Springfield Style Cashew Chicken

This is a story about food, specifically, Chinese food. When I was a child, my parents ran a small town grocery store, the kind that supplied local farmers and families with canned goods, meats, cheeses, livestock feed, boots, tires and gasoline; it was known as a "general merchandise" store. We lived in West Central Missouri, one of the more culturally isolated parts of the Midwest.

Fortunately for me, my mother was an adventurous cook, at a time and in a place where that made her seem a bit, "odd," I'm sure. In our store she stocked canned Chinese foods, those Chung King "kits" to make various dishes; I remember canned bean sprouts, little cans of bamboo shoots, crispy fried noodles and water chestnuts. We also stocked canned tamales and boxes of Spanish rice, and we were the only ones in our town who ate those strange things. But the point is, the only Chinese food I had ever eaten until adulthood, was from a can.

In the early 1970s when I was stationed in northern Texas in the Air Force, my wife's parents wanted us to have Sunday dinner with them most every weekend, and their favorite restaurant was a Chinese establishment out in the country. Henry Huie, the owner of the restaurant, chose Vernon, TX as a place to introduce farmers to growing mung beans, for sprouts for egg rolls and other Chinese dishes. He became known as the Mung Bean King, building an empire of mung bean growers and processors that to this day still ships mung beans nationwide, and even exporting them to China! A financial empire, built on just one variety of tiny bean!

In the early 1960s, a Chinese chef, David Leong, created Springfield Style Cashew Chicken while working at the Grove Supper Club in Springfield, Missouri. Leong struggled to find a recipe that combined his traditional Chinese food for American tastes and chef Leong concocted a dish of breaded, deep-fried chicken pieces, covered with oyster sauce and topped with cashews and green onions. Thus was born, "Springfield-style cashew chicken," a dish you will not likely find outside the Ozarks. The recipe purportedly includes soaking the chicken overnight in milk, then tossing in flour, dipping back in the milk, and back in the flour before deep frying. (In most Chinese restaurants elsewhere, the method is to make a tempura batter - usually instant - but if made from scratch, it is egg white beaten stiff and mixed with flour; tempura batter absorbs considerably more grease and is less crispy than the Springfield style batter).

Because this is a regional favorite, when my Chinese chef friend, Eddie Chong (who I've written about here several times) came for a visit a couple of years back, one of the places I thought he should experience was be the mega-giant-all-you-can-eat Hong Kong Buffet in Branson. The place is huge, able to withstand 4 or 5 charter busloads of old folks at a time and still handle a few hundred tourists at any time of day.

Eddie, who is an astute observer of people and their foods, walked up and down the 345 item mega pig-out buffet. He looked over the Chinese fried seafood noodles, peeked at the big, overstuffed fat egg rolls, read the signs on the emperor's chicken, and the Szechwan-style stir-fried beef. He looked through the sneeze-guard glass at the rows of sushi, viewed the little flat pancakes of egg foo young, looked over the the Chinese dumplings, the sauces, sesame chicken, on and on. He turned to me and said, "There's nothing on this buffet that is actually Chinese."

"Not the egg rolls? (No, Chinese would never make a big fat egg roll like that, that's an American invention) "Not the rice noodles and seafood?" I went down the list of things I thought were purely Chinese, and which were to be found on every Chinese buffet anywhere across the Ozarks. "No," he said, "there's nothing here recognizable as a Chinese dish." And Edie knows Chinese food!

His next observation was even more startling to me when he said did I realize the owners weren't Chinese. I asked how he knew, because I just assumed they were. He said, "Jim, do all Asians look alike to you?" I was brought up short, I had to think and eventually, sheepishly, said, "Well, I guess I do." He showed me what to look for - first at the facial features, but more importantly, to listen to the voices. "They're Korean," he said, and when I listened, I could tell. The inflection, the tones while speaking, were not Chinese. Their features, their hair, were not Chinese. I was amazed, I had never noticed. He also guessed that I would never see a Chinese person, eating at such buffet. "They'll eat the rice," he said, "but not the fried foods and things like egg rolls and won tons. That's why you almost never see an overweight Asian person." 

