The Spiritual Gardener: Maples and Meatloaf

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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 decorating for Christmas is already under way, and here is a kitchen window, looking out on the garden with a dusting of snow on it.

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.

In the old cemetery in our town, there is a giant oak that has just been removed.  We had a terrible storm two weeks ago and it snapped the colossal old oak right in the middle, throwing its top half crashing down on the simple Quaker gravestones and smashing part of the cemetery’s very old iron fence to smithereens, like matchsticks.  The tree looked terrible, snapped in half like that the morning after the big blow, so the decision was made to remove it altogether, the poor thing.  When the bottom part was cut down, the stump was five feet in diameter and the rings of growth were many more than a hundred: an arboreal disaster of the first order.

Here is a picture taken from inside a Japanese cut-leaf maple, showing its intricate and delicate branches.

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.

We do eat turkey bacon at our house, though it is not nearly as good as I remember the real thing, and I see we have some when I get home, so since I can’t get outside I decide to make our favorite meat loaf for some November comfort food.  And yes, you start with bacon.  This is “Meatloaf Two-Way”; make it with both sauces and let your family vote; or, if like our family yours likes both, have it both ways.


Asian/Chipotle Meatloaf

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

3 large eggs, whisked together

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup celery, chopped

¾ Tbsp. salt

1¼ tsp. smoked paprika

¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1¼ tsp. ground ancho chilis

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

1½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1½ tsp. minced fresh thyme

1½ tsp. minced Italian parsley

Pre-heat oven to 400.  Oil a 13×9 casserole dish with non-stick spray or olive oil.  Chop the bacon and process it in a food processor until it is coarsely ground.  Then put the bacon in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients, mixing to combine well.  Yes, you are right, it is a nuisance to buy the specialty spices and fresh herbs, but trust me, it is worth it.  You put the meat mixture in the casserole dish in the log-shape of an ordinary meatloaf, down the center of the dish.  Then glaze half with the Asian glaze and half with the chipotle sauce.

And don’t overlook how good this meatloaf is the next day: cut a big slab of it, slather a big hunk of a rough, artisanal bread with Durkee’s sandwich spread (if you can find this) and lay it on – and wow, it’s even better than it was at dinner.

David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.