Quite A Year for Coleuses

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My front stoop, end of summer.

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If the title of my post sounds familiar, it’s because it’s co-opted from Bailey White’s slyly humorous novel Quite A Year for Plums,¬†a favorite of mine. Given the summer we’ve had of record-breaking rainfall, I thank my lucky stars I didn’t plant as many flowers as I have in the past, since only the coleuses and the ferns (and, surprisingly, the marigolds) flourished. Whenever it wasn’t raining it was time to mow the grass, which took on a sense of urgency. Mow now or miss your chance! One could say that, even more than coleuses, it’s been quite a year for lawns … and mushrooms (especially the kind you can’t eat, that pop up out of the grass the day after you mow it) … and biting insects. Still, this summer was a happy time in which I can easily recount its pleasures. At almost every point of it, I sported a really nice tan, which surprised me; apparently, long walks under cloudy skies have the same effect as long walks under sunny ones. I also got to dance a lot – first, in my favorite, flowy red dress and platform espadrilles at a wedding in Pittsburgh, where the young couple were members of a ballroom dance group that my husband and I belong to, and who held their event at an elegant old mansion situated on the vast lawn of Mellon Park. And again, a week later, at a beautiful rustic lodge near our home, where my niece married the boy she has loved since middle-school, and I celebrated in a cream-colored dress swirled with blue and green roses the color of seaglass. When you get to wear at least a couple breezy dresses and dance at weddings of people you love, then it’s been a good summer. That’s what I remind myself whenever I am wont to complain, because while the weather itself was dreary (and, sadly, in other parts of the East Coast it was more than dreary, it was devastating), the 36 consecutive days I spent in the hospital at the very beginning of this year are still fresh in my mind. Now, more than ever, I realize that a summer of which you can say you spent leisure time with friends and family, sported a tan, and ate¬†fresh cantaloupe – even while waiting out downpours and swatting mosquitoes left and right – is still a pretty good summer.

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Me (left) dancing the Hora at the wedding of our friends (seated) in August.

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts at Mellon Park

The mansion housing the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where the wedding was held.

Dancing the Hora at the Wedding

In addition to it being quite a year for coleuses, it was quite a year for beans. Black beans, white beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans – none of which I grew, but which became the focus of what I learned to cook as I made my transition to a whole-food, plant-based diet. Up until this year (up until my cancer bout), I’d always been a meat eater, and while I’d always invested well in purchasing high quality meats and making the time to cook most of our meals from scratch, I quickly learned that eating plants the whole-plant way – which is to say, in a way that largely eliminates refined foodstuffs like flours, sugars and oils – is far more of an investment in both money and time than my former diet was. For one thing, almost everything I buy now is organic, not just produce but things like spices, grains, nuts, seeds, coffee and tea, which makes it close to double the price of non-organic items in a lot of cases. Secondly, obtaining the same amount of calories I got from eating meat requires eating a whole lot more vegetables than I was ever prepared for. I’m constantly running to the store to replenish my salad greens and fresh produce – and making vegetable-based dishes requires lots of prep time: there’s the washing and drying of produce, followed by what seems like an endless amount of chopping for the kinds of recipes I’m learning to make. But ohhh, the food itself? It is yummy, complex, and multi-layered, with curlicues of spice that entwine around the exquisitely fresh taste of simmered and sauteed veggies, which in turn are married to layers of earthy beans, lentils, or grains that lend a satisfying depth to these dishes. There are sauces made with cashews blended to a creamy deliciousness I could have never imagined, as well as garnishes of other nuts and seeds that add a layer of salty crunch to a soup or casserole or curry. Yep, you could say it’s been quite a year for curries, moussakas, stews and other delicious fare at my house, and this is largely due to a vegan blog I found called Rebel Recipes. Niki Webster, whose blog it is, hails from the U.K. but her inspiration largely comes from the Middle East, an area of the world she has frequently visited in her travels. I’ve made so many dishes from her blog – a delicately sweet turnip soup garnished with toasted hazelnuts, a hearty peanut-sweet potato-cauliflower stew, a Levant-style moussaka with chickpeas (my favorite), and a cherry-tomato tart (see my photo below), just to name a few. Niki has an ingenious way with herbs, and though I very rarely make or eat dessert anymore, I did make her recipe for black-bean brownie bites on a night when we were having a friend to dinner and in doing so, reveled in her pairing of dark chocolate with fresh thyme, which she uses as a garnish for the brownies. Her site is so good that one need not be a vegan to appreciate it, and while I don’t know her personally – I’m just a fan – I urge anyone who has a love of soulful, vegetarian food to check Rebel Recipes out.

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The heirloom tomato tart I made from Rebel Recipes. Niki’s is prettier, go see it!

That’s how my summer went. How about yours? I hope it was good!

 

The Best Part of Summer…

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… is planting flowers and watching them grow. I got a late start this year, but this is how my yard is shaping up so far.

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My yard is so shady that to get much color in it, I rely on annuals. Maybe I should rethink that, though, as the flowers that seem to do best are my perennial daylilies and rose campions, both of which bloom profusely and require little care. Plus they more or less reflect the wild, blowsy nature of my yard which, despite the fact that it isn’t as well-manicured as I’d like it to be, is still much loved. I’m in heaven when I’m outside lying on the lawn reading a book or just watching the birds. It’s the best part of summer for me — what is yours?