Archive for the 'Herbs' Category

My indoor plant license should be revoked

When I gave up the opportunity to plant a garden (even the balcony variety) at my own apartment, I did not forego all outdoor space. My Oakland apartment building boasts a rooftop deck and an interior courtyard, and although I-880 hugs the building on its opposite side, it is possible to sit outside on one of the lovely wooden benches and get some fresh air and sunlight.

“Maybe you could get them to let you put a tomato in a corner of the upstairs deck,” one of my friends said when I moved in.

No such luck. Although I’m a renter, my landlord is a condo owner, and it’s a condo building, complete with everything that comes along with it: sterilely manicured open space, a list of approved movers to use when entering or leaving the premises with your worldly belongings, and, although I will admit I haven’t asked the question, an absolutely-not policy on putting tomato plants on the roof.

So instead, I’ve been trying to make do with a miniscule potted plant collection in my living room window. I have a low table and plenty of light (although not much direct sunlight, to be honest), coming in, and that has caused me, in moments of weakness, to buy plants that I am probably dooming to certain death.

My indoor plant track record has not ever been good.

The first arrival on the scene was a mini Gerbera, bought at Trader Joe’s. The movers had just arrived that morning, and I was exhausted and at the store expressly for the purpose of impulse-buying large quantities of cheese and wine and convenience foods, and the cheery red flowers (oh, how I do love Gerberas) sat there muttering at me as I went by, “Hey lady! Lady! How ‘bout just a little taste?”

Of course, the following weekend, I was leaving for Hawaii for a week’s vacation, with no plan for watering the Gerbera while I was gone. It still has barely-surviving foliage, to be sure, but since I returned from Kaua’i, has refused me additional blossoms.

Then, last week, after my first stint in the Victory Garden, I decided to buy a basil plant that was on sale at Whole Foods. (You may notice a trend here, a trend that involves shopping when hungry AND needy-of-plants.)

The basil plant was beautiful, indeed, but I purchased it and did what I do with every plant I ever take home, whether I’m on vacation or not: I forget to water it. Or, worse, I remember that I should water it and just think, Oh, I’ll do that later. And then later becomes dinner out with friends and then there’s that workout I really should be getting to and then I have laundry to do and the dishes to wash and then…and then…

This is why outside plants and I get along so much better. If I don’t plant them under a godforsaken Black Walnut, they have such a better shot at getting what they need from the sun and the rain and the earth-that’s-not-potting soil.

This leads me to the inevitable, which is Sunday, when I suddenly looked at the basil plant and noticed that it was utterly droopy. This set me atwirl, trying to remember if I’d watered it, or if I’d over-watered it, or if I’d maybe given it some wine just for fun one night?

I decided to go with under-watering, because that’s my usual M.O., and gave it a drink. The water ran right out the bottom as if it didn’t even want to stop to say hello to the dirt, so I gave it some more, operating in my usual, I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing manner.

I also watered the Gerbera, which is really just a pot of Gerbera greens, which is really a plant that I kind of want to just throw out, but which makes me guilty so I keep it and begrudgingly nurture it. I am like that guy in The DaVinci Code, the albino monk? That Gerbera plant is my cilice.

By the next day, the Gerbera was waving its little fronds of greens in the air like a happy camper. And the basil, while still clearly in need of more attention, looked at least a little less limp. That’s really all I can ask for.

Except that I’m going away for the weekend. I promise I’ll water the plants before I go, but seriously…if they gave out licenses to garden indoors, mine would have already been revoked.


Farewell to Sher

I would really rather not be writing this post.

I would really rather not have eaten this particular meal at this particular time.

I would prefer to have stumbled across it, like so many other recipes posted by food bloggers I know and enjoy, and would prefer to have just made it whenever, unnoticed. I would prefer not to have been thinking about what I was going to way when I wrote it up.

Most of us in the food blogging community know this already: last Sunday morning, very suddenly, Sher of What Did You Eat? died of a heart attack.

Sher’s one of the bloggers I had not met. But I’d been reading her for awhile now, connected to her via Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, and because I have a friend who lives in Davis, I always felt like I could visualize where she lived as I read about her life.

