Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the loveliest time of the year

This is my favorite time of year, because of the weather here in southern Arizona and because, for another four days, I'm still on winter break. I love being at home, engaging in the gentle art of puttering.  We've had some rain and more is predicted (though today it's been sunny), and I can see the effects in my garden: nasturtiums that I feared might never germinate are up and looking healthy, the slow-growing fennel is finally showing its distinctive ferny leaves, the second row of mesclun is tall enough to begin cutting, and the roses I recently transplanted are budding.  Because we had so little rain earlier this winter I don't expect many wildflowers, though.  Our first winter here, 1992-1993, there were fierce rains in January that resulted in severe floods.  That seems like so long ago; our world and our climate have changed a great deal since then.

    Still, I am grateful for what we have, for example, the kale I picked this afternoon.  I love kale, both for its beauty and its vitamins; it's as decorative as it is healthful.  My favorite kale to plant is the "mixed wild garden kales" from Nichols Garden Nursery ( - it's like a bouquet in the vegetable garden with the variety of colors - some all green, some silvery, some with purple veins and stems - and leaves - some deeply fringed like delicate lace, some sturdy and solid.  You can see a little of the variation in this photo, where the vase of kale leaves is flanked by a pair of ceramic geese my daughter bought for me when she was in seventh or eighth grade. Anyone who has raised a daughter will remember the difficulty of those years, and yet I also remember moments of delight and communion punctuating that early adolescent stress, and every day, when I look at these geese who still live on my kitchen windowsill, I remember the love and closeness we have always shared.
      Today I also baked corn muffins to go with tonight's soup, in a pan that was on sale for half price at Williams-Sonoma a couple of weeks ago.  The recipe that came with it was for a dessert-type cake, but I love the way my cornbread recipe (which can be found in the post from 10/21/09, "Soup of the Evening") turned out in it,  especially the honeybees - after all, they are the right color.  I baked them at 375 degrees (25 degrees lower than usual) for 20 minutes.
      Such simple pleasures really are, as it said on a dishtowel I saw many years ago, "life's treasures."  Although I now live in the sunny southwest, at this time of year I remember snowy Idaho winter days when we wondered how long it would take the snowplow to get to us in our house near the end of a dead-end street. I remember the smell of soup simmering on the stove and of bread baking, and games of gin rummy at the dining room table (at the tender age of five, my daughter was already a natural card-shark) along with bedtime stories and the rest and relaxation that winter offers us, along with the anticipation of spring.  Sooner than we may imagine, new life will burst from the ground.  Let us rest, though, while we can, so that we can greet spring's green awakening with enthusiasm and joy.

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