Monday, July 26, 2010

A Garden Story

"Gardens are a form of autobiography." ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

There's one thing I learned about myself this year. I LOVE gardening. I love everything about it: from sowing the seeds to picking the vegetables off the vine and all the hard work in between. When my maternal grandmother was alive, she spent many days tending her huge Quezon City vegetable garden. I remember running around her garden and playing "Cops and Robbers" with neighborhood friends. This has to be one of my most memorable childhood memories of being in my lola's garden. In the middle of her garden was a rectangular fish pond which she constantly stocked with Tilapia and other fresh water fish. Every so often, she would bring home a cornucopia of Asian vegetables like kangkong or water spinach, talong or eggplant, and puso ng saging or banana heart/blossom. Unfortunately, I was one of those picky eaters who refused to eat anything green and healthy. I often shoved or hid vegetables under my plate (or fed them to the dog). I just didn't know any better. Like most kids, I did not appreciate what my grandmother was trying to do back then.

I do remember the joy of being in her garden and watching her hunched over with her hands in the earth. As a novice gardener, I am now just beginning to understand why my grandmother spent all those long hot hours planting and meticulously caring for her vegetable garden. I recently learned that the process of planting your own vegetables is addicting. My family and I love watering our plants and watching recognizable supermarket vegetables pop right out of our own garden. Gardening creates a stronger connection between the food we eat and where the food comes from. I don't admit it out loud but I even like pulling out those unwanted weeds. It's pretty meditative. There is something really good that comes out of planting some of your own food. Growing vegetables goes beyond satisfying our appetite and keeping us healthy. It somehow fulfills our need to nurture, grow and produce food that's better for our family.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the gardener and her garden. A gardener keeps the plants alive and in return they give her food, gardening skills, a sense or pride and for me, memories of my grandmother. If you know me, you probably know that I like to cook pretty much everything. I'm a fan of global cuisine and global cuisine requires ingredients that are not local. Our little suburban garden cannot sustain all the food we like to eat. It is possible to use our locally sourced garden ingredients to create some of our international favorites but this requires a lot of creativity in the kitchen. I have a few new recipes using our abundant Zucchini so I'm learning to bridge garden ingredients and the international flavors that we love. Of course, I will not completely rely on our garden for sustenance this summer. It's just not practical. Plus, I like to cook with international ingredients: frozen calamansi from a Filipino store, labne from a Middle Eastern Market, Gailan from Chinatown, Kaffir Lime leaves from a local South East Asian market and so on. With today's world food market within a 20 mile radius of our home, there is no need to make everything "artisinal" or plant everything from the ground up. But if I can substitute locally grown produce from our garden in some of my dishes, I will. Organic vegetables that we have planted ourselves just taste better.

There is a wonderful Asian restaurant in the heart of the Champagne country in France that uses a lot of locally grown ingredients. For me, this place is proof that bridging local ingredients with old school Asian flavors can be done. At Le Grand Jardin de Chine in Reims, France, I noticed that they beautifully married many different locally grown vegetables with traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai flavors. We had black wood ear mushrooms here but I didn't see bokchoy or any other fresh Chinese green veggies on the menu. More on eating in France later. I will strive to cook with more local vegetables but I still like my international and imported ingredients. Our pantry is like a stamp collector's book -- the ingredients are from all over the place.

In our garden, you will find Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Chives, Rosemary, Thai Holy Basil and....

These are the sweetest, crunchiest and most delicious raw snow peas we've ever had. I've been buying snow peas from Asian Supermarkets and Boston's Chinatown for years and store bought snow peas can't hold a candle to home grown snow peas. The only problem with them is that the vines seem to deteriorate after the first couple of harvests. We pick them of the vine, wash them and eat them raw just as they are. They never made it to the vegetable crisper.

Zucchini plants come with Zucchini blossoms -- a delicate natural vegan casing ready to be stuffed, battered and deep fried, preferably with really good goat cheese or Queso Fresco. :)

This was the first monstrous Zucchini we harvested this year. In the middle of the summer, there is a population explosion of Zucchini in gardens all across the country but I never thought we would experience it ourselves. I'm sure Zucchini gardeners (and their neighbors) are not complaining. It's a good problem to have.

There is something to be said about planting your own food. I learned that your time and effort are the best fertilizers for your garden. I also learned that by growing some of our own vegetables, we are harvesting food for our bodies as well as our soul. I also learned that when I look at my somewhat green fingers and thumbs cultivating the soil, I see my grandmother's hands.


V said...

I love this post, Jen!! You really made miss my old community garden plot. :-)

Jen said...

Thank you Val!