when all else fails
it's what i had to start doing
beginning about a week ago.
that's when the garden began suffering
big time from lack of rain.
long story short:
garden consists of mostly a thin layer of clay
on top of shale
when it doesn't rain for days and days
i'm in trouble: i'm on town water (i pay for every drop)
and, no matter what anyone says
irrigation cannot compensate
well, i do have to admit
i've never left the hose running 24/7
to test it completely.
so i water as much as possible
if not to keep it looking healthy
to at least keep things alive.
and i hide.
the alcove window still gives a nice view of
plants coping quite well
and humming birds feasting
(more of those sketches maybe tomorrow)
the other thing i do is work on my sister's
the family cookbook.
she is a wonderful cook
"have apron, will travel" is one of my favorite current working titles.
she is including recipes from our far distant childhood in the desert
so, yesterday, as i hung out the laundry
and noticed that
like in the desert
the first sock was nearly dry by the time i had hung up the last garment
my mind went back to childhood summers in my desert.
On hundred ten degrees (or hotter) in the shade.
They were the days before people could afford air conditioning in their homes (it was only in doctor’s offices, fancy stores and car dealerships).
A swamp cooler droned all day and all night. It was my job to dust the house every Saturday—and the fine desert silt made its way back onto every shelf before the next sunrise.
It was so hot that we were not allowed outside to play between 10am and 2pm from mid-June (if not earlier) until school started after Labor Day.
Every treat any of us wanted came from the freezer. My personal favorite was a popsicle made with real orange juice.
After the heat set in, and before the heat killed the garden—in other words, no later than July 4th, we often enjoyed Bread and Milk for supper. (i'm pretty sure i mentioned this in one of the "list about yourself" that circulate between bloggers last fall...please forgive the repetition, but it is hot and dusty here and this is very helpful...even if you have given up reading this far...)
Nearly everyone i have ever told about this (here where i now live, thousands of miles away from the desert) looks at me incredulously and more than one has responded, “why, that’s PRISON food!” No, it is simply a humble meal; and when comprised of top-quality ingredients, satisfies a parched soul like little else can.
i chose to illustrate this using Art Rage
suggested to me by Elaine many months ago.
Moapa Valley Bread & Milk
i give this a place-name because there in Moapa Valley we bought our milk from local dairy farmers, with a thick layer of cream floating on top, and for most of the summer ate vegetables from my dad’s garden, or the harvest of other local farmers.
No, it wasn’t my mom’s homemade bread, i don’t ever remember her making bread, but it was good bread, trucked in from a St. George, Utah or Las Vegas bakery and always day-old—it needs that bit of dryness to it, so that it absorbs the right amount of milk. Often, on the hottest days, she would put the carton of milk in the freezer just long enough for it to get all slushy-wonderful with sharp crystals of ice.
A tall stack of thickly sliced bread was placed in the center of the table and each person got a bowl and salad plate. Next, a plate of cold cuts and cheese with a bunch of just-pulled-washed-and-trimmed-scallions on the side was set down next to the bread. Also, in my memory, there were always fresh Thompson Seedless grapes that my dad procured from a friend (perhaps we only ate bread and milk when both could be had: scallions from the garden that he and my uncle tended together and Windsor’s grapes).
Here’s how you eat this satisfying meal:
First, tear a thick slice of bread into chunks, and then pour the icy-slushy milk over the top. i would drop grapes into my bowl as well, wait only a second or two for the milk to soften and then attempt to scoop the perfect ratio of milk, bread, and a grape into each spoonful. As i got older, i tried my dad’s method: while the bread softens, pour a mound of salt onto one’s salad plate, next to a slice of ham and sharp cheddar cheese. Dab the white end of a scallion into the little mountain of salt, take a bite of the sharp, pleasantly pungent onion then spoon the icy cold bread and milk into one’s mouth. Next, roll slices of ham and cheese together, take a bite, then a bite of onion and a spoonful of milk...and so on.
Why, you ask, not make a sandwich of cheese and ham with onion to go with the bread and milk? Because. It’s simply doesn’t taste as good.
Sometimes we finished off the meal with chunks of melon from his garden.
Here, in NJ, i like using two-day-old bread from a local Italian bakery. i haven’t found a local source for Thompson seedless grapes…but those shipped in from California are very good, if not quite as perfectly ripe as those harvested by the family friend for my dad.
if you read all of this
it feels like i've shared my home with you
both of them.