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Linda Pall’s garden of hope

After terminal illness nearly ended her life, Linda Pall found new optimism by turning her front yard into a vegetable garden

Hope grows here – along with cherry, Roma and heirloom tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, tarragon and thyme.

Chives came first. Then “lots of lettuces,” zucchini, broccoli, “some very nice cilantro,” strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – an abundance of ingredients and affirmation.

Linda Pall’s new garden is a celebration of life.

Three years ago, the former Moscow city councilwoman, Washington State University professor and longtime attorney and human rights advocate almost died.

After nearly a decade of living with terminal illness, Pall was diagnosed with uterine cancer and acute kidney failure, complicating her already frail health and landing her in and out of hospitals and care facilities.

At her lowest points, the outspoken, tells-it-like-she-sees-it Pall contemplated suicide. In her most hopeful, she dreamed of returning home, regaining her independence, cooking her own meals in her beloved vintage kitchen while listening to National Public Radio.

Pall, 69, had lived in her East A Street home – with its wide, wooden porch and terraced front yard – since 1972. Until this year, she grew herbs and a few vegetables in pots on the front porch. But that was about it.

“I always thought about doing something more with the front yard, but I never had the time,” she said. “I had all these other things on my agenda.”

Pall, who grew up and graduated from college in Oregon, got involved in local politics shortly after arriving in her adopted hometown of Moscow. She first served as a councilmember from 1977 to 1983, championing downtown revitalization, arts programming, historic preservation and the farmers market, among other causes.

“I’ve been able to be a real change agent and just enjoy the hell out of it,” she said.

Pall finished her master’s and doctorate degrees at WSU and her law degree from the University of Idaho, then began building her law practice. She served several more terms on the city council, ran – unsuccessfully – for Congress and served as the coordinator of business law for the College of Business at WSU.

She was known in the classroom and council chambers for being talkative and articulate, a passionate fan of jazz and an often outnumbered liberal in conservative wheat country. (She likes to say she doesn’t plan on dying until Idaho becomes a progressive state.)

But in the early 2000s, she began to feel breathless and easily exhausted. When she received the official diagnosis – primary pulmonary hypertension – she wrote about it in The Spokesman-Review.

Her June 6, 2003, guest column ran under the headline “Though I lost the disease lottery, I’m not giving up on life” and ended with a nod to the Bee Gees’ disco hit “Stayin’ Alive.”

Pall wrote: “I was prepared to hear that I needed to reduce the stress in my life, lose some weight” – at her heaviest, she said, she weighed some 320 pounds – “and get more exercise. The same old yadda yadda.”

What she heard instead – in her words, not the doctor’s – was “one or two more years and you’re out. We had this come-to-Jesus meeting,” recalled Pall, who is Jewish.

She went on oxygen and medication, continued working, teaching and serving on the council. And things were more or less manageable until 2011, when she was diagnosed with cancer. She ended up “at death’s door” in an intensive care unit in Seattle, “doing hand-to-hand combat with the grim reaper on a daily basis.”

“I got sicker and sicker and sicker,” she said. “Everything just went south.”

By the summer of 2012, unable to leave her bed, Pall became depressed and contemplated ending her life. Acute kidney failure was compounding her health problems, which also include arthritis.

That August, the city named the plaza at 1912 Center in her honor. Its preservation and restoration was one of Pall’s pet projects.

She wasn’t able to attend the dedication, but she felt equally honored and worried: “I was enormously cheered by this, but lurking in the back of my mind was the practice that is often done with buildings or parts of projects being named after a deceased member who helped create it. Was this another indication that I was really on the slippery banana peel?”

During her first week of dialysis, she lost 50 pounds of water weight. As weeks went by, weight kept coming off. And Pall began to feel stronger and more capable and confident. She got a new hairstyle. And in January 2013, after physical and occupational therapy and the installation of a wheelchair ramp – she was able to return home.

“When I got back, I thought I better do something – since I was given time,” Pall said.

That “something” became her garden.

Pall had grown rosemary, mint, sage and flat-leaf Italian parsley in two streams of pots, cascading down either side of her front steps. But she wanted to go bigger, more meaningful.

“It makes a statement to the community that you can do something more productive and progressive things with your front yard,” Pall said.

This spring, she felt well enough to pursue the project, hiring Becky Chastain of Greenside Up Creative Landscaping in Moscow to re-imagine a corner of her backyard as well as build four large raised beds out front.

Four months later, nearing the end of her new garden’s first season, those beds – which stand more than 2 feet tall and stretch 8 feet long – have become her pride and joy. Sweet peas climb Eiffel Tower-like trellises. There’s kale, eggplant, happiness and hope. With every new blossom, berry or vegetable, Pall feels her mood lifting.

“The first strawberry, God, that was a moment of sheer delight,” she said. “I was just totally enamored.”

All of the cherry tomatoes cropping up now, she loves them, too. “I consider them candy,” she said.

Pall won’t say how much she spent on the project, only that it was “a number of thousands of dollars” and that she can’t pass a nursery these days without stopping and buying something. Adding plants here and there gives her garden a “noticeably haphazard, but colorful, fragrant and eclectic” look, she said.

In her kitchen, Pall’s culinary inspiration comes from Elizabeth David, who popularized Mediterranean-style cooking in Britain after World War II, and Julia Child’s famed “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” And she uses the bounty from her garden to complement her cooking.

