Bangkok Beef with Basil

Does Archeology have anything to do with Bangkok Beef, or is this just one of those random entries where the photograph actually has nothing to do with the topic I’m writing about?

They are related. Maybe circuitously, which, if you know the way my mind works, is normal, but the connection is not as remote as some.

It all started in the garden. No, not the garden of Eden. We know that none of it really started there anyway.

I was considering going for a walk with my sister and the dogs when Robby VOLUNTEERED to help me dig up the garden on the south side of the house which was currently home to a thriving population of chickweed, wild strawberry plants and Montbretia on crack. We decided it would be a good place to plant potatoes since the bed where we planted them last year still has a bunch that rotted when we got a really hard freeze in November and I hadn’t gotten them all out.

My current enthusiasm for my vegetable garden, while not unusual, is being substantially nurtured by my current late-night reading material, Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In it, she tells the story, with a anecdotes and comments from her husband and daughter of their move from Arizona to a farm in Virginia where they live for a full year off of their own land and that of their neighbors. If you ever needed a little encouragement about the value of growing your own food, or at least buying locally and sustainably grown, pick up this book and read a few pages. Barbara Kingsolver’s writing has always been a pleasure, but in this book, part memoir, part essay, she weaves the two styles seamlessly and I keep turning the pages to find out what’s next.

My kids are used to being told that I won’t buy something because its full of high fructose corn syrup, or trans-fats or unpronounceable preservatives. They look guilty when I find cans of Pepsi or Sprite on the counter in the kitchen. Our house was a drop site for an organic subscription farm almost 20 years ago and I’ve been growing food as long as I can remember. Today, while we were trying to get the potatoes in before it rained, Robby mentioned that he wanted to grow corn in the bed that held potatoes last year. He suggested that we could do it like as the Native American’s had, growing beans to fix the nitrogen and squash to shade the ground alongside the corn. I told him my concerns about getting enough heat and sun for corn. He suggested, tongue in cheek, that he could just grow “some of that GMO stuff, ’cause you could probably grow it in a cave”. I laughed and commented that he was probably one of the only of his friends who knew much about GMO’s because he’d been hearing me rail about them for so many years. What he doesn’t  know is that he’s probably one of the only, of his urban, 17 year old male friends, who can carry on a rather sophisticated conversation about growing food. At moments like this, even though much of what I’ve brought in from the garden has been greeted with disdain or even horror (so far, I’ve yet to convince Robby and Gillian that Swiss Chard has any other than ornamental value), I realize that my commitment to clean, high quality food has made a big difference.

It took a while to get through the roots that seems to fill the part of the garden we intended to plant. If you don’t turn it for even one summer, it turns into a mass of Camellia and Rhododendron roots that form a mat just below the surface, and its been a few since we planted anything over there. We decided to make five trenches perpendicular to the house and then hill the potatoes as they grow for maximum yield. A couple of hours later, we were on the fourth trench and realized that we had the perfect number of seed potatoes for exactly four trenches. It wasn’t a tough decision… four trenches was going to be just fine. About that time, I hit what I thought was a rock with my shovel. It turned out to be a rusted piece of steel about eight inches long and four wide. This was quickly followed by another piece of steel which we couldn’t figure out. It looked something like an extra thick saw blade. Robby unearthed something that he was sure was a part of the barrel of a pistol. We started joking about our trenches. They kind of looked like shallow graves. Hmmm… What were our neighbors going to think? Then he found a couple chunks of charcoal. A few years ago, while doing some remodeling, we discovered a layer of ash with strange charred debris in it in the back yard and concluded that at some point in time, there must have been a big fire. The contractors and architect speculated that the house we live in may have been the second house and that the first, which apparently had a different footprint, may not ever have existed in the records as it would have been prior to the turn of the century. Now this. Next Robby hit what he was sure was a large pane of glass, but could only find a few pieces. The rest came later, as we pulled probably 20 rather large shards of charred glass out of the ground. Finally, I found a piece of decorative iron grill work that is at least a foot long. That’s when I decided on the title for tonight’s entry. I kind of always wanted to be an Archeologist…

We got the potatoes in, and were about to tackle the peas when the rain began. After having tasted the flower buds on last year’s kale yesterday, I ran down the lower terrace to bring some in. I get excited about the idea of eating food from the garden, and given that its March and I just planted the first seeds yesterday, I feel like we can pat ourselves on the back for having managed to still be getting food from last year’s plantings. The kale buds look so much like overgrown broccoli, that I figured they couldn’t be bad. I was shocked at how good they are. Maybe its because the weather hasn’t been warm yet, but the tight green buds which burst into brilliant yellow flowers as well as the stems, are sweet, tender and mild. I picked a big bag full, along with a bunch of the leaves, which are also still tasty, and brought them in the house just as it started to pour.

When I asked the gang what they felt like for dinner, they said, “some kind of asian beef-thing”.

Here’s where it all comes together. The kale buds and greens from the garden and beef from an organic ranch in Eastern Washington run by a family we know.

Digging the garden to grow this year’s food and discovering buried “treasure” from another time in the history of our home. Archeologist and Farmer all in the same day…

I almost forgot my photographer hat, and had to run upstairs and grab my camera just as the rest of the family sat down with loaded plates. Fortunately the shot worked!


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