Monday, April 6, 2009

Hope Springs. With Greek Orzo Salad.


Provided you could overlook the pollen-induced chartreuse film, yesterday was absurdly gorgeous here in Charlotte. (Big shout-out to the manufacturers of Nasonex and Allegra!)

Sunny, slightly breezy, high in the 70s -- it promised to be an ideal outdoor day.

However, our local meteorologist was quick to caution us gardening types against plunging into the potting soil. The weather is expected to dip below freezing again later this week, and tender new plants risk being reduced to nothing more than 8-inch deep cylinders of good dirt, if set out too early.

Now, I'm not a risk taker. First, I'm a mom. Caution's part of the package they send home with us from the hospital. Second, I'm a divorced mom. Adventure's not part of the package they send home with us from the lawyers' offices. Finally, well, I've always preferred certainty, to um, not.

Whatever. I ventured forth to our local Home Depot. Just to see what they had. OK, fine. Let's skip to the last chapter, where I ended up buying a ridiculous number of plants. The hydrangeas, with their woody stems and the parsley, with its cool weather tolerance, shouldn't have any problem. The daisies? Iffy. The 18 coleus plants, six New Guinea impatiens and two basil plants? Well, I should know better.

When I was a kid, my bus stop was in a neighbor's front yard, and on the very coldest days of the year, the dozen or so of us would huddle against the side of the house. There was one particular spot where warmth just seemed to leak out between the bricks.

Now that I'm a homeowner, I can't say that I've ever longed for similar insulation-failings, but just in case, I did set the most tender plants close to the house. Maybe it will help. Or maybe I'm just kidding myself.

Inexplicably, I also put out some dill this year. I've never had luck with dill. I plant it every year, and every year, within two months, the potting soil it arrived in is all that remains. What the hell. That'll be another $3.48 (plus tax)

If you don't allow for the time I spent planting, I'll be out a grand total of, well, let's not do that math, OK?

Look at it this way. If the dill survives, it'll be an unexpected gift. The coleus plants and impatiens? To be honest, they make me happy. I'm just crossing my fingers that the happiness lasts more than three days. The basil? I adore fresh basil and it was worth a shot to have an earlier crop. If I'm very lucky (and the meteorologist very wrong), in three or four weeks, I'll be cutting it for fresh arrangements and working it into one of my very favorite pasta dishes.

The temperature's already dropped to 53 degrees. Maybe I'm a greater risk-taker than I realized. Hope springs ...

Greek Orzo Salad

Dressing
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon oregano (rubbed fine between palms of hands)
salt and pepper to taste.

Salad
1 lb. orzo pasta, cooked, drained and rinsed in cool water
1 cup chopped fresh basil
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 medium can black olives, sliced
4 cooked boneless chicken breasts, diced (or optionally, 1 1/2 pounds cooked, shelled shrimp)
Mix dressing ingredients. Pour over remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Chill and serve. (Keeps for several days.)

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