Backyard Garden Against Nature

As I was writing about the weather in my last post, the extreme wet humidity in the last week, and then the wetness went away with humidity dropped to 70%, but temperature also dropped from 19C to 12C. What can I do? Nothing! One has to live with nature, that may be why our ancestors consult the Almanac to have an equalization force with nature.

Unfortunately, my zucchini flower died without a chance to be fertilized. Therefore no zucchini fruit from that flower. But, I am not totally discouraged as there are many more on their way. In general, that is why we need to have the weather on our side, preferably with sustained low twenty and mild humidity for the plants to flower and for the worker bees to cross-pollinate the flowers.

Zucchini is a summer squash and is in the Cucurbitaceae family (genre) and their flowers can be cross pollinated. To get a pure breed for future planting one must be very careful not to have other species of the same genre to pollinate the flower, however, pollinating the flower for fruiting purpose it’s alright. I have in my garden now different squash, gourd and pumpkin plants and their flowers can be use for pollination with each other. All I need is a good spell of upper teens temperature and sunshine to enable the bees to work.

Having said that, the other morning I’ve found a bunch of illegal vegetable harvesters on my cauliflower and choi shum. How they got into my cauliflower i have no idea because the pot was fenced off with chicken wire. I will have to investigate that later. In the mean time, they were having a whale of good time at my expense, gorging on my fruits of hard work. So I called in the spade patrol, and the green fellows are promptly catapulted to the nearest domain.

Don’t think that I am not fond of the off springs of the butterflies, as they are beautiful to look at when they are grown up, and they are useful to spinner of silk, but they just eat so much and deprived of my family the fruits of my labour. So if it is between them and my familyof couse I will have to choose my own family.

“Move Earth” Says the Chinese Almanac

The Chinese Almanac, which our agricultural ancestors had use throughout the last two thousand years to give advice about planting, has indicated the last two days would be auspicious days for “moving earth” and “start trading”. It’s so happened that these are the wettest days of the month, up to 95% humidity, and you can almost swim in the air. The plants are surviving the dampness, but they do need the sun to expose itself otherwise they will suffocate and die. This is the time I really believe an indoor garden is better for the growing then the outdoor ones. With my portable growing boxes, this is exactly what I will do and taking some of the plants indoor to the warmer and dryer atmosphere to let them have some air.

Endiveplants grown in different media.

The endive that I have transplanted about 4 weeks ago from seedlings are doing fine. The ones that are growing in perlite (珍珠岩) are growing at least 30% biggest than the ones I have planted in compost alone or half compost and half perlite. For this batch of plants I am growing them in a HypoNex high-grade solution that is diluted 1,000 times. I use the measuring cap supplied and used only half of the small cap and dissolve the nutrient in a 2 litre bottle that was recycled from used orange juice container. The nutrient is changes every week or so and the boxes that contain the nutrient are scrubbed and washed with dishwashing liquid.

Living outside the urban area is actually more challenging with the growing environment as there are more insects and pests to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This morning I’ve found a couple of fat green caterpillars munching on my Choi Sum leaves. They are promptly deported to our neighbour’s plot. Well, they don’t really grow anything there so it’s no harm for the green friends to have some dust for breakfast.

So, to follow the suggestion of the almanac, I thought I should plant some seeds to mark the wettest days of the month, or the year, who knows?

Planting for the new year

On Tuesday, I planted a dozen of seeds for flowers and food in the seed tray, using only perlite and because the temperature was in the single digit I decided to keep the tray indoor and covered with plastic lid.

Today the air has warmed up to mid teens and sun had came through so I put the trays outside on the balcony and uncover the lids. Several of the seeds already showing tiny roots. Only 3 days!

This is first of the batch of seeds I will be growing and reporting for this year of the Dragon.

Following are the seeds, which are available from the local markets:

  1. Portulaca – Dazzle Doubles
  2. Delphinium – Pacific Giants
  3. Calendua – Pacific Beauty
  4. Sunflower – Yellow Empress
  5. Danshen – Chinese plant
  6. Florist Cineraria  – Chinese plant
  7. Cany Tuft – Fairy mixed
  8. Pansy – Roggli Giants
  9. Portulaca – Sunny Boy
  10. Nasturtium – Cherry Rose
  11. Nemophila – Baby Blue Eyes
  12. California Poppy – Sunshine mixed
  13. Lettuce – Green Mignonette
  14. Snow Peas – Ho Lan Dow
  15. Radicchio – Salad Veg

Don’t forget to cover them in the evening.

Chinese Wine Given Top Honour by Decanter World Wine Award

Out of 12,000 wines entered, only 25 were awarded at the Decanter World Wine Award and He Lan Qing Xue score top mark in the Red Bordeaux Varietal over 10 pound category.

The wine is not for sale outside of China and I have not try the wine but rest assured the Chinese connoisseurs will be racing to add this to their collections.

Besides China, the Asia winner of gold and silver awards include Japan, India and Thailand. The wine world is embracing new challenges from Asia.

Dining in Beijing

CCTV Tower Looming Above Beijing CBD Skyline

Quite unlike my previous experience with this capital city when I was a frequent traveller to Beijing the dispassionate manner of the shop keepers has definitely changed.

The tourist’s attractions are now filled with aggressive shop employees touting something to you.

