Jul 10, 2017

Goin' Bananas!

Yep, we're goin' bananas in the miserable pre-Monsoon heat and humidity here in Nepal! Time for an update on my garden, HIMself, and what we did for Eid-Al-Fitr.  And here's a stunning foot-long banana blossom in my garden to prove it!

Bananas are the weirdest plants. This photo is of a different type of banana than the top photo. This entire stalk dangling with the baby bananas and the bottom blossom is about 5 feet long. Bananas are the type of plant that you want to grow way, waaay, waaaaaay away from your home. Bananas are actually considered to be  perennial herbs! A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce a bunch of bananas. Then the mother plant dies. But around the base of it pop up baby banana plants from the main corm. They attract bugs a'plenty and continuously drop debris. Ants, bees, wasps, hornets, lizards, beetles, spiders, snakes, fruit flies, -you name it and banana trees attract them in multitudes. If they aren't dropping their huge leaves they're shedding sap, dead blossoms, and those purplish maroon bracts you see on the buds. Nepalis make pickles and a sort of stir fry out of the purple blossoms. I've not tasted the pickle but the stir fried blossom and it kind of reminded me of artichoke hearts, bamboo shoots, and hearts of palm. 

I planted Mexican sunflowers again from seed I gathered in my garden last Summer. I love their satiny orange blooms! They've done much better this year. 

Here's our gardener Khashi watering the tomatoes alongside the border of Mexican sunflowers. Khashi is about 5'5" so you can see the Mexican sunflowers are about 6 foot tall. This is the south side of the house so both tomatoes and sunflowers get maximum hours of sunlight daily. As long as you keep rigorously deadheading (removing spent flowers) those multi-stemmed Mexican sunflowers keeping putting out more buds. The stems range from 10 inches to about 4 inches on the Mexican sunflowers and they make great cut flowers.

We have tomatoes! This is the second crop of tomatoes this year. I have no idea why I planted tomatoes as they're dirt cheap in the market this time of year. I wanted to grow something! I'm curious to see it they'll make it through the Monsoon without rotting. They're planted beneath the overhang of the house with the aforementioned southerly exposure. We're going to be eating a lot of tomato chutney!

This has been the buggiest Spring and Summer. Yes, this is the 'tropics' but the insects this year are out of control. Caterpillars, giant land snails, some sort of cicada looking things, ants, mosquitoes, beetles, scale, aphids, wasps, dragonflies, june bugs, crickets, giant cockroaches, - you name it we've had it this year. The above weirdness was some sort of caterpillar infesting the mint plant. I have never seen a caterpillar on a mint plant. I have no idea what those silk/wooly egg looking things are. The different varieties of caterpillars in Asia is amazing. Caterpillars are heavily parasitized here. It's not unusual to find caterpillars mummified by weird fungal infections or being eaten alive by wasp larvae hatched from eggs on their backs.

A lone moonflower open in the shade of a western wall. All the morning glories I planted this year were eaten by snails. I planted a red morning glory called Scarlett O'Hara. All the seeds rotted. Even the good old reliable Grandpa Ott's fell pray to snails or fungus. The moonflowers have the front trellis all to themselves.

If you're wondering what that red stuff is it's chili powder. This was an organic attempt to keep snails and mealy bugs from eating my chili plants. I don't spray or put poison out because we have animals and we eat the veg from our garden (duh). The Sheikh (my husband) says we can't use stale beer and rotten fruit in a strategically placed saucer to lure snails to a drunken doom because it's not halal. So I read on an organic gardening blog that chili powder will burn snails' tummies. It works. But only if you place fresh chili powder out daily and rain doesn't wash it away. I still lost 12 of my 20 chili plants to snails. Boo!

The chenille plant (Acalypha hispida) is covered with sixteen inch cerise pink catkins. I've pruned it into a six foot by six foot hedge blocking the view of the compost heap. Chenille plants are also known by the interesting common name of Phillipine Medusa. Like poinsettias they are members of the Euphorbia family and all parts of the plant are poisonous. Despite being toxic the chenille plant is a little universe of all sorts of critters from lizards to bugs. It dies down to the ground every Winter but quickly comes back when the weather warms up.

The dwarf crepe myrtle is blooming away in brilliant fuchsia pink glory! I always wonder why crepe myrtles aren't more widely planted in South Asia. They are native to India and do beautifully here. Crepe myrtles are a common landscaping plant in my native California. With rigorous deadheading I can get 2 to 3 bloom cycles out of my dwarf crepe myrtles. They do lose their leaves in Winter but have a beautifully picturesque branching habit and interesting white bark.

