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The little lemon that could 

You may recall my little improved Meyer lemon tree that has been struggling in my Zone 5B home. I originally bought it at the end of the summer in 2013, looking sickly and weary. I nursed it back to some health that year and watched it almost die over the winter. But it scraped through. Summer rolls around and it does quite well on my stoop, but the indoor air, dry with our heaters and quite dark, doesn’t seem to do it much good. Interestingly, this year we brought it in and left it right near the front door where it got about 4-5 hours of decent light, not great, and it did well until about January. Then the leaf drop started. I’m not sure if something changed or if it was just a delayed reaction, but I think the plant – and me as a result – went into panic mode. I set up a little grow light corner, and though the plant continued to drop leaves for another week, I think it’s loving the light. It’s coming back with a vengeance. If I can keep this lemon plant thriving in my dark, dry Pittsburgh apartment, I will consider it one of my greatest victories yet. 



An oversight

As I wait anxiously for the ice to melt and the snow to stop falling and Old Man Winter to withdraw his frosty tentacles and release me, I am disheartened to see that last year’s garden, which should have really been the star of the summer, never got its chance to shine. In this blog, that is. In real life, it gave me joy and wonder everyday. Somehow I managed never to document it, though. 

I will try to remedy that mistake by posting pictures from last summer’s garden as I start planning for this year. I hope to draw inspiration, learn from mistakes, and beat the winter doldrums away. 

This beautiful little flower looks like it’s just about to take wing and fly. It looks like a sort of sweet pea, and was an absolute delight in a little patch in front of my porch. 



Stay tuned for more!

Asiago crusted penne with crimini mushrooms and garden greens

When I was a little girl with pigtails and Mary Janes, we lived in suburban Texas, where as the saying goes, the tallest thing on the horizon is a Coke can. There are vast expanses of grass, dotted in the spring and summer with dandelions and little purple flowers – I still don’t know what they’re called. I’d bring bouquets of these flowers home for my mother on my way home from the school bus stop, and she’d put them in a little glass everyday.

I soon learned that dandelions were ‘weeds’, and I stopped thinking of them as having any value. As I grew older and started seeing dandelion greens for sale in high end grocery stores, I was convinced that we weren’t all talking about the same plant. Why on earth would someone pay good money to buy weeds? As it turns out, though, people do. And for good reason.

Dandelion greens are rich, flavorful, and apparently quite nutritious. Now I have my own backyard and garden, with those pesky dandelions taking up way too much space. I pull them up dutifully, and they come right back. Today, I thought to myself, why not see if this dandelion green thing works for me? I’m pulling them up anyway, what if I just throw them in dinner?

I was not disappointed.

Thrown together with garlic shoots also foraged from the garden (another story for another day), a tomato and a sweet Italian pepper, the greens made a lovely addition to a simple weeknight meal – let’s see what S has to say.

A handful of dandelion greens – try to use the smaller inside leaves before the plant flowers, they’re more tender and less bitter – went into a cold water bath with garlic shoots from the yard.

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Crimini mushrooms have a nice round flavor that balances the bitter greens perfectly. Sauté them with olive oil, salt, and crushed red peppers.

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In the meantime, boil water and cook your pasta till al dente. I used penne, but you can use anything small – farfalle, orecchiette, even elbow macaroni would work.

Rinse your greens well. Garden greens are delicious but are covered with grit and soil. I rinsed about 4 times, I suggest you do the same. Chop or tear them into smaller pieces.

Wilt the greens in the pan. I use cast iron so it can go straight into the oven. Add a diced pepper or two if you’d like. We got some beautiful artisan red peppers at the market last week. This seemed like the perfect place to use up the last one.

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Add a dollop of ricotta and herbs of your choice – I went for thyme and oregano – and stir in the pasta.

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Finally, toss with a handful of mozzarella and top with Asiago and pop it in the oven.

It only took about 20 minutes, and made for a delicious meal.

Who knew?

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Looking in the cracks

It’s so easy to let life pass you by – to let small things weigh you down, to miss life as it’s happening. There’s a story I read in 9th grade English called ‘The Falling Girl’, a parable by Dino Buzzati warning heavyhandedly against the mistake that we all make.

“‘You have your entire life ahead of you,’ they told her, ‘why are you in such a hurry?’
…She made an attempt to answer but the force of gravity had already quickly carried her to the floor below, then two, three, four floors below….”

Life has been like that lately. Working long hours has me in the doldrums, often making me forget that there is life outside the hospital. I spend time in my little gardening space, often daydreaming about a big flat yard in the South where I could grow to my heart’s content. But really, I know I miss so much of my life by doing that. It’s the little things: the one new budding leaf on a tomato seedling, a tiny dandelion bud, a bird perched on the feeder, readying herself for warmth and new life. THAT is life. THAT is why life is worth it.

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Life seeps through broken concrete and under rocks. It happens in spite of us, in spite of itself. Celebrate it, love it, live it.

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Happy Easter!

Today in the garden

Spring is really here now! Cool wet days, damp and heavy nights with early morning fog – it really gives perspective. Years ago I would have been disappointed with such weather, especially in temps of 50’s. But now, I actually did a happy dance on my porch.

Tomato seedlings are coming up, slowly sending out baby true leaves – it’s time to transplant them!

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Snowdrops – a little late but one little guy looks like he made it.

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And violets – the joy of those little faces peeking up. Doesn’t it look like this little face is telling us to have hope?

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Finding adventure at home

S and I have a new hobby now, finding fun places to hike around Pittsburgh. Since we only get one day off a week and the time we do get is usually not on the same day, a morning hike together is a rare and special treat. This weekend we went to Fall Run Park in Glenshaw. It was a peaceful, easy hike with beautiful sights and the calming sounds of running water. These walks inspire our philosophical sides to peek out, so I cherish them very much.

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Seed starting!

I’m on vacation at my parents’ house, which means early gardening for me! Spring has already come to the South, and with it warm weather and the smell of the earth.

I get my love of gardening from my dear old dad, and he’s just as excited as me about starting the spring garden. We did some indoor sowing and some outdoor today.

Here’s what we planted:

Okra
Three varieties of eggplant – Ratna, Shiva and Black Beauty
Two varieties of bottle gourd – Bhim and Alok
Kale
Lettuce
Swiss chard
Cabbage
Bitter gourd

Exciting!

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Sprouting onion in the pantry

We’ve all been there. We buy a bag of onions, leave it in a dark place, and next time you look, it’s trying to grow a new onion!

This happened to us the other day. Usually I’d either chop it up and cook it or toss it in the compost, but this time I thought I’d give it a fighting chance.

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I took off the edible parts and tossed it in a curry (maybe I’ll share the recipe later, it came out great) and stuck the rest of it in a pot of water in the window sill. A couple of days later I stuck the whole thing, roots and shoots included, into a pot of soil that also has a spring onion bulb in it.

I have no idea what will happen to it. It may grow spring onions, it may grow a new bulb, it may grow a flower, or it may not grow at all. I won’t know until I try.

So here goes , onion. Show me what you got.

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