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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Green Thumbs and Brown Shoes

I have a thriving colony of herbs growing on the balcony. There isn't much else I can do on the balcony, since the view consists of the building across the street and not much else. A neighbour told me that I was fortunate to have the building there, since it will block some of the effect of the upcoming nor'easter storms.

Yes, winter should be interesting here. I did make a point of viewing the apartment in March, as it turns out during the worst winter since 1939; and I didn't see anything leaking onto the floor through the horribly designed windows then. Next door apparently isn't so lucky.

Anyway I got some basil and chives and sage and thyme at the Kerr street farmer's market. But I couldn't get mint for love nor money. No one seemed to have any, and they seemed a little startled that I'd want it.

Now, mint is essential for Middle Eastern cooking. Possibly no one here does it; all I can say is, fresh mint is really a godsend when you make it, basil nearly as much.

I advertised on the local freecycle and two people answered. One said, come by the house and get the mint any old time. So I took the bus there and identified...spearmint.

Now, I have indelible associations with spearmint: cheap gum, really nasty toothpaste, and so on. In other words, I hated spearmint. But no one seems to have peppermint here and the spearmint literally grows like a weed. It IS a weed to most folks, which is why they must have been startled to hear that I wanted some.

The first person was not at home but he'd given me permission to take as much as I wanted. I chopped one of the plants loose with a spade. None of the neighbours came out to see what I was doing. Good.

I get home to find an email stating that another gentleman has already cut one plant loose and expects me to come and get it. So I get on another bus (did I mention that the bus service here is terrific and I can get to nearly anywhere I want to go? No? Yes. What an improvement on the insulting service in my last town. They synchronize the buses very simply: all of them go to the central train station. And lo and behold, if one is running late and riders need to connect to another bus, the driver will telephone ahead and ask them to hold the buses so the riders can make the connection. And so they do. Consideration of the rider's needs on a bus route! It is positively Un-American! And yes, it surely is.)

I get to the house and find Audrey II waiting for me. It's another spearmint, and it's taller than I am. It's in a pot. I ring the bell and speak to the man just to be sure I can take it. Sure, it's free.
I hop back on the same bus that has just completed its loop and put Giant Plant on the floor. I'm not asked to get it another ticket, fortunately.

And now they are both on the patio. And it turns out that I've been using the wrong mint all these years in my Mediterranean recipes...spearmint is preferred to peppermint.

You know? It really does smell better, fresh. I suppose those gums and toothpastes I disliked so much contained chemical recreations of the smell, and not actual spearmint.

Chemical smells are more prevalent than one would think. They are synthesized in a lab in New Jersey. Some are very expensive. If you are getting 'truffle oil' there is no such thing; truffles don't give oil. It's a synthesized chemical.
I made an expensive dish from a Toronto restaurant for a quarter of the price (and served five people) by the simple expedient of substituting walnut oil with a little sesame oil in it for 'truffle oil'. And the taste was the same!

So, once the spearmint plants have made themselves at home, I will be making some more Mediterranean dishes. I also plan to take the basil and spearmint plants in for the winter, if Gizmo will let me. Neither plant should hurt her if she wants a bit. I am also growing catnip for her benefit, and I'll dry this since she prefers it that way.


Ferdzy said...

Hello! Glad to hear things are going well. (We met at WMTC's party.)

I planted some mint this winter by the simple strategy of buying mint at the supermarket, putting it in a glass of water until it rooted, then planting it. It did very well in my south-facing window all winter, until I put it out on the balcony on the spring and a g-d squirrel got at it, rot its furry little socks. I'm hoping it may recover by the time summer is over.

Nancy said...

Hi Ferdzy...
I tried rooting the supermarket mint twice. It died the next day, both times (with stinky water and rot and so on.) The wild mint, or spearmint, is actually better than the peppermint I originally wanted. The Savannah Sweet Tea was outstanding. I will keep the dried peppermint for stomach complaints (it's a great remedy for them.) I didn't know that squirrels ate mint. Maybe it had a stomach complaint. As it stands, mint is supposed to repel insects; but one of my donated plants had a few leafhoppers on it. I sprayed it with soapy water and we'll see what develops. At least no squirrels will get up seven flights to this balcony--there are no tall trees around!

Ferdzy said...

I've not had problems with squirrels generally, and I think I still don't. I think it is one particular psycho squirrel. So far in addition to the mint, he (or she) has killed my 20+ year old jade plant, my heliotrope, two coleus, and about 3/4 of my seedlings in little pots. All in about 3 days. I was not a happy balcony gardener this year. As you say, between being 7 stories up and not having this particular nutbar squirrel, it's not likely you'll have problems.

Nancy said...

Wow. I've never heard of a squirrel doing those things. Maybe a cat or dog would take care of the little mutant.

Ani Levi said...

Hi Nancy,
It's Iva, that other name is a silly college leftover, which kinda stuck.
Just rediscovered your blog, so expect lots of silly comments :)
Yes, it's spearmint for Mediterranean cooking. I was appaled when I couldn't find any when I moved to dear old England, Mint is OK, but lacks the zing, so I got some dried spearmint from home. It does last forever in an airtight jar, too - no loss of aroma. If you need to, you can dry it easily, just spread it thinly on paper, leave for about a week and keep away from the sun.

Nancy said...

Hi Iva, thanks for letting me know about the dried mint. I'll do this when winter is coming, since I may not be able to take all the plants in from the balcony. Spearmint is a weed in Canada, and it's growing like one. A high wind broke one plant in half, and now I have a rooted top half growing happily next to its former 'bottom' which is doing well. These should die back in winter and come up again in Spring. Whee, I'm a farmer.