On the last day of school, I drove to Andy's Agway in Dayton, Maine and rewarded myself for a year well done by picking up a handful of already started plants. I then brought them home and planted them in a tiny planter box, much unlike my sprawling garden the last couple of years. The soil was poured out of a bag and there were no rocks to work. I didn't have to agonize over tiny seeds, living in fear that one downpour would wash them all away. I only saw one bug the whole time I was planting. And, can I tell you the truth? I rejoiced in how easy it was.
I don't know if it's my Aroostook County grit or just an inherent stubbornness, but in my mind taking the "easy" way out has always meant that you can't hack it; you aren't tough enough and you'll never experience the satisfaction of doing things the long way, the hard way, the right way.
Oy vey. There is a time and place for hard work, and for doing things by hand. But I have come to realize that we also need to know when to be kind to ourselves. And, when we are, it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of wisdom.
And so, I didn't even feel the tiniest pang of guilt this year when I planted my little raised bed. I laughed and wondered why I hadn't done it sooner.
Because I had a much smaller space to work with, though, I had to be choosy about the veggies I planted. Lettuce, arugula, and spinach are old standbyes. They always grow no matter what the conditions and save us a boatload of money. And I couldn't possibly go a summer without fresh tomatoes, so I bought six. I also picked up a couple zuke and cuke plants, some seedlings for long, slender eggplants, and - my most exotic purchase - purple basil.
Am I the only one who had never heard of purple basil before? When I first saw it in the greenhouse, I sniffed it just to make sure it wasn't mislabeled. And then, just to be certain, I ripped off a leaf and sucked on it. Sure enough, it tasted basil-ly. It looked so much prettier than the green kind, with its delicate stalks of purple flowers growing from the top, that I bought a carton of them without hesitating for even a moment.
And now they are growing like crazy. My favorite use for basil is as the topper for a caprese salad, but after going through a few mozzarella logs already this month (and we're only halfway through July), I figured I better take it easy. So, I tried mixing it with another cheese - parmesan. And olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, and salt. The result? A zippy pesto that is rich in flavor, quickly made, and super versatile.
We hardly ever have pesto because it is so expensive to buy in the store. Like, a teensy tub for $5.00. But I was able to buy the pine nuts for $6.00, and used less than half of them in this pesto. And, it's perfectly yummy if you choose to use another nut, like almonds, cashews, or dry-roasted peanuts to save even more money. The batch I whipped up tonight made about a cup of pesto, which was enough to cover two gorgeous plates of spinach and ricotta ravioli, plus left plenty for our scrambled eggs in the morning.
When it comes to doing some things, like planting a garden, it pays to be kind to yourself and take into account how much time and energy you have to invest in it. But when it comes to sauces? I say homemade is always best. Especially when all it takes is one quick pulse of the food processor!
Love well and eat well,
Recipe for Purple Pesto Basil *When it comes to pesto, your taste buds are the best judge. Use this recipe as a guideline, but taste it along the way. Add more of this and that as you go to make it perfect for you. My recipe is adapted from the blog "Little Spice Jar."
To Make Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until the pesto is as smooth as you would like it. Taste, then add cheese, pine nuts, lemon or salt as needed. Pour generously over pasta, eggs, pizza - it's good on pretty much anything.
- 3 cups fresh purple basil (green basil is just fine if you can't find purple)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- A grating of lemon zest
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (toasted if you are feeling fancy - I wasn't)
- A squirt of lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- A pinch of sea salt