Cooking With Myra: Cream puffs are bite-sized bliss
By Myra Starkey
March 19, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 18, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.
I love planting a spring garden. Months before the weather begins to warm and the days become longer, I begin to dream of plants.
I scan gardening catalogues for the promise of a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes or bell peppers, which will taste sweeter than the year before. I purchase seeds for flowers - mostly zinnias in all colors - which will brighten my day and the days of those I share them with.
There is something magical about planting a dormant seed and watching it grow into a healthy plant. It is the picture of something out of nothing. If you think about it, a seed is so small, yet it can yield a plant that may feed you for a season.
I bought a bright yellow tiller last year. It has rear tines, which can turn the soil in one pass of the mighty machine. My old tiller had served me well for about 10 years until it started to make a worrisome grinding sound as the blades turned.
I thought the engine might blow at any second. It finally failed to go in reverse, which made it especially difficult to maneuver in loose soil. So I indulged myself with the new tiller.
I have just completed tilling my soil for the third time, and it looks to be just the right consistency, so now it is time to bring forth new life. I grow some vegetables from seed, but generally, I buy the tomatoes, zucchini and peppers as small plants. That gives me a little head start.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Taylor was out of town, leaving me home alone with a day to spend just how I wanted. I put on my gardening clothes and filled up my wheelbarrow with plants, seed packets and tools. The earth was dark and loamy.
Despite the fact that I halfway tried to stay clean, my socks soon filled with dirt, and my knees turned black from kneeling. My fingernails were maximally caked, and I was filled with joy. I was surrounded by the promise of garden bounty neatly planted in rows marked with white sticks just in case I forgot what I planted there.
I sat on the ground taking a break and drank a glass of iced water that tasted so good. I was gritty, sweaty and covered in a fine dusting of peat moss. I had used it to cover the lettuce seeds, and it had blown through the air and coated me. I did not mind being dirty as I looked over all I had accomplished during those four hours of uninterrupted bliss.
I could picture myself picking cherry tomatoes and nesting them in a large leaf of Genovese basil before popping them into my mouth. I will need to remember to bring a salt shaker into the garden once they ripened.
A week or so later, Taylor mentioned that he had a patient who was a cotton farmer, and he was going to visit him. Taylor knows that I perceive myself as a farmer even though I am only a gardener.
I used to dream of planting a cotton field. The trip to see Glenn was an adventure.
He has cotton-colored hair and a cotton-white beard. He has spent many years in the sun but has not lost the twinkle in his eyes.
He met us just off the main highway and escorted us down the winding, dirt road to the edge of the barren field. His son, Kevin, was driving his huge, red tractor back and forth down the long rows, poking seeds and fertilizer a few inches below the soil. This machine is more sophisticated than an airplane.
It even has an autopilot function, which uses GPS to plant the rows perfectly straight at a rapid clip. Somehow, all these years, I just thought farmers had a keen eye when it came to those mile-long rows.
He patiently explained the process of preparing the fields, killing the weeds, fertilizing and finally planting the seeds at the correct depth on just the right day when the moisture and temperature are right. I asked how he knew when it was time to plant the seeds, and he just winked and said he knew.
"What do you do next?" I continued. "We wait," he said with a smile.
I am sure they will hold their breath for rain and then warmer temperatures. And it may rain or may not. As the plants near harvest time in the summer, they need dry weather.
Farming seems like a gamble to me, but Glenn explained that when you have been doing it for as long as he has, you just learn to expect that some years will be better than others. And crop insurance provides a safety net in case of a total failure.
If the sun, wind and rain were not enough to contend with, add the threat of bugs that eat the plants, such as boll weevils, cut worms and stink bugs. As a gardener, I am familiar with the creatures that can destroy my 10-row garden. Imagine a consuming plague that sweeps across 1,000 acres overnight. The thought of losing that much time and effort, not to mention money, makes me weary.
Glenn, Taylor and I stood on the edge of the field watching the tractor methodically planting the seeds. The wind was blowing, and the air was cool as we talked about his life and family.
He told us he was from a family of farmers and was planting cotton in these fields just as his father had and his grandfather before that. And his son flashed us a smile as he came to the end of the row, lifted the planter, made a 180, set it back into the dirt and was off again.
I am pretty sure I don't have what it takes to be a farmer. I am much too impatient.
I came home from my farming adventure dreaming of cream puffs. I have a recipe from my mother written by her own hand. I have altered it a little over the years, depending on the time I have available, but this bite-sized dessert is a perfect finish to a meal.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.