By ALEXI VENICE
There’s nothing better on a Saturday morning in the summer than walking outside with a cup of coffee, sitting down, and watching your spouse garden. They say gardening is good for the soul. Supporting my husband is good for my soul, too.
I like sitting in the soft sunshine while Bill picks cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and other veggies that he’ll make into fresh pickles, salsa and tomatillo sauce. Toward the bottom of the first cup, however, my back gets sore watching him bend over so much, so I retreat inside for breakfast.
If you wonder what Bill does while I was write, the answer is simple—he cuts down trees, fishes, gardens and sits in his tree stand during bow season. He also cooks and ferments peppers and some purple stuff that looks ghoulish.
I particularly enjoy seeing him in a hardhat cutting down a tree when I take a writing break. He’s ruggedly handsome holding a chainsaw, but don’t spread it around because I don’t want the ladies flocking. We all know he could a lot better than me. (I married up, and I’m grateful.)
He made that look easy. I took the video only because I harbored a smidgeon of doubt, worried that the tree would fall on our lake cabin. The only thing the tree was in danger of hitting, however, was this little fawn, who had passed over the driveway earlier that day.
Back to Bill’s garden. Bill always thinks big, so he has several beds—in the garden, not in our house. (Although that might alleviate the snoring problem.) The garden is 70 by 30 feet with 12 raised beds. It’s so big that even the bunnies get lost in there. I watched one nibble on the blueberry bushes, then move over to the carrots until Daisy chased it out. Those carrots are hers! (She ate an entire row—including the greens—then barfed them up five hours later, showing that bunny who was higher on the food chain.)
After twenty years of adding black stuff, white stuff, and other-colored stuff, Bill has a patented dark, rich soil. I’ll never forget the time he had some aged manure delivered for the garden. He worked it into the soil, and a few hours later, every black fly in the county was buzzing around our house. There must have been 1,000 flies on the screen over the kitchen sink. I thought I was in a horror movie. Don’t even get me started on the smell!
Good soil, however, produces good crops. Here’s our basil crop this summer. All these plants are now pesto in a thousand plastic containers in the freezer. Yum!
Bill grows Anaheim, poblano, serrano, cayenne and jalapeno peppers, too.
He chopped up the peppers and put them in mason jars with these fancy air locks on top. (Pasteur locks—after Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology. He’s the guy who figured out microbial fermentation during the 1800s. You know, as in pasteurized milk? I wonder what his kitchen counter looked like, and how his wife felt about all that.)
At this point in our kitchen, I don’t know whether Bill is making tequila or Tabasco, but the veggies look like they went on a color run. He’s been telling me that we should eat more fermented and aged food like sauerkraut, aged cheese and cured meats. I’m waiting for the lederhosen to come out during these lectures. If my next book is set in the 1800s, I might try some of this stuff on the counter to get in the mood.
Or, maybe he’s trying to poison me. I got a little worried this spring when he was reading The Poisoner’s Handbook, by Deborah Blum. He certainly knows his herbs.
Bill made a fantastic tomatillo sauce with our bumper crop of these green little pumpkins next to the cucumbers. We ate a pork roast with tomatillo sauce the first night, then made it into burrito meat the next day. So delicious and authentic (because we Wisconsin folk know about authenticity). Here’s the recipe for his sauce:
Tomatillo sauce recipe:
25 Roma tomatoes
5 large onions
5 poblano peppers
Hot peppers to taste
The juice of 2 limes
Salt to taste
1 cup chopped cilantro
Fire roast all veggies (with a char on skin). Run through blender. Add lime juice, salt and cilantro.
Bill’s homemade mashed potatoes are to die for. He makes them with yogurt, so they’re healthier than the traditional with butta and cream. In fact, he started making his own yogurt in some type of pressure cooker pot—Instant Pot—that’s now taking up prime real estate on our kitchen island. I had no idea what he was cooking until he offered me “warm yogurt” for breakfast one morning at 5:30 am. Who eats it warm? Fortunately, he refrigerated it, and I watched him eat it for a few days. When he didn’t puke, I tried it, too. Tasty, and I’m still alive.
The problem with a large garden is that everything ripens at the same time. What do you do with hundreds of red tomatoes? Eat BLTs three times a week. (Bacon is my favorite meat, so I was down with that.) Give them to coworkers, who inevitably avoid eye contact when you show up with the umpteenth bag. Make roasted tomato soup. Throw them at bad opera singers—if only we had any in Eau Claire. Can them? Don’t be ridiculous. Waaay too much work.
Okay. Good talk. I need a break now, so I’m off to Culver’s for a single deluxe (no onion), fries and a hot fudge concrete mixer with Heath Bar. Love you, bye.