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Mini Taro Nests

20160131_132333sDeep fried mini taro nests make a lovely snack but I find them a little overpriced. Why pay when there’s taro in the backyard and I can prepare and fry these delectable crisps in a couple of hours?IMG_9619s

I found two undersized taros – which, with some elbow grease and a hot wok, soon turned into little tempting clusters of crispy taro nests.

 

Here’s what you need:

1 small taro

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Some coriander leaves

1 teasp 5-spice powder

½ teasp salt

Dash of pepper

1 tablesp rice flour

¼ teasp cornflour

 

Here’s how:

  1. Shred the taro into strips.
  2. Coarsely cut the coriander leaves.
  3. Mix the taro strips with all the other ingredients.
  4. Heat up some oil in a wok.
  5. Shape the taro into little clusters or nests and drop into the oil.
  6. Deep fry till golden brown. Store in an airtight container when cool.

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20151122_112142sI’ve never given much thought to the black jelly drink the locals call ‘xian chao’ or ‘cincau’ – up until recently anyway. That was when I discovered that it originates from a plant; … which is, I now realise, why some people call it ‘grass jelly’!

My interest was piqued when I found out that there was also a green grass jelly. A friend who was given a bunch of Cyclea Barbata leaves, lost no time in making some green jelly.

“Was it good?” I asked.

He was hesitated for a split second. “Tasted of chlorophyll,” he said. “… and it was a murky green,” obviously not overly impressed either by its taste or appearance.

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Image taken from wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_jelly#

 Yet when the chance came for me to get a plant, I didn’t need to think twice. Mine, however, is the Platostoma palustre which yields the black jelly.

20151122_112450s The plant has been growing well in its pot and appears to be fuss-free – so far at least.

I hope it won’t be long before I start harvesting some Platostoma palustre leaves for the kitchen. For now, the plan is for the plant to grow a bit more since more leaves mean more jelly.

In the meantime I’m reading up on the plant, as well as on the preparation of the jelly. Something tells me that it’s going to be fun experimenting with all the possibilities!

Care and propagation: Full sun, garden soil, water moderately. Propagate using cuttings or seeds.

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the Platostoma Palustre when I first got it

Patchouli

20150831_092421sOur guide at the French perfumery talked us through the distillation process of perfumes and essential oils from flowers and plants.

One stood out in particular – the Patchouli or Pogostemon Cablin Benth. Not because it was a plant I was familiar with, but more because they said it could grow where I lived.  And that was what got me started.

20150831_093010sFor years thereafter, every plant that looked remotely like the Patchouli came under close scrutiny. I would furtively pick the leaves hoping to get a whiff of what was supposed to be a sweet earthy scent. But each time they turned out to be fool’s gold.

In retrospect, I realize how foolish I’d been. I was just fortunate none of the plants turned out to be stinging nettle or worse, or I’d have to pay for my folly.

This obsession may have carried on if not for a friend who told me that he had found the elusive Patchouli. Finally, finally …!

20150831_092918sIt was only a matter of time before cuttings made their way to my garden. True to form, they had square stems and ovate-eliptic shaped leaves with soft-toothed margins.

So what do I think of the Patchouli, one of the most important plants used in perfumery? Actually the fresh leaves smell ‘vague’ with none of the intensity I had expected. Since I can’t distill its perfume, I’ll going to dry the leaves instead. But no, I’ve no intention of starting a home perfumery or a Patchouli farm any time soon.   :)

 

 

 

Care and propagation: Partial sun; garden soil; water moderately. Propagate using cuttings.

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Jacaranda

P1100138s“Are you sure you want to plant those?” my friend S looked at me in disbelief when I showed her the Jacaranda seed pods I had picked from a tree down the road. “The leaves are so small they get into everything!”IMG_0527s

Yes, I’d seen the confetti of jacaranda leaves on S’s lawn, how they had peppered the pathways and found their way into the smallest gaps.

But sound reasoning was clouded by the enticing descriptions of the Australian outback in novels, with the ubiquitous purple Jacaranda and singing cicadas.

20141024_071415sI was tempted to have a small slice of that heavenly purple but was not prepared to house a 40-foot giant in my own yard.

I assured S that if the seeds ever germinated, I’d prune them so that the leaves wouldn’t have the chance to be a nuisance.

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20150823_180917bThe Jacaranda seedlings are now more than 2 feet tall, each with hundreds upon hundreds of the finest leaves.

With their reputation for being vigorous growers, I’d better start shaping and training them … fast!

I’ve always wondered if Jacarandas made good bonsais …  and I suppose now is as good a time to find out as any.

