In 1982, when the Sweetie and I moved from rainy-day Vashon to semi-arid Los Angeles, we were amazed by the abundance of green, manicured lawns in front yards and the popularity of full, azure-blue swimming pools in back yards. In Westside LA neighborhoods, the grass—a David Hockney still-life of wealth and status—looked like it had escaped from a well-tended golf course. The daily hiss and sprinkle of lawns started up early each morning, along with the aggressive spray of professional hosers cleaning the sidewalks on the UCLA campus near our apartment. Run-off cascaded over the concrete, along sidewalks, down gutters, into storm drains, and out to sea. Yards were green, pools were full—there seemed to be plenty of water.
We were surprised by this mindless waste. In most of Puget Sound, by the end of June the grass is brown, with yellow dandelions and their dark green leaves the only sign of life. But by the first of October, the dormant season is over and Fall rains bring back the green grass.
David Hockney, Montcalm Pool, Los Angeles, 1980
David Hockney, A Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967
Our four-year stint in San Diego found front yards sporting the same Hollywood green. In Eugene, Oregon, however, a green lawn was a sign of thoughtless indulgence and if a bike-riding, tree hugger caught you watering your lawn, you were likely to receive a scolding. In Portland, Oregon, old neighborhoods with charming bungalows, flaunt frowsy, weedy, dried-up lawns. In Tacoma, not known for its ecological drift, we scoffed at lawn sprinklers and wore our summer brown grass as a badge of honor.
We currently live in a green-grass-in-the-front-yard zone—not by our own plan or hard work. Community wisdom chooses green, trimmed front lawns kept tidy and manicured by mowers, blowers, weeders, and trimmers. Now, don’t get me wrong—I am pleased as punch to forego the grind of a weekly mow but given the option, I’d prefer Portland blowzy, frowsy or Vashon it’s-July-so-of-course-the-grass-is-brown landscape design.
Chile Verde With White Beans Serves 4
- 1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed, quartered
- 2 avocados, peeled and pitted
- 4 jalapeño chiles
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 4 Tbsp. lime juice
- 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, divided
- 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, divided
- 3 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
- Salt to taste
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 1 Tbsp. dried Mexican oregano
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 lb. cooked cannellini beans (If using canned, rinse off canning liquid.)
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
- Juice of 1 Lime
In a blender, combine tomatillos, avocados, jalapeños, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, 2 garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, 2 tsp. olive oil, and salt. Purée until smooth.
In a heavy soup pot, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Slice remaining 2 garlic cloves in half, and cook for 1 minute. Add onions, Mexican oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, and remaining 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds; cook until onions are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatillo sauce, beans (if using canned beans, wait until the last 10 minutes of step 4 to add the beans; otherwise they will fall apart) and water or stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for for 30 minutes, stirring often.
Stir in the lime juice just before serving.