Sunday, August 29, 2021

My Life In the Season of Big Zucchini

It's been a big zucchini summer here at this household. Not big as in numerous zucchini, big as in BIG zucchini. The big fat green zeppelins that happen when you don't pick your vegetable patch on the regular, so that all the squash get seedy, tough, and outrageously over-sized. 

I like summer squash. I like the advantage of growing it in your own garden, so you can pick them when they are small, young, and tender. Sauteed in butter and herbs, they are a fast, easy, tasty side dish to all the grilling going on during the season. I like them on the grill too, and as a substitute for noodles in lasagna. 

But these giant squash? Yech. Don't tell me to shred and put them in cake or sweet bread, because zucchini is a savory food only for this girl. Desserts with green vegetables in them? No, thank you. Yes, I have tried them, and I think y'all have gone straight crazy. 

Up until this summer, I've considered it a sign of failure, a sign of even (Lutherans all gasp in judgement) laziness, that I keep missing, and then picking, these big green brutes instead of the tender little lovelies that we prefer to eat. I dutifully go out into the yard with my wire basket, peek under the giant umbrella leaves, and -- "Dang it. Again?!"

At the beginning of the summer I took all of this zucchini-picking failure quite seriously. If I'm going to go to the trouble and expense of gardening, I want to do it well. There is a small window (just shy of three months) where I can supply most of my family's fresh produce needs; I want to optimize that. Coming from a family that has experienced poverty, I hate wasting food. Large zucchini seemed to represent a lot of things to me: poor resource management, inattention, waste, and even ingratitude to the processes of Nature which provide for us. 

But zucchini is a distinct season of the summer. We watch it come along in expectation in early May, when the earth finally warms up enough in Iowa to germinate squash seeds, and in June, while the plants spread out their giant leaves and start to bloom. Come July and August, there are pyramids of squash crowding kitchen counters. The reason for all the jokes about summer squash stuffed in mailboxes, left on neighbors' doorsteps, piled on break-room tables at work is because we know that they are prolific. Sometimes too prolific. We balance our gratitude for all that plenty with the relentlessness of it. So, so much. And while we are grateful, we are also tasked with it. Peeling it, slicing it, sauteeing it, roasting it, pickling it, tossing it into omelettes, soups, quiches, pasta-- even if we love summer squash, we know it takes up space in our lives, requires work, and sometimes, is just too, too much. 

This summer, big zucchini do not represent laziness, or ingratitude, or even inept gardening. They do, however, still represent overabundance-- a distinct season in our lives. In the last several months our household has seen multiple major appliance failures, major house repair, a car vs. deer accident (property damage only, thank God), and storm damage. We've done several home improvement projects, and have several more that are needed or that we are considering. We have a grandchild we are over the moon for, and love to help care for him and nurture him. We have aging parents who sometimes need support. We are gone multiple weekends in a row, honoring milestones like a son's entrance into pharmacy school, or another son's move into his first home. We have welcomed home a son-in-law who was deployed in the National Guard. We have visited a sister in Georgia, paddled the Boundary Waters with a blended family of menfolk, gone fishing. We survived a school year complicated by the pandemic and are about to embark on a senior year of high school that is looking much the same. We are navigating menopause. We lost an extended family member unexpectedly. We're looking ahead at college enrollments, helping autism spectrum children find their way in the adult world, and empty nesting.

All of these things are piled up on our metaphorical kitchen counter, and we need to process all of it. Slice and dice, cut out the bad parts where we can, create our own recipe out of these ingredients we've been handed, simmer, chew, swallow, and digest. All that growing, celebrating, repairing, nurturing, grieving, planning, sharing of time with people we love, closing one chapter, opening others. A great deal of it is joyous work, and for that we are grateful. A great deal of it is work-work. Labor and grief and frustration and exhaustion and loss and expense and time. So, we balance our gratitude for all that plenty with the relentlessness of it. It is also so, so much. 

We are in a season of life where things are coming at us fast and thick, both the gifts and the trials. Big zucchini aren't our ideal, but can be expected when we'd rather take care of a grandbaby, or help an adult kid move boxes. They can be expected while we sort through trenching a new water main to our house. They can be expected when we neglect garden work in favor of ceremonies, milestones, funerals, jobs, and much needed rest. 

For that reason, I will make of big zucchini what I can. Some days, that will mean preparing, seasoning, and cooking those parts we like, and enjoying the results. Some times it will mean sharing our overabundance with others that can make better use of big squash than we can in the moment. Some days, it means I will send that big ol' squash sailing over the compost fence and into the pile, so that it can feed some vegetable garden of the future, in another season, where life will assuredly be different than it is now. 

Things I have been doing: 

Enjoying this, this, and this recipe as a way to use up those big zucchini. When I don't, you know, compost them out of sheer lack of time to do anything with them. 

Not reading. But looking at The Book of Taliesin: Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain sitting on my end table, and deciding it's a better book for cooler and cozier fall nights. 

Painting buckets of primer and paint on the walls of a basement craft room that we are working on. I'm looking forward to having a permanent home for my sewing machine. 

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