Hysterical piece, all the mulch

You must stop whatever you are doing right now and read this article by Caitlin Moran. Do you know her? She is funny and clever as get out, a fabulous British woman whose book, How To Be a Woman, is tremendous. I've been a fan of Caitlin's for years. Then yesterday I read this article, the most popular esquire.co.uk story of all time, and nearly died laughing. 

The kids were concerned. "Are you OK, Mom? Why are you laughing like that?" 

Because. This piece.

Today I had jury duty and then came home to return to the ten cubic yards or feet or whatever is an entire driveway of mulch that Tom zealously ordered on Monday and got back to it. I LOVE me some yard work, and y'all know how I feel about mulch: the lipstick, the cherry, the pièce de résistance for a garden.

That happened even though I wore long pants, shoes, and socks the whole time. And tonight when I blew my nose, well, let's just say it was tinted gray. Now that, my friends, is the mark of a hardcore and excellent gardening session. I would be so screwed if I didn't have my yard in which to toil. 

And now I bid you a tuckered out good night!

Death by fruit

"Honey, what the...? How much fruit is this?"

"Uh, about 60 pounds," I replied, sheepishly happy.

****

In no real way have I "taken it easy" this week. That was my personal dictate, and I have failed. That said, I've had a ball. 

Said ball culminated with a spontaneous pilgrimage to Larriland Farm yesterday. It's a fantastic, sprawling, organic/IPM (integrated pest management) farm in Woodbine, MD, which is about an hour from NW DC. 

Each day, Larriland posts what you can pick that day, and yesterday's options just got me too excited to stay home: Shiro plums, peaches, blackberries...

Unlike my maiden voyage last year (which resulted in A Case for Thorns, a post that was so popular I felt like a real blogger!) for which I planned not at all and thus ended up out at Larriland with dirty teeth, a desperate need for the bathroom and gas, and no food, I this year took the time to ready myself: water, snacks, full gas tank, walked and fed pets.

First to the peach fields for a quick-and-easy 22 pounds. The birds chirped, the bugs buzzed, and I had visions of peach jam, peach pie and brandied peaches floating through my head. Cute kids wove through and around the grove, blissed out as I was. Except for that crying baby. Grr, crying baby. I jest. A bit.

People- seriously(!) on the iPhone camera. Impressive. #nofilter

People- seriously(!) on the iPhone camera. Impressive. #nofilter

"Girl, you are rocking this trip!" I told myself as I paid for the peaches and headed to the plum orchard.

Peaches! #nofilter

Peaches! #nofilter

Once amidst the plum trees, I felt a sting of disappointment: where are they? But then I remembered that not looking up and under is a rookie mistake, and so I did. Shiros everywhere! 

That yellow-flesh varietal is one of my favorite for jam-making. So, as you probably suspect, I picked and picked and picked and then threw in some little purple ones too: Methleys (not my favorite) or Rosas? Not sure but lovely.

Plums! #nofilter

Plums! #nofilter

Back to the cashier. New box. On to blackberries and to beat my sixteen-pound pick of last year. Why beat 16 pounds? Well, because Jack's very favorite jam is blackberry and what I made from the non-eaten berries from 2014 didn't last us past this January. This year? 21 pounds.

Blackberries or caviar? #nofilter

Blackberries or caviar? #nofilter

I fully intended to go home after blackberries, but the cashier said that raspberry picking was actually pretty good and since I was all the way out in Woodbine, I decided to forge ahead because y'all, I am not lying, little is more magnificent than homemade raspberry jam.

Quick handful of almonds, bunch of water, burst of AC and to the raspberry patch. At this point, many hours in, I was really starting to tire. It was hot, not a cloud in the sky. Gorgeous day but now 1:45, I thought, "Girl, almonds aren't lunch but raspberry jam." Easy calculus and so I fetched another box.

Raspberry plants are thorny, dense and underwhelming from an aesthetic perspective. But the "up and under" mantra will repay you in spades, so I jumped right in. Bees and other beneficial bugs were everywhere but I just said, "Thanks, bugs" and we respected each other's personal space. 

