Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My lips are the desert...


Oh! this heat is killing me! I know I shouldn't complain (wouldn't want to jinx summer), but it's May and it feels like July in Montreal! In fact, most of Quebec is under a veil of sweltering heat, and I am sticky and grumpy. Spring has been lovely on the whole, but I -and my garden- can use some rain: my peas and I are wilting faster than the bunch of radishes on my kitchen counter.

It's times like these when a devout non-fan of lettuce begins to crave rabbit food: lettuce is definitely growing on me (literally). When the mercury hits 30'C (85'F), I lose my appetite, and all I can ingest is water in all its forms (depending on the variety, lettuce can contain up to 95% water!) It's an easy crop to grow, not at all demanding; all it needs is a little sun, preferably in the morning, some shelter from the afternoon heat, and some water. Growing your own lettuce is economical: a head of lettuce at the supermarket averages 2.50$; at the market, 1$ to 2$ depending on the type; a flat of a dozen lettuces costs around 4$ (that comes out to 33¢ a piece); and a packet of seeds is more or less 2.50$, which can supply you with a month's worth of salads, barring the murderous squirrels...
I've had to cheat this year: the squirrels would not leave my window boxes alone, so I had to go out and buy two flats of lettuce and a flat of pansies (11$ for 30 plants). I've been eating salads every other day for the past two weeks, and my planters are still filled to the brink. Should you choose to grow your own salad bar, be aware that there are several ways to grow your own. You can go the cut-and-come-again route, or you can space out your plants so that you get distinctly individual heads of lettuce. While romantic images of harvesting whole heads of lettuce abound, the best way to pick lettuce is leaf by leaf: unless you are feeding an army, chances are you will not consume an entire head in one sitting, even if you are two. By picking only the leaves you need, you can stretch out the plant's productivity by at least threefold, so those 4$ will be very well spent indeed.

Pansies are ubiquitous spring flowers. Their cheery faces often show up in tiny window boxes and otherwise sterile, suburban 'gardens', but they are so much more than just pretty pates: planted amongst lettuces and radishes, they invite bees and other pollinating insects to your neck of the woods; they embellish your salad bar, and they add zing to your dinner. If you have some chives nearby, they are probably blooming right about now, and will also be a nice, nippy addition to any leaf mix. 

Radishes are simply lovely sliced in a salad; they add zing and pizazz, juicy crunch and a touch of heat. The incredibly dry weather we've been having in Southern Quebec has resulted in fiery radishes; if you shy away from the burning globes, you can diminish their heat by soaking them in some ice-cold water for a couple of hours (if the radishes still have too much bite for your liking, try sautéeing them in some butter: they mellow out completely and are still pleasantly crunchy.) Whatever you do, do not throw out the radish leaves: they are lovely added to your lettuce, or cooked like spinach. Or you can feed them to a pet rabbit, or a travelling groundhog...

Although spicy radishes are always nice with mayo, heavy weather calls for the lightest of salad dressings: a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar; some sesame oil, lemon juice and soy sauce; or just a squeeze of lemon with salt and pepper.

I am sated.

Bon app'!


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