Monday, June 29, 2009

Are Our Gardens Like Our Friends?

I'm off for a few days to spend time with my cradle buddies - two women whom I don't really recall ever meeting. I don't remember the first time we played. I don't remember when they spent the night at my house for the first time. We have just known each other forever -- since we were in the cradle.

With these two pals, I am my true self, comfortable, confident, funny -- at home. These two grew slowly over time into mature, healthy friendships. They do not need daily or even regular communication to make them strong, just a little nurturing once every year or so. They are not like some friends that wonder why you haven't called or emailed in six whole days, or who don't know why I left Texas or how many brothers I have, or who want to talk too much about school, kids, carpools.

I wonder, are our gardens like our friends?

My garden was feeling a little crowded, so last weekend I dug a new bed near my perennial "test" garden and transplanted some day lilies. My perennial garden needs lots of regular, boring maintenance work. Dead head, thin, cut back, water, fertilize, pull some weeds, re-edge the border, pull more weeds, water, fertilize. Beautiful, but not for long without more attention from me. I'm working in more multi-season perennials, with variable bloom times, and pulling out those that just don't perform. Oftentimes, I squeeze in a new plant here and there to see how it blends with others, how long it will last, if it likes being in my garden.

One of my favorite spots, though, is an old garden bed I started not long after we moved into our house. It's shady, under an old dogwood tree, full of perennials and small shrubs that bloom at different times of the year. Some of the perennials are evergreen, some start perking up in early spring, some peak in late summer. As fall begins, they turn into a carpet of golds, reds and oranges. Like a dear old friend, it's my favorite garden to tend, yet it needs very little tending.

I have some wonderful friends in my everyday life. We've not known each other for too long, but with some attention, our friendships will continue to bloom. With some, our commonalities of school, kids or work will dwindle and as such our friendships. Every now and then, I find myself weeding out an acquaintance or two who might not fit. And I feel lucky to have a few who are working their way towards old shade garden status.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Sweet Potato Salad of a Month

May has been like one of those summer salads that includes everything but the kitchen sink and turns out amazingly delicious. Our "May" recipe starts with soccer, softball, gymnastics, tennis and dive team. Toss in final exams, a few new work projects, birthdays, mother's day, graduations and add a confirmation, first communion, stir in 15 or more rainy days and needless to say, it's just a big mess of a month. Aaahhh, beautiful.

Thankfully, the end of the month served up some gorgeous weather for a light summer dinner in the garden with family and friends. My dear sister-in-law planned the perfect dinner party menu for me, complete with recipes and detailed advice on how not to mess it up.


Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette
Chicken Satay (Ina Garten's recipe)
Simple Green Salad
and of course, THE Cake (see previous post)

Are you hungry now? The sweet potato salad was completely new to me (and my guests) and is absolutely worth a try - recipe courtesy of Monica Cobb, Beaumont, Texas.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

In a jar, mix, shake well, then refrigerate for a few hours -
Juice of 5 limes
2/3 cup good olive oil
4-5 Tbsp. honey
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin

5-6 large sweet potatoes, cubed to 1-inch with skin on
1 medium red onion, minced
2 packages cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 avocados, cubed, with extra lime juice to prevent from turning brown

While cutting sweet potatoes, soak cut pieces for a few minutes in cold water. Then, boil sweet potatoes until just fork tender (do NOT over cook). Drain, then spread in single layer on pans and drizzle COLD vinaigrette over the sweet potatoes to stop the cooking process. When sweet potatoes are cool, gently toss them with black beans, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, onion and any remaining dressing. Add avocados and sprinkle with additional fresh cilantro before serving.