That's the great thing about being in nature when no one has tried to kill anything. You see what a beautiful balance is struck when Earth is left to her own devices. You realize that we needn't fear buzzing, flying, leggy things. Spending time outside is one of the greatest educations, in my opinion; one of the greatest ways to inspire a deep wonder and appreciation for our world. Get out there, get dirty, pay close attention, sweat, give thanks.

Lucky me, both red and black raspberries were there for the taking, and take I did. Just about four pounds but enough for 6 pints of jam or so. (I know because I made some at 9pm last night out of wild-eyed fear that my beautiful, delicate bounty would go bad). 

****

Once home, I quickly moved everything inside, ran to pick the boys up from camp, told them they could be as lazy as they wanted to until bedtime, let them eat as many blackberries as they wanted and got to work making jam and a pie and dinner for everyone.

DSC_1683.jpg
grilled peaches with mint, olive oil, grilled bread and either homemade ricotta (left) or mozzarella (right)

grilled peaches with mint, olive oil, grilled bread and either homemade ricotta (left) or mozzarella (right)

After dinner and the raspberry jam, I said, "T, put a fork in me. I'm done!" and went to bed.

Kumquats, ricotta, pie and self-care

We have finally graduated from winter. It's so thrilling that I'm very nearly beside myself. Yesterday, the boys and I planted tulips and snapdragons, some herbs and a beautiful pink geranium Ol picked out. Our gardens are writhing with earthworms both robust and newly born, and we found just one grub which was immediately relocated to the garbage. It's taken years to get our yard in good health, but in the absence of chemicals, things thrive, and the proof is out there in every shovel of earth.

People, I want you to go get some kumquats. Gently cut them into thirds and take out the seeds. Candy them in a simmering mixture of sugar and water. 

While you're at the store getting kumquats, pick up some buttermilk, heavy cream and 2% or whole milk if you don't have those items on hand. Buy some cheesecloth too. I want you to make fresh ricotta.

Once you've done that, find a pretty bowl and spoon some ricotta in. Top that with some of your candied kumquats and syrup. Close your eyes, and take your first bite. Chew, taste, swallow, breathe. Shiver with pleasure.

ricotta and candied kumquats

ricotta and candied kumquats

Do this because you love yourself and you're worth this beautiful, decadent treat. Because it will stick to your ribs and fuel you with real and simple food. Because it's a joy to feed yourself thoughtfully and lovingly, to nourish yourself by spending time to make good food and also to eat it.

If you do this and then, like me, feel you must keep going with this whole creation-nourishment thing, make a pie.

Spend time rolling the crust and carefully cutting lattice strips with a pastry wheel. Think back to your childhood when you cut Play Doh with plastic tools, creating something new and of yourself just like you are now. 

sour cherry pie

sour cherry pie

Feel the butter grease your hands, and watch the flour coat the buttery spots, rendering you a breaded cutlet.  Enjoy it.

If you have some of last summer's bounty in your freezer, use it. It's time. If not, perhaps  you have some fruit lingering in the bowl on your counter, or maybe you picked something wonderful up while you were at the store getting kumquats and ricotta supplies. 

If you have extra pie crust scraps, roll them out and dust them with cinnamon and sugar. When you slide your pie in the oven, put the sweet extras in too; just remember to pull them out before they burn. You'll love this little snack while you're waiting for that pie.

When you remove the pie from the oven, place it carefully on the stovetop or a wire rack to cool. Don't leave it just yet; lean over it, until your nose is almost touching the bubbling filling, and inhale deeply. Hints of vanilla, caramelized fruit, butter and all the supporting elements will tickle your olfactory nerve. You'll feel shot through as if with a rush of endorphins. Bliss.

Let the pie to come to room temperature at least. It's hard to wait but worse to burn your tongue. Plus, you might want to share a slice with a good friend, a neighbor, one of your child's teachers, your spouse. Or maybe not, but either way, you don't want to scald your mouth.

Anticipate the pleasure you'll feel when your fork grabs the first bite of pie, when your hand draws that bite towards your mouth. Remember how wise it is to tend to yourself, treating yourself as you do so many others around you.