More than any other marker, starting the garden last weekend made us realize that it has been over a year since we started the blog. While having a garden is fun, we are not gardeners. We don’t love the feel of our hands in the dirt nor do we find weeding relaxing and peaceful. We love thinking about what we’re going to plant. We enjoy preparing the garden and planting the plants. But what we want is the produce. Pure and simple. We do the work required. We till. We spread “moonure”. We put the little plants in the ground. We feed them. We water them. We then expect them to hold up their part of the bargain. And they’d better produce that produce- there is no spot in the garden next year for the ingrates. That’s the kind of gardeners we are.
In the last four years, we have cooked Sunday dinner together almost every Sunday. Over time, we have become good cooks. But we will never cross over and become great cooks. We know this because we both have great cooks in our families. Sandy is one of six-the other five are exceptional cooks. Denise’s brother, too, is an exceptional cook. Every one of them can move around the kitchen with ease, have a conversation, drink a glass of wine and voila, dinner looks like a pictorial essay from the cookbooks on our shelves. We still stutter step through every recipe. We move well in the kitchen, but we are always moving back to the recipe. “How many tablespoons?” “How much oil?” “What does that recipe say?” We are not discouraged by this. Almost everything we’ve made is good-some dishes and desserts have been exceptional. But if something goes wrong, we find another recipe. We have no interest in trying it again. We’ve also come to realize that we will always cook at a pace reminiscent of cooking dinner, under the gun, on school nights. We’ve learned to move slower, but we still seem to exhale when we sit down to eat and not a minute before. We have no intention of quitting Sunday dinners. We love them, especially now that we are stepping it up a notch with the Ad Hoc cookbook. There is no doubt that two good cooks will someday become two really good cooks, but exceptional we will never be.
On our way to Trader Joes last Sunday, we started talking about how different canning has been for us than cooking Sunday dinner or planting the garden. Neither of us remember when we first started thinking about it. Canning has become what we do. When we can, we move around the kitchen with ease. We have conversations. We don’t drink wine, too many sharp knives and boiling water. Our hands pucker from cutting 10 pounds of lemons. They turn red from blanching and chopping 25 pounds of tomatoes. We have blisters from from small mishaps with boiling water. We tweak with confidence and instinctively know how something will taste if we add this spice instead of the one called for in the recipe. This we love. This is hard work and effortless at the same time. We get better every time we can. If something goes wrong, we don’t look for another recipe or pick a new plant, we try again. And we keep trying until we succeed. We’re good at this and, we know, we will get better. That feels really good.
As the nests emptied, we knew we needed to find something to propel us forward. We loved the new relationships we were forging with our children. But you do miss having your children in the house and it’s heavy sometimes. Moving on, moving forward, who knows what to call it. It seemed as if we had not prepared ourselves as well as we had prepared them. Perhaps empty nest is one of those life experiences for which there is no preparation. But for us, it may just be that the search for peace and purpose in the empty nest ends in a big black graniteware canning pot.
THE MENU: BURGERS ON THE GRILL – WE’RE MAKING STRAWBERRY PRESERVES
We picked 32 pounds of strawberries Saturday. It was muddy, ankle deep muddy but once we remember how much fun walking through mud is when you’re little, we stepped right in. Sunday we canned 28 jars of preserves and jam. These were new recipes and we won’t know until tomorrow if we have jam, syrup, or cement so we won’t share the recipes until we open the jars.