Monday, January 13, 2014

Cooking: Yellow Curry with Chicken, Green Beans, and Purple Yams

This Thai curry is easy to make if you have yellow curry paste on hand.  I am fortunate to live where a wide variety of exotic grocery items are not difficult to find. For those in the Seattle area, I bought this curry paste at Central Market in Shoreline.

At their most basic, Thai curries are rooted in curry pastes, made from ground lemongrass, galangal, ginger, chilies, shallots, spices, and other ingredients. Yellow curry is one of the mildest; green and red are hotter.

Purple yams show up seasonally here in the Northwest. I found organic ones at both Central Market and at PCC. They have a deep purple skin and mottled purple flesh that turns bright purple when cooked. They are less sweet than garnet or jewel yams. If you can't find purple yams, use another type.

This version features two cooking techniques: simmering and roasting. Roasting the yams and mushrooms intensifies their natural flavors and prevents the yams from turning to mush in the curry. I served this with Thai jasmine brown rice (recipe follows main recipe).

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken, Green Beans, and Purple Yams
serves 4

2 yams, scrubbed and trimmed
6 crimini mushrooms, trimmed, then sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1 Tblsp olive oil

1 Tblsp coconut oil
1 tsp whole cumin seed
½ large onion, thinly sliced
2 Tblsp Thai yellow curry paste
1 tsp sea salt, divided
1 ½ lbs fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped into 2-inch pieces
1 can (15 oz.) coconut milk
2 single skinless, boneless chicken breasts*
1 large avocado, quartered, peeled, and sliced
1-2 Cups fresh cilantro leaves

*Cut each chicken breast into four pieces, then cut each piece into ¼-inch slices

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle of the oven.

Cut each yam in half, then cut each half in half again lengthwise. Starting at one end, make an angled cut, rotate the yam a quarter turn toward you and make the next angled cut. The goal is to end up with pieces that are about the same mass and no larger than 1 inch in any dimension. (This is called a roll cut in Chinese cuisine.)

Toss the yam chunks and mushrooms with the olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. I lined my sheet pan with parchment paper. Season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast the vegetables until a knife tip easily pierces the yams, about 25-30 minutes; remove from oven and reserve.

While the yams and mushrooms are roasting, heat the coconut oil in a large sauté pan, Dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle.

Add onions and ½ tsp sea salt and stir. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and just starting to color, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the curry paste a fry for a couple of minutes.

Add green beans and stir fry a couple of minutes, then add the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, add remaining ½ teaspoon sea salt, then lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer 6-8 minutes; beans should just be tender-crisp. Add the chicken, stir well, and cover. Simmer an additional 6 minutes, add the roasted yams and mushrooms, stir gently, then turn the heat off and let sit covered another 5 minutes. Taste and correct salt if necessary.

Serve with brown, red or black rice. Garnish with avocado chunks and lots of fresh cilantro leaves.

Thai Jasmine Brown Rice
serves 4

2 cups Thai jasmine brown rice (any whole long-grain rice can be used, such as brown basmati, Thai red, or black rice)
4 cups water
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tblsp butter (optional)

Wash the rice well in a bowl of water; strain with a mesh strainer.

Heat two burners—one to high, and the other to the lowest setting. If you have a gas range, this step is unnecessary. Bring water to a boil, then add salt, washed rice, and butter, if using.

Boil, uncovered, until the water level falls just below the level of the rice. Don't stir it! Move the pan to the cooler burner (or adjust your gas burner), cover, and let gently simmer for 15 minutes. Lift lid and gently use a fork to check if water remains in the bottom of the pan; if so, recover and continue cooking  for 5 minutes, then check again. When the water has been absorbed, turn off the heat, fold a clean towel and cover the pot, then set on the lid. Let rice sit at least 10 minutes or more. The towel will absorb moisture and prevent the rice from getting wet.

Just before serving, fluff rice gently with a fork.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Spring Valley hybrid Eremurus are seed-raised in Idaho. They have larger flowers and bloom later than Dutch hybrids. This is our first year growing these, and we couldn't be happier.

Culture wise, they like excellent drainage, full sun, and minimal competition with other plants.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Fan of Foliage

It's a well-known axiom that plants with interesting foliage are the real workhorses of the ornamental garden. After all, foliage usually has a longer season than flowers. Variations in color, shape, size, texture, and arrangement on the stem offer a multitude of design choices.

In our own garden, arranging and balancing foliage is a constant dance. Too much of a similar texture in one area? Something's going to get moved. Same with leaf color or variation or size.

Here's some of the foliage I'm enjoying this week in the garden.

