Friday, June 03, 2016

It Finally Rained (Plus Pickles)

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Baby okra plant.

      Several days last week, rain was predicted, typically at noon. I waited. Sometimes, I watered, but mostly, I waited, not wanting to waste resources or over-water and rot my plants' roots.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Iris leaf (blurry).
      Sometimes noon would bring clouds, a heavy dark layer and heavy, humid air.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. 'Rutgers' tomato plant.
      It was supposed to rain last Thursday. It was supposed to rain this weekend. It was supposed to rain on Monday. It finally rained yesterday, a different Thursday.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Do Chua.
      In the evening, I made carrot and daikon pickles (do chua), using a different recipe than I have in the past from a blog I discovered last week when trying to find vegetarian dumpling recipes that didn't necessarily involve tofu. (Not that I have anything against tofu; I just don't always have a package in the fridge that I don't have other plans for. What I do tend to have on hand are dried beans.) It wasn't just the recipe for mung bean dumplings, but the writing before the recipe about the author's life, which drew me in. I immediately wanted to read more of this blog, The Viet Vegan.
     This is the third do chua recipe I've tried. In Portland, my husband and I went through a brief banh mi phase. I don't remember what recipe we used, but I'm sure it involved grating the carrot and daikon. Last summer, we started to work our way through some of our cookbooks that were sort of neglected. We started with Delightful Thai Cooking by Eng Tie Ang, and switched to her Delightful Vietnamese Cooking, and very quickly became fixated on this book. Her do chua recipe involves chopping, not grating, the carrot and daikon. The resulting pickles seemed huge to me, and even though they were good, I thought maybe I'd done something wrong.
    I went to the First Oriental Market, a small market near my house. It deserves its own post, because it is sort of magical seeming. First of all, it looks small, but the inside is deceptively large. Second of all, it's no H-Mart substitute for when you don't feel like going to Buford Highway. They carry things that H-Mart does not have. Third, they always have different things, including plants for the garden, and fourth, the women who work there give great advice. Sometimes I go there with a shopping list and a plan, but sometimes I go there just to see what jumps into my basket. (Usually, it's a plant.) It's where I got my shiso plant last year, which reseeded into many beautiful shiso plants.
     Back to the pickles. One day last summer, I had grand plans to surprise my husband with banh mi, all component parts made from scratch. I'd made baguettes, mayonnaise, and probably some other things I'm forgetting, but I was second guessing my do chua. So I stopped at the market and asked if they had carrot and daikon pickles in a jar.
     "People usually make that at home," was the puzzled response.
     "I tried that," I replied. "But I don't think I did it right. They're really big and they're kind of smelly."
    After clarifying what they smelled like (sulfur, radishes, that brassicaceous smell), the woman confirmed that I had done everything right. I wasn't supposed to grate or shred the vegetables. They'd be too soft! They're supposed to be crunchy! And that smell was normal. She told me that some people open the jar outside and wait ten minutes.
     Even though my husband and a friend called them "fart pickles," everyone agreed that despite the smell, they were great on banh mi.
    I'm not sure what compelled me to try a different recipe. Is it because I was excited to find a new blog? What I mean to say is, I wasn't concerned about the "fart pickle" issue, but I'm happy to report that this most recent batch of do chua does not smell like anything unpleasant. Also, they are delicious. I've eaten about half of the contents of a pint jar.
     I recommend The Viet Vegan's recipe for do chua. It was easy and fun, and the pickles are delicious! Even though I waited too long after buying the daikon, so the daikon matchsticks are not crispy and don't stand up straight in the jar. Notice how beautiful The Viet Vegan's pickles are, standing nicely in the jar. I hope to someday develop the skill to arrange the pickles neatly--mine are jammed haphazardly in the jars.
Shiso and Asclepias tuberosa.Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey.  CC 2.0.
     That is one of the shiso plants that re-seeded from the plant mentioned above. The last draft post from that summer is a long-winded story about buying it and impulse-buying other herbs with it. I love the way the purple shiso and orange butterfly weed look together. Finally, this morning, I got a picture of them that didn't include ugly sidewalk or random garden implements.
     When I bought that shiso last summer, shiso wasn't regularly available at any nearby grocery stores, so having my own plant feels special, like a botanical blessing. The orange butterfly weed growing next to it is also one of my favorites in the garden, a plant I grew from seed and has thrived, despite my initial low expectations. I planted it before I'd had much success with anything grown from seed, when I thought of myself as a terrible gardener. It too feels like a botanical blessing. Seeing them together next to the front walk, I'm momentarily taken away from studying stress; it is replaced with a brief calm and a surge of happiness.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Tulips Flourished

An anonymous commenter kindly commented on my last post that it was not boring, and that they wanted to know how the tulips fared.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

They not only survived the temperature changes of our late winter, but grew tall and bloomed. The rest of our spring bulbs followed suit. We had two kinds of tulips, crocuses, a small blue-flowering Allium aureum, and an abundance of Scilla siberica, a spring flower to which I attach a lot of affection and some memories.

Scilla siberica. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
Especially delightful was the success of the checker lilies. I had tried to grow Fritillaria meleagris in previous gardens with no success. I'm not sure if my Portland checker lilies even bloomed before dying. I had such little hope for them in Georgia that I think I deliberately forgot that I planted them. But they grew. They persisted in breaking through Georgia red clay, persisted despite my neglect, and bloomed in at least three different beds in the yard. I hope they come back next year. Perhaps I will plant more this fall.

Look at the cool pattern on the tepals!
That's not a typo; they're really called tepals!
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey, CC 2.0.
This was a short update between bouts of bar prep. In drafts, I've started further updates on the topics from my last post. A lot has happened in the last four months! I had pneumonia, I got better, I graduated from law school, and now I am studying for the bar exam. I'm doing an online, flexible program, so I have time to do the outside things I like (such as listening to lectures while weeding and reading study materials on the porch). In between studying tasks, I'm still gardening, cooking, reading, taking pictures, and writing. Once I start revising, I'll have more to share with you!

More soon!