I murdered some baby daffodils, once.
You might think murder's too strong a term. You would be wrong. They were those sweet little forced bulbs, the sort you receive as a gift in earliest spring, which is really late winter, which is when absolutely nothing is blooming out of doors and the joy of something blooming indoors is almost immeasurable. I loved them, for that. Also for the fact that they were baby daffodils, impossibly small and perfect, like little gold stars, twinkling just for me.
Because of this, I tried my hardest. I found them a home on the kitchen window sill just behind the coffee maker, which guaranteed them both sunlight and my attention. This cunning strategy worked, swimmingly, for weeks, me remembering to water them, their teardrop tops one by one opening, teamwork, payback, beauty, wonder, joy. And then I boiled them alive.
For what it's worth, it wasn't pre-meditated. I just watered them the way I'd done since their arrival, which was the way I remember my mom watering houseplants, which is to say with a tea kettle and its precision pouring spout. Makes a surprisingly fine substitute for those without watering cans. Unless, of course, you've just made tea.
Did you know a plant can wilt, right before your eyes? Takes a few minutes, and a jigger of 212° H20, but holy cow do those tender roots not take kindly to extreme heat. I was devastated. Not surprised, but devastated.
I mention all this by way of illustrating the fact that I lack certain skills in the gardening department. Like, for example, all skills. You know I under-water, but that's not the half of it. I also over-neglect and entirely-ignore and generally have a chronic case of botanical ADHD. This is why I have children, not houseplants. Kids speak up when they're thirsty. Vocal cords: evolution in action.
Those vegetables? These flowers? Lovely, despite me. Our yard is a picture (if postage-stamp-tiny) entirely thanks to our fairy godmother. We call her Granny, and she's a plant's wildest dreams, and a constant education and inspiration to me. I look and I listen and I dabble here and there, mostly by making pesto and eating piles of sweet 100's. But last winter I thought I really ought to move on, let bygones (and black thumbs [and burnt roots]) be bygones.
So, in a rare burst of agricultural chutzpah, I (cue the mother hen trembling pride, please) grew green beans. Way back in March, I gathered the kids and some cups and a handful of wrinkly khaki seeds. We poured the soil and poked in seeds and sticks, and parked them in a sunny window sill. It felt a lot like a long shot, and a little like a revolution, and the tiniest bit like an almost safe bet.
See, last year, Henry brought two green bean starts home from school, which proceeded to keep us in beans all summer long. If my then-four-year-old could swing it, I reasoned, then maybe my two black thumbs might stand a chance? So we watered and watched and waited and watched and lo and behold! Sprouts. In each cup! I might have built Rome before breakfast, so stunned I was.
We kept them indoors for nearly a month, where we could watch them and water them and pet them regularly. (A little girl I know would adore a puppy, and was deaf to the notion that beans don't need petting.) Our beanlets thrived, despite our tender loving care, and when the nights turned warm I transplanted them. (Radical, that. I never thought I'd see "I" next to "transplant". Barring, perhaps, major organ failure.) We raked the soil and dug four holes and carefully emptied the cups of their contents. We gave each start its own bamboo stake, and carefully wound the tiny tendrils around the supports. I could not believe we had made it this far.
Then, I promptly forgot about them. Of course.
Sometime in May, it occurred to me to wonder whatever happened to my great farming foray. I walked toward the back, expecting the worst, and was shocked to find they were flourishing. I suspect green beans are hardy, this way. I suspect a certain fairy godmother was involved. I know, for a fact, that I paid more attention thereafter. At least once a fortnight, I ran bean patrol.
They took a while to bear fruit, this time around, and even then, it was a lean year. Maybe it was the location, more shade, less sun. Maybe there was something funny, in the soil. Probably, Henry has the magic touch. In any case, the yield was small. But a yield's a yield, no matter the size. We got a good month of green beans from our efforts, six here, twelve there, maybe three dozen at their peak. This tickled me no end, though not as much as this: Henry and Zoë have been eating them. And loving them.
Because of the numbers, and my two new bean eaters, our entire homegrown crop ended up boiled and buttered. I wouldn't have had it any other way. However, I had this huge back-log of green bean dreams, accumulating since our seeds first hit soil. I couldn't let summer pass without seeing some to fruition, so I supplemented our crop with Farmer's Market reinforcements. And oh, howdy doody, am I glad I did, because last week this humdinger landed on our table.
It hails from the lovely Harumi Kurihara, who calls it, simply, Green Beans with Ground Pork. Which is true, in the same way a soufflé is Eggs and Air. Understatement, at its finest.
It is one of those spare, splendid, pitch-perfect dishes, the likes of which always feel like a gift. The green beans are the backbone, the ground pork the accent, the two bound together by a fragrant ginger-garlic-green onion mince. It comes together in less time than it takes to make rice, and disappears more quickly than either, or both. I'm hopeful we'll make it next year with our own beans; certain we'll make it next year, come what may.
Gingered Green Beans + Pork
adapted from Everyday Harumi, by Harumi Kurihara
Serves 4, if you're lucky
I cut the green beans into bite-sized bits here, as the littles have come to love them this way, and I wasn't about to mess with a good thing. This made for easy eating, and pleasing proportions, and, incidentally, worked like a charm (both had seconds). That said, Harumi's original features much bigger pieces. Your choice.
I substituted green onions for the Japanese leek, which I've not seen in Ohio, and tweaked quantities to our taste. As to heat, I tossed a few small Thai dried chilis into to the adult portions toward the end.
3 cups green beans
4 green onions
thumb-size piece fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbl peanut or canola oil
8 oz ground pork
3 Tbl soy sauce
sliced fresh or dried chilis
2 tsp. sesame oil
Top and tail green beans, cut to your liking, then lightly cook in boiling salted water, 2 minutes. Immediately drain, then lay to dry on a towel.
Finely chop green onions (whites and pale greens), ginger and garlic. A mini food processor makes quick work of this, or pile up all the aromatics and mince them together.
Pour oil into large skillet, add minced aromatics, and turn heat to high, allowing flavors to infuse oil. When everything smells heavenly, and before anything burns, add ground pork, and stir-fry until edges brown.
Add green beans, then soy sauce and red chili, if using, to taste. Continue to cook on high, resting a minute or so between stirring, until green beans are tender but still firm. Drizzle with sesame oil, and serve with steamed rice.