Strolling home from work yesterday, I spotted a beautifully inviting well-watered garden. It was outlined with staked vines in orderly green curtains growing up to the second floor, as an amazing use of growing space for beans, cucumbers, squashes, and much more. In all this lush greenery, there was the gardener at work. He was harvesting vegetables in a flat round basket. I asked for permission to photograph the lovely purple and yellow flowers growing over and around the metal lattice patio chairs. He graciously agreed, and even answered my questions about his garden.
“This was all raised from seed by my grandchildren,” he let me know. As it turns out, he was a middle school teacher who taught children about saving seeds, raising food, and developing a connection with the seasons and the earth. He introduced his wonderful heirloom vegetable varieties, and talked about the importance of curating and preserving our seed supply.
That was the moment to hand him my current reading from the Little Free Library. It’s an appealing and informative account called The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, by Janisse Ray on her farm in Georgia. The gardener and I swapped a story or two about plants and community building. Then the lady of the house looked out and greeted me. They thanked me for the book, offered to read and return it, and invited me to come back up on to their porch to pick it up soon. They also took their flat round basket of vegetables, and tipped the whole contents into my carrying bag to take home. There is a sample of these treasures up in the picture. I hope to talk to them again.
(History retraction for the story below: The enchiladas actually appeared in a separate food swap, with the spinach ice cream caper. We apologize for any inconvenience.)
In other news, over at Angelina’s house, where energetic people have a life and go places, everybody was planning a big week of work or travel on Saturday. (For one thing, Angelina took a new step in her front-line career of saving and helping people all day.) I figured they could all use a fortifying high-protein healthy-fat snack to tide them over while rushing to and fro — something they could eat hot tonight for supper or cold tomorrow for breakfast. At 5:30 pm I texted the house. They agreed on a delivery of a breakfast-style goody at 7:00. I headed to the kitchen and looked around.
Maybe scrambled eggs? I took 8 mobile-pasture-raised egg yolks, and beat in some tomato paste, goat cheese, fresh spinach, fluffy celery puree, ginger, and garlic oil. The cast iron pan warmed up with a little coconut oil while 8 egg whites beat up all fluffy, and folded right in to the yolks. Then on no-reason impulse I rummaged for a can of salmon, didn’t find any, and mashed in some sardines instead. When it was all cooked and puffed to a perfect high golden dome with red and green touches, I texted the house to alert them. In the biggest jumbo kneading bowl I laid out paper bags and heavy baking mitts for insulation, covered the skillet, packed it all up, wrapped the whole affair in a super thick thermal blanket, and headed out.
That was a heavier and more ungainly armful than one might imagine, down 42 steps, outside, up 20 or so more steps up an incline, then over to the house. I pounded on the door, waiting for a happy outburst from within. Usually at the sound of approaching steps, the dogs would be inside flinging themselves against the door in full voice. Hark! A visitor is here to play with us!
Nothing. Not a sound. Hm. Perhaps the “breakfast” offer suggested that I’d be by at 7:00 am as in tomorrow. They must have taken the dogs out for a run or something. Well, this bowl is sure heavy. And hot, too. Better sit outside here and wait. La di da, la di da.
Neighbor after neighbor stops by. Hey Mary, are you just hanging out holding a big ol’ blanket bundle? Were you feeling chilled today or something? All of a sudden I’m the toast of the town. It’s irresistible. People gravitate right over to sit down and chat. We’re got a little conversation line going on. But, no sign of a returning party with dogs. Maybe I should feed these people? We could use our hands maybe.
But finally I ease on upright and trudge back home, schlepping breakfast down the walkway and up the 42 steps and in the door. Check cell phone for message. There is none. Of course. These are busy people! Bothering them on such a hectic weekend was a terrible idea. A normal American would prepare a moderate portion of brownie mix, cut them in neat squares in tidy Tupperware, and drop it off on the windowsill with a nice card without bothering the family and causing a hubbub.
