Monday Zen: Pulling Weeds

In a previous post I mentioned that my vegetable garden has been sprouting through the spring in a particular state of ambiguity. 

As all the little seeds I deliberately planted in May began to germinate and grow, so did the variety of weeds and volunteer plants begin to emerge from the soil.

In many cases it was difficult to tell them all apart, good from bad, wanted from unwanted.

In one particular case, the case of the neat rows of deliberately planted carrots versus the scattering of rogue dill weed, the new shoots looked virtually identical in their one and two leaf stages.

Unable to tell the guests from the squatters, I left them all to be — carrots, dill, and a small assortment of other little plants turning the raw soil into a lush gardenscape of green sprouts.

Then this past weekend something interesting (though not unexpected) happened.

The dill began to mature into delicate, blue-green thread of delicate feathery leaves, while the carrots began to mature into paler green wisping fronds.

In the matter of a couple days I could suddenly tell one from the other. Amazing! At last! And I knelt at the edge of the garden box and acutely began to pluck the invading dill from those neat rows of young carrots.

Pulling weeds is not particularly interesting, but gardens, weeds, and all that sprouts in the spaces of those efforts makes for a well worn analogy for many aspects of living a well-cultivated life — pun intended.

Being able to pluck the weeds from your own life, be that from the emotional or physical or whatever spaces of your day-to-day seems simple enough advice.

But then again, just like the frustrating ambiguity I encountered with my carrots versus dill problem, sometimes deciding which bits are the weeds and which are the germinating seeds that you’ve planted deliberately is not always one hundred percent clear.

The mind, the heart and the soul are fertile soil for ideas and thoughts and emotions, some purposefully cultivated with care and attention, while others drift in with the wind and grow of their own accord.

Either can flourish, but it’s up to us with patience and practice to weed the gardens of beings and ensure what grows inside us is meant to be there and will yield the fruits (or veggies) that we want to harvest at the end of the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this process lately, both literally as a gardening practice and metaphorically as an act of self-care — and somehow coincidentally both tend to lead me to be on the ground on my knees in my backyard, hands covered in wet soil.

After the Storm

Exactly one week ago, almost to the hour of me writing these words, I finally tested positive for COVID-19. By all accounts and on a severity scale of one to ten (one being no symptoms and ten being the most severe fatal variety) I would rank my infection experience at a 4 or maybe at most a 5.

There were a few hours in the middle where I considered asking my wife to take me into the hospital, but that feeling was short-lived and a good-night-sleep later I was back to slouching it off on the couch and sick-napping through a Netflix marathon.

This morning I feel almost normal.

I mention here for two reasons.

First, I feel like I need to explain why I haven’t posted in over a week. (Answer: I was sick.)

But second, this was a blog (and now blossoming project) that was conceived out of the rippled effects of this global pandemic. I can’t say for certain, but I doubt you’d be reading any of these past three-hundred and twenty-five posts if it were not for COVID-19. That pandemic provided both the space and motivation for me to start a little more self-evaluation and personal reflection and refocusing of priorities… and all those fancy things that make one take stock and dive into a new hobby, or reinvigorate an old one… even if it was just me stanning on cast iron cooking and raving about trail running adventure.

Living through the pandemic, which we’ve all done in some shape or another, has likely left an indelible mark on each of us, the scale and scope of which will only be understood in time.

For me, living through the pandemic in the first year of that event was marked not actually by a personal infection but rather by being on the front lines of my job, putting in erratic twelve hour days, burning out, being crushed emotionally and physically by the effort and the decisions and the reactions and the uncertainty of it all. I pounded a stake into the metaphorical sand and anchored myself to words and ideas and a reinvented self that I projected outwards through this space. It may have seemed trivial to those who were reading, but this was me tethering myself back into reality and hand-over-hand pulling myself back towards normal.

None of it is over. Many others have their own COVID stories to conclude, but I realize that by living through the actual infection, even a mild version I’ve kind of put a pin in my pandemic adventure, at least the first volume of it:

Learning about the pandemic, going through lockdowns and panic and societal shift. Working from home to avoid catching the damn virus. Mountains of PPE, masks of every shape and colour. Three vaccinations. Symptoms and tests and dozens of negatives, false alarms. The slow toe back into the new reality of post-COVID life, work and play. Demasking and lowering defences and then finally getting the damn virus and taking it on the chin for seven full days of fever and cough and headaches and utter fatigue, until…

Reaching healthy?

