california vegetables

Signs of Spring

2 March 2008

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[Blossom, Napa, March 2008.]

There are times I wish I was a much better photographer, and today was one of them: on the second day of March in Northern California the sun was bright and the green grass even brighter. Up in Napa, the bare vineyards were run through with yellow blossoms (mustard, I think they’re called), foreshadowing the leaves soon to push out of the sleeping vines. But when I took my photos I’m afraid they hardly did the day justice; I’m still in the trial-and-error phase of using fancy cameras, and unfortunately I can’t always capture what I see the way I’d like to.

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[Mustard grass in Napa, March 2008.]

Irregardless, it was beautiful today. I woke up ‘early’ at 8:15 and, fortified with coffee from Sebastopol’s favorite quirky coffee shop/stand, went up to Napa to watch my friend run on pace to finish the Napa Marathon before noon. I hardly go up there — I’m a Sonoma County girl through and through — but the drive through the rolling hills and cow fields, all waving grass and sparkling ponds, makes you glad to be alive, and gladder still to know such places exist. Still there are open places where cows can run (they do, sometimes; I’ve seen them) down to feed, and herons take off in silent, elegant flight.

It was the kind of day that hints at spring — well, throws it in your face, really. March may be rumored to blow in like a wild lion leaping from its cage, but there was no sign of an ill-tempered beast anywhere (a mild breeze and a cool morning could count, except the breeze was warm and the fog burned off by 10 a.m.; not harsh-weather conditions by any stretch of the imagination).

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Is it safe to say the season is nearly upon us? I’m almost afraid to, in case it doesn’t, and I’m once again slogging to work with an inside-out umbrella and soaking shoes. After watching that pseudo-biopic about Jane Austen last night, I’m almost inclined to cry bring on the rain! though I’d like to be safely ensconced in an English country home sipping tea and preparing for the neighbor’s ball, at which I’d then drink wine and trade witty repartee with my true love before writing my own happy ending as the skies opened up. Much more romantic than arriving cranky and damp to my office after a lurching bus ride down Market Street that takes twice as long as usual.

(On second thought, maybe no rain would be best.)

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[Roses, for a birthday, February 2008.]

The other day I had skinny, tender asparagus that melted into my mouth. It was roasted in a little bit of olive oil and salt, which is my favorite way to prepare it, and as I folded each piece greedily into my mouth I knew what it represented: spring. At last the turn into the growing season is upon us, and I’m so glad.

As my editor at the Chron wrote last week, asparagus plants can last for 25 years; though they produce delicate spears that cook up quickly, the plant is often described as ‘hardy’ and longlasting. In Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she writes about digging asparagus beds in various rental homes; even though the plants took at least a year to bear edible shoots, and she didn’t know how long she’d be living in each place, it was something that helped her make home, well, home. I love that. I also love thinking that the next tenants would discover, each spring, asparagus pushing up in their backyards, imagine their delight and excitement at this gift from both the earth and a previous renter.

I have a little dream that one day I’ll have a garden of my own, and in it of course I’ll have all my favorite fruits and vegetables — strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, basil, beets, fingerling potatoes, and summer squash are all high on my list. I’ll find out what kind of plants ‘go’ with each other (for example, asparagus does well near near basil, nasturtiums, parsley and tomatoes but doesn’t like onions) and I’ll research what plants repel pests and insects. I’m not sure yet what to do about the gophers other than to have a cat (which is a requirement anyway), but surely I’ll be able to find a solution. I’ll somehow make the time to can many jars of tomato sauce and will make batches of basil pesto to freeze for the winter. I’ll eat zucchini by the bucketful. I’ll make my kids pick strawberries for jam with the admonishment they eat as many as they bring inside.

And I’ll roast asparagus until I can’t stand to eat it anymore; then I’ll make soup.

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[First asparagus of the season, February 2008.]

What would you grow — or do grow — in your garden?

  • amanda 5 March 2008 at 12:59 am

    It’s funny, after I saw the Jane Austen movie, Becoming Jane,I wanted to pick my life up, move to the English countryside, grow my own food, and dance with dashing dark men at glorious balls. Could it be that we think alike :)

  • John C Abell 4 March 2008 at 7:38 pm

    What do you mean? These are great shots.