Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Basil on the Last Day of Summer

Today is the last day of summer.

I left work early today because this morning it looked like my cat Angel was going to have her kittens immanently. When I arrived home, it was apparent that she was very pleased with herself but not in any hurry, so I did some yard work.

It was warm and sunny, in the low 80’s. I pulled thistles in my vegetable garden, trimmed the grass between the raised beds there, and picked some peppers and tomatoes. I had let some of my early crop of romaine go to seed, and now have a small forest of young lettuce as a result. I must remember to do that on purpose next year. I tied up long wandering tomato vines, including some cherry tomatoes that volunteered and are making surpassingly sweet little tomatoes.

I also grew three types of basil this year: regular Italian sweet basil, cinnamon basil, and anise basil. The cinnamon basil and anise basil are superb in Asian food. All the basil plants are all huge, bushy and flowering and thinking of going to seed. I have dried basil this year, but not made pesto, so I cut the sweet basil substantially, and hauled armfuls of fragrant basil up the hill and into my kitchen.

I washed the basil in between checking on Angel and fielding phone calls. I removed spiders and earwigs and damaged leaves. I found a weed with green basil sized leaves amongst the basil. I tossed it unceremoniously onto the kitchen floor so that is would not end up in the pesto. I filled my blender with huge green leaves, added extra virgin olive oil and a little water and blended the mix into a porridge like consistency. I pulled an ice cube tray out of the freezer and emptied the ice into a plastic bag. Squeezing the bag of ice into the freezer was a challenge.... if I stopped and ate the rest of the ice cream there would be room.... No, I don’t need to eat the ice cream! Ice away, I filled the tray with pesto and popped it back into the freezer. I had only used part of the pesto.

I took out another tray of ice, emptied the ice into a second bag, squeezed the bag of ice into the freezer, filled the second tray with pesto. I packed as much pesto into the tray as I could, but there was still a good deal left. So, out comes the third and last tray of ice. Once again, ice into the bag, pesto into tray. This time the tray was not full to the top with pesto, and all the pesto was used.

I went to the freezer, opened the door. A bag of ice flew out, landed on one end of the tray of pesto and flipped it out of my hand onto the floor, splattering me, the refrigerator and the floor with bright green fragrant pesto.

“Oh dear” I said.

I stopped and thought about that. Was it not worth a four letter word? I do use them. Apparently not, the floor needed to be washed anyhow.

The tray had landed right side up and less than half the pesto was gone. I wiped off the tray set it on the counter and spent some time removing ground basil and olive oil from various places. Much soap and water did the trick. I then went to the over filled tray in the freezer and scooped out pesto into the last tray to make two moderately filled trays.

So now my kitchen floor has a very clean spot and a weed.

And I have enough pesto freezing to last a year.. I will empty the trays into a big zip lock freezer bag and store in a downstairs freezer to be used one cube at a time, with fresh crushed garlic and butter, perhaps with tomato paste and/or pine nuts, on pasta or fish. Yum!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Beauty in the Small Hours

It is late, very late, and I was going to turn off the light and drift into the landscapes of dreams, but I thought of my moonflower and the likelihood that it will be gone before I rise. I had to see it one more time before I slept.

Also the full moon, would it be hidden still?

I slipped out, wearing very little, and in this small hour, between two and three, I was rewarded.

The moon is neither hidden nor free, but set amid curdled clouds. These clouds for all their substantial appearance are thin, unable to hide the white brilliance of the full moon. The moon outlines each and every one in silver, while their centers are steely gray. Adding to that, the cloud’s moisture creates halos around the brilliant moon, cobalt blue near, golden to peach outside of that. The air is still. The clouds barely move, set in their intricate curling silver edged layers. The moon shines bright, casting shadows. The moonflower, huge, white, and ethereal, emits a faint fragrance of honey.

Now I will sleep.

Perchance to dream


On my back patio I like to have plants for a night garden. The herb garden is there, and this year a heavily scented white Nicotiana. I have four o'clocks, scented geraniums, and sweet alyssum. Someday I would like to extend the little patio a bit. I have perused plans for pouring concrete, thought about gravel underlays and rebar reinforcement to survive our hard winters. But for now it is a small patio beside an herb garden held by a little retaining wall and an arched arbor.

On the arbor is a scented climbing rose Zepharine Drouhan, that has not yet bloomed. This is it's first year. A beloved David Austin rose Abraham Darby, failed to survive a hard winter a couple of years ago. So I have traded an extravagantly scented apricot rose for what I hope will be an equally extravagantly scented rose colored rose, that may be hardier. It has certainly climbed well in it's first year.

For years I have tried to grow moonflowers. They are huge morning glory like flowers that open at night and are supposed to be heavily fragrant. I never get them planted soon enough or transplanted soon enough. Last year I came close. Long spiraling buds appeared right before first frost. They never opened in the chilly nights.

Today as I headed out to the vegetable garden to do some weeding and trimming and tying, there was a big spiraling bud, larger and long necked unlike the Heavenly Blue morning glories I planted with the moonflowers last spring. The Heavenly Blues have done well, covering the top of my trellis with large blue flowers every morning. I took the bud's picture. A little over two hours later the sun had set and I came up in the twilight, and it was open! I took more pictures. The scent was not heavy, light and sweet, but it is a somewhat cool night. The flower is at least six inches across. I wish I had sat, with a glass of wine and perhaps someone to share the wine and evening flowers and watched it open. Tonight is a full moon as well, though obscured more than not by clouds.

It is supposed to be warmer over the next week, so I may have more. Summer refuses to relinquish its hold, but for these huge beauties I can tolerate some more heat.

Next year I will start them earlier in bigger pots, and give the a support to climb before they are set out. Perhaps in hot, breathless August my trellis will glow with enormous moonflowers glowing under a full moon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Too Much Summer

Summer drags on and on. Some people are summer people loving heat and light. I am not.

My University is now on a Semester system, has been for some years now. So school starts a week or two before labor day.

Yes we settled the strike, the night before classes were to happen. Our take home will diminish over the next three years relative to inflation, unless the economy tanks, but what are we to do? The state is cutting us another 1.5 million dollars this year, and that is not even taking inflation into account.

A hundred years ago professors used to make four times the average income of someone in America working 12 months. At least one, G.H.M., complained that his salary was not sufficient to easily keep his and his wife’s nice clothes, good food, societal position, servants, laundry service and gardener. His budget was tight.

Ah, to have been that professor, freed of house and garden maintenance aside from what I wanted to do, being concerned about appearances in society. Well, maybe that would onerous. Appearances.

The U.S.A. used to have the best education in the world. These days we slip, and slip. No one much minds that we are 7th or13th. Our economy once flourished with innovation. Now we prefer to spend on advertising we want to convince the masses to buy based on name or sexiness, actual advances are secondary. We no longer truly care about academic excellence.

I am sluggish and slow and cranky with the long hot summer. Fall invigorates me. Crisp air, brilliant colors in my lovely park, the prospect of sharp night and a sharp mind await. Soon, soon.

For now it has been dry since the remains of destructive Katrina poured rain on us. I no longer can convince myself to water or mow. Tomatoes hang ripe, red peppers sit on bushes. Basil has gone wild and flowered. I need to tend to them. I just need cooler air and some time.

All our seasons are strangely shifted here. year after year I notice the same thing summer lingering into October. Then glorious color, a shot of adrenaline in sparkling clean air. Winter is delayed until January. Often enough deep freezes linger into April. Spring is cold, cold until May or June, then a short and vivid spring and back into the long energy and thought sapping summer.

I long for fall. I want to have energy. I want to WANT to be at my University. I want rain. I want to be able to think again.