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Patti Bess: The cure for grumpy

Are you feeling grumpy about our fast changing world? Back to masks, the smoke, and the cost of groceries? I sure am. My saving grace? I step off the deck into the garden and the world disappears. In my mind I’m revising my favorite 60’s song written by Gerry Goffen and Carole King, originally sang by The Drifters. If you’re over 50, you’ll never forget, “Up on the Roof.”

“When this old world starts getting me down

And people are much too much for me to face



I step right out through the garden gate

And all my stress just starts to abate.”



Nothing equals that satisfying feeling of accomplishment as time spent in the garden. This past week, the air was only healthy enough to be outdoors in the afternoon. Gardening doesn’t only produce fresher food, it also exercises my bones, muscles and brains. I consider it my garden yoga — lunging, squatting, stretching, bending, reaching. I welcome the mental challenge of remembering to bring the right tool for a task and which jobs I didn’t finish yesterday. Working hard produces endorphins also known as “happy hormones.”

I had grandiose plans last spring. The soaring temperatures, moles and sow bugs kept me realistic and humble. I love the mental challenge of something continually new to learn, just like in cooking. There are failures but more often successes.

And it gives perspective. When I pause my all too human, goal oriented obsessiveness, I “see with new eyes” the beauty of the world around me. Feet planted in the dirt and remembering where our food really comes from, a thank you to Mother Earth is in order.

A few months ago I heard an interview on public radio. A young woman wrote her PhD thesis on the increasing popularity of small backyard gardens and how it is helping to increase the population of butterflies and insects that provide pollination. There is hope in this world.

Did you know that the second highest polluter causing global warming is industrial farming? It plays a major role releasing large volumes of manure, chemicals, antibiotics, and growth hormones into our water sources. This poses risks to ecosystems and human health. Industrial agriculture produces mainly commodity crops, which are then used in a wide variety of inexpensive, calorie-dense convenience foods as well as grain for meat production. It is true that the proportion of people in the world suffering from hunger is less, but there are many more who are now malnourished. Obesity is on the rise globally. Many suffer from preventable diseases often related to diets; like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Our choices have an impact.

Another reason that I’m not feeling as grumpy. August and September are the best best time of the year to eat — the peaches, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, figs, apples etc etc etc. Even if you don’t plant your own, the Farmers Market is in full swing. Supporting our local agriculture and organic growing benefits us all in the long run.

Ragout of Summer Vegetables with Tarragon

This colorful side dish features the subtle flavor of tarragon. It’s best made in a skillet on the top of the stove where the flavorful juices will not be lost.

2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup white onions, sliced

1 cup sweet yellow pepper, chopped

1 cup sweet red bell pepper, chopped

3 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped (2-3 teaspoons dried)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large skillet with a lid, sauté onions and garlic in butter for 2-3 minutes or until onions turn translucent. Add peppers and sauté another 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini, mushrooms, and lemon juice, cover, and simmer 4-5 minutes or just until vegetables are crisp tender.

Remove the lid, stir in the tarragon and sprinkle with salt and freshly grated pepper. Simmer 1-2 minutes longer to allow herb flavor to blend in. Makes 4 servings.

Gazpacho Rose

Everyone has a recipe for Gazpacho, but this one is easy and so refreshing. It’s great for young “picky” eaters. My children always liked blended soups — they couldn’t actually see the vegetables.

Three to four ripe, medium-sized tomatoes

One third cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves

Two cloves garlic, peeled

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

One half cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

Spoonful of sugar or lemon juice (optional)

One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Sliced scallions or basil leaves for garnish

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add the buttermilk and taste for seasoning. Add a touch of sugar or a few drops of lemon juice if you feel it needs it.

Chill and serve in iced cups. Garnish with scallions or a basil leaf. Makes two to three servings.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer, cookbook author and has written for more than 25 magazines over the years. She lives in Grass Valley

Nothing equals that satisfying feeling of accomplishment as time spent in the garden. Gardening doesn’t only produce fresher food, it also exercises bones, muscles and brains.
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