Clerodendrum  trichotomum 'Carnival'

Daboecia cantabrica

Eryngium 'Big Blue'

Eryngium venustum

Eucomis 'Freckles'

Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Shadow'

Geum triflorum

Helichrysum italicum

Heliopsis helianthoides 'Lorraine Sunshine'

Ledebouria cooperi

Olearia lepidophylla

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Wintergold'

Sanguisorba menziesii

Uncinia unciniata 'Rubra'

Yucca flaccida 'Yellow Stripe'

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring Flings

Cardiocrinum giganteum

 Things have really picked up speed in the garden the past couple of weeks. Perhaps the fastest growing plant award should go to Cardiocrinum giganteum. Our little colony now has seven or so plants, only one of which seems heading toward bloom this year. The plant that bloomed last year produced five healthy offsets, so it looks like future years will be spectacular for these plants.

Arisaema sikokianum

Another speedster is this Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The plants emerge as a sharped round shoot completely encased in this beautifully textured brown sheath. The leaves and flower are tightly rolled up inside, and rapidly unfold in a matter of days.

One fascinating thing about cobra lilies is that they often change sex, usually starting out male and switching to female as they age. This can be affected by genetics and growing conditions.

Eremurus 'Spring Valley Hybrids'

This hybrid foxtail lily has developed a highly rhythmic twist in its leaves, the only one of five to do so. Fabulous!

Callistemon critrinus 'Little Joe'
We've had good luck so far with another callistemon, so we added this C. citrinus cultivar recently. It will grow to just three feet tall and about 5 feet wide, unless it gets killed off in a harsh winter. It happens.

Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl'

Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl'

One of the stalwarts of the spring garden is euphorbias, and E. characias 'Black Pearl' is a beauty. Growing to about three feet tall and a little wider, it is wonderfully architectural, and the black eyes of the bracts are luscious.

Grevillea juniperina 'Lava Cascade'

One of several grevilleas we are growing, G. juniperina 'Lava Cascade' has really grown since it was planted last spring. We situated it at the top of a rockery, where it can cascade down and it has sharp drainage. It's currently covered with buds, so it should be really exciting in a couple of weeks, if these early blooms are any indication.

Hybrid hellebore
Hybrid hellebores are endlessly fascinating, and are such workhorses in the garden. We cut all of the previoius year's foliage off once the flower stalks emerge; fresh new foliage quickly follows the flowers. This one is a division of a clump we grew in our Vashon Island garden. I love the spotting.

Muscari latifolium
These grape hyacinths are so cute with their little topknots of pale blue, plus their peculiar tulip-like foliage. These are a robust miscari, growing about eight inches tall.

Hacquetia epipactis and Fritillaria meleagris
An apparent rarity (although I don't know why, as it is easily propagated), Hacquetia epipactis is the cutie pie of the spring garden, forming a tidy mound about one foot across that is covered with the most amazing line-green "flowers." The actual flower is the yellow center; the green parts are sepals.

We bought our original three plants at the now-defunct Heronswood back in 2005. This clump is one of three that self-sowed for us. We now have more babies that will be ready to move to other locations when they're a little bigger.
Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII'
Although by no means a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, red-flowered currant is still worth growing for a welcome burst of bright color in the spring, paired with fresh green foliage. This hybrid has larger flower sprays than the straight species.

Soon, there will be peonies, alliums, luecojums, species tulips, coral bells, and more. The tea tree (Leptospermum lanigerum 'Mt. Wall') is heavily budded, as is Callistemon viridiflorus. Fothergilla gardenia 'Blue Shadow,' which we thought had died last year, is not only budding out but starting to bloom. And one of the giant pokers, Kniphofia northiae, has a monstrously large flower spike emerging. That will be exciting!

Monday, March 18, 2013

March Madness

Hacquetia epipactis
No, not basketball.

I mean the madness that engulfs me every year as plants begin to break dormancy and bulbs push their way out of the soil. I mean the madness of checking the garden twice a day to see what's progressing. It's madness because we are just approaching the official start of Spring, we are still having morning frosts occasionally, and the soil has barely warmed at all.


I could blame the snowdrops and Iris reticulata—they have already bloomed (although some snowdrops are still in bloom). Hellebores have be going strong for several weeks now, including "Ivory Prince," seen with the Hacquetia epipactis in the first photo. We had several of these in our Vashon Island garden; this one was in a container, so it came with us to the new house in 2010. It's a reliable performer, sending up ever-larger clumps of blooms each year. We remove all of last year's foliage when the flower stalks emerge; new, fresh foliage will form soon.

