The Neighbors

Today I picked grape vine leaves that I’ll use to make dolmades (Greek stuffed grape leaves). While I was picking them, one of the caretakers at the daycare center next door to me peered through the fence to ask if I was going to stuff them and how I was going to cook them.

As I was clipping those grape leaves off the fence (not my vine, by the way: I’ve traced it as far as three yards over and can’t track it farther, but I’m grateful for it), she said,

“Are you picking those grape leaves to stuff them? I do that.”

“Yes, my grandmother is Greek so the stuffed grape leaf recipe is something I grew up with.”

“My family is Mexican, and I grew up with that recipe, too. Do you use rice, meat, and spices?”

“Yes! Exactly!

When I first moved here, I thought I’d plant the hops vine I’d transplanted from my previous garden to grow along the other fence opposite the day care center. Hops entwines on its own like crazy so I was baffled to see it failing until the day I met Machete Woman. She had a foot and a half long, shiny machete in one hand. She was carefully cutting my hops vine off our mutual fence, all the while muttering “don’t like nothin’ on the fence, don’t like nothin’ on the fence.”

Her own garden is interesting. She uses whatever she’s got for stakes for her tomatoes, mostly mop handles. Something she does is working: every year she has extra fruits and vegetables that she shares with me. I wish I could share a photo, but she’s camera shy. Actually, she wouldn’t talk to me at all until we established that I wasn’t just some white woman growing flowers. Once she knew I was growing vegetables and herbs, her whole manner toward me changed. A few days ago she asked, “Are you planting food this year?” And I said yes, I am.

Her name is Cameron. I count her as a friend and neighbor now.

I share my garden with the tenants of the next door apartment. One of their friends, a 20-something guy with blonde dreadlocks, was in the garden today when I came home.

“Last time I saw you, you gave us that elder flower sparkling wine. Man, that was over the top.”

This is in the middle of New York City, folks. Enough said.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules

4 responses to “The Neighbors”

  1. Miriam says:

    Leda, if this comment appears after a notification of fatal error, I’m sorry…the error appeared after I edited.

    I’m really glad you’re friends with Cameron now. She really did sound ominous at first! So – do you have a solution for your hops that won’t annoy her? It’s a pity about the naked fence. I like to cover a fence with green, trailing things too.

    How does your dolmades recipe compare with your Mexican neighbor’s? Your Greek version probably has mint, lemon, and garlic, yes? Hers may include cumin and a little chile.

    I’ve always wanted to do things with elderberry fruit. Elder is very scarce here and I’ve never found any, although you can get sad-looking imported dried flowers from the health food store. I think I’ll have to just accept not having what doesn’t grow locally…

  2. acmeplant says:

    Oh how I’d love to see a photo of Machete Woman after all these years. Please try to sneak a shot (turn the volume off on your camera first!). No flowers on my elderberry yet, but I’ll definitely make a batch or two of champagne. Was the dread lock girl talking about the flower wine or berry wine?

  3. laylage says:

    Oh I love the idea of elderberry sparkling wine. Is elderberry diocious? How much fruit does one plant yield? Do you only have one?

  4. ledameredith says:

    I’ll have to ask what seasonings the Mexican woman uses for her stuffed grape leaves. In my family, we don’t use mint but do use cumin and oregano, so probably not that different from hers.

    The blonde dreadlock person (a guy actually) was talking about the flower wine.

    Elderberries are dioecious. I have two in my garden, but there is also one in the community garden where we pick up our CSA share, and lots of them in Prospect Park. The sparkling wine, however, was made with the flowers not the fruit. As far as yeild, last year I got three pounds of fruit from two shrubs.

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