Friday, January 23, 2009

One Woman, One Wheelbarrow, and One Huge Pile of Crap

Tim Dundon, the self-proclaimed guru of poopoo and Altadena local legend, delivered nine cubic yards of composted horse manure (mixed with wood shavings, plant parts, and straw) to my house on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr Day, a work holiday.

Like every other moment of daylight lately that I was not at school, I was outside. I had been working already in the early morning, cleaning up beds where I wanted to spread the mulch, weeding, and removing some unhealthy plants. Also outside was my neighbor kid, practicing his skateboard tricks on the small square of concrete in his yard.

When Tim drove his truck on my lawn and lifted the dump-bed to deliver the whole nine yards, my young neighbor stopped and tipped his board up to his hip, holding it as his jaw dropped. More and more manure fell, and an avalanche of steamy, fragrant fertilizer grew into a mountain on my front lawn. Finally, the dregs sifted out the edge of the truck, and Tim lowered the dump-bed. He stuck his head out the truck window, shouted a few friendly directions to me, then drove off the lawn, out the front fence, and away. Feeling his awe, I turned towards my neighbor, still motionless with his board up. I grinned at him and shouted, "That's a whole lotta shit to move." Surprised by the shit or by the fact that I used the word or perhaps both, he laughed.

And the day began.

With the exception of a couple bathroom breaks and a half hour lunch break, I spent the entire day moving manure to different parts of the property and building a huge pile in the back to compost further before eventually using it as an soil amendment. I would shovel a wheelbarrowful, push it to where it needed to go, and dump it. Then I'd do the same thing again, over and over, until I lost track of the number of times I filled the wheelbarrow. While the day began chilly and overcast, eventually it warmed to nearly 80 degrees. I cursed the sun for breaking through the clouds. I worked and worked until it was too dark to see. Then I cursed the sun for going down. I hadn't finished—I still had about a cubic yard to move—but, crusted with dried sweat, reeking of manure, and unable to see much more than a few feet in front of me, I had to call it quits for the day.

As Slumdog Millionaire (go see this movie!) so beautifully illustrates, sometimes, to get to what we really want, we've got to slog through shit.

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On another note, I apologize for my complete lack of recipes as of late. Recently, all my creativity and energy has shot straight to my job and my yard, and when I've found time to cook, I've relied only on old standards, fried eggs with garden veggies, or whatever simple cupboard meal that falls together. But rain, the first rain of the year, has arrived. My garden will take care of itself while I'm stuck inside. In the meantime, the kitchen's call is mighty powerful; the scent of this soup intoxicating, the color extraordinary, and the flavor vibrant enough to make not having my hands in the dirt okay.

Curried-Squash and Red Lentil Soup
Adapted for ease, simplicity, and intensity of flavor from February's Gourmet.


You will need:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 lb butternut squash (or other sweet-fleshed winter squash), peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 onion, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 celery rib, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1-3 fresh red chilies, minced
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of good curry powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup of red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 1/2 quarts water
salt to taste
fresh lemon
loads of fresh cilantro

To make the soup:
Heat the oil and butter together in a heavy pan over high heat until the butter foams and subsides. Add all the squash, carrot, onion, celery, chilies, garlic, ginger, and salt, and cook, stirring when you remember to, until the vegetables have caramelized spots and are soft. This took me about a half hour.

Stir in the curry powder and ground pepper, frying the ingredients together until very fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the lentils and add the 1 1/2 quarts water, then lower the heat to medium low. Simmer the ingredients together, stirring if you feel like it, for another half hour or so, or until the lentils are tender. Salt liberally; taste and salt again; taste, and if you need to, salt one more time. Brighten the flavors with the juice of half a lemon.

Ladle a big bowlful and toss on a mini-mountain of cilantro leaves.

This serves 4 amply.

2 comments:

Pam said...

That's a beautiful soup. Were you sore at work the next day?? I would be!

Nancy said...

I am deeply envious of anybody who is able to work in her garden and get manure deliveries in January. The snow cover here is a good eight inches deep and nothing green will show probably until mid-March. Even then it will only be one or two poor little tulip shoots. Sigh ... but the soup looks good.