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Care and propagation: Full sun, preferably well-drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using seeds or cuttings (not tried this myself)

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20140806_183145sMore minty than peppermint and spearmint, the Menthe Arvensis is an instant breath-freshener. All my friends who sampled the leaves hesitantly were amazed at how minty it really is.

The Menthe Arvensis has the trademark square stem which is characteristic of the mint family, and small, nondescript white flowers.IMG_9412s

It grows easily and spreads through its network of roots. 20140824_104622sWhile mints have a reputation for being invasive but mine is nowhere as invasive as I’d like it to be.

I thought I’d lost the Menthe Arvensis on more than one occasion but this trouper bounced back each time. I’d cover the bare stems with more soil and wait for them to spring up again. They’ve never failed me before, but I  should try to make more use of it while I can.

I’ve used it as a garnish and will probably brew some mint tea next. But, what else? Someone said she used it to flavour her chocolate mint cake. Tempting indeed. I wonder if I dare …

Care and propagation: Partial sun to full sun, humus rich soil, water generously. Propagate using runners or cuttings.

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20150531_173124sGarlic chives can go into just about anything … omelette, pancakes, fritters, soups … And what’s great about this versatile herb is that it keeps coming back so you have a constant supply. I’ve been enjoying my chives for many years now, nipping out to snip them whenever I felt like adding some to a dish.

So in my list of ‘Got-to-have herbs’, I had confidently ticked off this herb.

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what I saw up in the highlands

Then on one of my trips to the highlands, I saw the broadleaf flowering Chinese chives which I was told yielded garlic chive buds popular in stir-fries. My eyes widened at the information, I had thought the chives I had produced these chive buds … no wonder mine were a poor shadow of those I find in the market.

I couldn’t ask my host for a plant as it was a recent acquisition, so I mentally added the herb to my wishlist.

20150531_173047sThen quite recently, I saw it for sale at a floral fest. There were only two pots so I grabbed one and persuaded my aunt to get the other.

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regular and broadleaf juxtaposed

The broadleaf chives which have settled in next to the regular chives, put their more common cousin in the shade.

It surpasses the regular chives in terms of size with leaves about 4 times wider, and its plump buds are definitely bigger too.

What about taste?

It’s said that the leaves can be used in the same way as regular garlic chives but I’ve yet to try them. But it’s about time I did. After all, the more I harvest them, the more they’re supposed to grow.

Hopefully that means I will not have to wait too long for a plate of stir-fried homegrown garlic chive buds.

 

Care and propagation: Full sun; regular garden soil; water normally. Propagate by division.

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Figs

20150418_125202sFigs are a highly rated fruit, valued for their nutritional benefits as well as unique and luscious sweetness.

But it was the fig leaves that first caught our forefather’s attention and made fashion headlines some two thousand years ago when they were the basis of what was the haute couture of the day.

My first fig encounter with the Ficus Auriculata was when I was only six. The Ficus took on mythic proportions, with its massive leaves and fruit which grew from the trunk, branches and roots.

Figs have since become a lot less mysterious and a lot more appealing, especially when I realized that there 20150418_125311swere innumerable varieties of figs I could plant. Taking the local gardening scene by storm, figs have grabbed the attention of more than a few enthusiasts. Many have been buying fig cuttings and scions, enticed by the range of figs available in various colours of the spectrum; green, yellow, blush, red, purple, black and even striped ones.

20150726_105527_BlackGenoa_sMushrooming fig nurseries and websites have brought many exotic varieties of fig plants and cuttings right to the doorstep of the home gardener.

Buoyed by the tide of enthusiasm, I came back down to earth quickly when I realized how costly the plants were. The rarer varieties were way out of my budget and the more common ones were not cheap either.

My first fig was a rooted Black Mission cutting given by a school friend. Then came the Masui Dauphine and Brown Turkey a few months later. The Brown Turkey has yielded a few figs, but there hasn’t been sign of fruit on the Masui Dauphine. The Black Mission, unfortunately, didn’t make it.

my inspiration

my inspiration

A fellow gardener, on the other hand, has been enjoying great success with his figs. His plants, unlike mine, have been fruiting their heads off.

I’ve recently acquired the Conadria, Black Genoa and Taiwan Golden Fig and am emulating what my friend is doing, hoping that it’ll make a difference and that the plants will swing into high gear.

And, what do you know! Little nubs of fruit are already forming on the plants; little burgeoning figs that should plump out and ripen over the next few weeks. I just can’t wait!

Care and propagation:  Full sun; light, well drained soil; water moderately; propagate using cuttings     20150221_083621b

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