Char Siu & Chinese Broccoli with Budding Chives

Chinese Style BBQ Roast Pork

I have a confession to make.  Despite my Asian heritage, I don’t know much about cooking Asian food.  Sure, I know how to stir-fry and know how to use the more common Asian ingredients, but Mom’s home cooking was nothing like restaurant food.  After years of cooking for myself, then going to culinary school, I can make Bechamel sauce for mac and cheese, French Onion Soup, and Chipotle and Chorizo Chili without blinking an eye, but ask me how to make  Chinese standards like Red Cooked Pork, Sweet & Sour Sauce, or Kung Pao Chicken, and I wouldn’t know where to start.

So last weekend when Chef and I were batting around ideas for a special using Black Sea Bass, and he said “Why don’t we go Asian?” I felt my heart sink.  Um, anytime my family went out for say, Chinese, we ate family style and had giant fish steamed whole, head on and everything, with a simple garnish of ginger and garlic.  The waiter would cut the fish open and remove it’s spine and ribs tableside.  Then my mind went to all the restaurants in Chinatown with succulent roasted meats hanging in their windows, beckoning hungry patrons from the street.  I thought of my favorite Thai joint in Astoria, and the hot stone bowl casseroles and seafood pancakes at my favorite Korean restaurant.  Still, I didn’t know how to cook any of these dishes, much less how to adapt them to western style fine dining.

Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli and Budding Chives

I took this as motivation to get back in the kitchen – my home kitchen – and further educate myself on how to use new ingredients and new methods.  I thought I would start with one of my favorite comfort food items, and a Chinese staple:  Char Siu, or Chinese roast pork.  It always reminds me of working summers at my Dad’s office in Chinatown, where  I would regularly have a simple lunch of Char Siu with white rice and fresh stir-fried greens.  So I decided to consult the country’s leading authority:  Martin Yan. I copied down the ingredients from my autographed copy of Martin Yan’s China and drove down to my local Asian grocery.  The budding chives and Chinese broccoli looked really fresh, so I picked up some of those too and stir fried them with some fresh garlic and chili sambal.  I know that Siracha  Sauce is all the rage right now, but I prefer Chili Sambal as a spicy condiment.

By the way, a thousand pardons for the recipe drought.  I’ve been cooking a lot, just not at home, and nothing I can share.  I finally got some time this week to cook for Boyfriend and myself.  This recipe for Char Siu is for oven roasting,  but I’ll bet grilling over hardwood charcoal would be smoky and delicious too!  Enjoy.

Char Siu (Chinese Roast Pork)

Adapted from Martin Yan’s China

Notes: Mr. Yan’s recipe was just like my memories of Chinatown, except for a couple things.  First, it called for sugar in the marinade, which I found unnecessary.  Also, after cooking, his instructions were to simply bring the marinade to a boil and brush over the pork before serving.  I found the resulting sauce was too sweet and thick for my taste.  After bringing it to a boil, I diluted the marinade with some hot water and that seemed to do the trick.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

(3) 1/2 lb.well marbled shoulder steaks or 1-1/2 lbs. pork butt

1/4 c.  soy sauce

1/4 c.  honey

1/4 c.  hoisin sauce

3 Tbsp.  rice wine or dry sherry

2 tsp.  minced garlic

2 tsp.  minced ginger

1 tsp.  sesame oil

1 tsp.  ground white pepper

1 tsp.  Chinese 5-spice powder

PROCEDURE:

1.  If you are using pork butt, slice the meat into three pieces of equal thickness.

2.  To make the marinade, mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the meat, cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours.  (I only had time for 4 hours, but if you marinate longer, you’ll get more flavor, and an attractive red ring around the meat when it’s sliced).

3.  To cook, preheat oven to 400°F.  Place a rack over a baking dish (you may want to line it with foil for easy cleanup).  Pour about 1/4″ of water in the baking dish.  Arrange the meat slices in a single layer on the rack and roast, basting with the marinade every 15 minutes until they are cooked through.  (For 1″ thick shoulder steaks, it took about 45 minutes).  Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes then slice it against the grain.

4.  Combine the marinade with any pan drippings in a small saucepan and bring it all to a boil over high heat.   Dilute with hot water if you want a thinner, less sweet sauce, or simmer and reduce if you want a thicker sweeter sauce.  Brush over the pork and serve.

