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In the Yard

garden guru

What's for dinner? Ask the garden this time of year

What’s for dinner? It’s a question so many of us dread. Funny that stores loaded with countless options can still leave us with a dearth of ideas. It’s tempting to take the easy way out -- that is, by dining out. 

But this time of year I’m off the hook. I can take a pass on making the dinner decision. I simply head outside, do a quick once-around of the raised beds and let the garden tell me.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Clusters of ripe, Roma tomatoes weighing down the vines? Make some sauce, that one from the NY Times with butter as the secret ingredient (I tell my husband it’s love), throw in some pasta, some Parmesan, perhaps a meatball or two, done. 

Dinner decisions are easy when the garden's going strong.

Other times it’s a game, but I like a challenge and rise to it. What exactly do you do with two hundred pounds of cucumbers? Make pickles, make relish, make tzatziki, consider cucumber sandwiches, make some more pickles. When I can’t stand to look at another cuke, I start my own single crop, non-profit farmstand on the front steps. Watch out. though. I’ll be sitting on the porch ready to shame anyone passing by who doesn’t take at least one.

Sipping sangria while shelling peas, waiting for inspiration.

My favorite meals are those “drag-it through-the garden” dishes that use at least one of everything out there, extra points for lots of herbs. Even better when I can riff on a recipe, like the other night with stuffed bell peppers (I’m still waiting for the other nine or 10 red beauties in the fridge to inspire) when I swish in some of the sinful tomato sauce from the day before.

The peppers turn out extra delicious and I know that that one-time ingredient probably did it. I love those serendipitous “what’s in the fridge” additions that create unique tastes probably never to be had again. They always make for memorable food, like that leftover dab of Ginger Gold applesauce I once dumped in the butternut soup. And who knew that last spoon of homemade raspberry jam would be so good on cornbread?

Tell me about a happy accident or inspired ingredient from your culinary adventures. Bonus points if it originated from the garden.

The joyful noise of our Minneapolis neighborhood

There’s much to delight the senses when warm weather arrives, but I believe it’s the soundtrack of summer I enjoy most. The crisp snap-slap of a screen door. The steady ka-thunk of soccer balls across the lawns. The jingle-clank of sailboat moorings. Now that temperatures are flirting with fall, I take stock of those sounds and listen a bit more closely, storing them up for the muffled quiet of winter.

Screen door sounds are part of summer's soundtrack.

Several houses ago, we lived in a leafy sheltered enclave. However, our backyard butted up to a busy avenue. We listened to the roar before buying but decided we could live with it. We likened the ebb and flow of traffic noise to ocean waves, the tide coming in and out with rush hour timing. And although it faded into the background most of the time, I hoped our next home would be somewhere peaceful and serene.

Upon moving to Minnesota we found a home overlooking a marsh nestled into trees at the end of a cul-de-sac. It was indeed quiet. Too quiet. Nothing much happened. The only people passing were those lost and looking for lake access. I loved to watch the wildlife but found myself missing the fray.

Our new (two years in) and hopefully forever home is in the thick of it. It's located steps from the city lakes with people-populated sidewalks and trails … and noise. Our street fills up with parking space hunters when the bands strike up down the hill. We can walk down and join the audience or sit on the porch and still hear. Yet we don’t mind. To us it’s the joyful noise of people working and playing, living their lives alongside us.

Just like before, we studied the neighborhood before making the leap. We agreed that we wouldn’t complain about unpleasant noises, since we knew this going in. We do understand when folks talk about the increasing thunder from airplanes as they lower themselves for landing. We understand when folks are upset about loudspeakers from the bandshell. Those people were here first, when it was a more peaceable place.

They have the right to be upset when jets wake them from their sleep. For someone like me, with a fear of flying, I watch the planes overhead and feel thankful for being snug at home. And when I do fly I think of all the planes I’ve seen going overhead that somehow made a safe landing, over and over again, and I’m reassured.

Sure, there are sounds that grate on the nerves, lawnmowers, loud engines, etc. I’ve even been known to moan when the birds start singing so early after a restless night. Still on those weekends when it seems everyone is at their cabins and the neighborhood is hushed, I find myself wishing for more than the distant hum of downtown.

We realize we like the hubbub, the hustle-bustle. For us the sounds of the city are truly songs in the key of life.

Poll: Who, besides Bob Dylan, would you most like to see on a downtown building mural?

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