And now she’s gone, and that’s left me with a lot to think about. She’s the first blogger in my regular reading to fall away, not because she abandoned her blog, but because life abandoned her. It breaks my heart, and I find myself thinking about the other food bloggers I know, the other people in this community of technologically-minded women and men who enrich my life so very much, and how they are not just glimmers on the screen to me. They are my peers, my friends, my compatriots. Any one of them gone leaves a hole.

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

My mother called while I was cooking up Sher’s Poblano and Cheddar-Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms last night. As I talked, I dried the spinach, and my salad spinner is a noisy thing. “What are you doing?” she asked.

I explained. “She was only 60,” I said. “I’m not very joyful about preparing this meal.”

The event: Remember Sher through her recipes. Kalyn suspended Weekend Herb Blogging in Sher’s honor, and asked those of us who take part in an event to take part in this one, organized by Mary, the breadchick, instead.

I spent some time browsing Sher’s archives, looking for something that spoke to me. This recipe did, partially because I love stuffed mushrooms, partially because it featured cilantro, an herb that, I’ll admit, I tolerate, but that I know Kalyn loves. And Kalyn and Sher were such good friends that it seemed appropriate.

I can tell you this: the “green taste” that Sher describes? It really shines in this dish. There’s no other real way to write about it, so I’m going to leave it in Sher’s hands. And the recipe is amazing. I do wish I had made more of it. I will make it again, to be sure. I’ll even keep the cilantro in there—I really enjoyed the recipe as Sher posted it.

But I hope to never make it again with as heavy a heart. To Sher’s family, I wish you consolation in your grief. To Kalyn, I wish you consolation as well, but I thank you for organizing this.

And to Sher, thank you. Thank you for this recipe, thank you for the other recipes that folks will have chosen and prepared in your honor this weekend, and thank you for your joyful writing. Know that we miss you.


They’re here.

Spices, here

Losing the lavender

After my original lavender plant overwintered successfully from Garden Year One to Garden Year Two, I decided to see if I could go for three years in a row. At the end of the season last year, I buried it (as I had the year before) in a larger pot and sat back for the winter.

Dead lavenderAfter the snow finally melted, the lavender sat there, looking as dead as it did post-winter the year before. By the time the snow began to melt, I’d already started poking around at options in California and back in D.C.—the winter had something to do with it, for sure, but there were other reasons driving my decision to leave Iowa City—and I’d given some thought to the fact that I probably wouldn’t move any plants.

The lavender plant, though, was different. It was left over from my very first summer of gardening, and I decided that, no matter what, I’d figure out a way to bring it along if it survived the winter.

I watched it pretty closely, checking it about every other day for signs of life, but nothing happened. The thing just sat there, grey and lifeless as it had been when the snow dropped away from it. Finally, I relegated it to the compost pile.

I won’t ever know, probably, what killed the plant. It could have been the awful winter, or it could have been rootbound in the pot, or it could have just reached the end of its lifespan. Plants die, after all, and I’ll admit I know very little about the standard lifespan of a potted lavender plant.

As I get my California growing ventures underway (and I’m still working on exactly how that’s going to play out), I may, for sentimental reasons, locate another lavender plant. It won’t be the same as my first one, but it’ll do the trick of keeping the memories alive.

The spice road

It’s been a long time since I completely started over with my spice rack. I ditched my spices when I moved to Iowa, but already had a spice rack of sorts waiting for me when I got there, so I didn’t have the delicious opportunity to start from scratch.

I like to use moves as the opportunity to clear the shelves and begin again—I try to be good about turning over spices, but the fact is that I am not as diligent about it as I think I am. Case in point: in the car from Iowa to California, I packed a container of dried lavender flowers harvested from my plant, absolutely certain that it was a worthy thing to bring along. I think these buds were from last summer, but I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible these were harvested the year before and I just completely forgot. When I got to my Oakland apartment and opened the container, I was dismayed to discover that, in fact, the flower buds were completely musty and gross. There wasn’t anything close to a lavender scent anywhere near there.

Does everyone start losing their mind in their early 30s? Or is it just me?

Anyway, this move was no exception. I didn’t throw any of the spices out—in fact, there’s more to the story of how I disposed of them, but you’re going to have to stay in suspense for the time being—but I did dispatch them to an alternate location rather than bringing them with me to California.

This has led me to the particularly delicious dilemma in which I find myself. It’s time to restock, and since I arrived in the Bay Area, I’ve bought nothing other than some sea salt and some peppercorns. (After all, a girl can get far on sea salt and peppercorns.) I did bring out one sealed can of smoked paprika that I bought at the frou-frou cooking store in Iowa City a month ago.

