I didn’t cook much when I lived in Sweden. I was 18 when I moved here, and that was basically when I started my own home. We planted our lemon tree five years ago. I grew up on a farm so I love plants. I didn’t know this before I moved here; I love being in the garden. Right now it’s in pretty good shape, but when we travel it grows wild. This summer, we were gone for three months, so now we mainly have a lot of mint and basil out there. I make a lot of pesto.
I always wanted to pick an orange off a tree; I’d never done that. But they didn’t have any orange trees the day we went to the store, and we saw lemon trees, so now I pick lemons instead of oranges. It’s a Meyer lemon and it started carrying fruit after just one year. Only a couple of lemons, but then it exploded. The bees and the monarch butterflies love it, which is good. They’re friendly. You just have to watch where you put your hands and not inhale a bee accidentally. There must be 200 or 300 lemons on here. It’s intense.
In the past I’ve used lemons for juicing. I make fresh juices with kale, carrots, apples, lemons, and you can put the whole thing in the juicer, with the rind and everything. I also make lemonade. In our English lessons in Sweden, they were talking about lemonade a lot. I was maybe nine. I’d never had it, but I pictured it as being sparkly and tangy. It took 10 years before I tasted some, but it was a dream come true. No one knew how to make lemonade back home. My mom tried to squeeze some oranges one time and put sugar in it.
This year, I’m trying something new—preserved lemons with salt and olive oil. You can use them for grilled fish, stews, or in couscous. They’re salty and tangy, like some weird olive. I was blown away when I first tasted it last year. There’s a little cafe here in the Point called Tout De Suite, and that’s where I tried it. First I was like ‘Erh, I don’t know about that.’ And then I was like, ‘Give me more! I want more!’ Maybe I’ll get adventurous with some ice cream and put little pieces in there. Salty and sweet is a good combination.
When I get off the road, I don’t like driving around too much. I like staying at home because I do enough car time. After Hummingbird, Go! I was on the road pretty much straight. When I’m home, I cook everyday. We cook a lot, and we compost everything from the kitchen. We have worm bins with African red wigglers. They’re moody. If it’s too cold, you have to bring them inside. You have to be able to take care of them. We’ve had times when they’ve died, which is very sad, but we have friends who come over and feed them when we’re out of town.
If you buy plants from Lowe’s or Home Depot and something dies and you have your receipt and the container it came in, you can bring it back. I bought my lemon tree at Home Depot. Didn’t have to bring it back, though. I try to have stuff in the garden that takes care of itself, things that bloom when I’m usually home. The mums are wonderful because they come back and bloom three times.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was five years old. I just started refusing the meat and the fish and the chicken—all that. I tried chicken for a while and quickly stopped. But fish I’ve been eating since I came here.
I have a couple of quick soup recipes. Carrot soup I learned from my mom. We used to grow carrots on the farm. It’s quick to make and absolutely delicious. You take five carrots and peel them and coarsely grate them. Sauté them with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic in two-three tablespoons of olive oil. Then you pour ten cups of water on them, so they’re swimming, and add three tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon and a shake of ground white pepper. Bring it to a boil and simmer for ten minutes—done!
[Grating carrots] This will make good worm food. The worms don’t like citrus and they don’t like onion, but they’re crazy about this.
I can’t stand this house in December, honestly. There is no insulation. We’ve been working on all the little leaky spots, but there are so many more and the floors are cold. Last year we had to check into a hotel for a couple of those cold days because it was just unbearable.
Preserved Meyer Lemon
“If I use alligator fillets, I cut them up in little blocks, like bite-size pieces. Something you can put in your mouth, so you don’t have to stretch your mouth open. Cayenne is good for wildlife, all of it. It adds another notch to it, but my old lady can’t eat nothing spicy, so, mess my day up.”
12 large Meyer lemons
1 cup coarse kosher salt
4 pint-size canning jars
1/4 cup (or more) olive oil
Wash whole lemons. Boil 6 lemons in plenty of water for 5 minutes, remove from water and let cool. Boil glass jars for 15 minutes; soak lids in hot water for 10 minutes; remove jars and lids from water and let dry. Cut lemons into eighths, removing seeds and center white membrane. Coat each piece with salt. Pack tightly into jars. Juice remaining 6 lemons and pour juice over salted lemon pieces in jars to cover, or close. Screw on lids. Let sit in room temperature for 5 days, shaking jars once a day. Pour oil on top. Refrigerate. Use within 1 year.