Sunday, August 2, 2009

Au Naturel

We have a three-foot wide strip of earth at the edge of our patio, just like each ground-level apartment in our complex. Some of our neighbors have been ambitious and have planted flowering plants in these tiny patio gardens, others are attempting to grow vegetables, bless their green thumbs, in pots set on top of the soil, and some have just let the gardening crew keep it raked clean of any plant life at all.

We chose the third option for the first six months of our residency here, but soon noticed that between the gardening crew’s visits little bits of plant life would appear, mostly dense patches of moss since we don’t get much direct sun on this side of the building. Did you know that moss comes in about twenty shades of green?

It was my husband’s idea to ask the landscapers to leave our plot of ground alone and let nature take over. The moss quickly spread to every corner of the garden, despite a close call when one un-informed worker took his rake to the moss just when it was really taking hold.

The ferns and the grasses have recently arrived. Now our garden looks like the forest floor – moist dark soil teeming with bug life, plants randomly and beautifully arranged. Our cat peruses the menu of grasses for her afternoon snack, and the dog… well, she’s content just to gaze upon the garden from the sun-warmed concrete.

The beauty of this random garden causes me to wonder how many other things in our lives would benefit from being left alone, or au naturel, a French term meaning “in a natural state.”

My mind turns automatically to food – that is my profession and my passion, after all. I love making elaborate dishes with complex flavors that take hours to prepare, but just this afternoon I had a salad for lunch that was just greens, cucumber, tomato, red pepper and avocado. It was utterly satisfying. I remember not too long ago savoring a raw, unsalted almond. If you’re paying attention, complex flavors can be found in the simplest of foods.

The summer is a good time to go au naturel with food because fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant. It’s an exercise in developing the senses since foods that haven’t been salted, spiced or sugared have more subtle flavors. Plus, the closer you are to the natural form of the food the closer you are to a whole foods diet, and that’s good for all of us.

The itsy bitsy flower at the bottom right measures about 3mm.

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