Wait, I can’t sit here fretting and overheating my lap. For food safety, this has to go in the fridge or freezer pronto! Except I don’t own Tupperware, and my fridge and freezer don’t have room, and hot food on a hot day will heat them up, so it needs to cool first in little slices. But then it won’t be sizzling and pretty at all. Nobody will want to eat it then. Quick peek. Oh no; it’s not a puffy dome any more! It’s all flat, like my spirits. Maybe it’s just as well. They wouldn’t like eating this. Who wants to eat out of something wrapped in baking mitts and a blanket? Who puts mashed sardines into other people’s food anyway? Someone with no social skills, is who.
My life does not work. I’m a dork.
Cell phone text. Who is it? Angelina! After a hard intense week she sat down for a rest and fell asleep bless her, and her two trusty Baskervilles fell asleep too. Now the three of them are hurrying to my house and will meet me out back. I grab the bundle and lock up and rush for the back stairs. Then from the top floor I get a glimpse of her little figure way down on the ground. She’s actually watching for my little figure to first appear in the window. She’s waving with both arms while Super Pup and Bingo wag their tails. Being practical souls, the dogs are staring not up at the windows, but at the back of the building. They just know that something exciting is about to burst out of that door. What could it be?
“Maryyy!” Angelina is hollering apologies from ground level. And here’s dainty Juliet on the balcony, laughing while lumbering down the stairs with the still-hot bindle swag.
Outside, the dogs are overjoyed. Super Pup is all bounce, like a tiny velvet black hand puppet from the Ed Sullivan Show. Bingo is usually wistful and bemused, like the tenured Ivy League professors I used to step and fetch for with their elbow patches and pipe tobacco looking helplessly for the Copy button on the Xerox. His name is not really Bingo, but his trim frame and features look half Beagle and half Dingo, so it’s close enough. The two are amazed. It’s Mary! And she has really stepped up and improved her smell. Mm. Fish essence. What’s in the bundle, Mare? Food? It is! She brought LOTS of food, and it’s ALL FOR US!
I was sad to disappoint the troops, but this skillet mess would have done their little tummies no good. Instead Angelina loops the leashes and hoists the bundle herself, and we head back for her house.
“Look at you with those flexible feet of yours,” I marvel at her. “All comfy and barefoot on rocks and bare ground!” It is endearing that she did not even stop to put on shoes.
“No, it just means I was raised by wolves.”
“I wish my feet could do that. They’re pretty arthritic.”
“You know,” she reasons, “you NEVER complain about that. But you could, with me. You can like gnash your teeth at the world.”
“If I were a better Christian, I’d know how. What is a Gnash even? It’s in Scripture.”
“Oh, it’s… oh you know. Like, ‘Though they come for my skin, yet will I gnash at them.’ I think it’s Leviticus.” She took the skillet upstairs, and brought down all the packaging, plus a big helping of Avocado Enchiladas and a grape ice in return. “I have never seen anyone wrap a skillet with so much effort,” she noted.
Next day a cooking review appeared in my texts, sent by a courteous family member. “Hello Mary! I enjoyed the snack. It was like a florentine omelette with a fishy twist. Thank you! Blessings to you and your garden!” The feedback came as quite a relief. I texted back that I’d come get the pan later, and meanwhile they could set it down on the floor for The Usual Suspects (ooh, new name for a pop group). I can go serenade their house window too. To the tune of “I’ll Bring You Home Again, Kathleen”:
It took some homecooking bravado / Your Enchiladas Avocado.
Who knew how tasty they can be? I should have shown more grateful glee.
You didn’t have to, thanks a bunch / They really made an awesome lunch.
If you should start your own café / We neighbors will eat there every day.
Instead of fulltime forks and knives / You’re on the frontline, saving lives.
Though Angelina’s Trattoria would be big / Guess the world needs you, to stay at your day gig.
I love reading about your adventures in your neighborhood, and with cooking!
Oh Wendy, thank you so much. It is really heartening to see your messages. And really, these stories are all about making a huge fanfare of fuss over pretty much nothing — which to me just seems really funny. I wish you lived on my street!! Cup o’ sugar? Mary