What I learned over the next several months surprised me just as much.  First, that it is highly unusual to find Chinese people running Chinese restaurants in the Ozarks. Every little town of 1,000 people or more, will likely have at least one "Chinese" restaurant (and most are named Hong Kong or Chinese Buffet, or Golden Dragon). I soon observed that most Chinese restaurants have Vietnamese owners, a few have Koreans. The second thing I learned, is that early on chef, David Leong, must have created a package deal, a "kit" that he sells. If you are Asian and want to move to the Midwest and make a good living, and have the investment money, you can buy the secret "Chinese" recipes, buy the supplies and get the "kit" to set up your own Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. They're highly profitable, and if you don't serve the regional style recipes, the public won't eat there and you're out of business. It's Springfield style chicken, or not at all. Those who dare to serve Chinese style chicken, close down in just a few months from lack of customers.

The last thing I learned from Eddie is about MSG (monosodium glutamate) in Chinese restaurants. MSG is a flavor enhancer that's added to foods, found in canned foods and considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration. There are claims of headaches, face flushing and sweating by people who believe they are allergic to MSG. According to the Mayo Clinic website, "researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms. Researchers acknowledge, though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don't require treatment." So when I asked Eddie his opinion about MSG, and whether it should be used, he said it's common in all real Chinese food. I told him some Americans believe they are allergic and request their food be made without it. Eddie laughed and said, "They can ask that MSG be left out but Chinese love MSG and they'll just bring you a new plate that still has MSG, and since there's no evidence it is harmful, you'll eat it and enjoy it just the same."

You can grow your own mung beans this year. They look more like a green bean plant than a soybean, and can be planted about the time you would plant tomatoes or basil. The plants grow 28 to 30 inches tall and produce 4 inch long pods that have 10 to 15 seeds per pod, and 30 to 40 pods per plant. Let them dry on the plant but harvest before they are totally dried to avoid the pods splitting. You can eat mung beans freshly cooked, but the primary way is to sprout the seeds and use the sprouts, either raw in salads, or cooked in various Chinese dishes.

To read more about mung beans and other heirloom varieties, check my article in The Heirloom Gardener, here. Happy gardening!


Macho Mint, Yakov Smirnoff

There's a "new" mint on the world market this week. Okay, okay, it's not new, but it is newly available and I'm excited. Last fall I was telling my friend, V.J. Billings, at Mountain Valley Growers in California, about this particularly tough and tasty mint I've been growing for the past 30+ years. She was interested and asked me to send her some.

I grow several mints including some of the new Westerfield Hybrids that Richters Herbs sells. But this mint (now dubbed 'Macho Mint') was one I found growing next to an old spring near Blue Eye, MO. Mints, as you may or may not know, are not native to North America, but have often escaped cultivation and "gone wild." This one had been growing near and old farmstead for half a century, possibly longer. I found it while exploring an old gravel road, in 1979 and it was well established around the old spring - whose stream you had to drive through to travel the little trail.

'Macho Mint' is remarkable for several reasons: First, it has a strong, deliciously refreshing mint flavor. It is my favorite for making what I call, "cold-pressed mint tea" in summer when we have guests in the garden. To make that, you harvest a good sized handful of mint, stems, leaves and all, and wad it up and squeeze it a bit like you would squeeze a wet dishrag. Put that wadded up, squeezed mint ball in the bottom of a half gallon pitcher. Then fill the pitcher completely to the top with ice, then fill that to the top with water. In 5 minutes you have the most refreshing iced mint tea you have ever experienced!

 'Macho Mint' blooms nicely during the middle of summer. Josh likes to harvest just the blossom heads and dry them for winter mint blossom hot tea. But the primary reason I like this special mint is it holds up well after frost, when all of the other mints have died down. I like to pick frost-covered, or ice-covered leaves and munch them when I'm doing fall garden clean-up chores. In my garden, this mint is the first up in the spring, and the last mint to go to sleep in the late fall and a still fresh, green mint leaf, covered with ice, is a real treat!

