The days dwindle down

A biplane buzzes through the storm clouds overhead, and the brain-damaged cat speaks in Siamese . The sweet olive’s tiny beige blossoms with the Christmas-cookie smell wind down while the purple astors gear up. Soybean plants turn from green to bright yellow to a lifeless brown, almost overnight, while sugar maple leaves ignite and the dogwoods shed the last of their burgundy foliage.

Fall is the worst time to be without a trail horse as I am since ma Belle died three weeks ago. But it’s perfect weather to sprout the grass seed my husband sowed on her grave. From the desk I can see the red dirt covering her. The neighbor who brought the backhoe and helped him dig through five feet of dry clay baled the fescue out there and will pick up the remaining 500-pound round bales still sitting in this morning’s dribbling rain.

Four heads bok choy grew from single base.

This is my favorite time of year in the vegetable garden when the bugs have gone to wherever they go (for the most part) and the greens go wild. Just now, in mid-October, I have the prettiest basil and lettuce of the year, and it’s finally cool enough to encourage mesclun, spinach, broccoli, beets, ordinary cabbages, chard and the two kinds of Chinese cabbage — the crinkly-leaved napa so famously pickled in kimchi and the emerald and white pak choi or bok choy. 

Like the cabbage to which we’re accustomed or even like its close cousin the turnip, Chinese cabbage can be eaten cooked or enjoyed for its fresh crunch.

For a lovely, uncomplicated stir fry just wash, thinly slice 1 head bok choy, stalks and leaves. Clean and slice 5 green onions and 3 garlic cloves as well. Heat vegetable oil in heavy skillet. Toss onions, garlic, bok choy with two wooden spoons until they begin to soften. Add freshly ground black pepper and a hefty pinch of ground ginger.  Add about 4 ounces frozen broccoli-carrot-snow pea-water chestnut mixture and keep tossing. Add 4 cooked chicken thighs (or firm tofu), cut into bite-size pieces, and as much bottled stir-fry sauce (I used about 1/3 of a bottle) or oyster and soy sauces as desired. Serve over cooked rice with something crunchy on top — either chow mein noodles or toasted cashews.  

Single head fall leaf lettuce

The key to happiness here is pre-cooking the chicken (so it doesn’t get overdone and tough), to have your skillet or wok hot enough when the vegetables hit the pan and to have everything pre-chopped and ready to go. Small people who would not otherwise touch a vegetable stir-fry with a 10-foot chopstick are sometimes surprisingly eager to try something which they’ve helped cut up and assemble.

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