m tired. I also want to practice in a way that honors and celebrates the sweet inward nature of the work I have just done. This is what works well for me:
1. Seated foot massage.
2. Balasana (child’s posture) with arms stretched out, palms, forearms, and armpits lifted. Inhaling lift underside of arms to strenthen, exhaling soften between shoulder blades to integrate.
2. Chakra vakrasana (cat/cow breathing).
3. (putting the garden to bed sun salute): Table pose (if you make sure you have good lumbar curve, table is one of the best postures for making sure hips, back, and shoulders are aligned well); Downward facing dog (play in the pose to integrate and stretch the legs and arms and strengthen your core); Palakasana (plank);Table pose; Balasana;Table.
Repeat the series several times. Add in lunges (coming into the lunges from table). Add in twists from table, threading one arm through and coming down onto that shoulder). Add in pigeon pose (with a forward bend).
4. End with legs up the wall, a supported or seated forward bend or two, and savasana.
Enjoy how this practice nourishes and realigns, but generally draws the attention inside, getting you ready to enjoy the inside while waiting for the next growing season.
ps While I was practicing, I had a big vat of tomato sauce cooking from the last (perhaps second to last) harvest of cooking tomatoes.
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.
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).