I was going to show you what a nice container plant dwarf crepe myrtles are when our favorite feline photobomber showed up. Yes, that's the proud matriarch of our kitty clan- Granny Chinger. Grinning maniacally and rolling around in front of the crepe myrtle so I can't possibly get a shot without her in it. Do not underestimate Ms Chinger. (Chinger means ratty). Despite her often goofy demeanor she has the heart of a lioness. Ms Chinger battled a 4 foot rat snake who ventured into our stairwell the other day. This was not our usual, calm, 6 foot rat snake who perambulates the garden monthly. Ms Chinger puffed herself up and smacked the new snake in the face with her paws when it repeatedly tried to strike her. Amazingly she did not get bitten and the snake finally fled into the huge bougainvillea over the carport. Ms Chinger's daughter, Tikka, and Ms Dawg held back steady about 8 feet away from the battle. HIM the Baacha Khan took off running to the back of the house.

HIM the Baacha Khan peeps forlornly from inside a discarded rice bag I was collecting recycling in.
Speaking of His Imperial Majesty the Baacha Khan: HIMself has not been himself lately. He got into a horrific fight with an intact tomcat earlier this year which left him covered in scratches and with a badly bruised ego. We took him to the vet as he began running a high fever for some IV fluids and a jab of antibiotics. He seemed better but when we came back from our trip to Kathmandu he suffered a nasty upper respiratory infection that left him weak and dehydrated again. His respiratory situation improved but he was still spiking high fevers and not eating nor interacting with the other kitties. The vet was out of town so we put him on the usual empirical-seriously-sick kitty-regimen of IM ceftriaxone, meloxicam, and paracetamol for 5 days. The fever came down and he seems to have made a speedy recovery.

Of course HIMself's sister Tikka and mother Chinger have been giving him extra love and attention. He's definitely doing better and eating well but he's still not quite back to his old feisty self.

And we celebrated Eid-al-Fitr with lots of great food and guests. At our house it's a sort of Eid tradition that we breakfast on sweets. Above you see the date laddoos, brownie bites, and Kashmiri cardamom cookies I made for the holiday. This was after the boys tore into it.

I made a poundcake from a recipe in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook too. This was the only shot I got of it before it was sliced up for guests. Guests started arriving at 10 AM! This poundcake required a whopping 6 eggs. It baked up beautifully despite a 20 minute lapse in electricity while in the oven. Martha promised that this recipe had the most delectable crumb. It was a bit too spongy for me. The recipe called for a single teaspoon of vanilla but I put 2 teaspoons of a posh gourmand Mexican vanilla suspension, a half teaspoon of California Meyer lemon oil, and a half teaspoon of Boyajian's almond extract. I still thought it was a bit bland and not sweet enough for my taste. I suppose it would be fine if you spooned some stewed berries or peaches over it. I prefer my grandma's 7-Up poundcake to Martha's swank version. Come to think of it, I've never been truly WOWED by any of Martha's recipes I've made. Hmmmm.....

The Sheikh made a few dishes for Eid too. The Sheikh is a very good cook. He made his famous rista which is a mutton meatball with peas and (you guessed it!) lots of Kashmiri mirch. He also made delicious tamatar chaman which is Kashmiri style paneer with tomato sauce. Above you see the results of the Sheikh's culinary exuberance. This sparked a rather unusual conversation:

Me: Do we have any turmeric left?
The Sheikh: Why? 
Me: I was just looking at the stove and wondering. I still have to make a mutton dish and a chicken dish and I'm going to need a little turmeric. 
The Sheikh: What you are saying?
Me: Oh never mind. 

And here's our littlest guest on Eid! Ms Sita stopped by with her grandmother to enjoy some treats. If you are wondering what that black dot is over Ms Sita's eye is it's a purposefully placed dab of kajal to ward off the evil eye. Ms Sita isn't quite up to chewing yet but she did enjoy slobbering on some biscuits and petting the kitties.

And last but not least an unwanted visitor! Lurking on a window screen in the house was one of those !@#%^!! Asian hornets I had a run-in with last year. It is breeding season and there must be a nest nearby. I blasted this hornet with a can of bug spray from a distance of about 7 feet. If I injured this critter in a way that it was still living it would signal it's comrades to attack by chemotaxis. I shall be on the lookout for any of their soccer ball sized nests outside. 

So anyway, I missed last week's post as lightning knocked out my internet service for a week. Hopefully that won't happen again but it is the Monsoon here in Nepal and thunderstorms are weekly events during this season. Hope all is well with you & yours!

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