Thursday, July 8, 2010

Watermelons for every season

If I had any idea how much fun it is to have an albeit tiny and modest garden, I think I would had started one in my college dorm room. Well, maybe not quite. But seriously, let's talk about lettuce. Let's talk about arugula, mache, endive and mixed baby greens. Let's talk about how one day I planted seeds and now I stand in front of these little leaves and think, "oh my, you're growing so big and green, but we've only just met."

But really, now is the time to spend more time with your favorite greens. Last month, my boss and I team taught a vegetarian grilling class. I did a simple Caesar salad with grilled romaine which started off the season with what I would like to say, well, expanded my green horizons.

And it's what I love about the entire large and flavorful family of greens, it's a template to use for seasonal veggies and yes, even the roasted sweet potato in the cold hours of February finds itself on a momentary summery bed. A respite from being blanketed by all the packed dirt and snow. Whereas now in the heat of July, everyone wins with watermelon, cantaloupe, grilled peaches or fresh baked salmon all floating over shades of seasonal summery green beds in a bowl.

I recently made this salad I want to share with you for a Raw Foods potluck. I was looking for something simple, obviously raw (no pork in any form found its way to that party) and something with a bit of a kick. I am by far more of a vinaigrette gal over heavy dressing, so I wanted something light but not shy in flavor. I like my salads bold in taste and above all, I like to think of salads as aesthetic pursuits--the closest form of still life painting I will probably ever get close to.

I must admit that I have made this salad a few times this summer season and it has been devoured before any photos were taken. The best version of this came with the gift of greens from my cousin, Eric Wittenbach and his lovely green-thumbed wife, Cameron Green (I am sure you can understand by her name it is just one of the many reasons I feel so close to her). We were visiting their amazing homestead in the Methow Valley, the banana belt on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains in Washington in early June. My father came out to visit us in Montana and we rallied to Washington to help in their garden, float down the mighty Methow and have some good ole family fun. The morning we left, Eric ran out and cut some of their early greens and we stored them in our cooler which we drove over the flat plains of eastern Washington, over two mountain passes in Idaho and finally they made it happily to our crisper in the valley of Missoula.

If you don't have any cousins who are amazing gardeners or little shoots of your own, please find someone else's cousin at a farmer's market selling greens, a local produce stand or barter some cherries in your back field for a bag or head. I'd like to think of greens as the sun's greatest currency. The bright reminders of rain or maybe just a really easy and great way to get some fiber in your diet.

And finally, one more long winded reason why I adore this signature salad: watercress. I mean, how can you not adore something that grows wild in Ireland along streams and creeks and with a name like watercress, it sounds more like a verb. Part water, part plant this green finds itself in salads all shy in appearance, but then in flavor, it fills your mouth with a tangy pepper pop. Seriously. Make this salad with or without mint, but please not without some watercress. And not without the watermelon. Maybe you could send me some photos of the salad you make and call it still life with summer greens. Or not. Just make it to beat the heat and lose the fear of your kitchen on days with rising temperatures. Or just enjoy cracking open a melon all green with a hidden heart of red and please support your local farmers (I know this sounds as annoying as some bumper sticker, but really, it's true). The farmer you get your greens from is someone's cousin, brother, dad or some kid you used to baby sit for while his mother weeded her garden.

Watermelon Salad with Watercress

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups watermelon, 1/2" pieces
1 bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed about 1 1/2 to 2 cups packed
2 cups mixed baby greens
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1. Whisk vinegar, oil, ginger, lime peel, and garlic in large bowl to blend.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Add watermelon, green onions and cucumber to bowl of vinegar and let marinate for about three to five minutes.
4. In a large salad bowl, add greens and fresh herbs. Toss greens and then add watermelon mixture and toss to coat.
5. If you are going to take this on a picnic or not eat it right away, then I would not add the watermelon until right before you serve it or you can place the greens on individual plates and top with watermelon mixture.

This recipe originally came from Bon Appetit in June 2002, but I have made a few adjustments.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Revise for Reason

My father is an architect. I've enjoyed being able to say this for many reasons. As a child, I didn't have to explain anything, translate acronyms or find other verbs for what he does. He designs. Simply, he designs homes, churches, schools, banks, wineries and even prisons. But really, if I had to say what my dad taught me about architecture, it would be the importance of, what he calls, the sequence of time and space. Space isn't only the physical world around you, but your experience in that world that defines how you feel about that space. "Architecture is about 90% psychology and 10% math," he'd say. And I believe him.

