Golden raindrops beckon me from the newly built pergola.They come from Gingy, a tiny kumquat tree that is one of the newer additions to the Martinez garden, which, with my challenged green thumb, turns out to be more of a botanical boot camp than anything else:who ever can survive, deserves to stay.
There’s been a plethora of attendees at the Martinez botanical boot camp, beginning with the numerous lovely hanging plants, ones that are bright and happy and nourished when I purchase them but end up mangled dry messes: telltale signs of abandonment or over care.I try, I tell you I try.I buy all sorts of expensive potions: organic concoctions with photographs of healthy bright plants splattered on them and microscope writing promising fertility and growth, but then I lose interest or desire or simply and awfully forget, until it is too late and I attack the dead plant with a hearty sprinkling of garden magic and a desperate overdose of water which flushes briefly through its dried roots and splatters loudly on the Saltillo tile as in angry reprieve to my carelessness.
I want to be different about it, I do.I see myself as a lover of all things nature, and my garden is no exception.I wander the aisles of local nurseries, endless outdoor rows of bountiful plants and imagine these beauties nourishing my air and creating a lush tropical landscape upon 9340 N.W. 17th Street.And then I buy them and they are in shock with boot camp and die.
Mother nature is not much of a help either, supplying no rain when I am too lazy to bother with a hose or offering up unexpected frigid weather that demands I take my hanging plants indoors for shelter.This is too high maintenance for one that has two children that barely made it through babyhood in tact.
Which is why I celebrate proudly the foliage that survives my tough love.There’s Lilly, of course, my twelve-year old Hibiscus plant that was my first child, long before the kiddies arrived.She knows no other home or parent and seems just fine: happily thriving in mountains of bright pink flowers, she is my reminder that, in the garden, I did something right.The nameless cactus has also been quite a resilient fellow, surviving six years of my neglect as well as my children’s constant prodding and poking and tripping over (the 5-stitch scar above my son’s eye is thanks to Cactus…)
So Gingy didn’t know what was waiting for her when I took her from the magical Flamingo Gardens Nursery and stuck her in the earth here.But so far, she’s fared quite well, offering up a healthy explosion of plump kumquats that where dutifully ripped off by my two young gardeners-in-training and then boiled up into a delightful marmalade. She’s now rather barren of course, only tiny leaves remain, that, upon close inspection, sport holes from some sort of fungi or worm or something demanding further care.She is angry with me, I know.I haven’t surrounded her with orchids and pomelos as she was in her former home.I’ve only planted her, waited eagerly and stripped her of her goods.Cheated her in a sense, she must assume.But I look at it another way, hoping she serves as much an inspiration to me as a gardener as she has as a cook.The marmalade is golden, tart and delicious, offering up chunks of peel that give way to the floral citrus of the kumquat.I have jars upon jars waiting to be enjoyed: a celebration of Gingy lines my refrigerator door.As for the tree, I know I must take care of that problem with the leaves.Maybe buy some fertilizer or some ladybugs to put on her leaves for protection.Something, anything; I owe her that much.But for the meantime, I find myself putting it off for later and enjoying another piece of toast slathered with boot camp perfection.
This is one of those things I can definitely blame my mother on.Why I never reached her long-limbed stature, had that glamorously sensual neck or movie star beauty are harder sells in the ‘it’s-all-your-fault’ department, but this, this is so very different.
It all started with my mom actually.Come breakfast time, she’d sit amongst the tropical fireworks of bougainvillea that sprawled lazily in our back garden porch in Venezuela and eat imported toasted English muffins with imported cream cheese and imported jam.She could have started her day with so many different delightful things bountiful in this South American culinary haven:arepa con queso guayanes (grilled or deep fried cornmeal cakes hugging a buttery fresh white cheese that makes mozzarella di buffalo seem tough and chewy) or perico (no, not parrot as the name implies, but rather a kaleidoscope breakfast dish of creamy eggs, diced onions, tomatoes and green peppers slowly simmered together to make merit to its name). Those in a rush would simply grab a cachito de jamon– a freshly baked sweet bread stuffed with generous amounts ham glazed with pineapple and cloves or a bowl of tropical and sinfully sweet fruit that is as abundant there as the hookers on Avenida Libertador after ten p.m.
So you see, there is plenty to eat for breakfast in Venezuela.
But mom almost always chose her jam and that caught my eye.She was a one-flavor gal: when she found something she liked, she tended to stick to it. And so she seemed plenty content with her quiet jar of Trappist Raspberry Jam with its tiny image of a monk on the label elevating the whole thing to a very pious level.
I scoffed at this choice for most of my childhood, readily gobbling away all the Venezuelan tasty choices offered to me by our Colombian cook. But still, when I moved away from home and came to the States I’d be hit with the regular pangs of homesickness and find myself reaching for the same Trappist jam I’d keep in my refrigerator as a safety net.