I went with Kuei to Hou Hai and Sanlitun, both restaurants and bars area, on Thursday exploring the scene and looked for a nice venue for dinner and afterwards for a night cap. As we walked around we were swamped by the shopper keepers sent on the street to tout for business. Along the strips these people were trying to pull us into their bars.  I mean literally, physically, trying to pull you in.

Then on Friday, I went to Silk Street which is a building, similar to the Shenzhen Commercial Plaza, filled with arcade of little cubicles selling all sort of merchandise from handbags to mountaineering gears to electronics. I had to survive the same experience as the night before, with aggressive young ladies grabbing my shirt sleeves to stop my track so that I can buy something at their employee’s shop.

As a Chinese I wondered, what kind of people have we become? As communism rule in China is turning sixty years old, people on the street has retrograded to the behaviour of Ming and Ching dynasty. It seems like there is no more culture to show to visitors but to just want consumers to spend, spend and spend.

The capitalist shopkeepers may have found a much better way to draw you in their shops to spend your money. The Americans bars owners and the Italian bag designers did it by not letting you into their shops, and you have to queue in front of door for sometime before they will let you in. That would have been a better advertisement to say, “This place is COOL. Come in to spend your consumer dollars.”

The way they do it in Hou Hai and Sanlitun is reminiscence to the seedy bars in Bangkok. This is certainly not the kind of image to project for a world class capital city.

Qian Hai Lake Beijing

However, my experience in the two day trip was not all negative. After walking around the Qian Hai Lake for about half an hour, Kuei and I decided to stop at Qing Yun Lou Restaurant for dinner.

From the outside we could see the understated decoration with wooden tables and chairs in antique style. However, on the street we can see clearly there is a wine cellar with its contents in display. I thought that was a good sign that we can enjoy a nice glass of wine with our Chinese meal.

We went in and were seated at a large table on the side, but as guests at a table by the window were leaving I signalled to the waitress if we could move to that table. The request was promptly fulfilled.

View of Qian Hai Lake at Dusk

After we sat down, we ordered a whole Peking Duck with all the trimmings (¥128), a sweet and sour pork (¥45) and a stir fried asparagus (¥35). Kuei had a coke, which is his regular drink, and I had debated whether to order a bottle of red wine or by the glass. The waitress suggested that I can order a half bottle from the menu, which contain a choice of white and red as well as a Prosecco range between ¥170 to ¥225. I decided to order the house red instead, which was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia (¥50 per glass). The house red was adequate but I would probably choose to have a bottle the next time. Since, I thought we were going to talk shop I had not anticipated that I would drink more than two glasses, I was wrong and ended up consuming more than a half bottle.

The sweet and sour pork arrived which has well balanced sweetness with slightly sour flavour. The texture is also very pleasing as it melts in the mouth. The asparagus was crisp and fresh, not oily, and a perfect complement to the pork disk. My red wine which has a medium body was also a good match with both dishes.

Since the duck was made to order it took about 45 minutes to arrive. The skin was roasted to perfection and the chef has sliced it so that the meat and skin were intact. Some restaurants may prefer to serve the meat and skin separately but I find the duck meat so juicy and the skin so crispy that it gives a much better texture and flavour when you are biting into the wrapping. I ended up finishing my plate of duck meat and Kuei more than half of his.

There was no disappointment in all of our dishes, and we were so full that we could not even eat the duck soup which was part of the Peking Duck order.

Qing Yun Lou is advertised as a restaurant for Vietnamese and Shandong cuisine, however, the dishes we ordered were not from either of the origin. For our meal we find that the service was prompt and courteous, the drinks list was well provided and the food definitely stands up to expectation. The bill came to  ¥475, for two persons, is on the high side for China but then again, I believe the whole experience is worth every yuan.

Le Chene Marchand in FCC

Yesterday, I was bantering about ideas of a new wine and food book with Annabel at the FCC. To put our ideas into perspective, of course, we have to take words into action. She chose a bottle of Sancerre ala 2008 le Chene Marchand of Domaine Lucin Crochet from the menu.

To preserve the wholesome flavor, the Le Chene Marchand grapes were hand picked and ‘whole bunch of grapes’ transferred to a pneumatic press via conveyor belt to avoid skin bruising.

It was delightfully crisp with a balanced sweetness to accompany the Fettuccine with mushroom, chili and olive oil I’d ordered.

The brocade has an aroma of green star fruit, which reminded Annabel of Vietnam. I posit that the palate becomes ripe as a golden star fruit upon mixing with the sweetness of the tongue.

For a long summer day, this wine can complete a plate of fruit, cheese or a simple pasta dish. The winemaker recommended a match with fish dish such as seabass or turbot, which I may try the next time.

Above all, the Sancerre had provided new insights for our book ideas.

Le Chene Marchand 2008


Red Beans with Chili and Basil

Yesterday, I harvested some Chinese red beans from my garden. Tossed them with some bean sprout, tofu from the market. To add to the taste I picked a red chili several leaves of basil, also from the garden, and mixed with garlic and ginger (chopped) to quickly stir fried them.

I served the stir fry with steam fish and white rice. Together with a bottle of non descriptive Spanish white wine from DCH. Delicious! The sweetness of Terra Roja counter balanced the hotness of the chili, highlighting the freshly picked red bean’s crisp flavour. The sauce of steam fish is always best suited for mixing with white rice. The whole meal comes to less than 80 HKD.