Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wild Pesto That Saved the Day

The chickweed pesto was a sensation at yesterday's schoolyard greening lunch.

So imagine my chagrin when, after getting up at the crack of dawn to make a last-minute vinaigrette for one of my pasta salads, and after pulling platters to display the lunch on, and after hauling all this equipment plus a cooler full of food to the National Arboretum ( to say nothing of getting my wife out of bed so she could drive me there so she could have the car for the day)--imagine my dismay when I finally arrived at the Washington Youth Garden at 8:30 in the AM to find that I had forgotten to pack the ckickweed pesto.

I just stared into that cooler. And stared. And stared...

It was one of those Can-We-Just-Have-One-Do-Over moments...

Jenny, the garden manager, soon to be moving to Brooklyn to manage a garden there, was particularly distraught. She had been so looking forward to that pesto. I thought she was going to make me run home--literally, on foot-- and fetch it. Then one of our organizers volunteered to drive the several miles back to my house in the District of Columbia to collect the AWOL container of pesto.

Yet, when I called home to alert my wife to all this, she saved the day by agreeing to deliver the pesto after dropping our daughter off at ballet, which happens to be not so far from the arboretum.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was Day 2 of the annual Schoolyard Greening teacher's clinic wherein we subject the teachers to approximately four hours of hands-on instruction in seed planting and transplanting, cultivating and educating with herbs, composting and vermiculture and--for my part--maintaining the garden (e.g. preventing or getting rid of weeds in an organic fashion).

This being my first year as an instructor, I was relying on the kindness of these teachers to tolerate my fumblings and just let me get through it.

I did think it was highly appropriate (brilliant, even) that our pesto featured chickweed, otherwise a noxious garden intruder. To illustrate the point, I found plenty of chickweed frolicking over the Youth Garden grounds while I was giving my little clinic in weed maintenance. There were a few gasps when I demonstrated that there are more than one way to deal with weeds, and plucked a few of the more succulent chickweed stems and ate them au naturel.

Otherwise, there were cheers all around for the food. The curry-roasted cauliflower and the collard-goat cheese frittata were completely devoured. Many came back for seconds on the "Caesar" salad with fresh garden lettuce and homemade croutons. I simply made too much of the pasta salad duo: penne with grilled chicken, artichoke and chickweed pesto, whole wheat rotini with spring vegetables and lemon vinaigrette.

In fact, there were several requests for the chickweed pesto recipe. We'll just have to do this again next year. Maybe we can even work a few more weeds into the menu.

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