The Arizona air is shifting, thought it has been a later and cooler spring than usual. While it hit 100 this past weekend, briefly, it settled back down to 85. That is March and April weather, and it is glorious. Usually, it is 100 by the end of April, and starts to park there more often. I am growing and cultivating a patio garden, as I am an apartment dweller, and this shift in weather will make us change our rhythm- again.
The front door faces east, and between the the rotation of the sun from south to north during the season, and the typically cloudless sky during the April May June period of heating up and drying, we see a lot of sun in the morning hours. (Incidentally, this is why we don’t do Daylight Savings Time in AZ). The first half day- with noon marked by the sun actually perpendicular to our roofline, covers the morning plants. When a plant label says “full sun, all day sun” that can be more than well covered in the first half of the Arizona day. It’s like lighting the room with a 200 watt bulb, when a 60 would do. Keep in mind, that indirect sunlight here is still a heck of a lot brighter than other places. I am sure the solar flares expected to come in the next year will provide opportunities to test the capacity to barbecue using only a grill and a large lens.
Our balcony with newly installed shades
The afternoon light hits our balcony- and it is thankfully shaded by trees that have grown in the years I have lived here. More and more light gets filtered before it blasts the little space. Years past have showed my many failed attempts at raising vegetables out here. Tomato plants and green beans and little corn sprouts have come up, then nipped by birds, assaulted by aphids, or just broiled by one day going too long between watering. We must water every day- and soon will have to move the plants themselves closer to the building and further from the roofline. It goes from solar oven to convection oven.
The Portulacca this morning- every day new blossoms
Of my patio beauties, I have a collection of basils and lavenders- as well as some other assorted herbs. Pixel is fed by a massive catnip bush, John is nourished by a few strands of freshly nipped chive, and Zephyr continues to ignore the plants and live for snuggles. Pixel does her part as well by eating the daily blossoms off the Purslane. It has quadrupled in size in the two months I have had it, and makes delicate blooms over its edible succulent leaves every morning. If they aren’t eaten, they die back, and new ones come out the next day. Cousin to Portulacca, it is a heat and drought tolerant plant, and grows easily in Arizona.
I also have a bush of tender white and pale green basil- a species I hadn’t seen before- as I sorted through the racks at Baker’s Nursery trying to find the fit for my assorted pots and culinary wishes. It is called Pesto Basil- and it grows in fluffy clusters of leaves, rather than the more spare 2 by 2 of other basils. They are softer, more tender leaves and stems, and the plant grows fast and full. Makes sense, for a pesto, to have soft fluffy clusters of leaves begging to be eaten.
Pesto Basil recovering from dinner, Pineapple bush at 1 year
I love guacamole. I find more ways to make it, and more ways to eat it, than just on chips and Mexican food. This is due, in part, to my need to remove the tortilla chip from my staple diet as it doesn’t agree with my waistline boundaries as determined by the pants I want to keep wearing. So, I try things like guac on salad, guac in lettuce, guac on celery, and love it with grilled flank steak or fajita style stirfry of shrimps, peppers, zucchini and onion.
Copper River Salmon came to town last week, and I anted up my health insurance premium for what I consider a fair trade. Luscious fillet broiled in the skillet, crisped on the outside, pink in the center, and paired with some brown rice, cucumber tomato salad and Basil Butter. My inspiration was a recipe I made 12 years ago, living abroad, for some wild Norwegian salmon. I made a pesto with basil, almonds, shallots and fresh raspberry. It was served as a dollop over each fillet and melted like butter into its tender pink flesh.
As we are in the southwest, and I had avocado on hand (I had extra from making guacamole for a party the night before), I decided to honor the salmon with a fresh from the garden pesto, and my beloved alligator pear.
Basil Butter with Flowering Purslane Garnish
Two cups* of fresh basil leaves, rinsed and stemmed
1/3 cup raw almonds, soaked for about an hour, or almond slivers
A juicy lemon, rolled**
As much garlic as you like
Olive oil, at least 1/4 cup, but you add as you go
A large, ripe avocado
Course salt, like sea salt or kosher, probably 1/2 tsp
Water for smoothing
In the blender, mix up the almonds with the oil. It is hard to blend whole hard almonds with oil in a blender, so I recommend you don’t try that. Instead, soak them first, or really smash them up in a plastic bag with a food mallet. Almond slivers are easier. Then add your fresh basil leaves, some raw garlic, and salt. You now have a basic pesto.
Scoop out the flesh of the avocado, add to blender, and continue to pulse. Cut your rolled lemon, and juice and blend until your consistency is smoother. The color should change from bright shiny green to a creamy light green. Pulse and add water as needed until it is a smooth mixture the consistency of a heavy sour cream. Scrape into a glass dish, cover, and put in fridge for a couple hours to set up. The almonds will plump up, and the mixed fats will get together with the lemon and garlic. Serve with the lucky food of your choice, or spread on a cracker, or just eat with your fingers. Share with good friends.
(* Estimated, as leaves are hard to measure. You can always add more. ** To get the best juice out of citrus, roll over a hard surface, pressing down with your palm, while still whole. It will free up a lot of juice from the pulp. Let it sit there, and then when ready for juice, cut open and squeeze.)