Hello, lovely readers! Let’s talk about gardening: small-scale, balcony, urban, queer gardening.
Content warning: There is a very brief mention of eating disorders in this post.
Oh, look, it’s not cake! What I’ve actually been cooking a lot of is cake and pie for my summer-birthday friends (to be shared soon), so to bridge the gap, I wanted to share some garden updates and an easy and delicious salad recipe with a couple variations. For this recipe, we grow everything except the dressing ingredients, nuts, and the cheese in our balcony garden in containers, so you don’t even have to have land to do this if you’re interested. If you don’t have access to a garden, you can also get these ingredients at the store or farmer’s market.
Here is what consistently grows well for us in pots in a our partially-shaded urban apartment garden:
-Rosemary: although it doesn’t go in the salad, I want to just say how great rosemary is as a potted plant if you want fresh herbs but you don’t have time or energy to do a lot in the garden. It just grows and grows, and you harvest it when you need it; sometimes you repot it.
-“Salad Greens”: We planted the “Uprising Spicy Mix” from Uprising Seeds, which includes mixed red, green, and speckled lettuces, arugula, Wrinkled Crinkled Cress, Ruby Streaks, and Green Wave. We’ve also had good luck growing chard, kale, mizuna, and mustard greens. We grow these greens from seeds in row-planters.
-Strawberries: we’ve been growing everbearing strawberries for about three years; last year we added an alpine strawberry plant, and this year, we added a June-bearing strawberry plant. Strawberries are great because you can plant the runners (“daughters”) from the parent plants and basically get free strawberry plants.
-Violas: pretty to look at and nice to eat! These are annuals (you have to buy or plant a new plant each year), but they’re relatively inexpensive.
-Tomatoes: our cherry tomato plant is always HUGE–and takes a ton of water. This year, to save time and effort, we rigged up a garden hose to a shower diverter since we don’t have a water hook-up outside.
As a kid and a 20-something, I understood “salad” as iceberg or romaine lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cheddar cheese, and dressing. (And also “Jello salad,” because #MidwesternGrandmas.) I also spent a lot of my 20s using this model of salad because it was cheap but also because salad was a “good” (read: diet/eating disorder) food.* At the same time, salads like this didn’t travel well on my commutes and got limp and gross, so I just stopped making them for a while. A few years ago, I started using salad recipes to make salads I actually wanted to eat (like this one and this one from 101 Cookbooks), and then I moved in with a master salad maker. This salad recipe is based on two of our favorite combinations of ingredients.
The Big Queer Salad Metaphor
I was raised with certain cultural expectations: that I would be a straight and cis, that I would stay in the Midwest, that I would eat a certain way and look a certain way. In discovering food and queerness, a world of possibilities opened up, including the power to redefine my relationship to food, to my body, and to the relationships I cultivate with others. Coming out didn’t automatically bestow upon me a better idea of what I wanted because no one had really ever asked me what I wanted; queer folks can also be assimilationist (I was once) or basic or exclusionary. It took time and community and activism for me to sort out the lies I was taught. Basic salads don’t work for everyone. Being straight and cis doesn’t work for everyone. But reworking salads or relationships into something new and appetizing isn’t just for queer folks and chefs: when we create new and delicious things to eat or more equitable and healthy relationships, everyone can benefit. You don’t have to be queer to make this salad or to find equitable, nourishing relationships (romantic or otherwise). You do have to be willing to interrogate the culture and set aside what doesn’t work. You have to be willing to change the narrative. And I believe in you.
Encyclopedia Botanica – Seattle Urban Farm Co produces this podcast, which is a series of excellent guides to growing a variety of plants in the Pacific Northwest. I especially like the episodes on strawberries and basil. You can back them on Patreon.
Queer Nature – I can’t say it better than the description on Instagram: “exploring decolonize queer futurism through natural history & ancestral, survival + tactical skills.” You can back them on Link Tree.
What is queer farming and how can gardening be resistance? (this blog is defunct): http://growandresist.com/queerness-in-the-garden/
Big Queer Garden Salad
Because why settle?
Serves 2, but can be easily doubled or tripled.
A typical ratio for balsamic dressing is 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts olive oil (for example: ¼ cup/60 mL to ¾ cup/180 mL olive oil), but Robin tends to use more vinegar and I tend to just wing it. We often eyeball it and adjust to taste depending on the quality and flavor of the vinegar and oil we have on hand. We also usually have leftover dressing, which you can store for your next salad, or use for dipping your bread.
¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil
2 TBSP (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt
Optional: A pinch of sugar, maple syrup, or honey, to taste
A small bowl or container
A small whisk
Whisk ingredients together in a small container and set aside.
~3 cups (loosely packed) mixed salad greens like arugula, mustard greens, baby lettuce, baby spinach
5- 10 leaves (depending on size) mint
5-10 leaves (depending on size) Italian basil
2-3 springs of Italian or curly parsley (not too much, or you’ll overwhelm the other flavors)
4 oz (115 g) goat cheese
5-10 strawberries, sliced (if large)
1/4 cup (30 g) walnuts or pecans, chopped
5-10 cherry tomatoes
3-5 radishes, thinly sliced
1 tsp white or black sesame seeds
Optional for either: Edible flowers like nasturtiums or violas**
- Rinse and dry your herbs and greens.
- Tear or chop so the pieces are bite-size and arrange them in your bowl, plate, or bowl plate.
- Add strawberries (or other fruit), nuts, and edible flowers.
- Place a portion of goat cheese in the center.
- Add dressing to taste.
- Serve with bread, a cheese platter, or soup.
- Swap the nuts for poppy seeds in the strawberry version
- Swap the strawberries for raspberries, nectarines, peaches.
- Swap the goat cheese for avocado. Especially nice with tomato versions of the salad.
- Swap the mint and/or basil for cilantro.
A couple of pointers:
- I don’t like tomatoes and strawberries in salad together, so I use one or the other. Something about the acidity of the tomatoes with the sweetness of the other fruit throws the balance off for me.
- Heavy dressings ruin a delicate salad. If you don’t want to make your own dressing, use a good balsamic dressing.
- If you don’t like or can’t eat goat cheese, you can omit it or substitute avocado.
*I wrote about my experiences with gender, Midwestern foodways, abuse and eating disorders more in my piece in Comestible issue 7.
**These are cheap to grow but can be expensive if you buy them at the store (typically in the fresh herbs section). They do add flavor —nasturtiums are kind of botanically spicy—but it’s okay to skip them if you can’t find them.