So after playing with the mint I'd sent along, V.J. she said she thought we should name it and she'd introduce it in her spring lineup of new herbs if I was willing. Of course I was interested and had visions of a new Mentha spicata 'Jim Long' on the market. Or, 'Blue Eye Mint' or 'Long Creek Herbs' Mint. None of the names sounded quite right. Then I suggested 'Macho Mint' and we all agreed. So if you would like to try this new-very old mint, VJ has it available this year. Think of my garden when you serve cold-pressed tea to your friends this summer. (To find it go to this link, and scroll part way down the page; there aren't any photos and it's not listed on their regular mints page as they supply is probably limited this first year). Note that Mountain Valley Growers has a 6 plant minimum, they offer some outstanding herbs, so check and order more than just the Macho Mint; shipping is by 2 day select to make sure they arrive alive.

For the folks who follow me on FaceBook, you will recall the somewhat on-going, and hilarious discussion about what to call potpourri for a man. Our WWOOFer from 3 summers back, and friend, Gabe, wrote me on FaceBook asking if there was a good, manly potpourri for a man's bathroom. I simply posted the question to FB friends, "What's a better name for potpourri, when a man's using it?" and stated that I'd never liked the name potpourri anyway.

The discussion that followed was a real eye-opener in how men and women view masculinity, and words, differently. Women were suggesting things like, "Call it a floor-sweep medley," or "A melange of woodsy fragrances." I had to remind my women friends that Gabe has a girlfriend, drinks lots of beer and probably wouldn't want a bowlful of "melange" or "medley" in his very un-girly bathroom. Some of the men's comments were, "Just call it smelly s**t" and "Smeller for the pooper room."

I finally settled on "Man-Pourri" not because it's a great, masculine name, but because it, at least, makes fun of the word potpourri. Probably I should have just gone back to the origin of the French name, potpourri, which literally translates, pot pourri to mean, "rotten pot" due to it having been a pot into which you placed salt and flowers and the more congealed it became, or the more rotten with the flowers' oils, the better it smelled. Rotten Pot, would be a perfect name for a straight, earth-friendly college guy!

Here's what I came up with for Gabe (that's him in the pic, above with Yakov Smirnoff in Branson, and above that with a crawdad he caught in our lake cove). I mixed some spruce and fir clippings, pine needles, cedar limbs and leaves chopped up, dried orange peel, some Japanese bitter, hardy oranges (Poncirus trifoliatum), tree lichens, broken cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, cedar shavings, some leather clippings (yes, they have fragrance, too) and a couple of hot peppers thrown in just for color.

To me it smelled nicely woodsy and masculine. But Gabe says it isn't strong enough and doesn't last long, so I'm back to the drawing board to see what else I can come up with. It would, I believe, be a good Dream Pillow blend so I'm going to sleep on it and see.


Stinky Flowers

My friend, Olee, and I, drove to Springfield (MO) to view the rare carrion flower. The bulb was bought on eBay by Dr. Roston, who was on hand to answer questions about this fanciful plant. The viewing was at the Nataniel Green Park, which is in the Close Memorial Park, future home of the Springfield Botanic Garden (boy do they need better naming for their location...just try and find it on your Garmin navigator!) Over the weekend, there had been a few thousand people filing past the flower.

Dr. Roston said this was the second carrion flower to bloom in Missouri, and only the 11th in the U.S. He said there was no way to know in advance, whether this was a male or a female flower. If it was a male, all he would have gotten would have been a 4 ft tall green, tropical plant. But the bulb produced a flower, the female of the species, which is what everyone wants to see.

