It’s a raw day in early March, temperatures hovering around freezing, tiny ice crystals bouncing around in the wind. What seemed like the last of the snow melted under yesterday’s sun and unseasonably warm 60 degrees. Today, we’re back to winter. The sky is flat gray, the bare forest and blanket of oak leaves a monochromatic brown. The squirrels blend into the landscape.
And here I am, thinking about gardening. Which here in Chicago, really won’t be feasible for at least another month. Or two—who am I kidding? But spring is in the air—it was 60 degrees! I sat on the porch in sunny bliss!—and the gardening magazines at the library were just begging to be checked out, urging me to at least think about planting…something.
Things haven’t changed. I still live in a wooded area, with precious little sunshine and deer who mow down every edible plant. Except I’ve discovered two important things: I do have a precious little spot of sunshine, on the south side of the house, and deer don’t like herbs. Last year I grew some rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage in pots, and the deer steadfastly ignored them. This year, I want to build a raised bed and expand.
Oh, how I want to have a farm! But the real estate market being what it is, my job being too wonderful to walk away from right now, and my son still in college means I need to work with what I’ve got. And what I’ve got is not a farm, but it’s still pretty wonderful. So, we’ll see where this little bit of gardening goes, we’ll see how my garden grows.
In the meantime, we've been enjoying last summer's herbs all winter, using rosemary in mushroom risotto, thyme in the corned beef that's simmering on the stove right now, and sage in one of my most comforting cold-weather recipes, Lulu's Meatloaf (in case you're wondering who Lulu is, that's me—childhood nickname my parents gave me). I created this recipe by borrowing ideas from several others:
1 ½ to 2 pounds ground chuck
½ cup or so minced onion
½ cup milk (add a little more if needed)
1 cup cracker crumbs (I use Triscuits when I’ve got them; I like the heartiness of the whole wheat)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh (or frozen!) sage, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (I LOVE Worcestershire sauce; it's great to splash on cooked meatloaf)
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste (if I’m using a really salty cracker, I don’t add extra salt)
½ cup or so chicken broth (if store-bought, I prefer Swanson's Natural Goodness)
Note: You can make the raw loaf ahead of time and refrigerate overnight, if preferred.