Friday, 15 February 2013

Soliloquy in the Garden of My Mind

There is a beautiful ray of light coming through the lush green canopy overhead. Raindrops from a recent storm cling precariously at the edges of slender tendrils of loofah shoots, and at the ends of their dangling root fronds. The air smelled sharp, and fresh, and new. But there is the unmistakable smell of decay in this lush green paradise. I part the root fronds like a frail curtain, and step through into my tropical domain.

I survey the garden before me. A pruned Malaysian cherry tree, putting forth new leaves stands proudly to my left, behind several pots and polystyrene boxes.

One of the boxes contain a flush of new purple leaves, courtesy of sweet potato cuttings I had staked within scarcely a fortnight ago. The other boxes were bereft of any useful plant, save a few sad-looking Portulaca stems and a single water convolvulus (kangkung) plant, a brave survivor of a spate of weeding done a few weeks ago.

Two dandelion bulbs in a pot, trying to put forth new shoots. A few lillies who have yet to follow in the dandelions' footsteps. Several spent and tired-looking terung pipit plants look bare.

Small, wavy plucks of carrot and parsnip leaves at the border, always in danger of being trod upon by hapless visitors.

At the far right ahead, the gnarled woody bark of the loofah plant tries to sneak its way up the cat enclosure, while trailing its roots in search of water, in its not-so-secret quest for dominion of the garden.

The loofah's loftiest parts threaten to enclose my first floor bedroom windows. Sometime in the near future, I will look forward to waking up in the morning, opening my windows for fresh air and plucking a loofah right out of my window. But for the time being, I look upwards at the black netting just above my head, trying to ascertain whether there are any new loofahs ripe for the plucking. I spy a few, and decide to save them for my parents who will be visiting me this weekend.

A survey of some of the compost tyres, previously home to some tomato plants, reveal the source of the unpleasant odour. A few kittens lay rotting in the tires, the result of unsuccessful birthing by Miss Poogey, a stray who comes round for the excellent gourmet catfood. I sigh in sadness. I knew of these little deaths beforehand, but in the horror of my discovery, I had fled into the safety of my house and tried to process my grief. I kept myself busy reorganising my cluttered, eclectic home, in lieu of relatives descending upon us for a wedding this weekend. A gang of worker kerenggas (large red ants) are already at work, harvesting whatever nutrition they could from the poor kittens. I throw some soil into the tyre, to mask the smell and give the poor kitties a hodge-potch funeral. Rest in peace, little ones.
In the end, we are all dust.

Mission accomplished, I turn my attention towards the polystyrene box filled with sweet potato leaves. A previous harvest turned out to be bountiful by the Grace of Allah, so I am determined to grow more of these polydactyl-like plants.

I spy some tiny sweet potato plants growing out of the ground, not far from their progenitor's box.

I carefully dug them out, with their tiny, sweet potato tuberous roots at their ends. I look around for a better place to home them, and decide on one of the sorry-looking  polystyrene boxes. I manage to dig out 5 miniscule plants in all.

I look again around the polystyrene boxes, and spy several new shoots in the ground near me. I identify these to be young loofah plants. These must have been from the seeds and loofahs I was drying at the wooden pangkin nearby. I touch them gently, and let them be. Perhaps someone would want these precious little plants. I make a mental note to ask my relatives during the upcoming wedding.

I poke about at my sowing tray, and note to my dismay that things are pretty much the same as last week. No sign of any flower seedlings, not cayenne pepper, nor alpine strawberries. The Rouge de Marmande Tomato shoots seem to be doing well so far, and so are the Soarer Cucumbers. I walk over to a shallow pot where I had tossed a dried-up and shrivelled Sweet Red Cherry Tomato I found lurking in a corner of my refridgerator. To my delight, I spy several young tomato seedlings. I crow with happiness to find some bright red Rainbow Chard seedlings in a plastic Baba pot nearby that survived the heavy downpours.

I smile to myself, snap a few pictures, and while humming a tune under my breath, I step back indoors.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

My Sweet (Potato) Love is Purple / Keledek Ungu Idaman Hati

My first-ever sweet potato harvest.

A few months back Aunty Kan, my neighbour from across the road, gave me several cuttings from her sweet potato plant. I don't recall how she came by her plant, it was either from some cuttings or a sweet potato she planted out of curiosity. I stuck them in a styrofoam box filled with potted soil and sort of ignored it. I only fertilised it once, with blended fish guts. It grew and grew, and soon threatened to take over it's corner of my Jung-Den. It got quite difficult for me to go into the cat enclosure because it's vines were sprawling all over the pathway. So I had some of the leaves cleared. Then AFTER that, I suddenly felt I wanted to try some of the sweet potato shoots in a stir-fry. And oh boy, did it taste so gooodd.. and I regretted not eating the leaves before. Better tasting compared to kangkung actually. I hear sweet potato leaves can also be juiced and taken raw.

Another neighbour came by with her daughter, to visit my cats. She got curious about my styrofoam-dwelling sweet potatoes, and started digging with her bare hands. Imagine my delight when she unearthed this sweet bounty below:

Purple sweet potatoes, just the way I like them.

We left most of the plant as it is, and reburied a few smaller sweet potatoes in the hopes that they will grow bigger. This is harvesting technique is called 'bandicooting' according to Diana of Kebun Malay Kadazan Girls. Bandicoots are rat-like marsupials resident in Australia and New Guinea. I guess there is also something to learn from nature, and I am kind of amused by the word 'bandicoot' because it sounds like bandits. Sweet potato bandits, to be exact.

Then I hopped over to my neighbour's house, and she dug about in her raised bed and bequeathed me with her own yellow sweet potato. I got curious and wrapped them up in tin foil, and baked them in the oven at 170-180 degrees Celcius, alongside my gluten-free quiche, for about 40 minutes. And the result is here:
Left: purple sweet potato. Right: yellow sweet potato.
I dug into both sweet potatoes with glee. They were absolutely, fantabulously DELICIOUS!!
How do they taste like?
Well, if you are after a creamier and starchier sweet potato, the purple one ought to meet your requirements. If you prefer a sweeter, smoother texture, then the yellow sweet potato is your pal.

As for me, I love them both for what they are: delicious organic food, home-grown with love.

After that food-tasting, I immediately started 2 more boxes of sweet potatoes. ;-)