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The joy of gardens and focaccia

“He who kisses joy as it flies by will live in eternity's sunrise.”

— William Blake

When I find joy, I embrace it. For me, there is no poetic kiss involved — when something gives me joy, I go after it full throttle. All my senses are alerted. I am singularly drawn to something that makes me happy and I want to hold it tightly, cherish the moment.

I have been told I start to obsess a little on these occasions. It is true.

This week — and last week as well — I am joyfully focused on herb gardens. Even if mine is only a messy-pot combination of oregano, garlic chives, silver-queen thyme and tri-color sage, the most beckoning item on our sunny balcony.

I fell in love with this Italian mix after a mid-summer purchasing escapade at Costco. The rectangular wooden container joyfully declares itself to be “HERBS” in large letters on one side. I added some rosemary to the mix and still have space for one more herbal option — I might make it lovage.

Does this not seem like a time when we should all be joyfully considering adventurous herbs with names like lovage?

Herbalists would say lovage is too tall and erect for this particular container, but when I am smitten with something I am not governed by common sense. The celery-like aroma of lovage, when crushed, makes me smile just thinking about it. And it would be a lovely addition to the artful design of herbs I plan to place atop the garden focaccia I am making today. This will be the fourth loaf of focaccia decorated with herbs and vegetables that I have made in the last 10 days.

These colorful and aromatic loaves make great gifts — think of the gifting process as a way to spread joy to others. The artsy appearance is unexpected, and the bread is delicious. I should credit the recipe’s creator, but my version came from a newspaper article in which the source for this “flowery flatbread” got lost in the clipping process.

The process is simple. It takes instant yeast, bread flour, salt, water, honey, olive oil and a kneading, rising and deflating schedule that requires a little planning. The kneading part is joyful in itself — very relaxing. No equipment needed except two well-washed hands — and maybe an Alexa device in the background playing a little classical music.

The herbal design of your choosing is pressed into the dough at the final stage. I am not an artist by nature, but decorating bread with slivers of carrot, halved grape tomatoes and a mix of leafy herbs has resulted in rave reviews. And we would all agree, I suspect, that random acknowledgment is a joy, as well.

Perhaps as the seasons change I will stop calling it garden focaccia and refer to it as “festive focaccia.” I will turn my passion into holiday giving. Maybe I will open a bakery and sell bread off our balcony. No, that is taking this whole joy thing way too far. Even I realize that.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at sharjjohn99@gmail.com.