Pall spotlights her homegrown zucchini in one of her favorite and simple accompaniments: courgettes au beurre. She adds garden-fresh tarragon, thyme and tomatoes to her watercress, watermelon and feta salad.

She remains on oxygen and medication and does dialysis three times per week. She’s also cancer-free and weighs about half what she once did.

“I may be a short-timer,” she said. But, “I feel better than I have for years.”

These days, she hopes to remodel and add onto her kitchen. She’s looking forward to her 70th birthday in March. And she’s already making plans for next year’s garden. She hopes to grow radishes, wine grapes, hops, more berries, maybe some carrots.

“I’m not just growing annuals; I’m growing perennials,” she said. In her garden, “The possibilities are endless.”

These recipes are a few of Linda Pall’s favorites. They feature a combination of ingredients she gets from her garden as well as items available at the grocery store or farmers market.

Watercress, Watermelon and Feta Salad

From Linda Pall

Linda Pall likes to call this the “Water Everywhere Salad.”

She uses red, sweet cherry tomatoes, thyme, mint and tarragon from her garden. She also prefers to serve this salad in a large pottery or crystal bowl, but a wooden or glass serving bowl would work, too.

“No fewer than three popular foodie magazines have used the watermelon feta combo in various recipes this summer, but I think this is the best combination of them,” Pall said. “It’s refreshing as an early part of a meal in the garden.”

For the salad

2 cups watercress (no stems but whole leaves)

2 cups diced watermelon ( 1/2-to 1-inch cubes, seedless)

1 large shallot, chopped

1 cup cubed feta

1 cup whole basil leaves

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives

For the dressing

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves

1 teaspoon tarragon leaves (if you like them)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place the first four salad ingredients in a large serving bowl, then gently toss with your hands. Top the mixture with basil, tomatoes and olives.

Just before serving, make the dressing by combining the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper in a small mason jar, then close the lid and shake vigorously. Linda Pall recommends being “a bit sparing” when dressing the salad. Toss with salad tongs. Serve with a garnish of a sprig of basil and, if serving on salad plates, a triangular watermelon slice on the side.

Yield: 4 servings

Heirloom Tomato Tower

From Linda Pall

Linda Pall said this salad was inspired by a dish she had about 10 years ago at Larry Forgione’s An American Place restaurant in New York City.

Four to five large tomatoes (anywhere from 2 to 4-inches in diameter) in varying colors, from yellow and red to purple, sliced 1/2-inch thick

3 to 4 large balls fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 -inch thick

Large bunch fresh basil leaves

Basil balsamic vinaigrette, to taste (see recipe above)

Lay a tomato slice on a plate followed by a slice of mozzarella and large basil leaf, then repeat using tomato slices of varying colors until the stack is 4 to 5 inches tall.

Generously drizzle dressing over the tower, then garnish with a particularly pleasing tomato slice and basil leaf.

Yield: about 4 servings, depending on how tall you build your towers

Courgettes au Beurre

From Linda Pall

This side dish is ready to serve in a cooking time of 10 to 12 minutes.

4 to 5 small zucchini, about 5 to 7 inches each

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped (plus stems, if tender and young)

1/4 cup clipped chives, chopped

1/2 cup basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade

1/4 pound unsalted butter

Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, halved (optional)

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Slice zucchini diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces and let them rest on paper towels for about 10 minutes.

Combine herbs and set aside. Melt butter in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, taking care to not overheat or brown the butter. Turn down heat to medium and add zucchini to the skillet, turning once, after 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms, if using. Cook mixture another 3 to 4 minutes, then turn zucchini once more, keeping over heat for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add herbs, salt and pepper at the last minute then remove from heat and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Roast Chicken with Tarragon, Olive Oil and Lemon

From Linda Pall

This recipe was inspired by Linda Pall’s biggest influences in the kitchen: Elizabeth David and Julia Child.

One 4- to 6-pound chicken (Linda Pall prefers free-range and organic)

1 medium Walla Walla sweet onion, quartered

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Six cloves garlic

1 large lemon, halved

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil, divided

1/2 cup softened butter, divided

1/2 to 1 cup of fresh tarragon leaves

1/4 cup dry vermouth, optional (Pall prefers Noilly Prat)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place onion into the bird’s cavity, along with salt, pepper, two garlic cloves, lemon half, half of the olive oil and a quarter of the butter.

Gently, so as not to tear the skin, lift the chicken skin around the breast and area between the breast and the thigh, then knead it with remaining butter so that it is quite malleable.

Cut remaining lemon half into quarters. Place one of those lemon wedges in the breast/thigh-leg cavity along with one garlic clove and 4 to 8 tarragon leaves. Repeat across the top of the breast on the same side. Then repeat the process on the other side of bird.

Rub entire chicken with remaining olive oil and place chicken on rack in roasting pan. Sprinkle exterior of chicken with salt and pepper, and place in oven, immediately lowering temperature to 375 degrees.

Roast for about 1 hour, or until interior temperature is 165 degrees. Remove chicken from oven, tent it with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Drain juice from bottom of pan into small saucepan, add vermouth, then reduce over medium-high heat. Carve bird and serve with sauce.

Yield: 4 servings

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