Thursday, June 12, 2014

My little garden and an unseasonal Rooh Afza mocktail

I think even calling the few plants I am growing this spring a "little garden" is hyperbole, but it sounds better than "the things in pots on my balcony" so I'll stick with it.

The second house I lived in while in Delhi was known as a barsati - a rooftop room whose original purpose was to have somewhere to sleep when it was too hot to stay in the house but too rainy to sleep on the terrace, but whose purpose now is to rent out to students or other non-locals and make a little extra cash. I had one of two rooms on the Bhalla family's terrace. The other room on the terrace was occupied by the Meenakshis - one a student, one who had recently started a job near the university - and the terrace itself was occupied by countless plants in pots - flowers of all sorts, mint, cumin, and a tulsi plant in the place of honor.

I had never been much of a gardener, but when I came back to the US, I found myself buying plants every spring. It became a spring equinox ritual to go to the local nursery and figure out what I should plant this year. My first year, I had alove vera and a big bromeliad. The next year, I added rosemary and cilantro, which would have been so useful for us if only the local critters hadn't thought it was just as good an idea as I did. I seriously considered getting a curry leaf plant, but could not find a local supplier.

Then we moved cross country to a completely different climate zone. I awaited March 21 as I had begun to do, ready for my annual shopping trip. But there was no equinox plant browsing that year; the ground was completely covered in snow. Curry leaves were right out, and I didn't think I could plant anything.

The secret was to wait a couple of months. I didn't even have to buy plants that year - our local CSA gave me a cayenne pepper plant and a tomato plant for free. I carefully got them home and set them up on the balcony. But did I mention that I am not really a gardener? I don't know very much about soil and shade and water other than what I can find on the internet, and I did not realize at the time that tomatoes and peppers - particularly the peppers - needed full sun. Lots of it. Which is impossible on my balcony. I get about three hours of sun on a portion of the balcony for about three months; the rest of the time it's completely in the shade. So I got exactly two cayenne peppers and three tiny grape tomatoes that were supposed to be full-size heirloom tomatoes. Disappointed, I did not grow anything the next year, and last year we knew we would be going to India, so I didn't even bother since there was no one to take care of the plants while we were gone.

But this year, I was determined to make it work yet again. I wisely let the equinox pass, then in mid-May, once all danger of frost had passed, I bought two plants, some seeds, and looked through my cabinets to figure out what this year would bring.

This picture of odd perspective is my little marigold seedlings in a seed starter. I grew these from a seed packet I got at Ace Hardware. I'm looking forward to transplanting these into their own pots this weekend, rain or shine. The perspective is due to the fact that they are sitting on a plant stand about three feet off the ground that you can't see (and also because I'm a lousy photographer.)

These are my methi plants! I grabbed  a handful of the seeds that I use to make  panch phoron and soaked them in water for a day, as was instructed. I kind of forgot about them, though, and they ended up soaking for three days before I was able to get them planted. I was sure that I had ruined the seeds and nothing would happen, but I held out a little hope and sure enough, after about a week, I had little green leaves  peeking out. They are getting taller now, and they're very thirsty plants! I had a migraine yesterday and didn't get to water them, then when I came out this morning, the one in the white had wilted in protest. I gave it lots of water, and as you can see, it's perked up quite a bit in the last four hours.

Mint is always a very useful thing to have around, particularly in the summers. So here is the mint plant (also from Ace Hardware). It's grown a little since I got it and seems to be maintaining pretty well. I'm not sure at what point I can actually start using the leaves. I think I will harvest a few for my first summer's glass of Rooh Afza, which while the weather is still about 66 degrees during the day (19 degrees Celsius), probably won't be for at least a few more weeks.

Finally, my rosemary plant. I don't think I potted this one very well - you can see the biodegradable pot it came in well above the top of the clay pot - but the plant does not seem to mind. This will be wonderful to keep and dry for soups in the winter and to use fresh when roasting lamb in the fall. From my previous experience, rosemary likes full sun but will be fine in a little bit of shade. I have also found that it's much harder to kill rosemary than other kinds of herbs, so it's perfect for me. And I love the smell. Of all of them, really! I did not realize how fragrant fresh herbs on the balcony would be.

The only thing I am not sure about right now is what to do when the warm weather is over for the year. I will have to ask some people who live locally. Still don't know what you can keep over from year to year and what needs to be re-planted. The methi, of course, I think is only good for one season, and probably the mint too but not sure about the rosemary. Either way, it will be wonderful to cook with herbs that I grow myself this summer - and my wallet will thank me too, since they're terribly expensive at the grocery!

All these pictures are useless without a recipe, so I will share my recipe for my Rooh Afza mocktail with you. Rooh Afza, as you may know, is a rose syrup popular in South Asia. It's used to make various drinks and desserts, but this is the way I like it best.

4-5 ice cubes
2-3 tablespoons Rooh Afza (I suppose - I just pour until I feel guilty)
Diet 7Up or your lemon-lime soda of choice
A pinch of kala namak (black salt) - available in Indian grocery stores
A squeeze of lime juice (optional; limes are crazy expensive now)
Mint leaves

Put ice cubes in a tall glass. Pour Rooh Afza into the bottom of the glass, then fill up with the lemon-lime soda. Add a pinch of black salt for tanginess, some lime juice for zing, and mint leaves for coolness. Stir it up really well so the syrup mixes with the soda. Drink, happily refreshed. If you don't like black salt you can leave it out, but it adds that certain je ne sais quoi, so try to acquire the taste if you're adventurous.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrea! You have a lovely herb garden! You should be able to keep both the mint and rosemary (depends on what kind) for next year. The Rose Syrup cocktail sounds flowery and refreshing, I'll have to give it a try. :)


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