Carrion flowers (Amorphophallus titanium, translated means, misshapen penis) are native to the island of Sumatra, and have become rare there thanks to land clearing for development). The smell, as the plant opens for its one day debut, comes out in repeating puffs of steam, which can be seen with lights and film, but not noticed by the naked eye. The insect that pollinates the carrion flower is a type of dung beetle. The flower, which can reach 8 or more feet in height, uses its height, and the intermittent steam, caught by breezes, to let the dung beetle know the flower is ready for pollination. Once the bloom is pollinated, the flower wilts within hours and dies back to the bulb. The stench - sometimes described as a smell between that of a large, dead rat, and a dead donkey, also goes away. Unfortunately, the right kind of dung beetles aren't found in the U.S., so pollination is either by hand, or it doesn't happen..

So just why would a few thousand people stand in lines to see a stinking plant that virtually takes your breath away? Because it is so rare, and so beautiful. Up close it looked like beautiful glass sculptures I've seen in art galleries. The coloring is brilliant emerald green, to hot-out-of-the-oven-brownies-brown, with shades of ivory, ruby red and tan, mixed. It was a beautiful flower and didn't stink much when we were there. As the bulb ages and blooms again in a few years, the flower will be larger next time, like the one shown at right..

The other exciting event over the weekend, which had little to do with gardens or plants, was our Friday night dinner group got together on Sunday, for Bagel-fest. One in our group, June, is expert at making honest to goodness New York bagels and she built an entire dinner around hot, fresh bagels. Once you eat a homemade bagel, you can never again eat one of the cardboard tasting ones from the deli or grocery store. There is just no comparison.

Bagels are one of those foods that appear too complicated to actually make at home, as if the only source was some sort of giant, commercial machine. In actuality, they're fairly easy - or they look easy; I know for a fact it takes practice and years of experience to get them right. But the basic method is to make a dough and let it rise,  much like making bread. Then you roll it out on a board to about 3/4 inch thick, cut the dough with a doughnut cutter and let them rise briefly. Those are dropped into boiling water, which makes the dough puff up to more than double in size. Once they're lifted out of the boiling water, the raw bagels are brushed with an egg mixture, then seeds and seasoning are scattered over the top. June's husband, Steve (wearing the bunny ears), likes a mixture of black pepper, onion, salt and dried, red chilies, but the traditional topping is either poppy seed or a mixture of sesame seeds and dried onion flakes. Then the bagels go into a hot oven and to bake for 10 minutes until they're golden brown.

June and Steve served lox that June had brought from a Jewish deli in NY, along with cream cheeses, tomatoes, fish and other toppings. It was a feast and a fine time was had by all.

Speaking of poppy seed, it's time to get the last of mine planted in the ground. I ordered several colors from Baker Creek Seed, including some double pinks, almost black-red and some bread poppies (just to see how they look different from regular poppies). There's more information about poppies on my Columns blog.

A reliable vehicle is part of my business and garden. It's how I haul plants and soil amendments. It's the way I get to garden lectures I give around the country, and what I use to drag around my "book and herb show" when I travel So this week I upgraded my transportation (and for those of you who've followed my trip to Florida, never getting much beyond the ice storm in Memphis) here's the result. I made a new acquaintance, Taurean, a musician turned salesman, at Reliable Toyota. Here he is, standing next to my new truck. He didn't pressure me, listened to what I was looking for, and the call from his herb-interested mother, was a nice touch. I told him he should have his mother always call his customers and finalize the deal. I'm not sure which actually sealed the deal, his mother's phone call, or the fact my new truck is BLUE!

Happy gardening!


The Pleasures of Plants and Food

Sometimes, life brings amazing gifts, and sometimes from the most unexpected places. The house just down the road from us, where Johnny and June Cash lived, had new owners after the Cashes left. Imagine, if you will, a peninsula, almost ship-like, floating on the waters of the Lake. Imagine a 7 acre forest of oaks and ancient Ashe junipers, growing atop a high bluff of the peninsula, with a newly built house set on the highest spot, looking quite out of place in its newness.

