Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The city has nature too

I've been reading Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, which I picked up (okay, downloaded) because I figured you can't really call yourself an environmentalist or sustainability activist if you haven't read Wendell Berry. He has the most marvelous way of evoking the land that he loves, but as often happens with me with these paeans to wilderness and countryside, I've started getting that niggling, impatient little voice saying, "so what."

Eighty percentage of Americans live in large cities, "urbanized areas," or "urban clusters." While I am somewhat unusual in having urban roots going back 5 generations, I'll bet there are plenty whose closest relatives still on the farm were great-grandparents.

And yet we persist in lionizing the rural-- as though you cannot be, as the internet joke goes, a "rill Merkin" without a hick accent and a dirt road. We sigh over the president who clears brush to relax, and excoriate the one who learns Spanish, or puts in a garden at his urban home.

Cities are also a natural way to live. They are, as the language attests, what civilized us. There might be gold in them thar hills, but there's also nature in them thar backyards. In my own small patch, I've counted a dozen bird species, 9 different bees, 3 different wasps, 5 different worms, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, possums and, once, a coyote. As any urban gardener knows, green will grow from any crack. I take walks not just to people watch and window shop, but also to see what's growing-- in both gardens and cracks.

Wendell Berry's world is gone, if it ever existed. If we want to reconnect with the art of the commonplace, we don't need the Virginia mountains. It's right in our own backyards.

Stuffed roasted salmon
1 (2-pound) center-cut boneless, skinless salmon fillet
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mayo
chopped fresh spinach
small onion, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

ground sage, sea salt, green pepper, about 2 teaspoons

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Saute the onion in butter until it just starts to get transparent. Add the spinach and saute just about a minute, until it just starts to cook. Toss this with the mayo.

Butterfly salmon fillet through the centers and lay the pieces out so the gray underside is facing up; arrange on a clean work surface. Season with salt and pepper then spread fillet with the spinach/onion mixture. Gently fold over the salmon and place in a greased baking dish. Dribble with olive oil, then pat with the seasoning mixture (you can also use dill, thyme, oregano or any of your favorite savories).

Roast until just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Set aside to let rest for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a serving platter, remove and discard twine and serve.

Serve with couscous or wild rice.

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