That’s all I have in my current incarnation of my spice cabinet. And so, readers of mine, I ask this question: given this opportunity, what would you consider your three must-haves (besides salt and pepper and smoked paprika) from the world of spices? And, if you’re a Bay Area insider, I’m taking suggestions, as well, about where to go purchase the good stuff, preferably a place with BART access, because I just put 2500 miles on my car and it deserves a bit of a rest.

Throw out your ideas, folks. I’m looking forward to spicing it up, and while I have plenty of my own thoughts on the matter, I’m open to a communal adventure, and happy to report back on how I used what I purchased.

I am more compulsive in other areas of my life

Apparently, over the winter, someone decided to throw approximately 1,000 small twigs into my garden plot. It’s lucky that, although I definitely have areas in which I exhibit great symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the garden is not one of those areas. Therefore, on Sunday evening, I picked about 428 of those twigs out of the garden before giving up and just deciding that the remaining ones provided some interest, and also a good challenge for the seedlings to come. The really strong ones, after all, ought to be able to push the twigs out of the way, right?

Don’t worry, Master Gardeners. I’ll pick more out in the next couple of days.

Besides the twigs, I needed to remove the clumps of grass that had infiltrated the plot over the winter, which is miraculous, because how the grass was able to be all sneaky like that underneath 20 inches of snow baffles me considerably. I also yanked any dead plants that would have come out if said snow hadn’t snuck up on me itself before I had time to clean much up last year.

Sage coming back to lifeBut there were signs of life. Besides the garlic and the aforementioned baby spinach that is just coming up all on its own, it appears that one of my sage plants is resurrecting itself. There were some green baby leaves that are destined to become tasty treats sooner rather than later.

I yanked the rest of the sage plants as carefully as I could so I wouldn’t disturb the newcomers, and took all the dead plants over to the compost pile. Then I set about turning over the soil, unearthing all manner of worms who were not particularly thrilled to see me hanging out. Then I got moving on dropping in seeds in my normal, laissez faire manner, starting with the chard, which has bony little seeds that I loved from the moment I saw them.

These are the cutest seeds ever.

After the chard, I moved on to the rest: spinach, rosemary, sage, Italian parsley and some green beans. Once I had put far too many seeds in, as usual, ignoring the wise advice of the back of the seed packet, I covered everything up. Then I stepped back from the garden plot, the sun setting behind me, and nodded. Oh, tasty spinach. Oh, tasty chard. Oh, delicious herbs. I hope some of you come up soon, despite my best efforts to plant you incorrectly.

Starting, with seeds

This garden plot has absolutely nothing going for it.I have been struggling with a distinct lack of gardening momentum. The weather finally kicked into gear and warmed up, and yet my garden plot sat, in the backyard, untidy and neglected. Sure, there’s some garlic poking up through the ground, but the rest? Home to dead sage, dead Texas Tarragon, dead rosemary, dead greens…well, you get the idea.

I never even put in a seed order. How ridiculous is that? Every other gardener I know spent the miserable winter ordering seeds willy-nilly, but I couldn’t even get myself to imagine that far in advance, so I skipped that whole process. I mean, yeah, I did buy those Italian seeds back in February, but that doesn’t possibly compete with all those gardeners who spend time plotting out their gardens on graph paper long before winter winds to a close.

On Sunday afternoon, though, after reading the Michael Pollan article I mentioned on Monday, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I took a walk over to the co-op to get a few things, and availed myself of their rack of Seed Savers seed packets. Thank you, New Pioneer Co-op, for not only providing me with a source for my favorite single source honey and a prodigious amount of wine, but for also allowing me to be utterly lazy about planning my garden yet still buy really quality seeds from a cool source.

I went for things I could plant this early in the season, because it looks like we still have some fairly chilly nights ahead. In other words, I did not pick out basil, but I did grab spinach, chard, green beans, rosemary, sage and Italian parsley.

I headed home again, seeds in my Inadvertent Gardener tote bag, glad that even though I’d procrastinated into the late afternoon, there was still plenty of light out in the garden. As I walked down Washington Street toward home, imagining how I’d lay out the seeds I just bought. Who needs graph paper, anyway?

Getting in touch

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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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