I believe him because I used to go to work with him. I literally used to tag along with my dad some days while he went to meetings, helped tie ribbons on trees that needed to be cut down and sat in his office playing darts while the onion skin paper would pile on the floor. But mostly, I adored watching him draw. Even later in life when we'd have lunch and I'd be rambling about what to do as a career, my dad would pull out a yellow legal pad of paper and make notes of points I took way too long to make and take something as abstract as my aspirations and make them into concrete images. He never told me what to do, but what he found helpful and purposeful in having a job that forces you to do something for others. If I were to say, I feel lucky. It would be an understatement.

What I can say is that I have a long list of Robert Frost quotes and poems in my head, ice-fishing jokes as well as a need to not just nest where I live, but to get out and experience some place on a daily basis that feeds me. These photos above are taken from a place I try to go daily and the sequence of these shots goes from the beginning to the point where I usually turn around and head back. To my father, these photos would be a series to show a sequence of time experience--from the start of the dirt road that is flat and rising to the view of Lolo Peak that stands over this valleyed city I currently call home.

Currently, this trail that I run, bike and sometimes just walk has taken on a new experience. I'd love to say it is because with all this rain there are more wildflowers in the meadows than ever before or the watery song of the meadow lark seems even clearer this year, but really it is the view of Lolo Peak that has shifted for me. I know it has shifted for many Missoulians. Over three weeks ago, a dear friend of ours died in a wet slide avalanche while skiing a couloir down Lolo Peak. He was a very dear friend to many. Someone whom you feel lucky to know, someone who teaches you a lot about time and space sequence in how he lived his life. Someone who never told you what to do, but asked a lot of questions. Someone who loved this world, struggled with darkness, but I'd like to say knew there was always light, somewhere.

Chris Spurgeon was a wild and beautiful man. The first time I met him was briefly at a bar. It was the first weekend I had moved to Missoula and I asked my now-husband. "Who was that?" I asked because I thought I had just seen someone suited for a 18th century French film, someone rugged and worn with refined features. Someone quiet with most likely a lot to say.
"That man," Greg said, "rides his motorcycle 200 miles to run a 50 mile trail race. Wins the race and gets back on his motorcycle and rides back to Missoula and closes Charlie B's. That man is Chris Spurgeon and he's legendary."

And he is, legendary in so many ways--in so many ways that you cannot take a picture of. Someone's spirit has yet to be photographed I believe. But we take photos of views and vistas. Mountains and childhood friends. Moments we know we cannot take hold of, really. But we try. Today, Lolo peak isn't a monument as much as I see it as a reminder. Chris was someone who took his time--I mean took time to nap, read books, took long runs, needed a lot of time alone and thought it silly to kill dandelions. Aren't they flowers too as much as weeds? And so this view, this peak that stands and will stand longer than I know any of us will be standing is more of a reminder. It's a physical and beautiful reminder of how much time it really takes to get where you want to go. To say life is a sequence of events sounds all too easy and vague, but really maybe Wallace Stevens said it the best, "Death is the mother of all beauty."

Death is not the point where you turn around or even an end as much as it might just be part of the time and space sequence my father speaks so clearly about in design. This point or destination that lies beyond us is only speculation. We just don't have any pictures of this place. We don't know what lies after meadows, mountain peaks and buildings we call home. But we get sunrises, elephants, fathers who teach us and give us immeasurable gifts and if we're lucky, friends who live their lives as John Muir and hopefully maybe too, time to revise even ourselves.

Last year, I had an art show of poetry and photographs of natural landscapes of Western Montana with my friend Kelly. Chris Spurgeon with the only one of my husband's friends to come. I recall watching Chris quietly read every poem, lean in to every photograph and really look. Really take his time. Later he walked up to me and wanted to talk. He had a lot to say about poetry. I listened. He asked for a poem from that show and I want to share it. But I want to tell you is that I have been revising the poem. I have been revising it with Chris in mind, with Chris as a reason. So often we write from images or brief moments that might not make any sense at first. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years or some event to help guide meaning into the poem. Or so I hope. As Robert Frost said, " A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." I can only hope someday to be as wise as Chris. For now, I will focus on delight. For now, I will write and revise.

City Horses

Behind fences in the noon sun, they look tired

from all the work they haven't done,

left alone too long from boys who only fall

in love with women sixteen feet tall,

screened lips that flicker red. Even in Montana,

horses look silly in cities, slowing traffic down

to parade some past. A Pow Wow bridled

on a college campus. Up river, children learn to hide

without the long shadow of barns, spend nights

with the sky of parking lots instead of fruit

orchards to feed Appaloosas. The west,

harnessed by a lone billboard, preaches

the burnt word from a church's shot gun,

held in the hands of someone's twelve year old

son. But horses, even in their shoes,

find fields open to be alone. Alone to run.