Alone. In the house. A rare thing. I could have gone dancing, and maybe I should have. God knows I need it. Argentine tango is not one of those things you drop and pick up on a whim.
At 3 p.m., I bolted from my computer because my back and shoulders ached, and there was an estate sale in Piedmont, and I’m hunting for ceramic pots and containers, because, you see, I’m trying to garden again.
Jody was so sweet last weekend. When I told her I was trying to garden again, she said, “Oh, you’re a great gardener!” Which is hilarious and preposterous and tender and kind. I said, “Well, I tried, but I always dropped it before I got any good, before I gained any confidence.”
She said, “Well, you were enthusiastic.”
I said, “That’s true.”
And it’s true I’m again in a gardening phase. I’ve potted up every empty receptacle I can find on the property. I’ve been snapping, picking, and plucking every green thing that calls to me from surrounding gardens because you see I’m trying to save money and can’t willy nilly take off for the Ace Garden Center to drop $280 like I used to in years’ past when I had written off the idea of saving for retirement, when I was still waiting for Prince Charming to make it all right. Once I’d kicked Prince Charming to the curb and realized I was fully on my own and may be for the duration, I began, slowly and painfully, paying attention to finances.
So, yes, alone in the house, listening to “Crazy ‘Bout the Blues” on KCSM, which just started. We’re on Song #2. And it’s goooood, with slow, lazy horns and meandering guitar hands.
I meant to grocery shop today, but didn’t. Because I went to the estate sale instead, which turned up only a couple of small terra cotta pots. This meant I had no fresh groceries in the house. I was fairly confident however that I’d be able to rustle something up. I knew I had a couple of puckered pasilla peppers, a handful of parsley, some onions and potatoes. I thought I had some leftover chicken.
I made myself a cocktail. I googled “strawberry fig cocktail nyt” to see what my trusty New York Times Food Section could do for me in this arena. Sure enough, something particularly nice popped up: Frank Bruni’s “BruniBerry,” with two muddled strawberries pulled from the plant in my side yard and a slice from a withered orange and green Thai chile I found near-forgotten on a dish with some butter on the top shelf of my fridge.
I muddled the strawberries and the chile in the bottom of a cut glass tumbler, shook tequila, lime juice, and agave syrup up good with ice, and poured my libation, garnished with a spring of cilantro from the pot beside the front door. I set myself up in the black painted Adirondack chair in the driveway with my book, my journal, and a pen, but was too busy throwing the tennis ball for Daisy and watching the spectacle of the mountain turn from flaming red to ebbing pink to deep black as the sun tipped over the edge of the bay.
I made dinner. I started a pot of long grain rice with butter and salt. Started a cast iron skillet with sliced red onion, salt, and pepper, and then began looking around to see what else I had. I pulled everything from the fridge that might be a candidate. Stems of rapini. Stems and a few leaves of parsley. The other half of the Thai chile. Two tired pasilla peppers. Three carrots. A handful of celery I could dice. I found the chicken carcass I knew was in there, thinking I could collect enough meat for a dinner for one, at least. Alas, the chicken, though neatly put back away by one of my teens, was stripped to the bone. She was just a standing skeleton, naked as the day is long.
Luckily, I had that mainstay of the freezer: frozen prawns, $10 for two pounds at Grocery Outlet last week. I tossed these into the mix with a generous grinding of pink salt and black pepper, and succulent and juicy they were. I had a few bites and was pleasantly surprised by the pop they made in my mouth. I had a brainstorm, jumped up, cut a lime, and squeezed that baby over everything, and wow. It was great. A great dish. Something about the peppers, the shrimp, the bitter greens, the salt, and the lime… worked.
I also had a dish of chunkily-cut beets roasting in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I pulled those out and laid them babies alongside.
I relished my dinner with my dear hound alert by my side, hoping for a shrimp tail or two. My son came home and served himself from the pans on the stove. The voice of the awesomely named Son House, born in 1902 and recorded in 1930, filled the kitchen like a ghost from the radio atop the fridge.
While eating, I googled things like “tiny garden paradise.” My tango teacher wrote me on Facebook, and made me promise to show up at his class next week. And I will. I promised.
These are the things that make up a life. Cooking. Staying home. Listening to blues. Feeding my family. Admiring the hound beside me. Foraging for goodies. Trying once more to garden no matter how intimidating I find it, or how frustrating. Being brave. Putting the plant in the ground, the foot to the floor, the knife to the board. Building a life. One step at a time.