I had wanted to landscape that spot for years. I spent 20 years working as a landscape architect, most of that time on large estate work. When the new neighbors asked to see some of my work from years ago, I took them to another substantial house site, also atop a cliff, overlooking the lake. To avoid prolonging the story, I will just say that nearly 3 months of work, a lot of heavy equipment and a a few hundred rocks, some the size of Volkswagons, and I created a landscape that made the house appear as if it had naturally grown up out of the clifftop and settled there.

When I began the work, I had requested local Hispanic workers, rather than hiring trained nursery laborers. Why? Nursery people have their own ways of landscaping, I know, I've trained a good many over the years. But for this job, I wanted laborers who had no preconceived notions, no set rules and who wouldn't argue with my design. This was to be a highly naturalistic landscape, no cute bushes in rows, no city landscape here.

My crew consisted of 2 Mexican guys and an older fellow from Guatemala. The Guatemalan, Guillermo, was in the Ozarks visiting his son and family, a few miles away, and he mostly wanted something to do with his time during his 3 months' stay. Every morning Guillermo's son would drop him off at the job site and every evening I'd take him back home. It wasn't far, only 6 miles, and I was grateful for the work.

Guillermo and I developed a friendship very quickly. I speak no Spanish, and he spoke no English at all, but I enjoyed his company. Possibly it was because we were near the same age, but even without language, we laughed as we worked. He was especially animated when we built the herb garden, at left. And since the other 2 guys were originally from Mexico, and younger, they kept mostly to themselves. Except at lunch time, we all ate together, including the backhoe and bulldozer operators, all of us on the big deck overlooking the lake.

Every day when I took Guillermo home, his 3 young grandsons would run out to the truck to greet him. And when they did, he and I had conversations we'd saved up all day, with their interpreting for us. The boys were quick and smart and it was obvious how proud he was of them. And every day, one of the grandsons would say, "Mr Jim, Grandpa would like to pay you for bringing him home, please." And every day I'd say no, it was no trouble, he didn't owe me anything. He always thanked me, but then the next day, one of the boys would ask again, "Mr. Jim, Grandpa would like to pay you."

It occurred to me that this wasn't about money, the question kept coming up because of self respect. Guillermo needed to give me something in return for the favors I was giving him. When I finally understood what was behine the daily question, I gave it some thought and the next day when the grandson asked, I had an answer.

"Yes," I said. "Tell your Grandpa there is something I would very much like if he wants to pay me. Tell him that if his wife was willing, I would very much like to learn to cook a dish that was typical of a Guatemalan food. Guillermo looked very serious and sent one of the littlest boys inside, and within seconds, Guillermo's wife, Judith, appeared. She was wiping her hands on her apron when he explained what I'd just asked for. She immediately brightened and said she would be pleased to show me how to cook something.

I'd planned to have the cooking demonstration in our house, but the owners of the new house on the cliff overheard what we were planning and asked to host the cooking demonstration. They wanted to learn a new dish, too!

Judith did the shopping and as the cooking project progressed, there would be 12 people in all, including Guillermo and Judith's family. The location was the fabulous new kitchen with every imaginable gadget and convenience and Judith went right to work as if she had been cooking there for years. She started 2 pots cooking, one with chicken and a second with pork. She put in onions and various seasonings in each and while those simmered, she did something that caused me to secretly wonder whether she knew what she was doing.

Judith put a cast iron griddle on a burner and turned on the heat. She placed 2 halves of a very large onion on the hot griddle, without any oil. Next to that, she laid 2 fresh, whole tomatoes and 2 garlic cloves. While she worked on other dishes, she occasionally turned the vegetables on the griddle, but not until they were totally charred. I watched as everything on the griddle burned, the smoke going up the stove's vent. Then she laid 2 pieces of plain, white bread on the griddle, and they, too, burned to a blackness I would have thrown out.

Part way through our cooking lesson, I began to be nervous. What I'd asked Guillermo for, was a cooking lesson for myself and I had never dreamed this would turn out to be a 5 course dinner for 12 people. My fear was that with all of us standing around and watching, Judith might feel a little like a servant, and I certainly did not want that. So I asked, and it was translated, "Does it make you nervous to have all of us watch you while you cook?"

