The Duck and I. Sunday April 26th, 2020.

Up early and out the back to make a start on prepping the last of the big beds in the veg garden. Racing against time as usual since the plantlets that Steve has started for me are growing like crazy, outpacing their pots. 

The heat is here. Which means getting up early to work and then working again before sunset. Once was a time when I loved to race out of bed and into the garden as the sun came up. Not now. I would much rather lie abed with a pot of tea, reading. At the moment it’s Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (recommended by Chandra), and revisiting Dickens – Hard Times. And seeing as it’s Sunday, the New York Times – the only day we still get a print copy so it feels like a luxury, to be acknowledged as such and indulged. When I, a younger wilder ‘I’, lived for a while in the East Village I would pick up a copy of the Sunday paper on the way home in the early hours of the morning, and after sleeping make bacon and eggs and lie around reading and eating and drinking coffee. There is no real reason now to keep paying some exorbitant fee to get a big batch of paper milled from many trees delivered in a blue plastic bag and hurled into a rose bush where you get scratched to bloody shreds trying to retrieve it. Yet I persist, it seems illogically, but perhaps it’s a way of preserving the sensation of being younger and wilder and less suburban. 

Moreover, as the CLL creeps along its wicked way fatigue is growing and lack of stamina inhibits and frustrates. So it takes time to recover, sometimes am done in for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, once in the garden all sensations of lassitude disperse, all pandemic anxieties fizzle. Talking of fizzling the two quarts of kimchi made last night are fizzing furiously, though furious doesn’t quite capture the air of defiant joyousness, as the jars bubble and overflow their containers. 

The savoy cabbage is not alas from the garden as I have very poor luck growing them, it came in an on-line order along with other Asian culinary goodies (three weeks after ordering, but a great surprise when it arrived and I’m very lucky to have access to this produce), including a daikon.

The carrots, green onions and garlic chives are from the garden. I’m used to doing kimchi in a certain rather haphazard way, but to refresh my memory I looked again at two terrific videos, one from the Fermenters Club: 

and the other from Maangchi – https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/tongbaechu-kimchi

We are in between seasons, some of the winter and spring veg are still producing – the chard that has a most luminous magenta stem and fleshy brightly veined leaves


the kale is beginning to bolt but still frilly and tasty enough if cooked. Most of the lettuces are beginning to wilt or to form great towers, bursting into bloom.

We are pulling carrots as needed and the beets are still small, so far I’m just stealing, judiciously, a few leaves for salads. Am much more considerate of the leaves now that I have read in Lab Girl about how every leaf counts for the well being of every plant (and beets are not a leafy salad green, they need their leaves to feed their roots growing red and bulbously below the ground, serenely ignorant of the Borscht destination that awaits them). Just as I let some of the veg and herbs—arugula and lettuce, say—go to seed, so I let some of the green onions form big fluffy white orbs cos they look so gorgeous, pompommed out. The strawberry bed, so neglected (last year some creature ate every single strawberry), has mysteriously burgeoned forth this year, the first big crop is over, but the plants, clambering out of their bed and into pathways, are covered in small white flowers which will turn into small white berries which will grow and absorb the sun and turn fat and scarlet and mushy.

Then, everyday it’s a challenge: to pick too soon in order to get it before the creatures? Or to wait another half day or even over night and see if you can outwit the critters (grandiose term, really its luck not wit, like so much of gardening)?

The magic of the air in those early hours when the plants are moist, glistening, still covered in dew. 

So my task today: to clear the bed of mulch, sprinkle the soil with all purpose fertilizer and the gorgeous compost made by Jeffrey, rake it in to the surface, mark out the spots where the drip irrigation outlets are (for planting), water well, and then remulch with straw. The compost is wonderful (Jeffrey is the compost king), but I plant densely and throughout the year so the plants also need vital trace minerals and micro and macro nutrients, provided by the all-purpose organic fertilizer. Each little plant then (or seed) is watered in with a dilute mixture of seaweed and fish oil to give it a good start. I set myself the task of doing just half the bed this morning, will do the other half this evening after the sun goes down. A few days ago I pulled out the broccoli plants which kept giving side shoots in the form of broccoli florets. Everyday for the last few weeks, collecting strawberries and favas I would be amazed out how many new florets there were and would tell Jeffrey, this is probably the last of them, and then then the next day there would be more. Sometimes we would simply steam them lightly and have as side, or in pasta tossed with anchovies, onion, lemon zest, or as a salad tossed with canned tuna and white cannelloni beans, olive oil and lemon juice.

Today I pulled a few bolting lettuces, prized some oxalis out of their grip in the earth, thinned most of the fennel, just leaving a few growing plumply

I worked around the golden violas spreading  over the bed (though how long will they survive the heat?) and the almost-black truly shrinking violet which came into view when the broccoli was taken out

and the patches of perennials: oregano along one edge, lemon balm along another and a cluster of sorrel, though I stripped back the leaves which will grow again soon – some we’ll give to Heike and the rest J used to make a marvelous omelet with left-over potatoes for breakfast. The lemony tang of the sorrel is so at odds with the sludgy green color it turns when cooked. Then remulched, partly with old straw and some new. The mulch will serve to retain moisture, suppress the weeds, and as it breaks down over the season so it feeds the soil. 

For lunch today the noble duck provided us with a third meal. Our farm supplier has had organic ducks at a super reasonable price. We have had two so far, spaced several weeks apart. The first time I followed RB’s (Revered Bittman) recipe but the timing didn’t work so well for the duck and I. So I made a few changes and tweaks and additions and oh mama mia! (am happy to share if anyone interested). Here is the magnificent duck, somewhat shrunken and crisped, carved and surrounded by the vegetables very wickedly and deliciously roasted in duck fat. Carrots and fennel from the garden. Other veg ordered or purchased by our dear friends Elana and Bahram, or Heike, who have generously folded us into their shopping sprees.  

The next night Jeffrey used the bones and carcass to make stock and produced a magnifico duck ramen. And today I quick fried the liver and kidney and had it on toast with this salad – sorrel, phoenix nasturtium flowers, violas, fava beans – all from the garden, water cress from our farm delivery, and making the most of a rather feeble cucumber from another on-line order.