Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Going green

My parents, both almost 80 years old, are leading the recycling and sustainability charge at home. Because of their natural thriftiness, everything has always been used for as long as possible, and sometimes even longer. (Handles fallen off those cheap red plastic buckets? No problem, there’s always raffia string.)

Every piece of paper and plastic bottle is recycled; rinsing water from the washing machine fill up three pails every morning, to be used for light flushing in the toilets; rainwater runs into huge vats to nourish the plants on dry days; whatever fresh food that can be composted is composted; and whatever leftovers that might normally be thrown away, well, we have five dogs.

In the old days, we always had fruit trees in the garden – one, sometimes two mango trees; a rambutan tree; a few papaya trees; a jambu tree once; and the ever-present lime (kalamansi) tree. Except for the lime tree, the others are no longer with us, replaced by all sorts of vegetables sprouting around the garden (long view, above). When you grow your own vegetables, you know you’re eating the freshest organic stuff money cannot buy.

Next to the driveway (below) is where we start the tour of our little farm, which by the way, is sustained largely by Second Sis, while Dad does his fair share of watering (and cutting the grass, and handyman work around the house and garden, after a day at the office – he’s 79 this year).

This is our little grove of ladies fingers, or okra. Standing chest high, it is a handsome plot that is a stout testament to Second Sis’ work.

Mum likes to make her own fish paste from scratch, and stuffing our own okra with it for a meal of yong tau foo is one of our favourite dinners.

At the back of the garden, near the clothesline, is this little plot (below).

Dominating this patch is your run of the mill bayam, or in Cantonese, yin choy. I love the Wikipedia entry for this vegetable since it tells us what this humble mainstay of Chinese cooking is called, and how it is used, in other cultures. I’d love to see the look on my neighbourhood restaurant owner’s face if I ever asked for a plate of ching chow (lightly stir fried) biteku teku!

Nestled among the bayam is the newest addition to our garden – a chilli plant that grew from seeds bought in Bangkok.

We were prepared to be patient with this plant, not being familiar with its characteristics. We have some experience growing these types of fiery hot tiny chillies – our mainstay plant has been with us for decades, and at one time grew to a height of about five feet, spanning six feet across, and when fruiting, was a riot of little red and orange dots.

But this Thai import has green fruit, and, more surprisingly started fruiting before the plant reached two feet high! And the chillies are relatively big, about a couple of inches (5-6 cm) long. They are as fiery as our old red faithful (below), and much bigger. Mum still prefers our veteran chilli as it has deeper and more varied flavours. The new green addition may not be as complex in taste, but packs a burst of freshness, to go with the heat. Now, we just mix and match the two at the dinner table, young and old. The old faithful, by the way, is stationed in the middle of the garden and still giving good service.

At the far end of this back plot, and in other parts of the garden, we grow a red-stalked creeper (below), called the Ceylonese spinach, or in Cantonese, saan choy (the name is more prosaic in Hokkien, simply ang chai, or red vegetable).

There’s a green-stemmed version, but that, understandably, is less visually appealing! This vegetable is supposedly a little diuretic, and thus good for cleansing the intestines and general human plumbing maintenance. But really, it tastes great, especially cooked in soup with some salted eggs thrown in. J really loves this veg for its velvety texture! I tried to take a picture of them creeping up the fence in the back plot, but failed because, burp, we had it for dinner last night!

We have a couple of other vegetables – one is sweet potato, which we grow not for the potatoes, but for the leaves (below), which are tender and flavourful, especially stir-fried with a light touch.

This quick growing patch is threatening to take over the whole garden if we don’t stop it (meaning, eat it) soon!

The other plant grown for its edible leaves is a variety of mustard that is known in Hokkien as kor ber chye, or bitter-stemmed vegetable (below). The bitterness is mild, and the veg stands up to vigourous cooking.

We grow two varieties of lime here.

The kalamansi (above) for its fruit…

… and the kaffir for its leaves. Some of the herbs sprouting here and there are:

Sweet basil

Pandan leaves.

Mint (left) and chives. The chives do look a bit unruly, like Cyndi Lauper’s hair dyed green, but they do produce the most delicate and beautiful flower (below), no?


Jen L. said...

In the last few years I have been struck by how your family are "pioneers" of sustainability and environmental friendliness--in that they haven't let go of the old ways! They were environmentalists before there were environmentalists! Put it another way--why are we finding it so hard to go back essentially to living the way our parents used to live?

z said...

wah, so nice . . .


Now you just need a shop outside you house selling yong tau foo...

Aromatic Beans said...

Nothing nicer than eating home-grown veg, Z!!!

V, problem is, we can't make enough yong tau foo to stuff our own stomachs, much less sell 'em. We're very eow kui that way!