First Greens and Alice Waters

First Greens and Alice Waters

first greens
Spring has been late this year — I can’t remember a year since I’ve lived here where it’s been May before I’ve had greens — but April was cold, grey, and snowy. These are the first of the year — Grumolo Bionda Chickory from my beloved Seeds of Italy. These overwintered, actually — once things thawed out this spring, I pulled the dead rotty bits off the tops, and lo and behold, green leaves sprouted from underneath. So, while the spinach, arugula, italian mustard and turnip greens and broccoli rabe are all just wee seedlings, I’ve got some greens out there, ready to be washed off, sliced into ribbons, and turned into breakfast (sauté greens, pour in one beaten egg and swirl it around to cover all the greens, top with a good-quality flour tortilla. Cover with a plate, flip, and slide back into the pan, tortilla-side down. Roll the tortilla and egg mixture into a roll. Let set. Cut into pieces and dip in a light dipping sauce made from soy sauce, sesame oil and some rooster sauce. Breakfast of champions). I forget every year the difference between greens that were alive in your garden five minutes ago, and greens from the store that have been dead for who knows how long?

I’ve been reading Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee and I have to say, while Alice Waters drives me a little batty — that oh-so-sixties combination of driven romanticism and willful surety about her own righteousness makes me crazy, but I admire Waters relentless proselitizing for gardens, for the importance of a seamless way of life where your food is not something separate from oneself, but rather is an extension of one’s day, where  you decide what to eat by wandering out into your own garden and seeing what looks good, and fresh, and attractive. Then you go inside and figure out a way to cook it — granted, the Chez Panisse/Berkeley/Ferry Market aesthetic, in the wrong hands, becomes precious and annoying in the way that those waiters are who insist on telling you every detail of the provenance of your meal — not so you can build a connection with the food but in order to reinforce a certain baroque connoiseurship. But the spirit of it is still crucial, and perhaps comes through most clearly in her Edible Schoolyard program.

Because when it comes down to it one of the saving joys of having a garden is the pure sensuality of it all — digging in the dirt, standing outside watering in the mornings — seeing what’s come up, what hasn’t, listening to the birds, feeling the sun and the breeze, watching how the light progresses across the yard as the season moves. It’s not just about achievement and productivity and how many different things you can grow or pushing the envelope of your growing zone. For me, it’s looking out my kitchen window while washing up, seeing a yard full of blooming fruit trees, shrub roses coming back after a hard winter, tiny little spinaches coming up, fava beans pushing through the surface. Its the whole thing and the way it tethers me to the physical world, over and over again, day after day as another growing season begins.

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