An herbal life

Posted by Cameron on 09.19.07 11:49 AM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedLike we needed more herbs.

Seriously, we’ve got thyme, rosemary, and oregano in the yard (and by the yard), probably the three most useful fresh herbs to have within easy clipping distance. Adding to that could be viewed as extravagance, piling on, perhaps even hubris. So why do we have a window box outside our breakfast room sprouting green leaves and stalks?

It all started in July with a bunch of sweet basil that Anita brought home from the farmer’s market. She used what she needed and stuck the rest in a glass of water on the kitchen windowsill, where we ignored it for two weeks. We must have added water at regular intervals, because the glass wasn’t all that big, but I don’t remember doing it or seeing Anita do it. It got less attention than a bald white guy at a dim sum parlor.

Darned if that bunch of basil didn’t grow roots and stay all green and lush and everything.

So about the time that we’re watching these stalks get their groove on in about a cup and a half of Hetch Hetchy’s finest, we start thinking that the view out the window of our breakfast room is a little stark. Which is not exactly a penetrating observation given that the window faces an expanse of painted plywood about eight feet away. This was also right about the time when the main garden was popping along in full summer bloom, and I was thinking that maybe I could see a faint tinge of green around the edges of my thumbs. Yes, even after I washed them. Smartass.

Anyway, I figured that if we gave this little survivor of a basil plant some dirt and a little love, we’d really see something. At the same time, a window box would be just the thing to spruce up the view. So I split the bunch of basil in two and planted half down in the yard near the bergamot tree. The other half I put in a window box along with some tarragon, chives, and Thai basil.

So far, the box has succeeded both as a still life and a food source. A little bit of the tarragon goes a long way, but it gave the sauteed potatoes that we made for our Julia Child dinner just the right touch. The chives have made cameo appearances in several dishes (including those same potatoes), and the Thai basil dropped in on one of our standby stir-fries last week.

The basil is still growing, but slowly; it’s a living demonstration of how my enthusiasm for gardening occasionally outstrips any calculations of practicality. As I’ve discovered, basil isn’t generally the sort of thing that you just pick a leaf or three off now and again. If you’re serious about consumption, you grow it in big bunches for regular harvest.

But honestly? I really don’t care. I know that I’ll have to plot (heh heh) and plan if I want to try a real vegetable garden… even a small one. In the meantime, it’s a thrill just to plant something green and watch it thrive. It feels like a promise that I’m making to myself.

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved

Pommes de Terre Sautées
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 pounds “boiling” or new potatoes
2 T butter plus 1 T oil, for sauteeing
2 to 3 T softened butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 to 3 T minced fresh green herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon)

Peel the potatoes. As you do, try and make them as smooth as possible and give them an oval shape that may remind you of extremely large olives or impossibly small rugby balls, depending on how you spent your formative years. Do not wash the potatoes after peeling; pat them dry with a clean towel. If you need to hold the raw potatoes for a while before you cook them, wrap them in a damp towel, and then dry them before cooking.

Add the butter and oil to a skillet and heat it over medium high. When the butter stops foaming, put the potatoes in and leave them for two minutes. Control the heat so that the butter/oil mixture stays hot but does not color. Shake the potatoes in the skillet, rolling them around and letting them sit to sear until they are pale gold all over.

Sprinkle the salt over the potatoes, lower the heat, cover the skillet, and cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, shaking them every three or four minutes to prevent sticking. When the potatoes yield to slight pressure from your finger or when a knife pierces them easily, use the skillet cover to hold in the potatoes while you pour off the fat.

Take the potatoes off the heat, add the softened butter, herbs, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Shake the potatoes in the skillet so that they glisten with herbs and butter. Serve immediately.

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Comment by cookiecrumb

“It feels like a promise that I’m making to myself.”

It does, doesn’t it? So full of hope, and duty…
And then when that sucker takes off, it oppresses the hell out of you so that you spend every day eating, oh, say, pears. Tomatoes. Basil.

Posted on 09.19.07 at 12:19PM

Comment by Jennifer Jeffrey

I love the instruction of “give them an oval shape… that may remind you of large olives or impossibly small rugby balls…” Poetry!

I have some potatoes sitting in a bowl on my counter right now, and this looks like the perfect use for them.

Posted on 09.20.07 at 2:11PM

Comment by Cameron

cookie: or making wonderful pear butter. yum!

Jennifer: Have to admit that I tweaked that bit to add the sports reference. “Mastering” gives us the comparison to large olives, which I found confusing. I originally thought that it meant to carve the darn things down to that size. It wasn’t until I started peeling that I figured out that it was about the shape.

Now I’m laughing, imagining Julia saying “impossibly small rugby balls…”

Posted on 09.20.07 at 4:02PM

Comment by Tea

Awww, this is lovely.

And as you know, I’ve fallen under the spell as well. Now I’m just daydreaming about bigger and bigger promises!

Posted on 09.21.07 at 11:49PM

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