Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sweaty Seattle

So I just checked the national weather map and decided that I can legitimately complain about the 105 degree weather we are experiencing here in Seattle, because it's the hottest freaking place in the country right now. It's too hot to garden... my boss called all jobs off for the rest of the week; it's too hot to think straight... nobody in Seattle bothers with air conditioning because we're supposed to be a mild climate, so everyone just kind of lingers in the grocery stores and flocks to the shores of Lake Washington and the Puget Sound out of some half-remembered genetic survival imperative (think of a chicken flapping its wings to avoid a predator). Even despite these efforts our brains are so heat-fried by the end of the day that all attempts at conversation lapse into a stoner's syntax of sentence fragments and slippery topics which, once dropped, no one has the energy to pick back up. Fortunately, arguments go the same way.
Rediscovered are such triumphs of civilization as electric fans, gins-and-tonic, aloe gels, and casual nudity. Gone are the midday meal and gratuitous, body-conscious exercising (this includes such thermodynamic quicksand as walking upstairs to let guests in and hurrying across a busy street... doors have knobs and cars have brakes, don't they?). Gone too are all preconceptions about sweating and its role in society; everyone sweats, rather a lot, and once everyone in the city is sweating we are united in our bodies' dripping, tragically futile last stand against heat exhaustion. We suffer together, and stalwartly we accept our turn to complain about the damn heat.

Gone too is my willingness to sit in front of this computer in the hottest room of the house... stay cool, everyone.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ocimum basilicum compendium

The way I see it, why not put basil in everything? I've got two huge pots with about 15 strong, seed-grown plants each and I simply cannot pick leaves off faster than new ones appear. This is not for lack of trying either - even before I start cooking an inkling of a dinner I'll step out to the porch and cavalierly yank a big handful of leaves, figuring that whatever dish I decide to make there'll be a soft spot in its heart for a whole lotta fresh basil. Partly, this indulgence is due to the herbs own baffling deliciousness which I keep expecting to (but never does) diminish with gluttonous overuse; and partly it is due to the whirling calculator in my head that delights in noting how much money I would be spending on all this basil were I to buy it at the grocery store (probably in the hundreds of dollars so far for this season) but instead am lasciviously enjoying for the paltry price of a packet of seeds and a little potting soil.
More than many deserving and competing flavors, this one has become, for me, the taste of summer. It can sometimes be finicky to grow in the Pacific Northwest, generally preferring the hot dry weather that exists for about 3 days out of the year here in Seattle, but this Summers' long heat waves has made our home a thriving basil paradise. So, once again, why not put it in everything? (OK, so I can name one bad decision a few years ago whereby I ended up with a big bowl of basil ice cream. This was, at first bite, intriguing; at second, strange; at third, queasy; and finally, just abandoned for fear of ruining the herb forever, to be added to my "Never again" list with Peppermint Schnapps and steamed celery.)
Here are some suggestions (to give credit where credit is due, some of these inspirations belong to my girlfriend); first, for the uninitiated try basil on:

*Pizza (never cook the basil though, always add fresh right before you eat!)
*Sandwiches (try to stick to the savory sandwiches, peanut butter is only so-so)
*Caprese salad
*Almost any breakfast dish (omelettes, breakfast wraps, scrambles etc.)
*Greek "Pizza" (this one is a proprietary creation of my girlfriend and I, and a mainstay of our menu consisting of miscellaneous greekish ingredients thrown on top of a pita bread with hummus, you can try it, but then you owe us royalties.)
*Spring rolls (Oh my god, I want a spring roll right now)
*Homemade pesto
*Pho (basil is pretty much the only easy part of making Pho from scratch)
*Mojito, instead of or in addition to mint

If you're feeling more brave try some of these basil-applications (or don't)

*Huffing the leaves
*Basil Soda
*Toss into a trail mix or granola
*Basil Jello
*Basil Jello shooters
*Basil float (combine the aforementioned basil ice cream with the aforementioned basil soda)
*On your breakfast cereal, instead of bananas
*Use basil instead of post-it notes in the office
*Wrap leaves into a resonant tube to make a soulful basil flute
*As a hair accessory
*As a bribery tool
*Substitute basil leaves for your favorite deck of playing cards and watch the faces light up at your next poker night
*Basil lingerie, for those sultry Summer nights
*Next time you're feeling down, pull up a chair next to your basil plant and give it a piece of your troubled mind

That should get you started, anyway. Now, you'll excuse me, I'm off to enjoy a delicious cup of fresh basil coffee and a basil danish to start this day off right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I have been swindled.

