In my imagination, I’d love to live on a farm. I say “in my imagination” because, in my reality, I’m actually the farthest thing from a farm type of gal (“What the-? What do you mean, 5:15 is the normal time for the rooster to crow?!!” OR, “What do you mean, it’s almost 2 hours to the closest Barnes and Noble?” OR, “What do you mean, ‘that’s just what manure smells like, so get used to it’???!!!”). Um, nope, I don’t think so.
Still, in my fantasy, I’m a latter day Lisa Douglas. Mid-afternoon, I turn to my HH Wendell Douglas and casually remark, “Oh, dahlink, what shall we have for dinner tonight? I think I vill go out back to our vegetable patch and pick something fresh.” And then I cook it and we eat it and it’s delicious, of course.
Well, now that it’s finally beginning to look a lot like Christmas hockey season reruns springtime here in Toronto, all the gardeners are out on our street. Our neighbours across the way have been scattering a wheelbarrow full of rich, black composted soil over their front lawn. Everywhere I look, I see women on their knees yanking weeds out of the flower garden, others pulling up dried-out webs of branches and roots.
And I? Not so much. On the other hand, the previous tenants in our house were quite the gardeners. When we first viewed the place last August, the back yard was lush with flowers and all manner of greenery, and it seemed everything was in bloom. (Bizarrely, when we finally moved in in November, we discovered that they had literally uprooted every plant, bush or tree they’d planted in the back yard, and taken everything with them to their new home. Remember that huge, gaping crater out of which emerged the creepy farmer-cum-alien in Men in Black? Well, that’s what our yard looked like, times twenty.)
As far as I could tell until yesterday, what remained in our garden was one puffy green bush near the tree in the front yard, some teeny purple flowers (or were they weeds?) and a few long, sharp green plants that look like miniature palm trees. What they are called, or what they will sprout, I’m afraid I have no idea. My one and only previous gardening experience involves a single jalapeno seedling (I chose a jalapeno because I guessed it would require no maintenance, would self-repel bugs and raccoons, and would yield a small enough harvest that I could use it all up before it began to rot). I was correct on most counts, though the plant, remarkably, flourished and the HH and I ended up eating jalapenos in every imaginable food, from scrambled eggs to pesto to muffins to plain ole roasted in a pan. But at least it proved I could grow a plant without killing it (or neglecting it to the point of killing it).
This year, I vowed, I’d venture into something a bit more exotic. My friend Gemini I (a gardener extraordinaire) has promised that herbs are fairly easy to grow, so I figured I’d plant some basil, cilantro, dill and sage. Then, yesterday, I was strolling past the side of our house on my way toward the back yard for some Frisbee-toss with The Girls and noticed something odd. There, spanning the entire length of the house, was a patch of earth the previous tenants had evidently forgotten–completely covered in small, green, leafy, plants in full bloom. They were a dazzling, almost translucent shade of green, lighter than grass but deeper than lime. . . the color reminded me of something, but what? It was sort of like. . . the color of. . . the color of mint. Yes, mint! And I’ll be darned, when I bent over and pinched one of those verdant babies between my fingers, that’s exactly what they smelled like.
“Oh, that’s mint,” my next-door neighbour said as she sauntered over to me and The Patch. Wow. And so, without even a modicum of effort, I now am the proud owner of a fully formed, instant mint garden. But what to do with it?
“Want some?” I asked her.
I am still planning to plant the cilantro and basil, as I can never get enough of either. But I have to admit that, much as I enjoy mint as a flavoring, I’ve never really been forced to make use of this much of it before. Something tells me I’ll be drinking my share of mint juleps over the next few months–though, even once I’ve given much away to friends and colleagues, I’ll still have more mint than could possibly be consumed even by Daisy and Tom and Jordan and Gatsby during a long, hot, humid summer. (I see much green in my future: chocolate-mint cookies, mint smoothies, mint ice creams, mint salads and all manner of mint drinks, alcoholic and otherwise. . . ).
There was one high point to the discovery, however. Just around dinnertime, I glanced at the swath of green running across the side of my house and said, to no one in particular, “Why, I think I’ll step over here to my herb patch and pick some fresh herbs for dinner tonight.” And I cooked something, and we ate it, and it was delicious. (“Mum, why are you talking with a Hungarian accent? And, come to think of it, why are you talking to yourself?”)
We had planned to have a favorite Indian-spiced potato dish called Aloo Masala, but the recipe didn’t call for any mint. No matter; I threw some in anyway. Along with the complement of other spices, it made for a delightful, slightly sweet and slightly peppery bowl of spuds. The HH had these with an organic chicken breast (on which he piled even more mint), while I was happy with a simple bowl on its own.
Well, that took care of about 1/85th of our mint. Any suggestions for tomorrow?
Aloo Masala (Potato Masala Curry)
adapted from Complete Indian Cookbook, edited by Meera Budhwar
These potatoes come together very quickly and offer a spicy, smooth and comforting side dish to pretty much any main.
3 or 4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) turmeric
salt, to taste
2 green chilies, chopped (or 1/2-1 jalapeno)
2 tsp. (10 ml.) garam masala
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) shredded or dessicated coconut, unsweetened
1-inch (2.5 cm.) piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) olive oil
1 tsp. (5 ml.) glack mustard seeds
4-6 mint leaves, finely shredded
leaves from 2 sprigs cilantro, finely shredded
Cook the potatoes in just enough water to cover with half the onion, the turmeric and the chilies until about half cooked, about 8 minutes [note: next time I do these, I will omit the onion here and simply fry it all together at the end–I think the potatoes would have a better flavor that way, infused with the caramelized onion].
Meanwhile, blend the garam masala, coconut and ginger in a coffee grinder or miniature food processor. Add to the potato and continue to cook for a further 8 minutes, until tender but not soft, and most of the water has evaporated.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds until they have popped, then add the onion and fry until deep golden brown. Stir this into the curry in the pot.
Add salt to taste and sprinkle with the mint and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.