Saturday, March 15, 2008

Australia Two: going green in a drought

There’s something about a good garden.

When I walk into my grandmother’s house, I pass the garden that my grandfather planted. I see his patterns, his aesthetic and his love of things that grow. My uncle and aunt live in my mother’s childhood home, and I remember visiting my grandparents, and playing in that garden, too. It had wonderfully varied bits – the sandy soil here, the mossy bits there, and the camellias as tall as trees. They still are.

Gardens fill so many needs in me, with their fragrant, textured selves inviting you to step outside of the rushed, concrete life and to pause in a place that is quieter, cyclical, instinctive. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, the only park near us was a colossus of concrete. I’d heard rumours about Central Park, but dismissed them as myth – surely green lushness was something found only in manicured lawns, bordered always with azeleas and rhododendrons? Surely.

Now, our home has a garden with no sun in it at all, and I’m happily shaping it into a space of cool stones and surprising greenness. Each year the garden is greener and more textured (this feathery fern, that sturdy hosta, the lichen on this flagstone) than the year before. It’s luxuriously slow, this greening, and the slowness of it would have astonished my grandfather. He never had to wait for his garden to become patterned and complex enough to suit him – he could put in a plant, wait a couple of months to see how it grew and suited its neighbors, then still have enough warm weather to do something else. Many somethings else.

The Royal Botanic Gardens are a marvel to me, especially surrounded by a city with crunchy, dry grass. (The Gardens have been so exemplary in water conservation that apparently, they are excused from the draconian water limitations imposed on everyone else.) Faded and browned only slightly, they are still wonderful. I kept stopping and smelling something delicious. The sun was shining, and the kids loved the new Children’s Garden, exploring tiny paths and splashing in the little stream. We never made it out of the Children’s Garden, and weren’t sorry for it. By the end of the morning, we were wide awake and hungry – and certainly more in tune with the Australian circadian rhythm than we’d been the day before.

Green is good. Color, texture and happy green gardens are better. And happy greens with cool water on a hot day? The best of all.
Green is Good Salad

it’s summer here in Australia, which means bursting-ripe fruit. So, after a happy wander around Prahran Market, I found I had the different pieces of this salad in my bag. Produce - and greenery - is a little expensive here just now, as Australia works through year 38 of drought, and there's sweet stickers of 'save our farmers: buy during the drought!' on cars. So we did.

1 bunch watercress
2 ripe, sweet peaches
1 medium, very flavorful tomato
a judicious amount of sliced red onion
lettuce to taste
Optional: blue cheese, toasted almonds, Belgian endive (more sharp!), garlicky croutons

Slice up your peaches and tomato, and toss with the onion and watercress. Add lettuce until the sharpness of the watercress has been sufficiently diluted to suit you (lettuce=bland, watercress=sharp). Then, sprinkle salad with salt, pepper and toss. Toss again with a good, fruity olive oil. Toss a third time with a wee bit of the vinegar of your choice (I’d use white vinegar or balsamic, or rice vinegar – all three suit me fine).

Tip: this is an awful thing to say to folks from our hemisphere, I know, but the key to this salad working is flavor. So find a farmer and buy your peaches and tomatoes from them. I suspect that your purchases will taste as if they'd never even met the versions of themselves sold in supermarkets. They've probably never even passed them in a bar. While drunk. On your birthday.


dykewife said...

fresh lime juice would probably be fabulous as well :)

mama o' the matrices said...

yes! And jicama.