We had spaghetti squash for dinner last night.
Don't know about spaghetti squash, you say? It's a large squash that, when prepared properly, looks like spaghetti and is a great alternative to pasta if you're trying to watch your carbs.
I could go into a long dissertation about my introduction to this delicacy, and how it has become increasingly popular. We like ours with a traditional spaghetti sauce (but Maria's been using ground turkey lately — another bow to trying to make me eat healthy).
But this particular spaghetti squash was special. It tasted a little better than any previous spaghetti squash I could recall.
I'll bet you can guess why. That's right. This was the first spaghetti squash out of my miniature garden in the back yard.
I have a long history with back yard gardens. I had to work in one when I was a boy back in Colorado. But that sweet corn tasted better than anything that came from a store, and the cucumbers actually got me to eat vegetables.
When I bought the north Long Beach house some 17 years ago, the big back yard was a huge selling factor. Not only did it allow me to have big dogs again, it offered enough room to till a little soil.
Now I don't pretend to be a great gardener. Knowing my limitations, the "garden" consists of a 3-foot-wide strip about 30 feet long next to the back fence. I've had some grape vines back there for a decade or so, but we've never gotten more than a few handfuls of BB-sized green grapes.
I've struggled with killing weeds on the other side of the fence without poisoning the garden ground. And the one place the back lawn seems to prosper is its encroachment into the little plot.
I did mention the big dogs, didn't I? The garden has some sort of fascination for dogs — I suspect it has to do with the fertilizer. But my garden fence has grown progressively impenetrable — good for keeping dogs out, but making weeding a pain in the you-know-what.
We've had mixed results with growing tomatoes. Some years are great (Maria cans most of them for homemade spaghetti sauce) and some years are total failures. I typically can't remember what I did right or wrong, so every year is a crap shoot. This looks like it will be a decent tomato year.
I've experimented with various other plants. Peppers cooked on the vine; cucumbers never even got started; strawberries died. I've tried to do the research. Honest. But it's as if the garden knows when I'm trying something new and deliberately causes the plants to whither and die.
So when the spaghetti squash plant actually began to grow, I didn't get too excited. Even when the yellow flowers turned into yellow tubes, I remained skeptical.
But they continued to grow. Out of that one plant, we will harvest four — count 'em, four — spaghetti squashes. That's exciting.
It's been a banner year for our little apple tree, too. We're having a hard time keeping up with the apple picking, and Maria's way behind on the apple sauce and apple butter making. But she's getting there.
Clearly, the only thing I can grow is something that grows on its own — I need independent plants, I guess.
But, as the many real gardeners in Long Beach know well, there's nothing quite like eating something you've grown.
Now pass that (homemade) sauce, please.