The Spiritual Gardener: Maples and Meatloaf
I got up early this morning and took Cosimo outside to chase off a bunch of squirrels that were running around the garden, and was very surprised when I saw the sky. Some crows were whirling overhead, calling noisily to each other, and I looked up at them to see the sun was just coming up in the dark and brooding December sky, lit on its eastern half by striation after striation of livid pink, seemingly on fire and all shot through with gold streamers. What an amazing spectacle and hardly anyone but me awake and marveling at it. I just had to stand there and watch the sky in awe, until the effect grew dimmer and less spectacular. Ordinariness returned to the world.
The dogwoods have been completely stripped of their leaves by now, and yet their bare forms are extremely graceful. Their finely arching main branches and the gracious spread of their small, finer branches create a kind of lacy effect that, even denuded of leaves, is very beautiful. If you have never noticed this, then take this simple test: the next time there is a light snowfall, go out and look at your dogwood, if you are lucky enough to have one, or a neighbor’s otherwise. With each limb etched in a brilliant white tracery of snow you see the perfection of its form. Could anything be finer?
Why, yes, the Japanese cut leaf maple has exactly this same kind of beauty, but to an even higher degree. How I struggled in my western gardens to grow this difficult creature, but largely without success. Where we live now, there is one in practically every yard; they are so common as to border on the boring, though they never are to me. And there are some very old ones here; some that are quite gigantic in fact. To see one of these extremely beautiful and venerable trees lit from behind by late afternoon sun, its gracefully spread dome of precisely incised, deeply colored leaves (the russet variety is so much more distinguished to my mind than the mere green) filled with mellow golden light, is a rare and wonderful thing.
I was brooding morosely about this loss on the walk home, when I was summoned from this dark reverie by passing someone’s house where they were cooking breakfast bacon. A word here about bacon: I haven’t eaten red meat in over 30 years and no lips that have eaten bacon will ever kiss mine. And yet…I must say that the only thing about eating red meat that I really miss is this, and I can’t account for it. I would love some bacon right now, in fact. It is a terrible moment for me when we are out camping in the woods and someone else has gotten up before me and stirred the fire up, put on a pot of coffee and begun frying bacon. The combination of chilled forest air, wood smoke and the smells of coffee and bacon will one day probably be the undoing of me, if I am not on guard. Or, possibly, that is what heaven smells like. It would be nice to think so.
It begins to rain on the walk home, so gardening is not going to be on the agenda today after all, and bacon is.
For the Asian sauce:
1 cup of soy sauce
1 cup of brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
¼ cup Dijon mustard
Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook for a few minutes over a medium heat, until the sugar dissolves; allow to cool. A couple of talking points: you can use garlic from a jar if you must, but fresh is much better. But you must use the Dijon mustard, to get the horseradish flavor’s kick. You probably only need half of this recipe for the meatloaf, so save the rest for another use.
For the chipotle sauce:
Small can of chipotle chilis
This sauce is hot, so make it to your own taste. Combine a small can of chipotles with an equal canful of water and blend it in a blender or with a hand blender. Then dilute it with ordinary ketchup until it is hot enough for you but not too hot. We like equal measures of all three, but that is a bit hot for most people. Save whatever you do not use for this recipe for another use.
For the meatloaf:
¼ lb. turkey bacon (or pork bacon)
2 lbs. ground turkey (or ground beef)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs