Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Heaven is Spelled P.O.T.A.T.O. May 31, 2008

Tonight we had potatoes from our plot for the first time. In fact, everything we ate save the chicken I roasted and some lemon I squeezed on it, was out of the garden. Here was today’s harvest:


I roasted the potatoes with lemon thyme, rosemary, olive oil and salt and pepper. The chicken was stuffed with lemon rinds, lemon thyme, and rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and crushed garlic. The squash, as usual, was sauted with onion. We are going to eat a blackberry crumble in a little bit, too.

Here is dinner:

Honestly, the potatoes were as much a revelation compared to store bought as tomatoes grown at home are. When I told Ryan there was no butter on them, he had a hard time believing me.

Our food has been so amazing of late, I can hardly believe it’s real sometimes. Amazing. Truly.


The Best Made Plans are Laid to Toddlers May 29, 2008

It’s amazing how quickly a two-year-old can knock you off your high horse.

“Of the three things we are eating tonight, Ryan, only the turkey sausage is store bought!” I crowed to my husband tonight before dinner. “The bread is homemade, the squash is from our garden and I gave that much again to Teri. And tomorrow we’re having purslane salad again! I love that I can feed you guys so healthily.” I was really, really proud of myself. So proud, in fact, that I had pondered taking pictures of our plates and of Eamonn relishing every bite of his home-grown meal.

Only, about that…

Grandma sent a box of goodies to us that arrived today. She is the queen of care packages, my mother-in-law. In that package was candy and Eamonn knew it.

In the end the only way I got the kid to literally choke down a single bite of squash was to convince him that he had to try at least one bite before he got some of that candy. We did this by allowing Daddy a piece in front of Eamonn after he finished his own squash.

So instead of a picture of my son loving every bit of his garden harvest, I give you:

Yes, when I took it he was crowing, “Canneeeeeee!”

Ah well.


Eat That Weed! – Purslane May 28, 2008

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I didn’t ever pay enough attention when my mom was talking about plants. And boy do I regret that. But something surprising I’ve been finding is how much miscellaneous information that I didn’t realize had registered at all is floating around in my brain just waiting to be discovered.

And this brings me to “the weed” I insisted not get pulled when Jocelyn came and helped me one day in the plots. The thing is, I didn’t have much of an explanation…she was weeding and I said, “Don’t pull that one! I mean…well…I think they might be edible or good or something…so…leave those.” Sweetly, which is the only way Joce ever responds to my requests, no matter how hair-brained they might be, she said, “Okayyyy…” and left them meticulously be.

A few days later, Juan was in his plot and I worked up the courage to go and ask him about the weeds. I say worked up the courage not because he is intimidating or unkind — this couldn’t be further from the truth. But I had already pestered him about my strawberries and he had offered to help me with those, and then I had pestered him about the tomatoes I had being swallowed up by my squash so he helped me with those, and then he had offered to help me re-cover my strawberries, too. I didn’t want to become the cringe-worthy neighbor who was never just saying hi and ONLY ever borrowing a cup of sugar. But I gathered up my courage and went and asked.


“Hi Mary! How are your strawberries? I worry for them…”

“Oh, fine…they are beautiful. Thank you, Juan. I’ll have that new plastic soon.”

“How soon? They need the better plastic, Mary…”

“Thursday maybe?”

“Okay, Thursday I be here with plenty of time and we do it. I do it for you.”

I really love this guy. He is amazing and generous.

“Juan? Those things down there…” I pointed to the weeds he has like mine, which he seems to either cultivate or just let be. “Are those good or bad? I mean…okay my mom used to tell me that In Mexico they are a vegetable, not a weed.”

He laughed. “It is good. People eat it. We do eat it in Mexico. I? I don’t like it so much but you cook it and you eat it. I don’t know…It is not my favorite but it is good.”

It turns out we were discussing verdolaga. In the U.S. it’s commonly thought of as a weed and we call it purslane. In fact, when some of the other gardeners found out that I was going to try eating it, they wished me well, offered a memorial service and the always jovial Dick clutched me in a hug saying, “Well, it was nice knowing you. You’re a lovely girl! Can I have your zucchini?” Oh those gardeners.

