Tagged: summer

Flowers in the garden

Indian Summer has just about made it here and while the rest of the country is preparing for fall, San Francisco is gathering her shorts and tanktops and hoping she won’t see Karl The Fog for longer bouts. The skies are azure and the ocean is a shimmering turquoise with enough golden sunshine pouring over the hills in a manner so abundant, the Mediterranean would be envious.

Our garden flourished through summer and is continuing to thrive. What with all this new-found sunshine, we’ll have basil well into October. There has been heaps of wonderful things coming out of the garden. How much we manage to grow out of just some pots is still cause for general amazement.

This year is one I’m unofficially going to call the year of flowers. The garden has been covered in them; vines and shrubs heaped with beautiful blooms. From early spring and continuing through now, the riot of colour has been phenomenal.

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Carrot Jam with Orange, Ginger and Cardamom

Earlier this year, I was gifted some wonderful strawberry jam at a most casual meeting, one that didn’t need gifts. It was such a gracious gesture and one that I appreciated very much. Because you see, I have this thing about jam.

As the years have elapsed, this list has gotten much shorter. But there are still a good number of things that intimidate me. Things like stilettos, really big hairdos, sketching (Yes, I get the irony of it vis-a-vis my profession), crotchety grandmas, my high school French teacher, the idea of anything rare or medium-rare, raw fish of any kind, making macarons, chapatis. Also jamming. No, not the Bob Marley or Michael Jackson variety. Although attempting to dance a la Jackson is a full-blown fear. I wake up nights in terror with a recurring dream dancing badly to Thriller in front of a packed audience. But no, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking spread-on-your-toast-perhaps-with-some-peanut butter-for-company fruity goodness.

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Our garden & chilli vinegar

I can remember the first thing I ever planted. I must have been nine. I planted a few mustard seeds in a handful of soil in a small used amrakhand carton. The seeds were from my mum’s spice box and the minimal labour involved was a school project. There are vague memories about it involving monocotyledons and dicotyledons. Much clearer is the remembrance of my being dubious of my mother’s and the science text book’s strong assertion that those tiny black spheres would amount to anything, let alone new plants; but I put the seeds in and smoothed the soil over, just as the textbook said I should. I poked at the mud with a toothpick for the first two days for signs of life. It was impossible to tell; the mustard blended in just perfectly with the soil. It may have been the first time any lesson in patience and faith was brought home to me with any sort of permanence or gravity.

Sure enough, just as they said, little mustard plants grew out of their containers, mud clinging to the dual leaf structure I was supposed to be observing. I was enthralled. There they were, tiny comma shaped flecks of green all woven through the brown soil, little bits of earth clinging to the frail green leaves as they pulled themselves up to face the sun. First there were two leaves, soon there were many more. I scribbled notes and drew hasty diagrams. I remember taking that little pot to school, the little seedlings standing up like so many valiant soldiers in a row. After that, I moved the seedlings to a bigger pot with my mom’s help. Unfortunately they didn’t survive the harsh May sun that year, but the fascination stuck. We hadn’t much room to grow things where I was growing up but my mom did her best with what room she had. I vowed to do the same one day.

Our first grown up apartment was a lunch box, but we still had a few tiny pots on a sliver of window sill. Amey shares my enthusiasm for growing things and has a true green thumb. We grew a few herbs and the chilli namesake of the blog. Our enthusiasm got the better of us with that chilli plant. We found peppers can’t be grown indoors in chilly San Francisco, but how we loved watching that plant grow from seeds and bear many flowers and some hot, meagre fruit. If you like to cook, there is no greater pleasure than snipping a few leaves of fresh rosemary or thyme from your own pot. All one needs to grow something is the desire to do so and the willingness to get their hands dirty from time to time. Or wear gloves if you don’t. I did. Plants require very little from us by way of help. Sunshine, a little water, an occasional smattering of fertilizer and they go out of their way to reward you with cheerful green. Herbs especially are so gosh darn easy to grow. Absolutely anyone with a tiny pot and a sunny ledge can do so.

  The green car at Flora Grubb

One of the features that sold us on our current apartment was ample back yardage. That first year, we started small, a few herbs, more chillies. As those plants thrived, we got bolder, planting flowers and vegetables. At this time, after having harvested onions, kale and peppers, I think we can safely call ourselves successful urban gardeners. It is no unattainable title given how easy it is to be one.

It is spring and the garden is all flowers and leaves. I am truly stoked about our motley pot collective this year. We have a grand fifty or so of them, with a variety of plants. Some, like the rosemary and thyme, have been with us since our old tiny North beach apartment but most others are new. We are growing at this point, what seems like every conceivable kind of herb. There are a few vegetables and some gorgeous flowers. I’m thrilled to share our growing garden with you.

The English pea plant. Its snaking tendrils, variegated leaves and bilaterally symmetrical white blooms remind me of the Alien movies for some odd reason. The plant is bursting with flowers right now and visions of pea pulao and pesto are already dancing in my head.
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Annie Somerville’s spicy corn with tomatoes, chilli and cilantro

Did not mean to stay away for long but time has really zoomed on by here, what with all the packing, moving and unpacking I’ve been doing since I last checked in with you. This moving thing, it really is as annoying, niggling and downright disruptive as others say it is.

