Like Yeast, Like Gratitude, Like Sunrise

Halfway through January, and the thin veneer of winter is already riddled with tiny cracks; an early blooming wildflower here, a pink Ume plum blossom swelling on a friend's tree. In the woods, poison oak is mostly still bare branches, but we encountered the first young red leaf of the season yesterday, furled in a patch of sun along the leaf-duffed trail. In the garden, kale is the sweetest, and the young lettuce and arugula seedlings, that languished in the cold spells and rainstorms of the last few weeks seems finally to have hit its stride, growing large enough to pinch the outer leaves for baby greens. These we planted almost 2 months ago, quite a bit late for a fall planting, and so they have grown very slowly, what with the short day length and the cold, wet weather. It's nice to see them finally coming into fullness. It's nice to feel the sun.

This is an under-appreciated time in the garden, still months away from the gratifying harvests of mid-summer. But one of the secrets of contentment is to appreciate what exists in the moment, to find the pleasures and beauties and satisfactions in even the in-between times, the less-than-perfect. Muddy ground, weedy garden, gray sky, short days. This is a kind of treasure hunt, sometimes, but the world gives us ample prizes, offering up beauty in even the most desolate of environments; a weed sprouting in a cracked sidewalk, the movement of wind across water or grass. Here, where we live in these gentle mountains, it is easy to find things to celebrate; it's our own perception, more than any lack of beauty, that gets in our way.

Citrus trees are generous trees, giving us brilliant fruit for months out of the year. Perhaps no citrus is so generous as the Meyer lemon tree, whose smallish size is belied by a staggeringly prolific output, spread over many months of the year. The brightest, warmest, deepest shade of yellow, the softest peel, the tart bright sour pop of juicy flesh. This is a tree to admire in all seasons, from the pink-flushed, fragrant white blooms, the neat dark green leaves, the smooth bark, and of course, the lemons themselves, hung like tiny ornamental suns from the curving branches. We love a Meyer lemon. This week's recipe celebrates the Meyer in an unexpected way, slicing it thinly, peel and all, and laying the sunshine slices on a yeasted, herby, focaccia-like bread. Maldon salt crackles on the top, and the bread turns golden with olive oil and toasting. A slight bitterness from the peel, a surprising sweetness from the white pith. It's a thing of beauty, a way to taste the season, tart and salty and chewy. This simple bread invites appreciation, even celebration. The world is broken and terrible in so many ways, but appreciation of these small joys is a balm, not a betrayal. We need as many moments of connection and delight as we can manage, not to negate the darkness of these days, but to fortify ourselves so that we can withstand, and even transform them. If a slice of bread can help us, nourish us, feed both our bellies and our innate need for beauty, that is a worthy loaf. If in contemplation of this bread we feel our spirits rise up, like yeast, like gratitude, like sunrise, and remind us of contradictions and beauty both, then it is nourishment, indeed.

So we carry a harvest basket out into the cold outside air, and snip small leaves from the aforementioned arugula and lettuce, and from the tender young weeds, too, chickweed and miner's lettuce, even sow thistle. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt, a drizzle of oil. Pile the greens atop the bread, the same ingredients layered and layered over each other again, reminding us once and twice and always that this world is enough, that we are enough, that beauty can feed us, that even the weeds can feed us, that delight is a balm for what ails us.

By Jessica Tunis