Friday, April 10, 2009

Gardening and Eggplants and Tomatoes

I like to grow things but I hate to garden. Every spring and fall I go through the backbreaking ritual of planting stuff. It's hard work all that digging and bending and yanking. I tell myself that I am being one with nature. Me and Mother Nature working hand in hand. blah blah blah. The truth is I hate to garden but love to grow and cook with things I've grown.

All my daffodils that I planted in the fall are now blooming. They look positively happy with their bright yellow heads swaying in the spring breeze. They make me smile every time I saunter out my front door. There they are all lined up in the garden next to the driveway. Next to bloom will be the tulips interspersed among the daffs. Years ago I had my husband rip out a 50 year old hedge that was growing in this space. It was backbreaking work but he did it for me. In place of the hedge he put in a white picket fence - I really wanted a white picket fence (I was in my June Cleaver stage). I still like the fence.

When the daffodils and tulips die down all the perennials that I've planted over the years will take over this space and the wisteria over the arbor will bloom. It has gotten so big it is breaking the arbor - but I like that too. It makes my house look lived in. Like I had planned that all along.

Beyond the wisteria arbor are my roses - all pink and yellow and white. They are a dangerous trio; always snagging my clothes if I happen down the path under the arbor between the garage to the back yard. I like that too. They are like two year olds, grabbing at me for attention.

Inside the garden gate entrance to my backyard is my herb plot. Mint, thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary are already coming back from their winter sleep. Yesterday I noticed the puppy nosing around the mint. Do dogs like mint? I think she was just enjoying a new scent. I grow it specifically for ice tea and Mojitos. Okay, mostly Mojitos.

Beyond the herb garden is the pond. The koi have come out of their fish cave and I'm anxious to see if the water lilies made it again this year. The lilies bloom cream and yellow and the bright orange koi like to dart around their graceful underwater stems.

To the left of the pond is my vegetable patch. Soon I'll have to plant the tomatoes and eggplants that we eat from July to October. I'll plant some basil among the tomatoes because that's the way you do it. Marigolds will go around the perimeter to keep the bugs away. I'm thinking about planting pumpkins in an empty patch around the other side of the house. Not because I'll eat them - but because they are outrageous the way they grow. Everyday a foot or two of growth like they are taking over the world.

All this thinking about my garden has made me hungry for eggplant and tomatoes. I think I'll get a jump start on summer and make this simple dish today:

Eggplant with Parmesan Cheese and Tomatoes:

1 eggplant (select a firm eggplant with green top)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko crumbs (or regular unseasoned)
Salt & Pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 T balsamic vinegar
A small handful of fresh basil
Olive Oil

Peel the eggplant and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. Salt (use kosher salt) the rounds and place in colander in sink for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
Dip eggplant in beaten egg seasoned with salt and pepper
Press into panko / cheese mixture
Put breaded eggplant rounds on a rimmed cookie sheet and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.

In the meantime, dice the tomatoes, mince the garlic. Place in small bowl and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Chiffonade the basil (that means roll it up like a cigar and slice)

Preheat oven to 400.

Pour enough olive oil into bottom of another rimmed cookie sheet to coat the bottom. Place in hot oven for 5 minutes. Move eggplant rounds from refrigerated cookie sheet to hot oiled cookie sheet - be careful not to burn yourself.

Bake for 10 minutes, flip eggplants on other side. Bake for 10 more minutes until crisp on both sides and golden brown.

Plate. Drizzle with a teaspoon or so of the tomato/garlic/vinegar mixture. Sprinkle with basil. Enjoy hot.

This won't be as good today as it will be in July and August when both tomatoes and eggplants come sun warm from the garden - that's a truth. It will inspire me though to get back out and dig and plant and yank and water. So I guess I'll break my back for one more year.

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