One of my major objectives in writing about nature is to bring people out into nature, the woods, desert, mountains or, even, the backyard. The population of this planet congregates in cities, but even there, nature abounds in established parks, vacant lots, terraces and backyards. Within our backyard here at the ranchito, we grow herbs for cooking. The stewardship of nurturing herbal plants forces us out of the house and into our small plots to water, fertilize, prune and, best of all, harvest for the table and cooking.
Brenda cooks mostly and today she prepared mussels in a white wine and shallot broth with butter and fresh parsley from our back porch. Since it has been raining, I’ve been inside most of the day and decided to take some photos in between the rain sprinkles of our herbs and the mussels in white wine.
A broth is prepared. We have an all-electric kitchen and off-and-on we want to replace the electric range with propane gas. At our previous home in Mingus, Texas, we had a propane stove and I think we had better control over the heat for cooking. Back then in Mingus, I did not have horses and cattle, so I could help Brenda prepare meals. I did have a small vineyard of forty plants, but that did not require constant management. The parsley that you see inside the Creuset dutch oven is from a pot of parsley on the porch. The Creuset dutch oven was one of several Creuset pieces we have purchased over the years from a Creuset outlet store near San Antonio, Texas.
Here you can see the mussels, after being boiled in white wine and shallot broth, have opened up. We’ve all been trained in family etiquette, so the eating of mussels with small forks or other instruments is known well. Well, there’s another way to do it! Take the mussel out of one shell and use the empty shell to pick the mussels out of the others — a method showed us by a French waiter from Marseilles.
Brenda and I sat down at our French farmhouse table (late-nineteenth-century) and ate mussels with a 2006 Vin D’Alsace Gentil. It was a dry wine and we enjoyed it immensely. After we sat down, Brenda remembered that she needed to put fresh parsley on the mussels, so she did, but I did not get a photograph of the parsley on the pile of mussels because I was chomping down and quaffing wine. After all of the mussels are consumed, we take the shells out onto the pasture road and place them in washouts. At night, critters browse on the remains of the mussels and I have seen our mussel shells 200 yards from where I have laid them. Our barn cats enjoy a few remnants as well.
From left to right, our herbs include lavender, sage, basil, parsley and in the cluster under the live oak tree, several varieties of thyme and rosemary.
To walk onto your patio of potted herbs or amble in the backyard with a garden, you encounter the elements. You are out of boxes called houses or apartments. You develop a connection with plants. As you ingest your meal, the sweetness of basil arises in your palate and nostrils and you realize treasures grow from the soil. Not so remarkable, but then again it is: it was with your tending that the true coin of earth becomes a part of you.
You go out of your box for a time and you learn about a little chain of being that links you to a plant that enhances your meal. Enriches your life.