Summer mornings, quiet and early and dripping with the gray fog of northern California, are ideal for working in the garden. Into an old linen housedress I slip, and accompanied only by a mug of Jasmine Pearl tea, enter into the small, green world of my making. Hoping to be ignored by chatty neighbors who often peek through strategically placed shrubbery, I fill our absurdist bird feeder, a wood and iron piece based on the 1920s design of the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, complete with a tiny outdoor pool. The efforts and architecture are seemingly appreciated by the greedy Blue Jays, their ferocity making even the cats cower. Ancient window panes, edged in chipped red and blue paint from a long-ago weekend project, are thrown open, the seed boxes now carpeted with unkempt rows of spicy micro-greens and tiny radishes.
Radicchio seeds, smuggled in from southern Italy and planted the week prior, are finally extending teeny shoots. Roma tomato plants are tied, bondage-style, to copper posts; their splayed, thickish branches coating my arms with a viridescent, resinous and stinky pollen, and making them itch in a most delightful way.
Armed with a pair of oversized Spanish kitchen shears, I wondrously examine a large raised bed, now spilling over with leaves the size of baby elephant ears and sprouting curlicue tendrils, which grasp desperately at an old bamboo trellis firmly situated in its midst. The plant is a volunteer, one of many in the garden; a rogue outgrowth of this lazyman’s compost pile, which is laden with squash and tomato remnants, and their seeds, from last year’s harvest. The squash plant was left to languish, but instead dug in its roots and flourished, announcing its feat with dozens of fat, bijou blossoms the color of a two-day old jack-o’-lantern. I snip a baker’s dozen of the gaudy flowers and their spindly stems, easily filling my harvest basket just as the mid-morning sun muscles through pewter skies, shooing the fog back towards the coast.
Rinsing the delicate flowers, two stunned ladybugs are liberated by the water and sent fluttering from the gossamer folds. Into a bowl of room temperature Sonoma sheep’s milk ricotta went several eggs, their yolks a Cadmium Yellow Deep hue. Tiny leaves from the overly-proliferate Globe basil bush were added, along with a generous handful of Sicilian pine nuts, the edges charred bark brown in hot cast iron. Flaky salt, coarsely ground black and white pepper, and a hit of allspice to fool the palate were gently folded into the mix. Using an antique quenelle spoon traded ages ago for a bottle of Dujac Burgundy with a too-savvy sous chef from a distant restaurant gig, I filled each flower with the rich goodness, twisting the ends tightly, sealing their fate. Each blossom was brushed with a bit of whipped egg and dusted with freshly grated crumb before being blasted in a roasting hot oven. An old Pieropan Soave was uncorked, the smoky, salty notes from the Garganega grape a wonderful companion to the stuffed squash blossoms. We stood at the stove, dirt from the garden still encrusted on our bare feet, and ate them straight from the pan.