home again, home again
On Sunday morning, at 7:30am, we pulled up in front of our brick apartment and brought in our first load from the car.
Now, three days later, we have most everything unpacked except a backpack and a box of books. We were pretty eager to move back home. Don’t get me wrong—we loved Washington, and we had a great time visiting our families—but there’s a particular pleasure in waking up in our own bed with our own pillows, eating our own granola, cooking in our own kitchen and knowing intuitively where the knives and bowls and pans are, arranging things in a way that feels natural to us, and looking around and knowing each object.
I’ve often thought that I feel most at home when I’m growing something in the garden. A house feels more temporary to me: it’s just the form, and it will be empty as soon as it needs to be. It’s hard to make your mark on an apartment.
But a garden! Plants take root, depend on the soil, thrive in this particular place. Gardens say, this land is fruitful!
A vegetable or herb garden is doubly delightful, inviting the gardener in turn to depend on the land. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as making dinner out of the garden.
When we moved into this apartment, we inherited a lively garden on a modest plot. Our friend Kristen, who lived here before us and who started the garden, left us with Swiss chard, a cheery mass of yellow flowers (ox-eye sunflower, she tells me!), and herbs of all kinds—oregano, thyme, sage, echinacea, lovage, lemon balm. Last fall, I added a pitiful three-pronged sword of rosemary, trying to salvage the last of the herbs from our wedding favors, and it has, in just a year, grown into a sturdy, if slender, plant. Though we won’t be in this house more than another year or two, I hope this garden will last beyond our tenure here, landing in the hands of some careful tender with a knack for propagation. There are still some bare spots that need filling in.
When we moved back in to the apartment after being away all summer, it seemed appropriate to cook out of the garden. For our friends who hosted us last-minute on Saturday night, I baked a variation on Kim Boyce’s rosemary olive oil cake, using blood orange olive oil. (If you haven’t yet discovered her book Good to the Grain, go find yourself a copy. This cake and the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are standards at our house.)
And for us, I made lemon balm iced tea. After weeding all morning, my hands were perfumed with the warm, sweet scent of lemon balm. Tea-scented already, the herb just begs to be brewed and iced. So I brewed it and I iced it and I drank it all afternoon from this pretty carafe, a gift from my brother-in-law, Billy.
Lemon Balm Iced Tea
A sprig of lemon balm or a slice of lemon would make a glass of iced tea prettier, but I finished off a whole pitcher yesterday with no help. I had no patience for garnishes. Lemon balm also has all sorts of medicinal properties, although I’m a chef, not an herbalist.
5 bunches lemon balm (enough to make about 2 cups chopped)
6 cups water
2 Tbsp. honey
Slip the lemon balm leaves off the stems and roughly chop them. With a mortar and pestle, bruise the leaves slightly, enough to release some of the flavor. (Alternately, put the leaves in a gallon-sized plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.)
In a medium saucepan, bring the lemon balm and water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the honey until it dissolves. Leave the tea in the pot and cool it in the fridge for half an hour.
If you have a pitcher with a straining spout or you don’t mind a few leaf-parts in your tea, then transfer the tea to your pitcher, diluting it with ice if it tastes too strong. If your pitcher doesn’t strain, then pour the tea through a strainer into the pitcher. Return the iced tea to the refrigerator until completely chilled.
Pour glass after glass and hope no one else wants any.