Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A bitter story

When a good friend ran out of bitter marmalade, she called me. I was the only person she knew who could be trusted to give her traditional marmalade. An acquaintance had gone on a trek last year, in the course of which he dropped in to visit Mian. His chief memory of that long day is that he had eaten whisky-laced marmalade at our home. In a few hours, two young men are coming over home so that I can teach them how to coax lemons into marmalade. So I have a bit of a reputation for making the stuff. And I make a LOT of it.

Which is  why it is surprising that I do not enjoy the jam-making process. Is it the tedium of chopping and stirring, you wonder? Is it the hours spent over a stove knowing that if you look away, the gloopy mess will suddenly burn? Is it the dipping of hands alternately into cold lemon pulp and hot water with disastrous results? Ye-es..all of that does have a place, but the real reason is different.

I detest marmalade-making because the process is the equivalent of the nosy neighbour who visits to pass judgement on your housekeeping. Marmalade making is the pious uncle who discovers that you used your 'no-aromatics' chopping board to cut onions because all the others were in the sink; the  aunty who spies the mustard seed you spilled into the sugar the day you were juggling chai and khichidi; the other uncle who points out that you have 12 jars and 8 lids; and worst of all, marmalade-making is the pesky brat who announces to everyone that you miscalculated the recipe and tried to cover it up by stirring hot water into half a jar of marmalade.

Thankfully, all these jars have lids..
For me, the source of distress all of last year was the case of the  Ginger-Garlic-marmalade. I had opened a fresh jar and immediately smelt it- ginger and garlic where there should have been only lemon and sugar. Hastily, I shoved it to the back of the fridge and opened another jar.

Many months later, Mian reached for a new jar and I watched his face change as he uncapped it. 'Oh is that the garlic one?' I asked blithely. 'That's for when we make sweet-and-sour pork.' Mian, bless the man, did not ask any more questions but put it back in the fridge. As our stock diminished, that jar became more and more prominent till I finally emptied it out, popped the contents into the freezer,and washed the jar.

For this year's batch, I had learnt my lesson. I used two buckets of hot lemony water to scrub every surface and every utensil in sight, I boiled jars and jar lids, I did not eat or cook anything till everything was sealed away. I even used a new dish sponge for the occasion.

One of the 5 batches..plain lemon and lemon + cocoa
And today I opened a jar and there it was..ginger garlic marmalade. Turns out that particular  jar is haunted by the spirit of Kimchi past. I had made it once, and it's ghost lingers in the plastic lid. I had to toss that. Thankfully, it is just the one jar and after 5 kilos, I have declared that marmalade season is Closed.

I've barely made a dent in the tree

A friend has bought me 3 kilos of cabbage. They want to try my Kimchi, they say..

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I, damsel in distress

It was when I was already at Dadahu that I realized what I had set myself up for.  Even worse,  I had not called up the hotel and let them know I was coming.  

Sitting in the bus then I began frantically to look for their  number while willing the Internet signal to stay strong enough for this most essential of searches.

Head down, I was staring at my phone when someone tapped at my window.  it was the bus conductor.
'quick,grab your bag and follow me' he said. 'I found you a bus that will take you to your hotel.'

Not only did he take me to the bus, but he also handed me over like a registered parcel to a group of men and instructed them to make sure I got down at the right place.

These guys instantly took me under their wing. They gave me a seat and fussed around me. When I pulled out cash for the ticket, they told me on behalf of the conductor,' you hold on to your money. He won't charge you for such a short distance'. 

At my stop, I got help with my bag and many good wishes.

And the next morning, I met the kindest truck driver ever. But that is another story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chasing pumpkins

This begins, like most of our stories do, with Madhu Bhaloo. She had been waking me up several times in the middle of the night, and with good reason. There were ominous rustlings in the pumpkin patch. I went out several times with a flashlight, but saw nothing. Alone, I sat and fretted.

That pumpkin plant, and the one in our kitchen garden marked a turning point in the life of our garden. Since we moved in, Mian has been bringing  home the seeds of sugar pie pumpkins for me to sow. Every year, they have failed. Our soil has been too poor to raise a crop, the critters have been faster than us, we did not know enough about raising pumpkins.

But all this time, our garden was falling into place. We got chickens which provided us with manure, we set up a rainwater fed irrigation tank, we fenced in our kitchen garden, we learned.
And this year the pumpkins rewarded us. The sugarpies flourished magnificently and gifted us 8 pumpkins. It was the volunteer that the village was oohing and aahing over though.

This seed, probably thrown into the compost, grew till it took over the slope facing our bedroom. First there was one, and then there were six large pumpkins.