Spicy Chinese Broccoli with Budding Chives

Notes:  Chinese broccoli can be braised whole, but the stalks stay very crunchy long after the leaves are wilted.  By separating the leaves and floret from the stalk, then slicing the stalk into smaller pieces, everything will cook more evenly and be less work to eat.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4:

one bunch (about 12 stalks) of Chinese Broccoli

one bunch (about 1/4 lb.) Budding Chives

1-1/2 to 2 tsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp.  vegetable oil

salt

1 tsp. Chili Sambal (adjust to taste)

PROCEDURE:

1. Wash the Chinese Broccoli thoroughly in a large container of water.  Separate the large outer leaves from stalk and trim the florets to 2″ long pieces.  Thinly slice the thick part of the stalk.  Cut the Budding Chives into 2″ long pieces.

2.  Combine oil and garlic.  Heat wok over high heat.  Pour oil garlic mixture into the wok and swirl around a few seconds.  Add all the Chinese broccoli and Budding Chives to the wok.  Saute for about 5 minutes over high heat, stirring continuously, and adding oil as needed to lightly coat the vegetables.

3.  Add enough water so that after any steam clears, there is about 1/4″ of water at the bottom of the wok.  Simmer  over high heat until most of the water has evaporated and the broccoli is cooked but still bright green.  Season with salt and Chili Sambal to taste.

The Importance of Being…Inspired

Oh a busy busy busy bee is me!  I know it’s been months since my last post, but between having a new puppy, caring for old cats, resolving yet another car accident (not my fault, I wasn’t even in the car), my novice attempts at gardening, and the demands of the restaurant, I don’t know where all that time went.  A girl can get pretty jaded, living in such a whirlwind.  Thank goodness I recently had a birthday, which always makes me restless to shake up my routine, and reflect on what my goals are for the next year to come.  Some people make new year’s resolutions.  Instead I make birthday resolutions.

Resolution number one is to actively stay inspired.  Sure, a strong routine can be very valuable for a line cook.  It helps you set up your station on time, multi-task during service, and strive toward machine-like precision and consistency.  But it can be very easy to let the machine take over and to forget why you’re working so hard in the first place.  So I’m trying to take better advantage of the city, and see what other chefs are doing from my ever-growing list of restaurants to check out.  On a line cook’s pay, that’s certainly not easy, but at least on my birthday, Boyfriend was picking up the tab!

So for my birthday dinner I chose Degustation, one of the top restaurants on my list.  Serving a menu of small plates from an open kitchen surrounded by only 19 seats, it’s definitely a restaurant designed with industry folks and food & wine enthusiasts in mind.  A friend who recently left the kitchen at Prune to follow her med student fiance to Grenada (winter in the caribbean? me? jealous?) raved about Degustation after having their anniversary dinner there a few months back.  Then one of our cooks who recently relocated from the west coast touted his meal at Degustation as among the best he’s had.  Then when I told one of our bartenders I was considering going there for my birthday he said it was the best meal he’d ever had, and if I had any trouble getting reservations he knew someone who knew someone…  So I figured it was time to go and see what all the fuss was about.  My day off that week fell on a Tuesday, so  I called Degustation that afternoon to make reservations for two.  They could only fit us in either really early at 6pm, or later at 9pm because they were expecting a large party at 8pm. 6pm was too early so we took the 9pm reservation.

Degustation’s unassuming exterior

Degustation‘s entrance, located on E 5th street off 1st avenue, is simple and unassuming.  We almost walked right past the restaurant and probably would not have even noticed it if we weren’t looking for it.  In the dark, the name was barely visible on the solid front door, and the only light was a warm glow that emanated from two square, porthole like windows.  We entered through the heavy door into a space that was contemporary and chic, yet warm and comfortable.  The host greeted us and immediately showed us to our seats.  I was delighted to find that we were seated right in front of the chef ‘s station, where executive chef Wesley Genovart was artfully plating all the food.