The little charmer in the forefront is Hacquetia epipactis, a charming little oddity that pushes its "flowers" directly out of the ground until a low mound of color forms. The only species in its genus, it prefers moist woodland settings and spreads gently by both rhizomes and self-seeding, although never thuggishly. We have these tucked under the skirts of a hardy fuchsia, which offers some protection from late summer sun.The "flowers" are actually just the yellow centers; the "petals" are actually sepals. In any case, it is a fabulously fresh color for early spring.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
Another hard-working plant that b rightens the early spring garden is Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost.' Just before the main leaves emerge, a cloud of clear blue forget-me-not flowers forms; on mature plants, this cloud can be two to three feet tall and wide. This blue really carries!

As the cloud develops, new leaves push up, green with an incredible overlay of silver patterning. In our Vashon Island garden, we had many of these as they prefer at least part shade and are unpalatable to deer, perhaps because their leaves are stiff and rough. We have one in our small shade bed and two in a bed that gets more sun. Unfortunately, they get too much sun later in the summer and they burn to a crisp. Perhaps this will be the year we get around to moving them to a more shaded position so they look great until fall.

Helleborus x hybridus
Also going strong right now are an assortment of hellebores, including this stunning unnamed seedling from Peter Ray at Black Dog Plants on Vashon Island. We bought this as a small plant at the Vashon farmers' market about four years ago. This year it has over 20 of these beautiful blooms.

The Helleborus argutifolius that was here when we bought the house bloomed spectacularly last winter and spring, with mounds of acid green flowers over the toothed glue-grey leaves. Then, we moved it.

We really had no choice. We completely redid the front yard, and anything we wanted to save we had to dig and either pot or plant elsewhere. This hellebore sulked all summer, although it didn't die outright, and it didn't bloom this year. However, new growth is sprouting from the roots, so we've cut down all the old tatty foliage and will see what happens. This plant produced one seedling last year, which is happily growing in one of the new beds in the front garden. In our makeshift nursery (we all have them, no?) we have about a dozen little hellebore seedlings coming along in 4-inch pots. Who knows what colors they will be? You never really know with hellebore seedlings until they bloom. We will probably plant these out in the new beds later this spring.

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Jan Bos'
Finally, here is a small clump of hyacinths, an old named cultivar that has a little more space between the individual flowers. Hyacinths are useful spring bulbs, although they come in a limited range of colors. I still want to plant some of the dark blue ones; perhaps this fall?

These are happy at the foot of a Mahonia x intermedia 'Charity' and are surrounded by a sea of Sedum 'Angelina,' which is just taking off for the season.

Next up—lots and lots of narcissus, three kinds of species tulips, chionodoxa, leucojum, and parrot tulips, followed by alliums, eremurus, and lilies. By the time the lilies are up, peonies will be surging toward bloom, along with hardy geraniums. The madness of waiting impatiently will give way to the thrill of full beds and problems revealed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Race Against the Rain

Here in the Pacific Northwest, fall usually means a return of the rain. Heck—sometimes it just starts raining and doesn't stop until the following summer. We had an unusually dry summer this year, so the rain is welcome.

Fall is also the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Just as the bulbs arrive, the rains start. We ordered over 800 bulbs this year to plant in our completely re-done front garden, and they all need planting now.

We're now playing a cat-and-mouse game with the weather, darting outside whenever the rain slows to a sprinkle and plunging more bulbs into the dirt. So far, we've planted 380, with four beds remaining to be planted.

Of course, the more rain we have, the wetter the soil becomes. It's become a race to get them all planted before the garden is just mud.

Here's what we're planting this fall:

Narcissus 'La Belle'
Narcissus 'Avalanche'
Tulipa batalani 'Bronze Charm'
Tulipa 'Tinka'
Tulipa whittalii
Allium aflatunense 'Purple Sensation'
Allium christophii
Chionodoxa forbesii 'Blue Giant'
Crocus flavus 'Golden Yellow'
Eremurus (Spring Valley Hybrids)
Galanthus elwesii
Iris reticulata 'Harmony'
Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant'
Lilium 'Red Hot'
Muscari latifolium
Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'
Triteleia 'Queen Fabiola'

Pictures next spring!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tigridia pavonia

Mexican Shell Flower, or Trigridia pavonia, is a showy summer-blooming bulb in the iris family. Each large flower opens in the morning and lasts just one day. By late afternoon, it has crumpled and shrunk.

It is always a delight to notice these blooming, especially now, in late September, months after the initial bloom.

Somewhat tender, many people lift these in the fall and store like gladiolas. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're thinking we'll just leave them in the ground and take our chances. Mulching would probably increase our chances, but we rarely get around to that.

Tigridias come in a range of colors, including reds, oranges, yellows, and creams. Among the species, there is even one that is a heavily patterned purple, Tigridia vanhouttei.