Rather, I have swindled myself. I just have no head for business; in the "art of the deal" my medium is crayon and I cannot even stay inside the lines. Understand this, please, before I share my latest folly, which went and continues to go thusly:
The world of fine gardening not being as lucrative as I had hoped (my agent somehow failing to secure me that extra couple of zeros at the end of my salary), it was time to leave the old apartment behind and find a new one in a more recession-friendly neighborhood. On cost, on quality, on vermin content, on crime-riddenness I was willing to compromise; but this time I would have a backyard with garden space. As it turned out, all conditions were met and my girlfriend and I ended up moving into a cheaper, lower quality, previously infested unit in a neighborhood which is no stranger to sirens of all sorts (there's one now!)... but it has a backyard. I repeat: it has a backyard, it did not have one prior to our occupancy. It had a magnificently preserved fraction-acre of bona fide wild American grassland with lovely borders of bona fide wild American weedland and a pile of bona fide wild American deadchristmastreesland (to say nothing of the beautiful englishivyland sprawled over it all).
Being the confident, bargain-minded gardener that I am, the wheels of a deal started screeching in my head (someone needs to lubricate those damn things). Here was a neglected spot of land in my control; I wanted to turn it into a garden anyway, I do this for a living, so why not see if we could make a little deal whereby we could "take care of" the yard in exchange for a monthly reduction in rent. The property manager was game, the owner was game; that brought us all to the bargaining table.
My chips: I am a professional gardener and tenant who will put in more effort of a higher quality than any hired help ever would; were I to charge a client for the services needed at this rental it would be a staggering sum of cleanup and maintenance fees; being an avid home gardener, I will add to and improve the garden/landscape to the extent that rental prices to future tenants will be justifiably increased.
Their chips: they own and manage the damn place and don't give a fig who lives there or how well they take care of the yard.
My initial offer: Stay vague; get a feel for how much they're willing to slash rent. If they toss out a low number, keep in mind it's a negotiation and after some haggling I'll be able to convince them that I am a valuable asset to them as both a tenant and gardener. No numbers yet.
Their counter offer: $50 off each months rent.
My reply: (Keeping in mind my little pep talk about haggling and how much my chips are worth: far more than this paltry offer. In fact, I'm a little insulted at the supposed value of my chosen vocation as perceived by these idiots) umm... (I mean, really, do they think this is how much good quality gardening costs per month? I'm not going to just run through with a mower and line trimmer on my way to 30 other sites) well... (come on, there's at least 10 times that much work every month to be done here I should ask for way more) hmm... (they should be paying me to live here)...
well, OK, $50 a month is fine.
(The sound of a single hands' applause)

And so, after some ferocious negotiations, we settled on a reduction of rent equal to $50 per month.
So far, after a month, I have put in about $500 worth of work (even at a much discounted rate) and will continue to do so each month, putting in many gardening hours and capital expenditures (hoses, sprinklers, plants, etc.) because I want to create and live in a beautiful place and to provide a beautiful place for future tenants to live in a neighborhood where natural beauty may be hard to find. And those reasons will have to suffice, because due to my superb business and bargaining acumen, I desperately leapt at the first offer that wafted past me and will never be recompensed more than $50 per month.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Emerald City Eve

Sometimes it is so easy, when one gardens for a living, to get caught up in the 9-5 chore of it and to forget there was a reason one chose this profession in the first place. My writing is, of late, replete with petty irritants and irritated preferences, perhaps because those are the refluxed feelings which want most to be granted some sort of written release. Yet once released, they do not speak of my disposition, do not do justice to the wonderful things I touch and see, to the rain and sun that touch me and see me. I have no real cause for complaint, though my complaints seem to be many, because all day every day there are green things around me and whatever the weather, whatever my mood... they live and grow. Whether in my clients' needy gardens or in my own little patch of beloved and tended pot-bound plants; the chlorophyll churns, takes everything but green, and sends that back an emerald gift for those who would see. Even now, in the warm, moonlit backyards of this town, with only the occasional car passing or honking, only the occasional voice struggling over the fences of a still night, all is green in the Emerald City.
May I be wise enough to not take that for granted.