We started off our evening with a couple of beers as we looked over the menu and tried to decide whether or not to try a tasting menu.  Boyfriend stuck with his usual Amstel light, while I sipped an Alhambra Negra, a dark Spanish lager with a soft caramel like flavor.  The small plates menu featured a crudo of seasonal fish, coca mallorquina, carabinero, and other items also inspired by the chef’s Spanish up-bringing.  In addition to the a la carte small plates, the restaurant offers a five course tasting menu for $50 per person, and a 10 course tasting for $75 per person.  When asked, our server kindly explained that both tasting menus were pre-determined for the evening and that the five course tasting featured only menu items, while the 10 course tasting also featured special items that changed daily, such as sweetbreads and some other things that I didn’t hear after she mentioned sweetbreads.  So we chose the 10 course tasting.  Our server asked us if we had any allergies, which they would be happy to accommodate.  No, we didn’t, but Boyfriend was really excited to see oxtail among the small plates, so we asked if that might be included as one of our courses.  “I’m sure we can make that happen,” she replied.

The meal started with an amuse-bouche of two bite size menu items: a pork croqueta and Spanish “tortilla” filled with quail egg and shallot confit.  The croqueta was crispy and flavorful, and paired nicely with its bed of paprika spiced aioli.  The tortilla was much more delicate in texture and subtle in flavor.  While I could appreciate the contrast, it seemed strange to pair the two on the same plate.  It did a slight disservice to the tortilla, which I think was good, but whose subtlety was somewhat overpowered by the more assertive croqueta next to it.

Pork Croqueta and Spanish “Tortilla”

The first course was a delicious chilled marcona almond soup, simply garnished with chives, pea flower, and a marcona almond.  It was milky and smooth, and perhaps there was just the slightest suggestion of roasted garlic which pleasantly enhanced the salty sweetness of the almonds.

Chilled Marcona Almond Soup

Our second course was a crudo of spanish mackerel served over tomato granita and topped with crispy slivered garlic and serrano chiles.  The fish was fresh and firm, and I thought the tomato granita added nice chill and acidity to an otherwise oily fish, but Boyfriend did find the garlic too overpowering.

Crudo of Spanish Mackerel

Next, we were served the Puerro Salda, a  warm pureed potato leek soup garnished with octopus, a Barron Point oyster, and padron pepper (which I believe was in the form of a green infused oil).  Boyfriend did not like this soup.  He found it overwhelmingly “fishy.”  I could see where he got that, since it  had a familiar flavor that was reminiscent of braised abalone I’d eaten at Chinese wedding banquets as a child.

Boyfriend and I shared much discussion about the next dish, which was a trio of sardines.  One was simply pan seared and served over roasted red pepper.  The second, our favorite preparation, was the chef’s play on a sardine sandwich, and featured a sardine seemingly dusted with rice flour, then fried and served over pickled onion and topped again with serrano chiles.  The sardine was pleasantly crispy and the onions were tart and I thought I detected a hint of fish sauce in the brine.  The third and least favorite was a sardine fillet rolled and served over sauce gribiche, whose flavor Boyfriend likened to the smell Tester’s modeling glue.  Humbly I must admit that I don’t know what sauce gribiche is supposed to taste like, but I had to agree with Boyfriend on this one.

Trio of Sardines

Next the servers brought us bowls of seared durade with matsutake mushrooms, and eggplant.  At the table, they finished the dishes with a matsutake mushroom broth.  This was our fifth course, (sixth, if you include the amuse) and to be truthful, by now I was beginning to feel the food equivalent of “Museum Fatigue,” a term from my art school days used to describe the kind of sensory overload and subsequent shut-down caused by viewing too much artwork in one visit to the museum.  So I have to say that outside of enjoying the broth and the texture of the eggplant and the fish, I can’t recall much about the dish’s flavors.

Amazingly enough, the next course was just the thing to bring my senses back to life:  a warm duck egg mouse with tiny brioche croutons, smoked maple syrup and a strip of lamb bacon all served in the eggshell.  It was perfect.  The mousse was light, airy, and was just the right temperature to evoke the warmth of a freshly laid egg.  The croutons and the bacon were nice and crunchy, and the syrup underneath the mousse added a great sweet smoky finish.  I asked Boyfriend, who normally does not like the flavor of lamb, what he thought of the lamb bacon, and he replied, “C’mon, it’s bacon, of course it’s good.”

Duck Egg Mousse

After having my senses re-awakened, and hearing the server describe it, I was really excited about the next dish: coca Mallorquina with sobresada, wild mushrooms and a red wine reduction.  It was good, but after experiencing the perfection of the duck egg mousse, I have to say the coca Mallorquina was a little disappointing.  Inspired by a Spanish style pizza or flatbread typical of the Mallorca region, the crust was crispy, but the sobresada seemed a little dry and chewy, and the flavors, though good, were kind of lackluster.