And in the blur of that two-and-half-years-long story, learning a lot about my own self, what I believe in, cherish, value… and how I want to write the sequel to it all.

The storm has passed. At least, my storm has, and I’m just pausing here for a deep breath — literal and metaphorically — as I look around and ponder where next.

Ten Pots & Sauces Brought to Life in a Deep Cast Iron Vessel

When I brought home my first deep dish cast iron pan, and then later a Dutch oven, my imagination struggled to know how to make use of these massive cooking tools apart from my intended recipe.

I wanted to cook a batch of chili, and I did, but the more I cooked the more I came to rely on big pots to not only make big delicious meals, but simpler things too, like sauces, dips and liquid-heavy recipes.

1. Bolognese. Don’t fear the tomato as you simmer a classic sauce in your cast iron cookware… just make sure you wipe down your cocotte before your dive in for seconds.

2. Alfredo. This widely adored pasta sauce is easier to make than you might imagine, and mixing up a batch in a big cast iron pot means you can add your cooked pasta right into the sauce, stir it up and serve.

3. Gravy. Don’t toss those drippings, and instead add some spice and a thickener to mix up a gravy to go along with your main.

4. Nacho Cheese. Hot and gooey, a blend of cheeses melted together with a bit of chili and spice can lead to an entire cast iron tub of tasty for pouring over or dunking corn chips.

5. Chili. Those afternoon-long slow simmers of a batch of meats, veggies sauces and spices were one of the reasons I bought a Dutch oven in the first place.

6. Soup. Sure, almost any deep pot will cook up a great soup, but a thick-walled cast iron pot like a Dutch oven will make sure even and thorough heating.

7. Stew. Benefiting immeasurably by first browning your meat cubes in a hot cast iron pan, why swap cooking vessels when you can then just add the rest of your potatoes, veggies, spices and stock and make a great stew without losing any flavour at all.

8. Hot Dip. Ground beef, onions, spices and hot cheeses are among the minglers in this one-pot sauce that is amazing with tortilla chips and served right from a cast iron pot where it was cooked.

9. Joes. Sloppy or not, this big pot of flavoured meat was meant to be squeeze into a bun or served on a dish, makes for a great meal or a simple pot-luck delight that will stay warm and tasty in a cast iron pot.

10. Caramel. Not every sauce is savory, and cast iron can be a great tool to caramelize sugar and butter into amazing sauces for ice cream, cakes, or other dessert finishes for your meal.

People like lists. I like people. So I’m giving the people what they like. I ran a blog for 16 years and one of the most popular posts ever on that blog was a list of “100 things” that I’d compiled and posted. I’m trying to recreate something similar over the next couple months for the cast iron guy blog. This post will eventually form part of that mega list.

Campfire Club

Ahhhh… outdoor campfire season is upon us once again. I do try to get outside and warm myself by some flickering flames year-round, but from May through October it is always a little more favourable to casually cooking and gathering around a pit of hot embers.

So I did last night.

Sadly alone….?

Or maybe…advantageously alone.

Reluctant to waste a great opportunity to enjoy a perfect Monday evening in spring, I rather took it as an opportunity to indulge in two of my pastimes. Not only did I light a fire and enjoy a small outdoor cookout, but I tried my hand at recording some more video footage of the whole experience.

I hardly need an excuse to set up a grill experience on my firepit. I mean, it helps immensely to have someone to share it all with, but even our small family seems to struggle to converge our precious free time with great weather and perfect opportunity. Sometimes you just gotta get out there and do your thing, even on a lonely evening. All that said, it never hurts to add another reason to break down those barriers (and create a positive space to fill in my over-planned life) by planning to share those lonely backyard fires with someone… anyone, and if I can’t convince my family, friends, or neighbours to wander by for reals why can’t that “anyone” be with my internet friends?

I’m gelling this whole multimedia creation process, the effort to make more videos and record a podcast to accompany this blog, and part of that gelling means turning sparks of inspiration into creative opportunity.

So, a new video series… a series of one so far… called the Campfire Club:

And if nothing more, I think a good chance for me to break out my firecraft skills at least once per month, record some grilled eats over those hot coals, and share the fun here in a format that transcends words.

If only I could let you taste it, too.