Monday, May 3, 2010

Around town: In the garden

This weekend was yet another that's made me happy to live in such an active city. Austin felt lively with an arts fair on Sixth Street, a May Day rally at the capitol, an accordion competition and the opening of Yellowbike's new and totally impressive headquarters.

Another instance of this: a few Saturdays back, the calendar was filled with one of many spring 10Ks, a crawfish jamboree, a psychedelic music festival and a tough choice between Yeasayer or Vampire Weekend — this place is great! Mind you, I'm not a runner and I don't listen to much psych rock, but I wholeheartedly appreciate the scope of interesting things happening around here seemingly at all times.

Part of this past weekend's fun was dropping by the Blackshear Neighborhood Garden, which was one of 11 stops on a citywide community garden tour. It's on a lot across the street from Nathan and Caitlin's house. Along with some other friends who live nearby, they got the garden going by securing a grant from the city so folks in the neighborhood have a place to pitch in and grow vegetables together.

The space has really come along thanks to their hard work; neat rows of broccoli plants sit right at the entrance and narrow pathways meander through the beds of garlic, kale, artichokes and tomatoes. Not only that, but they've got the community-building part of this project covered, too. While other folks weeded and shoveled dirt, I helped squeeze lemons for lemonade and chatted with a neighbor named Fay, who I'd guess is in her 70s. She pointed out the corner house as her own, saying it's also where she was born. She told me about the gravel roads the neighborhood had until East Austin's streets were paved in the 1960s. She said her grandfather once owned this lot that's now a garden and that Zavala Elementary, just a few blocks down, became an integrated school once her children enrolled.

I loved talking to someone who knew this city before it was an epicenter for fests. I kept thinking, I need a neighbor like this, someone to tell me the backstory of my own street's small houses and the people who have made homes there. Our street could use a grandmotherly figure whose conversation flows easily from Austin's civil rights history to a secret she learned for keeping her couch cushions clean.

Fennel: awkward to photograph

Just before we left, my friend Willard plucked some broccoli — the greenest I've ever seen! — and a few of the plant's leaves, which he said could be cooked like collards or any other sturdy greens. He also dug up a fennel bulb for me to take home. Here's where we take this garden's community cultivation online: help me figure out how to prepare this thing! I don't think I've eaten fennel before, and I certainly haven't cooked any myself. Anybody out there have a suggestion? As it stands, I'm choosing between these...

• Ina Garten's tomato fennel salad

• Pizzeria Bianco's fennel and apple salad with cider vinaigrette

• Molly Wizenberg's celery root and apple salad with hazelnut vinaigrette Although A) this sounds too wintry and B) hazelnut oil would be absent in my version. As my barista buddy likes to say, I'm not what you'd call a powerful consumer.

• Another Molly Wizenberg recipe, this one shaved fennel salad with mushrooms and Parmesan. Pluses for this one: I have all the ingredients except mushrooms, and it comes with one heck of a Julia/Alice pedigree.

What to do?

P.S. More bounty: bonus Yellowbike photos just because I was so dazzled by the place!

card catalogue of parts

wall of forks

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