Finally, grilled sweetbreads!  I have to admit I had only had sweetbreads either dusted with flour and pan-fried, or poached and glazed with a veal reduction like they did in culinary school.  The first being light and crispy on the outside, and rich and creamy inside, the second is just gross.  Here however, chef Genovart presented us with grilled veal sweetbreads served over a of succotash-like mixture of fresh corn, green beans, crispy okra and chanterelle mushrooms dressed with tomatillo salsa and cilantro.  This was a texture and flavor I had not experienced with sweetbreads before.  The char from the grill changed the flavor of the sweetbreads by adding what I can only describe as a kind of bite.  Grilling also gave it a supple yet meaty texture that was pleasing to eat, and the acidity of the tomatillo salsa in the corn mixture was just the right foil to the richness of the sweetbreads.  Boyfriend and I both really enjoyed this dish.

Grilled Sweetbreads

Then came the dish Boyfriend was waiting for: potato “Cannelloni” filled with oxtail and grilled on the plancha, served with crispy shallot, a fresh herb salad and radishes. This was a delicious and enjoyable dish. The cannelloni was actually thinly sliced potato wrapped around a tender filling of braised oxtail. The potato had a crisp sear from the plancha, the radishes were a peppery accompaniment, and the herbs added a nice freshness to the dish. This was the last savory course and was a good way to move onto dessert.

Oxtail with Potato “Cannelloni”

But wait!  Before dessert we were presented with a lovely cheese plate, with birthday wishes from my bartender friend.  What a nice surprise.  It featured cheeses from Spain and Switzerland accompanied by a marcona almond puree, fresh honey on the comb, black currant preserves, and a poached pear.

Surprise Cheese Plate

Last, but not least, dessert was a simple yet delicious bread pudding of brioche soaked in cream, then caramelized on top, and served with fresh berries.  Our server said it was a dessert very typical of the Basque region.  As we enjoyed our dessert, we chatted a little with chef Genovart as he and his crew packed up their stations (by now the restaurant had been closed for almost a half hour) and dutifully scrubbed everything clean.  I thought of how this crew was expected to perform every evening, with all their actions totally exposed to their patrons, and from the eater’s point of view, how our reactions and comments about the food were visible and audible to those preparing it.  I pondered on how different this was from the closed kitchen, where among the din of servers coming in and out of the swinging door, the clang of the dish machine hatch opening and closing, the scrambling of dishwashers rushing to restock clean pans and collect dirty ones from the line, and the voice of the chef calling out orders, our only connection to the dining room is through the waitstaff.

Overall I would have to say that our meal at Degustation was a really good one.  At $75 per person, it was well worth it for a 10 course tasting, and at the end of the meal I was satisfied without being full.  The servers described each dish as it was served, and patiently answered any questions I had about particular components.  The dishes were generally well executed and good, although some were definitely more memorable than others.  We’ll definitely go back, but now that we’ve had the tasting menu, there are some other items on the small plates menu we would like to try, and some dishes from our tasting that we would order a la carte.  As for my birthday resolution, it was a great success.  I definitely left feeling re-freshed, and inspired with ideas for new ingredients, techiniques, and combinations I’ll be trying myself.

Lemon Cucumber & Tomato Salad

My zucchini plants keeled over last week. I had so much hope for them, cared for them, and resisted eating the flowers so that they could produce fruit. Alas, after battling off fungus gnats, aphids, and even maggots, it was stem rot that finally did them in. I stared sadly at the orange fungus that had eaten halfway through the base of the plant and knew there was nothing I could do to save them.

The zucchini plants weren’t the only ones I mourned last week.  I’m also growing an heirloom cucumber known as Lemon Cucumbers (when they’re ripe they are the color and shape of lemons).  For a while now they were looking kind of sad too.  The leaves had developed spots of dusty white mildew, and while the fruit was getting bigger and ripening, they weren’t producing any new flowers or tendrils. So I pulled the vines out of the pot.  It was just in time, it seems – there was a little stem rot on one of the plants too.  I sowed new seeds and they’ve already germinated, so maybe I’ll have a second chance at some late season cukes.

I was able to salvage a few ripe cucumbers though, and it’s amazing how quickly they start to shrivel up without the commercial wax coating that you get on store-bought produce.   So what to do with them?  Inspired by an heirloom tomato salad we served while I was at “Restaurant BB,”  I paired slices of cucumber with two kinds of home-grown basil and fresh tomatoes.