But the thing is, after a little bit of research, I have begun to find some things out about purslane that maybe we Americans del Norte might want to pay some attention to. For instance, purslane is remarkably high in an Omega 3 fatty acid known as alpha lenolinic acid — very unusual in a food that is not fish (New England Journal of Medicine, 1986). According to the New York Times, it also contains surprising amounts of melatonin (which aids in sleep) and other beneficial nutrients. Surprisingly, a simple Google search of purslane showed multiple write-ups in the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Really?” I thought. “About a weed?”

But the idea of “weed” is really just ours. Apparently, purslane is eaten and relished all over the world — Mexico, Greece, Kuala Limpur, to name just a few places that think differently than we do in the U.S. But purslane is having something of a comeback here, too. This little, hardy succulent is beginning to be a hot item in farmer’s markets and chefs are using it more and more in top restaurants.

So last night I took the plunge. I heard from Juan that he and his daughter would be pulling out their purslane that day because it was choking out their bell peppers and so I came home with a huge bag of it, promising everyone who dubiously watched me leave that I’d return with a recipe if it was, indeed, good. Here is a picture of what I brought home. I was soaking to revive it after an hour in a hot car while I ran errands on the way home:

purslane soaking in water before being prepared

The recipe I used was for Greek Island Chickpea Salad With Purslane and Arugula from the Times. If you have the following in your kitchen, you can make the salad:

  • arugula
  • chickpeas
  • purslane
  • capers
  • lemons or lemon juice
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

This is how it turned out:
purslane salad with chick peas and arugala

I have to say, it’s a rare day that I have pesto and pine nuts on my plate and something else interests me more. This was one of those days. Ryan and I purred our way through dinner and though the recipe allegedly made 4 servings of salad, we finished it between the two of us. And look! I’m still alive the next day!

So gardeners, think twice before you pull that weed. It might just be your next favorite vegetable.

Gosh, I’m glad I sort of listened to my mom sometimes, even without meaning to.


Completely Off Topic in Honor of Mars… May 25, 2008

Filed under: friends — Mary @ 9:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

My friend Brooke is a reporter for a news station in Los Angeles and she is covering the briefing at NASA regarding the Mars landing. I am watching it right now on NASA TV.

Because I am mature and am grasping the amazing excitement of this event to its fullest I thought to ask, “Brooke. Oh my gosh. Cough. RIGHT NOW COUGH SO I CAN HEAR IT!”

And she did.

And I did.

Reaching for the stars, people. I’m reaching for the stars.

Don’t get me wrong, she is a stellar, professional and amazing journalist. But she’s also one of my best friends and we are completely lame together.

Text messaging during NASA briefings is a great invention.

Gotta go in case I miss a sneeze…


Simple Things May 24, 2008

Filed under: family,grief,mom,rambling thoughts,thanks — Mary @ 12:43 am

On any given day, depending on the time, you could almost guarantee you’d find my mom eating and drinking certain things with the smallest margin of error possible. She was a lady of simple tastes for the most part. But let me tell you, she knew good.

Sweet cold tea with a ton of ice.
A buttery english muffin with avocado on top.
Fresh toasted bread with real butter and honey.
Good Earth tea.
Plain old Red Rose tea.
Vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s syrup.
Really good tomatoes with salt and pepper.
A milky cup of coffee.
Fresh corn on the cob.
Radish sandwiches.
Cantaloupe and watermelon in the middle of a hot afternoon.
Give that lady a pot of water and she could make delicious soup out of anything.

The first morning home with our son, my husband and I were greeted by my mother at the door with a pan of the best cinnamon rolls in town. She heated them in our oven and served them to us while we all stared, agog, at our new son. I’ll likely never eat one again without thinking of that.

When we were kids and storms from the desert would push their way over the foothills and rattle us with thunder and lightning, she’d make popcorn and hot chocolate. At my niece’s birthday party a few weeks ago I asked an old neighborhood friend if he remembered that. He got this look on his face and said, “You know, I hadn’t for a long time but just now when you said that? Man…I can TASTE it! I can taste it and almost smell the rain!” Her love was not lavished on only her own kids.

