My garden is often a good indicator of where I am in life. Last year, I allowed the “pretty” weeds to flourish, congratulating myself on my cleverness and ability to tolerate a certain amount of chaos. This year has been Weed-mageddon 2017, due in no small part to my extra permissive new-agey gardening style of yesteryear. I’ve had to show tough love on the various flowering weeds, pulling them one after another, clearing the way for the plants I want to flourish. How’s that as a metaphor for life? There are rich lessons to be learned amongst the germinating seeds and tangled weeds.
A new friend and I were geeking out over gardening and food, and as I described my garden, she said, You’re not a gardener…you’re a FARMER! Besides the fact that I like digging in the dirt, and that I LOVE the payoff of a juicy heirloom tomato still warm from the sun, growing things gives me much more than just perfectly crisp cucumbers and fragrant herb clippings. Gardening gives me time and open space in my day and my mind. It’s one of the few places where I can process life, uninterrupted. In our modern day of constantly being plugged in, these “quiet” places are becoming harder to find… Or maybe they’re still there, but we just don’t think of going there, because we’re so distracted by what’s easy and right at our fingertips.
Our ancestors’ lives depended on working the land. When I think of it, I was always meant to be a “farmer.” My grandpa Duncan lived in Oklahoma on his family’s farm during the dust bowl. He shook his head and grew quiet when he described the dust storms that would roll in. No matter what measures his family took to seal the house against the dirt, it would find its way into the house. On the day of a particularly bad storm, my grandpa saw a black cloud like a wall approaching from the north, as high as the eye could see. His father Luther thought it was the end of the world. The family hid in the root cellar as the storm blew for hours on end. Upon returning back to daylight, my grandpa and his family surveyed the scene–cabbages, cotton and all manner of other crops completely covered by dust, and all of their sheep dead or close to it.
They just couldn’t handle the conditions any longer, so the family packed up; all 10 of them piling atop a mattress in the back of their truck, and sold their farm–240 acres of Oklahoma future oil-rich land for $5000. Like 83,000 others at the time, they migrated to California where they found a job harvesting zucchini. The “Okies” as they called them at the time faced a lot of prejudice as they scrambled to pick up odd jobs just to survive. My grandpa went on to join the Navy at age 17 as an aircraft mechanic during World War II. When he returned from war, he went to school and then got a job working on planes for General Dynamics until he retired. Throughout his life, his farming roots never left him, and his garden remained a source of pride. Even into his last years of life, he still had one of the best I had seen. I think of my grandpa often, when I’m protecting my tomatoes with hail screens like he always did, or pulling the seemingly endless crop of weeds.
This year, my garden is bursting with Red Russian Kale. As much as I love my kale, I don’t want to eat quite as much I grow right away. I love creative uses for my summer crops that are versatile and also able to be frozen and enjoyed later in the year. Enter kale pesto; vibrantly green, scented with basil and garlic and a hint of lemon, with a touch of rich “cheesiness” from the raw pistachios. Toss it with pasta, swirl it in hummus, spread it on a slice of baguette, dot it on pizza, or do what I do and sneak cracker-fuls from the mason jar hanging out in the fridge! Now this is what we call real food!
Sitting here eating a spoonful of kale pesto, I think with satisfaction about this process, come full-circle. In gardening and in life: Plant some seeds, pull some weeds (well, lots of weeds), and make room for what you intend to let grow. Pretty soon, if the weather is right, that seed and that dream just might come to fruition.
(P.S: My grandpa Duncan is the twin on the left)
Kale Pistachio Pesto
Adapted from Andrew Weil’s Fast Food, Good Food
Makes about 2 ½ cups
The first time I made this pesto, my garlic scapes were curling whimsically like flamingoes’ beaks out the center of my hard-neck garlic. Weil’s original recipe calls for using garlic scapes. As they can be fleeting and hard to find, this version uses regular garlic-cloves. However, if you can get your hands on some garlic scapes in the spring, they make a wonderful addition!
- 1 pound (about 16 leaves) kale (lacinato, “dino”, or Russian work best), stems removed
- 1 cup raw, unsalted pistachios
- 3 large cloves garlic, chopped (or 6-8 garlic scapes to taste, buds removed, coarsely chopped)
- ½ cup basil leaves, packed
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until it is just wilted and bright green. Remove the kale to a strainer, and rinse with cold water until cooled. Gently press out the excess water.
Place the kale, pistachios, garlic, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend to a coarse paste, and add extra olive oil to thin out if needed. Adjust salt to taste. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 9 months.