I’ve been growing both Greek Basil, and the more commonly seen Genovese Basil. You may have seen Greek Basil at the Farmer’s Market, but for those of you who are not familiar, it’s a bushy compact plant.  It produces pretty little leaves that are smaller, rounder and more densely grouped than the Genovese variety.  I tucked a bunch of seedlings into my tomato pot and they’ve grown so well, they actually need regular pruning.

Unfortunately the homegrown heirloom tomatoes weren’t ripe yet, so I had to settle for store bought.  Still, a simple drizzle of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper was just enough to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes without overpowering the delicate flavor of the cucumbers.

Boyfriend and I enjoyed this salad with a simple pan seared rib steak and oven roasted potatoes.  If you’re not a gardener, you may find Lemon Cucumbers and Greek Basil at your local farmer’s market.  White balsamic vinegar adds just the right amount of acidity and sweetness, but if you can’t find that you can substitute sherry vinegar.

INGREDIENTS (serves 2, generously):

2 lemon cucumbers

2 medium tomatoes

a handful of fresh Greek Basil, picked

a few leaves of fresh Genovese Basil, chiffonade

2 Tbsp. good olive oil

1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

coarse sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Slice the cucumber and tomatoes.  I like to use a combination of slices and wedges.

Combine the olive oil and vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Gently toss the cucumbers in the bowl first, then remove them and dress the tomatoes.

Arrange the cucumber and tomatoes on a plate.  If desired, drizzle some more of the dressing over them.  Then top with the fresh basil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Call me Cookie

Mike*, one of our garde manger cooks just took a few days off to help his girlfriend move from Syracuse to Brooklyn.  When Mike returned, Javier, the Spanish-speaking pastry cook greeted him with a loud and enthusiastic “Cookie! We missed you Cookie!”  The sous-chef turned to me and asked, “Why do you guys call him Cookie?” I explained that whenever Mike walked by Javier’s station, he would scan the area for handouts, saying “Cookie? Cookie?”  So naturally Javier just started calling him “Cookie,” and once everyone else heard it, the name stuck.

I’m not sure if it’s true for other kitchens, but at my current workplace pretty much everyone has a nickname.  Maybe it’s cultural, or maybe it’s just easier to remember a descriptive nickname than one’s real name, but the Spanish-speaking cooks rarely refer to one another by their given names.  Gringos are not excluded either, and most of us have nicknames assigned to us by the Spanish cooks, that are used by all.

Some nicknames are pretty obvious and present themselves immediately.  For instance, anyone of Asian descent is immediately dubbed Chino or China.  Not actually Chinese? Well then after a few reminders, one might be re-assigned Koreano or Japonesa.  One of the dishwashers is very proud of being from Guerrero, Mexico and insists on being called Guerrerensé, meaning both a person from Guerrero, and a warrior.  Another dishwasher, although he stands head to head with Guerrerense, is known as Enano, meaning dwarf  or little guy.  There’s el Gordo, the fat prep cook, and Flaca, the line cook who apparently was really skinny until she had two kids.  The butcher, an older man, is referred to by the younger guys as Tío, or uncle, and Javier is sometimes referred to as el Padrino, or “the Godfather” – both names that also imply some level of respect.

Other nicknames present themselves after a cook has been around for a while, such as the case with “Cookie.”  Wil, who has been working at the restaurant for several months now, has even more than one nickname.  He apparently bears striking resemblance to a character from a Spanish sitcom named Kiko, and being tall and lanky, has also been called Shaggy (as in Scooby’s sidekick).  He wasn’t too thrilled about the second moniker and has since threatened the life of the el Gordo, the cook who first called him Shaggy.  Most of the time I’m called China or Chinita, which is fine with me, but there was an instance when el Gordo tried to call me Pocahantas.  Now he has two hits out on his life.

For the most part, the nicknames are accepted as terms of endearment or friendship.  What you don’t want, however, is a nickname that won’t be said to your face.  Sonambulo or “Sleepwaker” was one sous chef who got fired after bungling his way through a busy Sunday service while his abilities were clearly impaired by booze and prescription pills. Despite a grand effort, the sous that followed was never truly able to win over the Spanish-speaking staff and was dubbed Sonambulo dos.  Burro or “donkey,” universally accepted as the world’s worst line cook, was eventually fired for being completely MIA for one of his scheduled shifts.  I’m sure all three had to have a clue but never got called to their faces.