We grew up in a town that gets hotter than blazes in the summer and stays hot until well into October. We had no air conditioning and so keeping cool was always of prime importance on sweltering summer days. Mom used to turn the sprinkler on and over in the shade we’d see a watermelon hump under a wet towel waiting for supper time. I guess the serious dietitians out there might faint when I say this but, if it was hot enough, sometimes that cold watermelon was all we’d eat at dinner, grinning at each other over our rinds. She used to do the same thing when corn came to all the farm stands in town and you could buy ten ears for a dollar.

I am beginning to realize now how many tastes I have associated with my mother. What a heritage that is in its own way.

Tonight we are having a freak, cold rain storm in the end of May — unheard of here in Southern California. To fit with the mood of the day, I made a pot of ham, bean and barley soup and finally made good on my promise to myself to learn how to make a loaf of bread. As it baked in the oven and the soup simmered and all the yeasty, savory smells wafted out of the kitchen to our noses while my husband and I played with our son I wondered if she ever stopped the way I do now and thought, “oh…someday THIS is one of the things they will remember about growing up. THIS is one of the smells, one of the tastes, one of the days that will still feel warm years from now…”

Whether she did or not, I do. I do because there were just so many simple things she made precious with her love. And I benefit from it still. It’s why I’m smiling while I sit here eating homemade toast with honey, sip some tea, and write to all of you.


No More Normal May 23, 2008

I think the thing that has been most deceptive in this experience is my thought that I was understanding the permanence of the loss of my mom, when really I didn’t get it at all.

When a loved one dies and when you are as involved and as close as I was to my mom and her illness and death, it’s very easy to think that you understand what is happening, that you get how serious it all is, that you get the “big” in “the big picture.” But the thing is, you are operating so far outside of life’s norms up until that point that you really have no idea. I remember laughing a couple of times, quite gallows in style this humor was, when one of us would say, “Well, when things get back to normal…” Somewhere we knew that “normal” was going to take on a whole new meaning. And acknowledging it made us feel safe from the vastness of its reality. We all felt, I think, like we’d already encountered it and dealt with it. Which is just a sign of how naive at least I really was.

The thing is, immediately before and after a loss, you never get a chance to forget that it’s happening. When all you think about every single day and waking moment is about that person’s death, you never have a moment when you forget it all enough to be surprised and hurt by its reality. While it seems stark and awful at the time it really is a mercy in its way, this constant knowledge of loss.

But now, now as things take on the semblance of normal again, as I learn my life as it is now, things seem the same and I’m lulled into a sense of living in the normal “before”. As work has begun again, as my house has needed to be cleaned in earnest, as we have set about the day-to-day again, I have begun to forget at times that she is gone. I will be driving and think, “oh gosh I forgot to tell mom that…” I will wake up in the morning and in that lull between sleep and awake will think, “I wonder what mom is doing today — maybe she’ll have time for pancakes…” And then it sets in. That today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that and on and on until it’s my turn to go home, too, she really will not be here.

It is not eloquent, my description of how this makes me feel: It makes me lonely, and it hurts, and I really, really, really miss my mom. For our family right now, there is no more normal.


In the absence of a real post… May 22, 2008

I give you my son, watering the corn which is taller than he is:

Here is what dinner was made out of for the most part:

And a recipe for drop cake, which is how I used my small harvest of blackberries, which were too tart for plain eating — it’s so easy that it’s hard to even write a real recipe for it but here goes:

I took 14 berries and some peaches I bought frozen…sometime once…and I mixed them up with some brown sugar. (You could use brown sugar, honey, regular sugar, etc…whatever.) I added some cinnamon. (You could also use nutmeg, allspice, etc depending on what fruit(s) you are using). I opened a box of yellow cake mix and sprinkled it onto the top of the fruit until I had an even layer about as thick as I wanted the crust to be. I sprinkled oatmeal on top of that. I cut a little bit of butter into pieces and evenly spaced those on top of everything. I put this all in an oven at 350 degrees until it was brown on top and bubbling. I ate it.

Okay, I shared. But I wanted to eat all of it. I really did. It’s this amazing salt/sweet/sour/fruity combination that’s hard to get with any other kind of crust but this one. Mmm. It’s a drop cake because you literally toss it all together in whatever size/shape dish you’re going to bake it in.

Here is how it turned out:

And I guess that’s another nice thing about this recipe. You can make it just for yourself or for a whole crowd.

I am very excited to have had a veggie AND dessert come from our garden today.

More to come.


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