Calendula Rice, Fall Planting, and Indian Food Surprise

I’ve always prided myself on relishing food of any kind, and expected my daughters would pop out the same way. To my constant surprise, they hate almost everything I bring to our table. Now, I know I’m not the only one with picky children. Most kids who come over end up leaving half their food on their plate–which I cheerily scrape into our compost bucket while my own children look on in disbelief, wondering How did they get a way with that?

Once, a young girl refused everything I offered with a sweet “I’m not really fond of _______”, until I produced a piece of plain white bread. My girls, choking down their own food, stuttered in protest, “How?…Why?…” I smiled sympathetically before turning back to Momma Hyde. They knew by my countenance the game hadn’t changed for them, even though I broke the rules for our guest.

Everyone has their own ideas about food and family dining. Experts warn parents about turning the table into a battleground and I agree with this, in theory, but after I’ve chopped, sauteed, stirred, tested, tweaked, and presented the meal, therapists’ ideals are the last thing from my mind. Fond of it or not, they better stinkin’ eat it. And most nights they do, but not without a litany of complaints and interrogation. Did you put peppers in here? I taste onions! Can I pick out the sweet potatoes? Do I have to eat everything…even the cabbage?

Because I’ve gone through this routine, oh, 2500 times or so, I was the tiniest bit concerned about an upcoming dinner with friends. I knew our hosts, born and raised in Southern India, were excited to share their cuisine with us and I wondered how my girls would react. Before we arrived at their house we coached them about trying everything and being polite, but I wasn’t too hopeful. Even a sprinkle of pepper sends them into distress, never mind the heat of an authentic Indian curry.

After we admired the flowers, trinkets and lights decorating their living-room shrine for Navratri, we sat down to a table full of food. Our hostess ladled the rice, curries, and sauces and we began to eat, while the grandma hovered behind our chairs, anxious for our opinions. “How do you like it?” she questioned. “Which dish is your favourite? Can I serve you some more?”

I watched for my girls’ responses. Until now, both had been silent, and more amazing, both were eating. Everything.

A little later, Susanna’s cheeks began to flush brightly and the vigilant grandma noticed it.

“Is it too hot?” she asked about the curry, which was registering at my picante limit, and certainly, well above Susanna’s.

Susanna grinned weakly and shrugged her shoulders.

The grandma asked her again, and Susanna repeated the benign gesture. Before I had time to wonder if the spice had affected Susanna’s neuro-system and how I could replicate the same effect in my own home, the grandma scurried back to the kitchen to make some dosas* (the South Indian equivalent of white bread).

The rest of our evening was lovely, and both Stan and I commented that it was the best Indian food we’d ever eaten. It was also, by far, the best food-eating performance we’d ever seen of our girls. We praised them lavishly the whole way home and sank into our pillows dreaming of exotic adventures, all of us happily eating food from street vendors. Now, if we can just get through tonight’s supper…

***

Speaking of supper, here’s an idea for all those hardy Calendula blossoms that look as if they’re going to try and brave the winter.

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The pot marigold, or Calendula officinalis, is now the best looking plant in the garden, (competing only with parsnips, thyme, mint and asparagus). Even after some hard frost it’s still blooming!

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Calendula Rice Recipe

  • harvest fresh calendula (frisbee is optional)
  • pluck petals and add at least 1/2 cup petals  to 1 cup raw rice
  • cook calendula rice as normal, with salt and butter
  • fluff and serve with crushed coriander and pepper

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I used more than 3/4 cup petals to 1 cup rice

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Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. If you are a lazy gardener who likes cilantro (like me) you’ll have all the coriander you’ll ever need.

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Why, you might ask, would one want to eat flower petals with rice?

  • Calendula is rich in vitamins and minerals and is anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
  • It’s considered “poor-man’s saffron.”
  • It’s pretty–don’t underestimate appearance when it comes to your food!
  • Calendula pairs well with the citrusy taste of coriander.
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Calendula seed head. Appropriately described as gnarly.

This weekend I planted about a third of my garden (if you can call rubbing seed heads over a patch of dirt, planting). I’ve “put in” poppies, calendula, several different kinds of lettuce, cilantro, chamomile, and 120 garlic. Fall planting suits me better; there’s less pressure, expectations and hype. As far as I can tell, it’s like raising your fourth child compared to the first. You kind of let go, hope for the best, and then it all turns out just fine. (Right, Timmy?)

Happy planting and eating,

Tricia

*Dosa is a delicious crepe made from fermented rice and lentils. See upcoming post for recipes/reviews/adaptations.

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