And then it all started: this obsessive, compulsive purchasing of jams.Once I began, I couldn’t make myself finish.What commenced as a one-jam-relationship (‘oh let me buy that Trappist stuff to remind me of mom’) turned into a wild and endless series of one-night stands with jams around the world:licking off crystallized pieces of Chinese ginger from my British-bought jam is ethereal, slapping some Seville Sour Orange marmalade from Spain on thin slices of hearty pumpernickel renders delight. Flirting with hot Pepper Jelly from my backyard of Miami feels dangerous, and the Belgium Organic Apricot is in hot competition with my French Confiture de Abricots (forever enchanting me with its secretly housed whole crunchy almonds).
It’s a lover’s quarrel with my palate and my fridge, and what began as one tiny shelf of sweetness has turned into an invasion of the northwestern territory of my refrigerator.New conquests occur every day and I simply can’t help myself: wild Blueberry Peach Preserve from Stonewall Kitchen in Maine batted their tiny blues at me and stayed, traditional Persian-style preserves of Sour Cherry a left me puckering for more, and Brazilian Passion Fruit Jam afflicted me with a zing I can’t forget.
I am shamelessly unfaithful to my jams, yet love each and every one of them the same and am constantly looking for any opportunity to pull them out of their respective fridge spot and parade them in my meals.A breakfast of crêpes is the perfect venue for such celebrated infidelity.
Crêpes de Confiture: Infidelidad Desvergonzada
Esto es una de aquellas cosas de las que definitivamente puedo hecharle la culpa a mi madre. Por qué nunca alcancé su estatura larguirucha o tenía aquel cuello encantadoramente sensual o aquella belleza de estrella de cine son más difíciles de justificar como culpa de ella, pero esto, esto era definitivamente muy diferente.
Todo comenzó con mi mamá realmente. Ella se sentaría entre los fuegos artificiales tropicales de la buganvilla que se tumbaba perezosamente en nuestro jardín en Venezuela y alli comía los ‘English Muffins’ importados con queso crema importado e mermelada importada. Ella podría haber comido tantas cosas encantadoras que ofrece este asilo culinario sudamericano: arepas con queso guayanes (torticas de harina de maíz fritas o asadas a la plancha con un trozo generoso de queso blanco fresco que hace la mozzarella di búfalo parecer resistente y correoso) o perico (no un loro como el nombre implica, pero mejor dicho un desayuno de huevos, cebolla, tomate y pimentones verdes preparado a fuego lento para hacer el mérito a su nombre). Aquellos con prisa agarrarían simplemente un cachito de jamon-un pan dulce relleno con cantidades generosas del jamón cocido al horno, o simplemente una ensalada de frutas tropicales que son tan abundantes como las putas en la Avenida Libertador despues de las diez de la noche.
Entonces usted ve, hay qué comer para el desayuno en Venezuela.
Pero mamá siempre elegía su mermelada. Le gustaba su rutina y cuando encontraba algo que le gustaba, tendió a atenerse a ello. Y en este caso, lo que le gustaba erael frazco de mermelada “Trappist” sabor a frambuesa con su imagen diminuta de un monje en la etiqueta que eleva todo el asunto a un nivel muy piadoso.
Yo me burlaba de su opción para la mayor parte de mi infancia, preferiendo ingerir todas las opciones sabrosas venezolanas ofrecidas a mí por nuestra cocinera colombiana. Aun asi, cuando me fuí de casa y vine a los Estados Unidos y me atacaba momentos de nostalgia yo me encontraría alcanzando para la misma mermelada que guardaría en mi refrigerador como una red de protección.
Y asi es como comenzó esta compra obsesiva de mermeladas. Una vez que comencé, yo no podía terminar. Lo que empezó como una relación solitaria de mermelada (‘ah dejame comprar aquella mermelada para recordarme a mamá’) se convertió en una serie salvaje e interminable de estancias de una sola noche con mermeladas internacionales: lamiaba pedazos cristalizados de jengíbre chino de mi mermelada británica, me sumergía en el sabor de la mermelada de Naranja Agria Española sobre rebanadas delgadas de pan negro. La Jalea de Pimienta Caliente de Miami se sientía peligrosa al tocar mis labiosy rogaba que regrasara para más, y la mermalada orgánica Bélgica de Albaricoque competía con mi Confiture de Abricots Francesa que guardaba su afrodiásico de almendras crujientes.
Soy desvergonzadamente infiél a mis mermeladas, y aún así, las amo todas y siempre busco la oportunidad de sacarlas al público para disfrutarlas. Un desayuno de crêpes es la comida perfecta para tal infidelidad famosa.