Friday, August 24, 2012

Grilled Calamari and Blueberry Couscous

Calamari and Couscous

So I made one of the strangest dinners ever, a couple of weeks ago. Abundant summer produce got the better of me. But it all turned out well. Really well.

Agata and Valentina, our local gourmet market, makes fantastic smoky grilled calamari. We'd already enjoyed it as part of a green salad dinner, tossed with chopped tomatoes, cukes, avocado and a tart vinaigrette. They had it on sale, so I decided to buy it again and build dinner around it -- some kind of chunky summer saute, I reckoned.

I took stock of what was in the fridge, and decided to combine the calamari with sauteed zucchini and purslane, and some thyme and herbs de provence. None of these would smother the taste or texture of the squid. Purslane makes a great green for quick sautes. It hardly has any taste, and melts down very quickly, so it goes with pretty much everything. It's supposed to be highly nutritious raw or cooked, but I prefer the cooked texture -- just not stewed til it's slimy. About 2 minutes max is good: add it as the last thing just as the rest of the vegs are done.

The side dish took only a bit of thought, as I'd been intending to make something similar for days. I sauteed fresh sweet corn cut from the cob and chopped scallions, using a mixture of olive oil and butter. After just a couple of minutes, I added diced fresh apricots, and enough water for 1/2 cup of dry barley couscous to absorb; heat reduced to low. After a couple more minutes, I added a cup of wild blueberries (smaller and less sweet than regular kind) and fluffed the couscous with a fork and turned off the heat with the lid on the pan. The primary seasoning was coriander, which goes great with corn and complimented the fruit. 

The smoky and sweet combo of calamari, corn and fruit was fantastic, with chilled dry Torrontes wine.

Maxillaria schunkeana

Maxillaria schunkeana

I got this plant in February from Ecuagenera -- a nice big healthy bare-root specimen. My previous experience with the species was with a rather smaller one five years ago. Alas, that one barely survived two months in my light garden; I think I rotted it out, after planting it in sphagnum. 

The species comes from relatively low elevations in Brazil, so I reckon my fairly warm conditions suit it fine. I stuck this one into a coconut-fir bark-perlite mix, medium grade plus some finer bits. I placed it on the middle shelf, just past the middle of the 4-foot fluorescent tubes; it's getting some light from the T-12s and some from the T-8s. Plenty of water, since the mix drains well, and it gets fed with MSU fertilizer, along with everything else in active growth, roughly once a week. 

A few weeks ago, I noticed one of the new growths looked a bit peaky, with some browning at the tip of one leaf, so I was preparing to boost the light level a bit by shifting it closer to the T-8s. Surprise! A flower! And evidence of one other dried-up flower that I evidently overlooked because it's DARK and the base of the plant is shadowed by another plant. Well, that flower only lasted a couple of days, but I was over the moon it existed at all! A couple of days ago I realized there were FOUR flowers and three buds -- one ready to open, one still tight, one just emerging.


Since I actually have to re-arrange the entire middle light garden shelf very soon -- should've done it weeks ago really -- I'll have to be extra attentive to this little darling....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ponerorchis gramnifolia

Ponerorchis gramnifolia

I reckon this is my year to be Uber Queen of Terrestrial Orchids. Of the six little Ponerorchis tubers that I bought in late March, four sprouted and grew. Two of them flowered!

Yeah I'm a little disappointed that two made only leaves...yeah I'm really disappointed 2 tubers did nothing at all. I'm a bit jealous of my friends who managed to bloom all six of theirs!

But considering how truly awful my growing area can be -- I mean, I'm lucky sometimes that I remember to water the plants even every 3 days, manage to keep the temperature below 85" in the summer, cure the damn thrips that invaded last year, change the light bulbs and repot anything -- I feel I've done pretty well this year! Frankly, plants that disappear for months each year are a bad use of limited indoor space...but they  can go into those less desirable dark corners of the light garden for part of the year, and take very little tending in the meantime. So not such a bad thing.

I potted the tubers in my "usual" terrestrial mix, which is a bit dense but does drain very well: 1 part Pro-mix, 1 part African violet soil, and 1 part fine bark-based seedling mix (which is whatever I can dig out of the bottom of the bag of mix). Needs more perlite, I think -- maybe less soil too. And I probably used too deep a pot too, but I won't know until the little darlings go dormant and allow me to dig them up to see. Right now all four are still quite green and it'll be awhile.

In other breaking news, Habenaria rhodochilia finally decided to awaken three weeks ago, and I am proud mama to two growths on the plant. Woot! They might finally be getting enough light too, they're not as leggy as in past years. Fingers crossed that the cat doesn't decide the leaves are delicious...