The interpreter returned Judith's words, with a wave of her hand in the air, "No, it doesn't bother me a bit. I have my own cooking show on television back home in Guatemala. I'm used to being in front of an audience."

With a big smile, she took the totally charred vegetables from the griddle and placed them into a blender. She ladled some of the broth from the pork and chicken dishes as they cooked, into the blender, as well. Judith added a small handful of fresh cilantro and whirred it all up together in the blender. That was the sauce, which she poured over the cooked chicken pieces on a platter. She dished up the remaining dishes and we all sat down. Guillermo said grace and we all began to eat. There was total silence, one of those amazing meals where the flavors and tastes are so far beyond expectation, you don't even want to waste time with words.

The seemingly burnt vegetables added an incredible smoky flavor to the sauce, the charred bread, thickened it, and the handful of fresh cilantro gave it a sparkle I could not have expected.

I had thought I was asking for a simple cooking demonstration from the wife of a new friend. What I found instead, was an elegant meal, prepared in style, by a professional television chef from another country. What a culinary surprise and one that taught me to not make assumptions about people. As Julia would have said, had she been fortunate enough to experience that meal, bon appetite!


Cilantro and the Perfect Breakfast

I used to hate breakfast. It was the most boring meal of the day and every day I dreaded eating it. Some days I nearly gagged, gobbling down breakfast to keep my parents happy, then heading off to school. Cereal - blaghhhh. Eggs and bacon, day in and day out - booorrring. I skipped breakfast for years. But over time, I learned that eating breakfast is an easy way to cut back on the noontime meal.

When I was growing up, lunch (we called it dinner, the evening meal was supper) was the Big Meal of the day. In those days, people worked hard, physically. I have great memories of working on a haying crew at ages 14 and 15, and how we'd go to the farmer's house for dinner. The Mrs. would have killed a couple of chickens or cooked a ham and a beef roast and there'd be homemade bread, noodles, lots of corn or green beans, lots of salads, several pies and we'd all eat until we could barely move, then go back to work and work it off by evening. A back injury while working those jobs, age 15, drove me indoors and helped start my years of restaurant work.

What does all this have to do with cilantro, you might wonder? No one had heard of cilantro where I grew up, and I didn't encounter the herb until I was well into adulthood. And when I did find it on my plate, I was not impressed at all.

In 1992 I was asked to write the chapter on herbs for the Ball Red Book, which is an 800 page encyclopedia for commercial greenhouses. Back then, nurseries and garden centers were just beginning to respond to customer demands for herbs, and most growers knew little about growing anything flowers or vegetables. Before writing my 2,500 word contribution to the book, I conducted a survey of seed companies, wholesale and retail growers nationwide, asking what the top 10 most popular herbs were, in order of sales.

The results were interesting, with basil being the most popular herb, followed by parsley, dill, etc. Down about number 8 or 9 on the top ten most popular herbs, was French tarragon. Everybody sold it even though a lot of their customers didn't know what to do with it once they had it. But because Julia Child and the new flurry of cooking shows said you had to have it, the herb sold.

In late 2008 I conducted that same survey again, to see if anything had changed. The line-up of herbs still started with basil as the most popular herb. Lavender was number 2, parsley number 3. But what I thought might have changed, and the numbers proved, was cilantro was now on the list at number 10, right behind chives at number 9. However, French tarragon was no where on the top ten! In just a decade and a half, American eating habits had changed. And so had mine. (The result of the survey was the inspiration for my book, Ten Most Popular Herbs You Can Grow, which we sell on-line and wholesale to shops).

Breakfast has become the best meal of the day, and I found that a meal that didn't leave me hungry and wanting snacks by 11:00, was a lot more satisfying than a bowl of cereal that tasted like, well, dead tree bark, and was a lot more fun. So almost every day, I have cilantro on my breakfast burrito. Granted, it's more trouble than a bowl of crunchy dead stuff, and, yes, it takes 10 minutes of time, and yes, I finally, after all these years, look forward to breakfast every day!

