I’ve learned a lot about gardening in the past three years. Things like this: Neem oil applied with a sprayer is infinitely superior to every homemade concoction that has been dreamed up and posted on the internet, and it’s organic, too.
This is the reason I have zucchini, basil, and tomatoes, instead of aphids, whiteflies, and leaf miners.
Here’s another thing: The internet will tell you not to harvest your rhubarb the first year you plant it, but if you have stalks that appear harvestable, by all means, do so.
On the other hand, if you have an early spring, and see a large flower-bearing stalk emerging from your rhubarb plant, don’t go outside to admire it daily, and don’t take pictures of it to post on Instagram.
Yes, it’s pretty. Hack it off fast, if you want rhubarb any thicker than a pencil.
Water your plants as often as seems prudent.
Apply slug bait liberally.
If you do all of these things, I have discovered, vegetables will appear, and you will need to learn other things – mostly, what to do with them.
It is possible to have too many green beans, and if you somehow manage to grow an eggplant, you are going to have to think of a way to use it. If it takes you three years to learn how to grow zucchini – by which I mean, be overrun with zucchini – you will find it very disheartening to watch it go bad because your freezer is full and your neighbors are stocked up on zucchini, but thanks anyway.
It’s as disheartening as the realization that you like the idea of organic vegetables much more than you enjoy actually eating them.
Gardening is much like summer itself: I look forward to it, earnestly and hourly, starting in early February, when it dawns on me that the only holiday coming up to break the oppressive Seattle gloom is Valentine’s Day. It’s the one holiday I hate. I hate it when I’m single, and hate it even more when I’m married.
Then summer actually arrives, and I remember that I actually do need the air conditioning that everyone says you don’t need in Seattle. I remember the beehive in the wall that neither the handyman nor a professional beeslayer could find. I remember that I don’t have a swimsuit and that even if I did venture onto a beach, I wouldn’t tan, I’d burn.
What I really like, more than I care to admit, is a nice rainy Sunday, one that allows me the luxury of not having to go anywhere. The perfect rainy Sunday would ideally follow a Saturday in which, in a burst of enthusiasm, I’ve run all the errands and folded the laundry and even crossed a few minor tasks off the to-do list. A Sunday on which I have nothing to do, and no place to go, and if the stars are aligned correctly, enough butter in the freezer that I can bake something that I shouldn’t really be eating.
And then I had one such rainy Sunday.
Truthfully, I had plans, but they involved being outdoors. There was a backup plan that didn’t involve getting wet – I live in Seattle, after all – but The Child came downstairs with stomach pains that were bad enough that she didn’t want to spend the day with her friends, which meant I could, with a clear conscience, stay in.
The universe gave me one last gift: a review copy of The Messy Baker cookbook. I spent some time perusing it, and it’s a nice cookbook, with some good ideas for scones and savory tarts. It reminds me a bit of The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, a cookbook that seems quite ordinary and unexceptional and that you own for many years without much thought until the day you realize that it’s been your go-to book whenever you want to bake something comforting and reliable.
I tried out the recipe for Orange-Walnut Blondies, because it’s filled with things I love, butter and orange zest and vanilla and nuts. The original recipe includes a caramel sauce, which is fine if you’re serving it for a formal occasion. I didn’t consider a Netflix marathon of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to be such an occasion, so I skipped the sauce.
The blondies were superb, perfectly gooey, and buttery, with an orange-vanilla flavor reminiscent of an orange creamsicle – which as it happens, is one of the things I truly love about summer.
The Child devoured these right out of the pan, and they were all gone within a day.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
- zest of one orange
- 1½ tsp vanilla
- 1 tbsp orange juice
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13"x9" baking dish.
- Scatter the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast until fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and orange zest until light. Add the vanilla and orange juice, stirring to combine, followed by the eggs, one at a time.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour slowly to the butter mixture, while mixing on the low speed. Stir in the toasted walnuts by hand.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until your house smells so good you can't stand any more waiting, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool the blondies in the pan, set on a cooling rack, and cut into squares of any size that makes you happy.
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