You may wonder how I didn’t know this before. Surely, you might think, a girl who had to move all the way over here from a whole other country must have encountered this before. To answer that; not really. I moved to this country carrying my life in three large suitcases. The one soul-splitting decision I had to make then was which books to bring along. I dealt with that by avoiding the decision and bringing all of them over; that I had to leave most of my clothes behind to do this, is another story. The only other time I moved was from grad school in Texas to San Francisco. In two years, the glorious salary of a grad assistant hadn’t gone very far in adding to my original possessions. I tackled with this move by allowing the postal service to do the heayy lifting, first shipping off said previous possessions to my sister and once I got a job in San Francisco, to Amey, who was already here. I found an apartment and moved possessions into it. Then I just stayed put, adding a few odds and ends to the tally – mostly other books.

It wasn’t planned to be that way. We were supposed to move when we got married. My limerick-sized apartment with its haiku-sized kitchen was barely enough for one. It fairly exploded when Amey moved his things into it. We assured each other this would only be temporary, while we found a larger apartment that we liked, but time had its way with us. Before we knew it, we’d celebrated four anniversaries in that apartment.

So here we were seven years since I originally moved into the place, finally working on moving out. Up to that point we’d been congratulating ourselves on how well we’d managed to live, not buying more than would fit into the place. recycling stuff, purging before buying. Based on this and my previous moving experience, I’d thought this move would hardly be more irksome than before. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d paired canary yellow shoes with a shocking pink outfit. Or put bacon in my chocolate. *shudder*

Patient reader, this move has drained us to the very core. The act of trying to pack up the contents of a small apartment while still living having to live in it is as aggravating as trying to put seven terriers in a Mini Cooper. They will all get in eventually but they will then proceed to make a nuisance of themselves and get in your way every time you need to do something essential, like grab a tissue for your nose, which is running freely from all of the dust you’ve been kicking up. There were boxes of all sizes at every turn. We stacked and sidled, but there was no way around it. Going to work was sweet joyful relief, despite the crazy deadlines we were facing that month. For a while, all you had to do was walk up to Amey and say ‘packing’ and he would glower and start hurling invective like a wet dog shaking off water. All this and we were only at packing.

We managed to move in somewhat one piece, something that sadly cannot be said of several of my ceramic dinner plates. This move involved quite literally blood, sweat and tears. In my typical clumsy fashion, I’ve cut, scratched and bruised myself in every imaginable fashion as I’m wont to do in any situation that requires physical movement on my part. As you can imagine, there hasn’t been much time to really cook anything new, mostly stuff that was quick and ready in as little time as possible. That was on days that we could cook, there weren’t many. Most days we were just grateful for the concept of takeout.

Before we moved from our old apartment; the one that managed to be aggravating yet wonderful at the same time, I had cooked this as my last post from there. I never got to it while I was there but here it is now. There is corn to be had and while it’s still around I urge you to try this side dish that could very easily be a whole meal. It was for us. It will not take up too much of your time. You redeem some ears of corn of their kernels, cut a scallion or two and dice up some jalapeno. Shake everything into a pan with some oil and cayenne pepper. Then you take it off the heat and shower a cupful of ruby red cherry tomato halves into it. A dash of vinegar, some lime juice, a sprinkle of cilantro…voila! That’s all there is to a light dish that makes your stress disappear, be it from a day at the office or wrestling with prodigious quantities of duct tape.

Spicy corn with Tomatoes, Chilli & Cilantro
adapted from Annie Sommerville’s Field of Greens
Serves 2-3 as a salad and 4-6 as a side

Corn kernels – 4 ears or 2 cups
Jalapenos – 4, de-seeded and diced or slivered
Champagne vinegar- 1 tbsp
Lime juice – 1 lime
Scallions – 2, white and green bits, sliced thin
Cayenne pepper – a couple of pinches
Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup
Cilantro – a couple of sprigs, finely chopped
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

– Heat the oil in a pan on medium low heat until it shimmers, then add the corn, jalapeno and scallions.
– Add the salt and cayenne and give the contents of the pan a good stir. Let heat for 8 – 10 minutes.
– Add the vinegar and lime juice and toss the veggies in it. Move the dish off the heat immediately.
– Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl then add the cherry tomatoes and cilantro while the corn is still warm. Mix to incorporate.

Makes a great side dish or accompaniment for chicken, rice or any number of things. Makes a great salad with some crusty bread thrown in and oh, it is a quick and fabulous Cinco de Mayo side! Though you may need to thaw some frozen kernels then. 

Cook’s notes:

The rules contained in this recipe are more like guidelines. You cannot go wrong here no matter how you change up the steps. Throw the tomatoes into the pan with the corn for example, or toss the lime juice and vinegar in once off the heat (actually this is what the recipe instructs. I always forget to and throw them in the pan – no problem.) It makes little difference to the general make-up of the dish. Add as much or as little jalapeno as you want. Personally, a de-seeded jalapeno tastes like bell pepper to me, so I use 4. I like the soft crunch it brings to the party.The cayenne pepper will help you turn the heat up or down so use according to taste.

The sweetness of the corn mingles so well with the acid and heat of the other ingredients to create a dish that is quite gratifying. We had this as a salad with some crusty Ikea cardamom toast and tea. San Francisco was cold and foggy that day but the sun broke through the fog just as we sat down to eat. I’m sure the meteorologists have an explanation. I prefer to think it was the power of suggestion from this simple meal.