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August harvest

Alexandria summer: Heat, mosquitoes in the backyard, ugly new construction on our block, passive-aggressive boss, heat, ennui, heat—

spray my calves with poison to keep the bugs off and step out into life I helped along: bowls and bowls of homegrown cherry tomatoes, a few Green Zebras, and a single Brandywine that made it to ripe through the gauntlet of thirsty squirrels. Bonus: our first heirloom Stone Mountain watermelon, a few more on the vines. Summer is sweet, feels cooler in the soul.

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Gray catbird nest
Gray Catbird nest with assorted Del Ray detritus

Backyard bird feeder visitors this spring have included House Finches, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Mourning Doves (on the ground below the feeder), a single Red-winged Blackbird, and Gray Catbirds. I’ve tried to keep the bird bath filled with clean water on these hot days (today the high is expected to be 102°F). I’m particularly motivated to monitor the water supply because I noticed a few weeks ago that two catbirds were delivering twigs and fluffy bits to one of our large Osmanthus bushes. I wanted to thank them for choosing our yard, a great compliment which meant they had identified it as rich enough in food, water, and shelter to support the family.

Lately the pair has been taking turns swooping about, grabbing insects and caterpillars in their bills. This morning I pushed gently into the bush to see what was happening. I think I was expecting a Del Ray–style nest evoking the vibe of our weekly farmers’ market crowd: couples weighed down by Swedish baby carriers (or Andean baby slings) and cotton tote bags with blue/green Earth logos. Instead, the nest looked like an episode of Hoarders with the bits of plastic and paper woven among the twig structure. If it were 1987, I might think these spoiled suburban birds with their black mohawks were building a shantytown to urge the university to divest from South Africa. No, perhaps this is indeed an emblematic Del Ray nest. My little urban homesteaders are recycling and repurposing while exploring E. F. Schumacher’s “appropriate technology” concept.

The eggs are supposed to be turquoise blue, but when I leaned in to gawp, one of the pair jumped on a branch very close to my face and gave me such a nasty look. I retreated and refilled the bird bath.

Softshel crab

But many avoid death now as the greatest of evils but then welcome it as rest from things in life. The wise neither declines life nor fears not living; for life does not offend him nor does he believe that not being alive is bad. Just as food is not chosen only for the larger portion but for the more pleasant, so the wise enjoy the time that is not longer but happier.

—Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus” (trans. Sanderson Beck)

Saturday, May 21st, my Epicurean heart beats in the May sunshine. All the birds and iPods tweet, “We are alive!”

We enjoy our weekly visit to the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. Of course, we see Tom the yogurt and cheese guy, the lady with the apple cider doughnuts, and the salteña lady. After missing the Lee Brothers’ seafood truck last Saturday, we are very happy to see them again. Over the past few weeks we’ve bought and enjoyed (twice) their hyper-fresh, sweet, and delicious perch filets and once served sake with their oysters. Today we bought already dressed softshell Maryland crabs. For lunch I patted a few with just a dusting of Old Bay and cornmeal and pan fried them. I also shelled fresh peas, a brief steam, a bit of butter. Carlos had to be off on a work errand, so I was alone for my meal. I meditated, chewing happily on two of the great and most simple delicacies of this lovely planet.

Lee Brothers will reserve some softshells for you if you order the week ahead so they can plan to bring the just-molted ones to market. Look for the truck with a hanging scale and the handwritten whiteboard, “Perch, Catfish, Croaker, Oysters, Softshells.”

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Crisp, clear winter blue sky. No snow, but a 30 percent chance for Christmas day. We spent the morning rearranging things, weeding our belongings, deleting the dross to accentuate the good, useful, and beautiful in our home. Carlos made me a desk, a useful and beautiful thing where I will reacquaint myself with my Japanese books after much neglect during this harried autumn. As the light turns into sunset gold, the mailman brings the January/February issue of Saveur, the Saveur 100 issue, in which Japanese culinary culture is represented by kombu, Kajitsu restaurant in NYC, Sushi Shin in Tokyo, Nehoni Nenox knives, and yuzu kosho (yuzu-flavored chili paste and salt). Almost lost among the junk mail and supermarket flyers is a handmade postcard with a bunny cartoon: a 年賀状 (nengajo, New Year’s card) from one of my old English students. Reminders of Japan always seem to find me…

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My newest ochoko, a birthday gift from my father. I christened it quickly with a lovely junmai ginjo sake.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year of the Rabbit!

Harvest 7/6/10
Edamame (fresh soybeans) and tomatoes. The edamame had been rubbed with kosher salt to remove (somewhat) the fuzz on the outside of the pods.

All my garden plantings have been experimental and freeform. As much as I would like to perspire through my kerchief while squinting knowingly at the sky, all I did in April was search for last frost dates for Zones 6b-7a, then push seeds in the ground and wish them well.

Although my first “crop” of tended-from-seed edamame only half filled a cereal bowl, the soybeans were of course absolutely delicious, buttery and nutty. Frozen edamame taste ok, but these took me back to Japan for the short time it took the two of us to devour them. Upcoming Crop Two will be eaten Japanese style, accompanying a frosty mug of beer.

Harvest 7/6/10
Corn, perhaps a strange hybrid of “Sugar Pearl” and “Luscious.”

Mama’s trying not to love the tall pretty babies more than the stunted cobs. I planted Sugar Pearl and Luscious sweet corn, but I think the Luscious scrambled up first. Or the ears were a marriage of the two. A friend from the Midwest said I needed to wait a bit longer, but some of the cobs were opening at the silks and I had already lost one or two to bites from squirrels or some other Del Ray mammal (I have now seen an opossum, a rabbit, and a raccoon). The other week a storm had blown over some stalks. I righted them and tied the weak to the strong in a cat’s cradle of twine. All these challenges were making me suspect I had better take the corn that was ready now.

The corn was plump and medium sweet with a clean corn taste, which sounds obvious, but have you eaten picked-within-the-hour corn recently? Even farmers’ market corn seemed flaccid and old compared to this. In all, a “Fuck yeah!” kind of meal. Munching along, I thought about when I planted this corn 85 days ago, how I had watched it grow and watered it, that I had made the corn’s life force part of mine, and I started to feel a bit like a cannibal. Needless to say, I ate on.

Harvest 7/6/10

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