Saturday, December 8, 2007

experiments with plants

I'll admit it, I'm not much of a plant person. I don't know much about gardening - just enough to produce usable produce - and I know even less about house plants. But that doesn't always stop me from trying new tricks!

My mom came over a few weeks ago and taught me to snip off parts of my long-languishing begonia plant and place the cut ends in water to encourage the leggy stalks to create roots in the water. I looked at that and figured, why not try that with other plants?

For my first experiment, I took a 4-inch stalk of spearmint from a plant that I'd put in the kitchen windowbox at the beginning of this past spring, and placed it in a small, clean jelly jar filled with water. The results? Two weeks later, there are no roots, but there are new leaves!

Puzzling, but I'll keep an eye on it to see what it does next.

And the begonia snips? Three weeks or so later, and still no roots - but they look perfectly healthy so I'll keep them going for as long as they keep up the good work.

Monday, December 3, 2007

back to my first culinary love

The long holiday weekend gave me a chance to catch up on some recreational cooking. Since I work anywhere from 8 to 11 hours a day with a nice, healthy commute, I haven't really had opportunity to whip up anything that really spoke to my spirit in a good long time.

What really inspired me was a cookbook I picked up at Borders on the day before Thanksgiving: "1,000 Indian Recipes" by Neelam Batra. Just glancing through the book made me see that here were a vast number of recipes just waiting to be made. I couldn't put it down at the bookstore, and kept leafing through it when I got it home. I simply had to try it out!

My kitchen is full of Indian spices, since I used to cook almost exclusively Indian, so I didn't have to invest a lot in preparing to return to my first culinary love. Some of the ingredients were new to me, such as boondi (tiny drops of besan, or chickpea flour, that is lightly fried and sold commercially) and ajwain. But I live in a metropolitan area that can support multiple Asian grocery stores within a mile or so of each other, so I was lucky enough to simply drive down the boulevard and stop at a couple of shops along the way.

Within an hour, my kitchen began to once again take on familiar aromas. South Indian chicken, with its use of unsweetened shredded coconut as well as coconut milk, took on a lovely fragrance with the use of shredded curry leaves. Fresh curry leaves, I found out, have an odor that's somewhat off-putting at first ... but when simmered in a curry base they come into their own and transform the dish into something delightful.

This weekend I plan to have more Indian-inspired fun, making chapatis and naan to go with my curries ... maybe picking up some more papadums ... and making some paneer - possibly paneer pakora or saag paneer - for the coming week. Yum!