Monday, August 31, 2009

Hori Hori R.I.P. #1

I'll start off with one of the more unusual applications I have discovered for the Hori Hori: hedging-residue-buildup-scraper.
During hedging season, the only enemies standing between myself and a successful day of clipping hedges are sharpening and cleaning. Sharpening for obvious reasons: even the best made hedge shears will succumb to hours upon consecutive hours of blade-dulling action and nothing is more frustrating than making a series of well-placed cuts only to find out that nothing has, in fact, been cut.
Less obvious is the not-so-slow buildup of mashed leaf bits (I could wax plant-physiological here and throw out some speculations as to which cell parts are most likely to stick to a blade, but ultimately it's just mashed, smashed plant matter) which accumulates along a certain axis of each cutting blade. This accumulation is somewhat sticky and serves to slow down the speed of my cuts, to mess up the timing and placement of my cuts (thus messing up the shape of a given hedge) and to reduce me to a livid, cursing, anthropomorphizing singularity of gardening rage.
There is no way to traditionally "clean" this residue off of the shears, it responds only to physical force (steel wool, wire brush, etc.) and even then only moderately. One day, when my steel brush was bent and flattened beyond all use, I decided to try scraping the flat edge of my hori hori knife against the blade of the shears and, lo-and-behold, gunk gone! Score one for Hori Hori!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Surgeon And I

Does a surgeon have a favorite scalpel? One he/she uses more often than is strictly necessary? One whose versatility and usefulness have grown as a function of the surgeon's own sentimental attachment to the point of its being used in borderline inappropriate circumstances, say trying to hack through a bone in lieu of a bonesaw or even being snuck home in a pocket to use as a steak knife on the weekend? If the surgeon inexplicably misplaces the scalpel after years of loyal service, is he utterly lost? Does he suit up for surgery only to freeze at the operating table like a first year med-school student with second-thoughts, realizing he could no more perform surgery without his sidekick scalpel than he could stand up on the table and sing the Magna Carta to the tune (and in a round) of row-row-row your boat?
If this is the case (and I, for one, strongly suspect it is) then I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for the poor surgeon because I am a kindred lost soul.

I am without my Hori Hori Knife.

I cannot forgive myself, because it was my own inexcusable fault for leaving it behind in a raised bed along a busy street, like some forged siren singing its many magical properties to all passers-by. I only hope whoever took it will give it a good home, and discover for it many more uses to add to my own extensive list.
For anyone unfamiliar with a Hori Hori Knife (it's okay, you don't have to feel ashamed), it is quite simply my favorite gardening tool and without its reassuring weight on my belt I feel like less of a gardener, less of a man somehow. It is an indestructible 6" Japanese steel blade with a simple wood handle; it is not sharp per-se, but it has one dully serrated edge and one straight edge that meet to form an ever so slightly concave point. Strapped to a belt, from a distance, it looks like a particularly stout and vicious hunting knife (and in fact, I have received more than one suspicious glance from innocent bystanders who must have thought me some kind of half gardener/half military assassin run amok in their neighborhood). It is sold as a "weeding tool", a task to which it is admirably suited but which label does no more justice than selling a modern computer as a "Tetris-playing tool".
In the interests of not publishing an encyclopedic dissertation in one blog post, I will not attempt to enumerate the sundry uses for the Hori Hori all at once, but will rather christen a new installation at Callus and Chlorophyll which will eulogize and regularly explore the applications of my beloved knife gone astray, to be entitled: "Hori Hori R.I.P".
Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Revelation

Remember, as a child, making yourself sick on fresh-picked fruit? With a dire (but unheeded) mothers' warning ringing in your head as some unknown motive force takes control of your hands and desperately grabs just one more raspberry from the vine, just one more strawberry or apple?
Our little human bodies, genetically compelled to partake of, but physiologically incapable of processing, such a bounty, are thrown headfirst into the fray of will power and restraint when confronted with such a wonder as an orchard or a vineyard. The animal says consume until there is nothing left; the mind reels at the notion of something so delicious just hanging around outside bearing a parent's blessing instead of the usual "Please, please, please! Why not? You never let me have anything! It's not fair!" that comes heavy with the prospect of other treats; the mouth only remembers the last mouthful and how nice that was; everything but that one little warning is gleefully screaming "one more, why not!?"
And then, a little bit later, you get sick.
One look from your mother at your juice-stained mouth and hands and she knows you chose to learn your lesson the hard way.

As it turns out, I still occasionally learn this lesson the hard way (thanks mostly to my parents' garden); and if none of this sounds familiar to you then you have probably been raised on store-bought produce and you deserve to treat yourself to an afternoon at a U-pick berry farm. Because when kids learn that first lesson (and second, and so on) they are not just learning that fruits and vegetables in excess can make you sick, they are learning that fresh fruits and vegetables can be so incredibly good that they are worth making yourself sick on. Store-bought produce varieties are bred to be durable, to ship well, to freeze well, to be pest-free and if, after all that, they end up being palatable, then huzzah for a happy coincidence; they are just not good enough to inspire a lifelong devotion to healthy-eating.
If you think for a moment, you may recall a particularly delicious piece of store-bought fruit you have had lately... go ahead, maybe it was that one unmealy apple or an orange that didn't have that weird thing with the creepy dry juice-sacs...
These are only memorable because they shine above the mediocrity of the average produce experience! It should not be momentous occasion to enjoy fruit, it should be the norm!
As a bonus now, try to recall a particularly delicious store-bought vegetable you have had recently... go ahead, I'll wait...
No? Nothing? I feared as much. And if you can, it's likely because you made a delicious dish out of those vegetables, not because of any intrinsic tastiness of the vegetables themselves.
For people who have never pulled a carrot out of the ground, brushed it on their sleeve and eaten it on the spot, eating vegetables will seem like a chore because there is no visceral connection to the flavors, textures and life of the food they are eating. Carrots become bland, packaged, merchandised products they buy out of a dimly-understood patriotic duty to their bodies. For years now, I have tossed a bag of peeled baby carrots into my shopping cart as a relatively inoffensive concession to my own health (I dunno, they're orange and make you see better, right?). This summer though, my cup (or fridge, as it were) overfloweth with carrots from the aforementioned parents' garden and from my own potted garden (yes, you can grow carrots in a pot!) and I have found myself actually eating them as a snack rather than as an obligatory addendum to a sack-lunch.
Carrots taste good! I think I knew that once, as a kid, but after I lost access to farm and garden, I slowly morphed into the baby-carrot-buying zombie here before you today. It is a revelation, replete with unknown and forgotten flavors, with subtlety and vitality. It is the satisfaction of an urge forged in malnourished ancestors, of a need to be alive and well.
I encourage everyone who has not already: plant some seeds, visit a local farm, farmers market or neighbor's garden; have your own revelation... but don't make yourself sick!
(OK, go ahead and make yourself a little sick.)