Poor lettuce. It gets such a bum rap.
Make a list of your favorite foods in your head, right now. (I’ll wait while you think of them.) Honestly, how far did you have to go before you reached lettuce? 31? 157? Or not on the list at all?
Mention lettuce to people and ask for the associations that zoom up in the mind. (Leave the Rorschach drawings at home, though. You might start scaring people.) Bunny rabbit food. What models eat. Iceberg, watery and without taste. And for us gluten-free folks wraps for sandwiches instead of bread.
After we grew lettuce in our garden for the first time, however, I think of lettuce as one of the most peaceful meals of the summer.
My dear friend Molly (whom many of you think of as Orangette), came to the island in late June for some girl time. Danny was away for the evening, so Molly and I had the house to ourselves, along with Little Bean. We sat on the couch, our feet tucked under us, watching Little Bean grip my knee as she learned to stand on her feet, or sit in front of the bookshelf, a copy of Team of Rivals open on the floor before her. Molly and I talked, slowly, the kind of conversation that loops lazily when you know you have nowhere to go for hours. I think there was lemonade, perhaps with fresh rosemary. Or cold water in Mason jars. Something like that.
We were both tired. Little Bean wasn’t sleeping much those days. And Molly was in the midst of the hard, hard work of opening a restaurant with Brandon. (Delancey has its first official day on Wednesday. Molly and Brandon are probably too busy to celebrate yet, but the rest of us are letting out our breath for them. There’s a chance, sometime in the future, that Brandon will be sliding gluten-free pizzas into the Italian oven, as well.) We both felt relieved to sit on the couch and not move, much.
Little Bean went to bed, without fighting. There was a nice surprise.
Molly and I wandered out to the garden. Everything was lush and green. The herbs I had planted poked high above the lips of the pots where they lived. The first roses were blushing on the big bush by the bathroom window. The grass was wet beneath our feet from recent rain.
And the bed of lettuces and greens I had put into the earth six weeks before were flourishing. Every morning, for weeks, I had gone out to the garden in my pajamas, a cup of coffee in my hand, to check on the growth of the lettuces. Forellenschuss lettuce, a couple of endives, butter lettuce, red lettuce, and some black kale as well. That evening with Molly, they were just big enough to cut. I grabbed a little of each and asked Molly to hold them while I took pictures.
The first lettuce you ever grow successfully deserves a little documentation.
We went into the house and tore up the lettuce with our hands and then spun up the pieces. Molly volunteered to dry each piece by hand. “The first lettuce you eat should be dry, don’t you think?” I stirred up a champagne vinaigrette and ducked into the cupboard to find sunflower seeds. We found a beat-up bowl and tossed them all together, with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.
And then we sat on the front steps, the baby monitor plugged in behind me, and sat side by side, eating our salad. I sat with my friend, eating simple food, feeling at peace.
We both agreed. Lettuce from the garden has a taste. It’s not watery, a place holder, a joke of a food. Lettuce pulled right from the dirt tastes like all those mornings of waiting, condensed. It’s rich and green and lovely.
Now, Molly is up to her hands in work to do, making salads and pastries for Delancey. She probably doesn’t have much time to contemplate the taste of anything, much less a humble piece of lettuce. I won’t be seeing her on the island any time soon. (I’ll see her in Seattle, when we go, of course.) She’s a world away.
Our garden is overgrown now. It has not rained since those June days. The grass is dry. The herbs are panting for water. The lettuce has all bolted. Tomorrow, I’m going to dig up the entire bed and start planting vegetables for fall.
But the taste of that salad, and this photo, will always stay with me.
Today’s post is part of the continuing celebration called Summer Fest 2009. Danny and I are honored to be part of this four-week cross-blog event, co-created last year by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden, Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. This year, they’ve asked a couple of new folks to join in, including Simmer Till Dones Marilyn Pollack Naron and Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project. Oh, and Danny and me.
Some of the other offerings this week:
Diane and Todd of White on Rice Couple get creative (and frugal) with all those greens that are really tops of garden vegetables;
and Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, with Sauteed Beet Greens with Pancetta and Sundried Tomatoes.
THE 2009 SCHEDULE:
* Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all.
* Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES
* Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK
* Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK.
HOW YOU CAN JOIN IN:
Leave a comment here, sharing your tips with lettuce. Or your favorite greens. Or beans. We’d love to learn what you do.
And then go visit the other blogs, to read their ideas and leave comments with them. Soon, this will feel like a huge party, focused on greens and beans. (And next week, we’ll do the same with tomatoes.)