Sunday, October 07, 2007

Growing Babies and Love to Share

Last Sunday, I planted garlic and many of my winter crops in my vegetable garden. By Wednesday, I already had several types of sprouts.

And by today, there were many more.

Baby vegetables are almost as cute to me as baby animals. I've been dragging friends through the garden, pointing out the beet and lettuce sprouts, crooning, my voice high and juvenile, "Look at how cuuuuuuuuuuute they are."

I'll be rotating winter crops in and out of various parts of the garden as they mature; as well, I'm starting some vegetables at different times to allow for a steady stream of produce, rather than an overwhelming glut of green followed by a dry spell. Because they must be kept evenly damp for up to (and sometimes beyond) two weeks to even get them to sprout, a very difficult task here in Southern California, carrot family members are notoriously difficult to start: I've held off planting my carrot family seeds (parsnips included) since I wanted to try an experiment that Pat Welsh, author of Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide, recommends to start these persnickity seeds.

She suggests mixing enough seeds for the anticipated row with a handful of damp peat moss on a paper plate.

She then advises to stick the whole plate in a self-zipping plastic bag, freeze the package for twenty-four hours, then place the plate on a warm electronic device to provide electronic heat. So now, in my house, the DVD player and Tivo are serving double duty as seed incubators.

According to Welsh, the seeds should sprout within three days, and I should then sprinkle them directly where I'd like them to grow. I'll let my readers know if it works for me.

On another note, I've collected the seed that I had air dried from my gorgeous display of Nigella damascena that I grew for color and interest in my summer garden.

Nigella damascena, also known as Love-in-a-Mist and Devil-in-a-Bush (interpret those names however you wish--I know my mind has gone all sorts of places with them), is a fascinating plant. The flowers are framed by soft, spiny fronds and appear in shades of blue, pink, and white.

After blooming, nearly every flower develops a ballooning seed capsule that stands erect above the bush.

Some people cut the seed capsules and dry them for flower arrangements.

Nigella damascena is a close relative of Nigella sativa, the spice commonly found in Eastern European and Indian dishes, known by many names--black cumin, kalonji, black onion, etc. Some people, when unable to find kalonji seeds, have substituted Nigella damascena seeds. Although I don't intend to use the seeds I have for cooking, of course I had to give them a taste . They taste fruity, sort of a grape meets oregano flavor, quite pleasant.

After collecting, I have found that I have quite a few more seeds than I need for next year. If you find this plant as fascinating as I do, and you'd like me to send you 15-20 seeds to plant in the spring, send me an email with your address, and I'll share my bounty with you.

And, tonight, I have one more quick little secret to share. As my extra time has clearly been spent with my hands in the dirt, I haven't been applying my creativity quite as frequently to my kitchen. In short, I've been the barest-of-bare-bones cook. However, sometimes simplicity yields its own rewards. Craving something for dessert after a yummy (but quick) pasta meal, I scavenged my kitchen for something that would fit the bill. This is what I came up with, a dessert so easy, quick, and delicious that ECG and I scarfed it up before I could get a good picture.

Gingered Cream with Pears
This is hardly a recipe, just guidelines for a fall treat, sweet and juicy with pears and warmed with the bite of ginger.

You will need:
Enough heavy whipping cream (organic, of course!) to have a scant 1/4 cup whipped cream for each serving
1 juicy-ripe Bartlett pear for each pair of people you are serving
A chunk or two of candied ginger for each person you are serving, finely minced

To make the dessert:
Cut each pear in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice thinly and arrange each half in a fan-fashion on a dessert plate.

Whip the cream until it makes soft peaks. Stir in most of the minced candied ginger. Scoop dollops of whipped cream on the pears on each plate. Sprinkle the remaining candied ginger over all.

Easy. Good. Now go lick some beaters.


Susan said...

I get such a kick watching seeds just barely break soil when germinating, their delicate little necks stilled hooked in on both ends. Nigella gets my vote, too - glorious, feathery pastels. Christina, have you ever grown Shirley poppies? You may enjoy them, too. Thanks for sharing, particularly with gardeners like myself, who now have to wait for March to sow the cool weather crops.

winedeb said...

A big Congrats on the new additions to your wonderful garden! I am really enjoying the photos of the progress. We are getting sooo much rain here in the Keys the past couple of weeks that I have not planted a thing. Some of my herbs are just getting too much water and they are at a stand still. So I am looking forward to rainy season being OVER and I can get back to my "kids"!
The simple desert sounds like it would be easy and best of all "hit the spot"!

Wendy said...

Very sweet sprouts! Not quite as cute as a puppy perhaps. Maybe as cute as a kitten though. ;)
I'd love some of those seeds but I suspect they wouldn't last the journey. Would they??

Anonymous said...

oh man, I do love nigella sativa seeds! I've only ever used them in Middle Eastern and Indian food. I had no idea Eastern Europeans used them too. Now I really wish I had a yard so I could get some seeds from you!
I love the baby pictures, I love seedlings too, they're so wonderful.

Christina said...

Susan: I've grown what we call Iceland poppies; I don't know if they're the same as Shirley poppies, but they are tissue-paper-pretty. I'll have to look into Shirley poppies--thanks for the suggestion.

Winedeb: I'm sorry about all that rain. It sounds like a soggy mess. I hope you're able to carry those green lovelies through the season. Good luck!

Wendy: I know, I know. I said they're almost as cute as baby animals. Puppies and kittens and horses and all sorts of baby animals get me every time--I'm such a cheeseball. I have a feeling that these tough little seeds would make it to you, if we give them a chance. Send me an email at niezcka at gmail dot com with your address, and I'll try sending them off to you. Why not try?

Ann: You could try growing them in a pot. They should grow well in a large enough pot if you don't move them out of there after they've started to take off--they just don't like to be transplanted. But, I completely understand needing to reserve pot space for actual vegetables. I'm glad you appreciate the baby plant pics.

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Anonymous said...

On Sunday, it was so hot here in Chicago that they had to stop the marathon. Today, it will barely get into the 50s--unseasonably cool, but a taste of things to come. You'll forgive a little uncharitable jealousy on my part regarding your growing babies.

That aside, the dessert sounds delicious, Christina!

The Passionate Palate said...

Fantastic and inspiring work! I wish I could get my hands that dirty. It is so satisfying, isn't it? And watching the "babies" grow is rewarding.

Christina said...

For anyone interested in learning more about nigella, check out this month's Herb Companion:

Black cumin seeds said...

Black cumin seed is also called as Nigella Sativa. It was first discovered in Egypt. It was used to cure respiratory tract problems, irregular periods, headaches, liver, stomach problems, and skin problems. It have multi-vitamin, multi-mineral properties which aid healthy skin, lustrous hair and shining strong nails. It also cures mouth ulcerations, bad breath, cures pain from insect or animal bites etc.