So it may seem strange in our over-sensitized politically correct world, that el Gordo and Enano never seem to be offended by being openly called “Fatso” or “Midget.”  In fact they prefer it.  One runner doesn’t blink an eye at being called Boludo which means “jerk” or even “prick.”  Ironically Boludo is in fact more of a sweet mama’s boy.  So what’s in a nickname?  El Gordo knows he’s fat, Enano knows he’s short, and maybe Boludo can see the irony in his nickname too.  They accept it, so by using their nicknames openly and without malice, perhaps in a way it shows that we accept them too. Once when I called Enano by his real name, he said “Enano, please.”   Translation? My name is Pablo, but my friends call me Midget.

*As a courtesty, real names have not been used.  Just the nicknames are real.

Watching the Garden Grow

Yes, outside of working a lot, all I’ve been up to these days is obsessing over my plants.  It’s hypnotic, relaxing and exciting all at the same time.  Every morning before work I tend to my little urban garden – watering if necessary, and cleaning up any dried leaves and flowers.  Afterward, I leave the balcony door open, sit down at the dining room table with my coffee and my laptop and just watch.  I love seeing honey bees come and go.  If they’re doing a good job of pollinating, maybe we’ll actually get some zucchini or cucumbers soon.

Lemon Cucumber Flowers

On my day off, I take care of messier and more time consuming tasks like going to the garden center to pick up supplies, re-potting plants as they get bigger, and sowing new seeds to ensure a continual supply of fresh herbs.  That’s also the day I wage war on pests.  There is a lot of great information on-line about natural and organic methods for warding off all manner of pests and disease that threaten plants.  Golden Harvest Organics not only sells seeds and gardening products, but they also post extensive information about organic gardening and natural pest control.  I purchased Neem Oil and Castille Soap to combat aphids, but apparently there are a number of other methods that can be employed.  They range from placing tin foil on the soil surface to reflect light to the underside of the plant leaves, where they usually hang out, to spraying them with a tea made from tomato leaves.  I’d love to get my hands on some ladybugs to do the job for me.

Squash Blossoms
Squash Blossoms

Another pest which has been a big problem is the fungus gnat, which breeds in damp conditions conducive to mold and fungus.  It has rained almost every day this June, and while everything is lush and green, my balcony is now the perfect home for fungus gnats.  It’s been nearly impossible to keep my plants dry. I removed the saucers from under all the pots since they only provided a breeding ground, and I covered the soil with cedar mulch to keep the surface dry.  Despite my best efforts, some pots got really heavily infested, and I had to resort to an organic insecticide to keep them under control.   Gnatrol, which I also purchased from Golden Harvest Organics, is a brand of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis a bacteria that targets the larvae living in the soil.  Apparently it biodegrades quickly, and is widely used for organic agricultural applications.  Although most of the information on the web indicates that it’s safe for people and pets, the product safety sheet that came with advises measures taken to avoid direct contact with the product.  So I take the necessary precautions, and won’t harvest anything to eat until the stuff has had a chance to degrade.

A server at the restaurant also has an organic garden on her rooftop, so we’ve traded both plants and ideas.  She has also had a big problem with fungus gnats and is using Nemotodes, a species of roundworm that eat fungus gnat larvae.

The first few plantings

Sadie in the garden as it looks today
Sadie in our urban oasis

The garden has become a great learning experience.  Through trial and error, and some help along the way, I have learned things like how to replant seedlings with enough of their stems embedded so they form strong root systems (thanks to an info sheet sent to me by Golden Harvest with my FREE mystery tomato seeds).  Sadly, some plants did succumb to my bumbling – to much water, too little water, not hardening off properly etc, but despite all the factors working against it, my little garden is showing lots of promise.  Most of the plants are in their permanent pots now and are growing rapidly. I’ve even been able to re-plant cuttings from overcrowded pots and get new plants.  The zucchini plants are producing squash blossoms now, and the lemon cucumber vines have already grabbed hold of the balcony railing and are threatening to take over.  There’s cat grass for the feline members of our family, and best of all, I get to bond with our 9-month old puppy Sadie, who seems to love the garden as much as I do.

maybe I can train her to sniff out pests
Sadie checking out some cuttings

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