Three weeks ago, I complained about the rain, but now that it feels like it is the right time for it to rain, I can't get enough of it. Last night, while sheets of water slid off the tile roof and onto the driveway below in huge splats, I smiled. I didn't care if it woke me up. Nope. I was just happy that the rain poured hard enough to wash of smoggy leaves and brighten up our mountains.
More times than I can count, I've heard people argue that Southern California just doesn't compare with other places with seasons. Seasons, they claim, don't appear in Southern California. Perhaps they haven't spent much time here or have built their opinions entirely on Hollywood images, or maybe they are just so in love with the beauties of their own homes that they are blind to those elsewhere, but folks who claim Southern California doesn't have seasons are wrong, straight-out-dead-wrong.
Fall here isn't greeted with waves of brilliant-hued trees. Here, it is a shift in the smell of the air, when everything is perfumed with a haunting sage edge that reminds us all that the days will continue to shorten. Heavy pods fall from trees, some full of flaming red magnolia seeds, others hollow rattles that could appear as musical instruments in some half-remembered society. As arroyos refill, the mountains begin their transition from gold to green. And while some species are throwing off their glorious harvest, others are just beginning again; finally, after being held back by heat and dry weather, a gardener can plant seeds again and see them sprout mightily, powerfully shoving aside damp soil.
The rain turns simple plants into garden jewels.
The change in weather sparks a change in attitude. Usually, Southern Californians are a forward-looking folk, but when October rolls around we begin reminiscing. Halloween isn't as much a time for ghouls and witches as it is a time for family memories and funny skeletons. All over, cities and subarbs alike begin to reflect, and sugar skulls and marigolds flank alters commemorate dead loved ones for the upcoming Dia de los Muertos.
In my garden, mid-October means the first fall harvest comes in. Two weeks ago, I planted the first round of winter crops, and by now, many of them are up in the thinning stage. To allow the plants to grow comfortably, with as few hindrances as possible, it is essential that a gardener thin out plants that are crowding the strongest specimens. (ECG calls this unnatural selection.) My Golden Ball turnips have come in so mightily that it seems as if every single seed I planted has germinated--today they were in desperate need of thinning to free up some stretching room.
Now, I've heard that some folks compost the seedlings that they thin from their rows, but as for me, I eat them.
Seedlings are the mildest versions of the adult plants they will become. My Golden Ball turnip seedlings were sweet little crunchy greens, free from the fibers they'll later develop in their leaves. Arugula seedlings are nutty without heat, lettuce seedlings are sweet and tender, and baby onions don't ever overwhelm. Consider tossing rutabaga, broccoli, kale, tatsoi and other cruciferous seedlings into your salad. Did you plant your beets or chard too thickly? No worries: the thinned seedlings will brighten up a salad with their salty-sweet succulence.
I'm looking forward to many riffs on the seedling salad theme in the weeks to come, but today's version started me off on such a high note that I've got to share its simple melody with you.
Turnip Seedling and Apple Salad
Serves two as an appetizer salad and one as a meal
You will need:
At least two cups of very well-washed turnip seedlings
5 or so onion seedlings, cleaned
One large apple
1/4 cup broken fresh walnuts
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
To make the salad:
Cut the apple in half, core it, and with a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice it from top to bottom. Take the pretty heart-shaped slices and pave the perimeter of a serving plate with them, slightly overlapping them like shingles. Toss the onion seedlings and turnip seedlings together and place the fluffy greens in the center of the plate. Sprinkle the walnuts over all.
In a small jar or cup, mix the mustard with the sherry vinegar until uniformly combined. While whisking, drip in the olive oil and continue whisking until the mixture has emulsified. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle the mixture over the salad plate, making sure to get a little bit everywhere. Serve and enjoy.