Monday, March 26, 2012

Roasted Asparagus

Asparagus is so wonderfully abundant and affordable right now.  I try to make some at least once a week.  Fresh, steamed asparagus is my favorite, but cooking it can go very wrong, very quickly.  So, I’ve developed this more-forgiving, roasted asparagus recipe for those evenings when I’m busy or just plain tired.

You need:
1 pound fresh asparagus
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon or lime juice
And Mrs. Dash (we prefer the Original Blend)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Rinse asparagus spears and snap off the woody bottom of each asparagus.  You can peel the spears if you like, but I seldom do.

Place asparagus in a ceramic or glass baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and juice (about 1 tablespoon).  I usually choose lime over lemon juice.  And finally sprinkle with Mrs. Dash (1.5-2 tablespoons).
Toss asparagus with herbs.  Bake for 10-15 minutes.  Tonight’s batch took 12 minutes.  Serve warm.  Or chill completely and serve as a salad over greens.  This slightly tangy asparagus is a natural accompaniment to salmon, pork or scrambled eggs.
Roasted asparagus with beer-braised pork and onions plus potato pierogies and a pint of beer.
Those are diced prunes sprinkled over the pork.  Yummy.
You could create your own herb mixture with the following dried herbs: basil, parsley, oregano, cumin, coriander, a dash of cayenne pepper, plus 1 clove garlic, minced, a little lemon zest, celery salt and ground black pepper, or… make a similar blend of fresh herbs.  Keep in mind, the ratio is usually 1 tablespoon fresh herbs for every 1 teaspoon of dried ones.  And 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

This recipe calls for almost 2 tablespoons or 6 teaspoons dried herbs = 6 tablespoons fresh herbs.

It sounds like a lot, but it just works out to about 1/3 cup of fresh herbs.

We’ve also used this recipe exactly to roast Brussels sprouts;
eliminated the juice to roast cauliflower;
and substituted orange juice and extended cooking time to roast baby carrots.
So why not parsnips, hearts of Romaine, slightly blanched green beans, or even something sweet, like under-ripe pears?  When working with these other vegetables, just make sure you divide them into somewhat equal pieces, so everything cooks evenly.  And experiment a little.  The possibilities are actually endless.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Inspiration from Sohan Qadri

I know I have been remiss in my blogging duties.  Although, I’ve not been writing lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing.  And I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike.

Inspiration is a funny thing.  I consider myself a marginally creative person, which means I rely quite a bit on truly creative people.  And I am always interested in what inspires them.  Sohan Qadri is one of my favorite artists.  He died just a little over a year ago.  But the works he left behind remain alive… vibrant evidence of his being… in every sense of the word.
Megha II
Sohan drew inspiration from within.  He submerged in deep meditation before painting or writing.  His resulting “canvases” are beautifully textural with swathes of color, intensely-dyed, saturated color, on wrinkly-fibrous, handmade paper.  Meditation enabled him to envision and artistically interpret… what do you call it?  The world’s energy?  A spiritual state?  The life force?  And he taught others how to meditate to expand their creativity.

It may sound hokey.  But Sohan’s paintings are pure abstraction and incredibly emotive.  Of course, they bring to mind Mark Rothko’s large color fields.  But they are something very different.  I suspect it has to do with their slightly smaller scale and the way color collects in the pockets and ridges where the paper has been serrated, almost carved, in very rhythmic patterns.  The paintings could be capturing landscapes or maps or conversations or heartbeats.
Dissolution III
Which leads me to think that Sohan also drew inspiration from his life.  And how could he not?  He probably drew inspiration from the lush Punjabi farmlands where he was raised; from what he learned in school and from yogis and monks; from his formal artistic training and friendships with fellow artists; and from travels in other parts of Asia, Africa, North America and Europe.  But perhaps he drew inspiration from just being aware and noticing things.  Noticing the interconnectedness of all things.

A recent visit to the Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden reminded me of Sohan’s paintings.  The lush colors of many orchids, the linear repetitions of tropical foliage, the intricate structures of spring blossoms… all of these reminded me of his work and the first time I experienced it several years ago.  Plants and paintings are somehow exotic, primordial and universal all at the same moment.  Not to mention so very gorgeous.  Does that make sense?

Abhasa I

Agni II

Bija II

Purusha VI

Puskara II

Stambha II

Sohan Qadri’s paintings featured here are available at Sundaram Tagore Gallery.  Sundaram Tagore specializes in the “exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures” and has branches in New York City, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong.  They also participate in major art fairs throughout the world where they usually exhibit Sohan’s work.
From Confluence at Sundaram Tagore Gallery
You can learn more about Sohan from books: Sohan Qadri: The Seer and Seeker: The Art of Sohan Qadri.  And if you happen to be in Hong Kong this weekend, stop by Sundaram Tagore for Confluence: Sohan Qadri - Zhang Yu.  The exhibition runs through Sunday.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hale and Hearty, well actually... Hale and Hardy

It’s March 1, and if you are like me, you are probably…
reviewing books and catalogs;
looking at others’ gardens;
tidying up the ruins and residues of winter;
searching for signs of life under leaves and mulch;
and finalizing your wish list of plants and projects to add to the garden.
Whether your garden is established or you are just breaking ground, there is always something to do.  And you have to decide, what can I accomplish?  Where do I start?  Where can I find what I need?  And how much will it cost?

"Plants in waiting"... I sometimes grow perennials in large containers until I can find a spot for them in the garden.
I have about two more weeks to finalize priorities.  (This time of year kind of has the frenzy of an all-night exam cram!)  And one of the things I’m taking into account is the Department of Agriculture’s new Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The map was unveiled in January and compiled from almost 30 years of data.  The first thing you might notice is that the map is interactive and best used online.  You can view and download static maps of your state, your geographic region and the whole country.  But you can also find your hardiness zone by zip code.

Because the map was created with GIS technology, it includes greater, in fact, truer detail, especially in urban areas and communities close to natural features that often affect winter weather.  So, large cities, like New York and Chicago, or even Pittsburgh and Portland, now belong to warmer zones than their surrounding vicinities.  For example, Manhattan, previously 6B, is now 7A; downtown Chicago, previously 5B, is now 6A; parts of Pittsburgh, previously 6A, are now 6B; and Portland, Oregon, previously 8A, is now 8B.

The map shows that many communities immediately around the Great Lakes enjoy milder winters than their neighbors just 15 to 50 miles “inland”.  Leadville, Colorado, at an elevation of over 10,100’, is in Zone 4B, while Aspen, Colorado, at an elevation near 7,900’, is in Zone 5B, even though they are about 30 miles apart as the crow flies.  And in the past, the landscape around Brownsville was always lumped with the rest of southeastern Texas.  It is now distinguished as Zone 10A.  The new map also provides more definition to our tropical zones of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, which now include Zones 12 and 13 instead of maxing out at Zone 11.  Of course, gardeners in these locales have probably experienced and recognized these subtle differences for years.

It’s important to remember the “coldest” temperatures listed for each zone are not the coldest possible temperature for that region.  They are averages of the coldest temperatures recorded at each location from 1976 to 2005.  So, you still need to watch daily temperatures during the winter for out-of-the-ordinary cold snaps, particularly if you are trying to grow plants at the limits of their hardiness.

Definitely, check out the new Plant Hardiness Zone Map before purchasing plants this spring.  My guess is that this updated information will influence what is available at your local garden center.  And who knows?  Maybe you could be growing a wider range of plants than you realized.  I think all gardeners love to hear that!