Here's what goes into my "perfect" breakfast:
Half of a chopped poblano pepper, 2 tablespoons chopped sweet pepper, about 1/3 cup thinly sliced zucchini squash, 1 diced green onion and either cooked chorizo or some precooked sausage. I saute the peppers, onion and squash, add the crumbled sausage or chorizo, then add some salsa while it cooks. Finally, I then heat a large tortilla on top of the skillet of cooking pepper mixture until the tortilla relaxes. I spread that with either sour cream or chopped avocado, pour out the cooked pepper-sausage mixture and top it with a half cup of loosely chopped cilantro, a little more salsa and roll it up like a burrito. There, that's my perfect breakfast I look forward to every day.

The earlier you plant cilantro, the better. I usually plant some in early winter and another seeding on top of the ground in early spring. Cilantro is a cool season plant and will come up when the ground temperatures begin to rise. Mine will be up in mid March and will continue to produce until warm weather. Long about the first or second week of May, cilantro will start bolting into flowering and once that happens, no matter  how much you cut it back, the flavor gets "soapy" and the plant is sprinting to produce seed. "Slow-Bolt" cilantro extends the season by about a week, but once the weather is warm, cilantro is done for until fall. (You can easily grow Vietnamese cilantro, a semi-water plant, to take up the slack; Vietnamese cilantro loves hot weather and produces all summer, provided you keep it clipped back about every 10 days to keep the flavor fresh and sweet).

If you think the only reason for the upsurge of cilantro in popularity is primarily from Hispanic influences, you would be wrong. While Hispanic-inspired restaurants have increased over the last decade, so have Asian restaurants. Chinese, Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, all use cilantro, making it one of the most universally used herbs!

And for those who mourn the passage of French tarragon into relative obscurity, think about the last time you were in a restaurant and ate a dish that contained tarragon. It's probably been a long, long time. Then think back to when you last had a dish containing cilantro in a restaurant. It probably wasn't very long ago.

My perfect breakfast may not be to everyone's taste, but I've found this mixture of flavors and ingredients gets me more excited about starting my day than a bowl of lifeless cereal ever did. I actually look forward to breakfast every day and this universal herb has a lot to do with it. Happy gardening!


Drummming Up Springtime

By the calendar, March 1st wasn't the first day of spring. But I've never watched the calendar too closely, no more than I watch watches. The weather, the way the season feels, what the plants are doing, those are the things I listen to. Nature was there long before the first ticking clock was imagined, and before the turning pages of a calender measured imagined realities.

There's a special satisfaction in being inside a greenhouse in cold weather. It's the next best thing to a walk through a tropical jungle. The humid warmth, the fertility of the flats of plants sprouting to life, feels rich and exuberant and full of life.

John, who I used to watch on the local t.v. show, Stone Soup, is a Native drummer. He'd brought his drum and he sat outside the greenhouse, drumming. Inside, Eric was working on his own drum, under John's occasional watchful eyes and suggestions. John was passing along the methods and secrets of drum making, a tradition that has passed down through the ages.

Eric is a bird man, an ornithologist, and works at the St.Louis Zoo. He'd brought along his wife, Cathy, and son, Aiden, and some feathers to share. (He also brought me some excellent homemade hot sauce-  think onion, garlic, CARROTS!!, lime and habanero peppers). Outstanding! Two of the feathers caught my eye; I've never seen feathers that have stripes on one side and dots on the other. I hope you will click on the photo to enlarge it. They're from an African variety of guinea.

Spring Fever Greenhouses are owned by long time friends, Olee & Sharon Jobe and Olee spent part of his time giving the 2 granddaughters and Aiden, rides on his little blue tractor. For the kids, tractor rides were the big hit of the day.

It's the greenhouse that was like a magnet to us all. Sharon watered and checked on the new seedlings and blooming plants; Eric worked on stretching the cowhide over his newly emerging drum, John drummed and told stories, Olee gave tractor rides, and I enjoyed watching spring, drummed in again.