About twenty years ago, probably a little longer than that, a work colleague gave me an unexpected Christmas gift. It was a small glass spice jar filled with tarragon, I think, that she had grown and dried in her garden.It was a lovely gift, especially since I loved cooking and hadn't used tarragon often. It was a good chance to experiment with new recipes, new flavors. I was grateful. But I didn't appreciate it the way I do now.
After I bought my house in 1995, I started to grow herbs in pots and in a small bed on the side of the house. The oregano ran rampant, the thyme and sage fairly abundant, all in the ground.
In large pots I grew rosemary and basil, sometimes from seed, more often from starter plants. The basil was a favorite. Summer was filled with pesto making and winter pastas were made all the more flavorful by the herbs I'd dried in my kitchen through summer and fall.
This week I found myself in the process of stripping the dried leaves from their stems and getting them ground and ready to put away for the fall. I had a huge pile of oregano and probably ten bunches of basil that had been drying in the kitchen, wrapped together with rubber bands and hanging from the cupboard door handles attached with a clothespin.
And I was convinced that I, too, would have plenty to share this year. I had visions of including a vial of oregano or basil with some of my holiday gifts to my favorite foodie friends. I'd find cute little tins like the ones I like to use. Or maybe pretty green bottles with corks. I'd tie a little raffia around the tops and include a cute label -- Oregano, 2015. Basil 2015.
Well, I stripped the leaves, crushed them with my fingers, then rolled them out to crush them even more. They were still a little too big and coarse, which was almost fine enough for me. But not quite. So I started to sieve them.
You know what I mean, don't you? You take a sieve and start pushing the leaves through the tiny holes, making them all the tinier, almost powdery. The stems are left behind and the finished result is simply lovely.
And takes a long time. Oh, and by the time you are done, all those nice big leaves that could have filled more than its share of tins or jars would be lucky to fill one!
Needless to say, I doubt that my foodie friends will be getting the homegrown herbs this year. There will be another basil harvest, but I hope that will go for pesto and basil-and-tomato sandwiches, salad caprese and panzanella. All fresh, just the way it should be!
But all the time I was working in the kitchen, spending the better part of the morning on the project, I was remembering. I was saying a silent word of gratitude to my friend who had made a truly generous and thoughtful gift. I hope I was grateful enough. Probably not, but I hope I was. For it was indeed a gift of the heart.
There are lessons to be learned from everything. Here are some of the things I learned this holiday season!
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