These were what the mysterious visitor was after, and concern for them was  keeping Madhu and me up. Mian saw me online late one night and asked me what was the matter. 'Something is chasing our pumpkins' I said sleepily. After a short pause, the gentle Mian tried to reassure me, 'well, it can't be very fast then, can it?' We laughed long and loud then, but today I was vindicated.
The 'pumpking' when still a young one

The giant pumpkin broke its stem, trampled the supports we had placed around it, and disappeared. Madhu, I, G, two men who are presently tilling fields for rye, and one woman who was cutting grass for our household all joined in the search. We found it at the very bottom of the orchard, miraculously not shattered to a pulp, but cracked enough that I could not store it for the winter.

This made me a little sad; I had been looking forward to seeing it gently ripen on our roof. But no matter. I cut it up and shared it with all who had joined in the Great Pumpkin Hunt. There was enough for all..the pumpkin weighed just under 9 Kilos. And I was not perfectly fair in the sharing out, our fridge has a 3.6 Kg wedge of the finest (if not quite ripe yet) pumpkin waiting for Mian to return.
Everybody else's share
Our share

Saturday, September 10, 2016


That word sums up what I want my garden to look like. I want it to be exuberant, to reflect plenty.
It has been tough going.. Plants take a long time to establish themselves, I didn't have enough compost, the summers were mean. 
And when I did get the chickens as a source of compost, they proved to be garden destroyers. I had to protect all the plants with chicken wire fences. That repressive prison environment was exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
And yet.
There are things that do work. Parts of the garden that in the here and now, are what I want them to be.
self-sown kidney beans and amaranth climbing the apricot tree

I see us growing more amaranth next year

Despite its atrocious location (behind the compost pile) this 'saptrangi' rose always delights. First with its multi-coloured flowers, and then the nice fat hips
Here's a closeup

For 4 months every year, the fern wall is as lush as I can wish for

Here's a closeup

velvety purple salvia behind pink phlox. Not sure what Mian thinks of this combination, but I like it!
Getting there, getting there

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


I was sitting and chatting with a friend yesterday when the topic turned, naturally, to the madness that is sweeping over India. 'At times like this, you just want to dig a hole  and crawl inside it' she said. 'Sometimes, just digging is enough' I replied. Passionate gardener that she is, Mrs.L smiled agreement.

Gardening is hope. And forgiveness. And love. Reading gardening books and talking with my gardener friends tells me that there are some things that are common to all gardeners.

We look at our gardens with the eyes of love. Most of the time, we see things not as they are, but as they would have been in a state of perfection. And therefore the new advice is  to photograph your garden and look at it as if it is not yours. But most people I know do not do that. Why would you want to consciously seek out warts in the face you love?

And there is always a next time. No matter what you do, the garden does not hold  a grudge. The year rolls around, and you get a second chance.

And right now, I am plumb in the middle of  the season of Hope. The Monsoon.  That magical time when a broomstick stuck into the ground will put out shoots. Mian  bought me a jar of  rooting hormone powder (that most romantic of men- he knows what will get his wife weak-kneed!) and I have been going a little crazy. Lavender, rosemary, roses, hydrangeas- next year, my garden will be lush!

Here are photos:
Lavender and rosemary. For the south wall in the yard.
Hydrangea. I tried rooting cuttings for three seasons but they all rotted on me. This time, I filled the planting hole with sand for drainage. They are alive so far. What did  I say about forgiveness?
Doesn't look like much,but there are 14 plants of 5 different types in there!
Lily bulbils. Mrs.L gave me scores when she learnt I don't have any tiger lilies. In 3 years, my garden will be on fire!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Avian woes

As I write this, I am sitting on the porch with a spray can of water next to me. The can is both for protection and for assault. Protection against the rooster, who is programmed to attack anything other than his hens. And assault against a drongo.
I normally like these cheerful agile little birds. Their antics as they catch flying insects is fun to watch. But  this one is the smartest and laziest drongo ever. S/he has found a convenient perch just outside the beehive. All the bird has to do is sit there, beak agape, while bees offer themselves up. Well, not on my watch.
But bird troubles never end. I am driven to write this now because my nose nearly got taken away by an aggressive winged thug. I wish  I could name something like a falcon, but it was a dove. I was walking past the chicken coop, and it shot towards me, with murderous intent. I am so glad I ducked.
Not all the birds we have are malevolent. Some are ailing. One of our hens is lame, which  means she cannot hunt for her lone chick (all the others died). Besides which she does not allow me to inspect her.
And finally, one of the chicks in the other brood has a deformed beak. It is shaped like a hook, which is fine if one is an eagle, not so much fun to eat seeds with. So I need to be mindful about spreading seed on the grass for her where she can pick them up- she can't grasp seeds scattered over stone.
Who would have thought that adopting 4 birds would lead me to being obsessed with the innards, sex lives, and territorial drama of an 11-strong flock?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016