She was overcome by a wild madness that drove her to tear at the ground and hack at the foliage that threatened to devour the universe. The movement transformed her hands into something resembling the walking dead. A ton of dirt lodged under her fingernails, rested like dandruff in her hair and left long black stains on her face and clothes.
Don’t you love spring? The weeds took advantage of my absence and made a concerted effort at a takeover. Little did they realize that I would return with a plan for them as well as a plan to get my writing mojo back. There are seedlings in the greenhouse showing great eagerness to move into the vegetable patch now that the earth is warming up so I have been spending afternoons evicting the weeds.
Like writing, gardening benefits from a plan of attack. I like to mentally carve up the garden into sections and tackle the weeds in a logical order. This approach means I can see my progress and draw a sense of satisfaction as I complete each section. I try to hold the big picture in mind, but focus on the small chunks. I approach writing in much the same way. The big picture is the overarching story and plot points I need to hit, and I chunk it down into chapters and scenes.
I like a bit of technology and use the app Scrivener. The nerd in me became very excited to discover the target feature of the app this week and I have set it up so I have a target word count for each writing day. As the Scrivener marketing ballyhoo says it helps you see the forest or the trees which brings me back to gardening.
The plan is to get on top of the weeds before they all go to seed. I do not throw out discarded weeds (or words) as they can be reused. I compost the weeds and use the composted material to build up the soil in the following season. My greatest challenge is that when destructo dog sees me weeding she wants to help but is not discerning about what she digs up. Can you teach a dog to identify plants?
As much as possible I take inspiration for cooking from what is growing in the garden. I still have mint and an abundance of citrus and there are chilies from last season in the pantry. There’s also a plethora of cheap fennel about as it is in season. I have mentioned my crush on the chef Yotam Ottolenghi before and I often go to his recipes. This week I made his saffron chicken and herb salad one night which is delicious and I have included the recipe below.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s saffron chicken and herb salad (serves 6)
- 1 orange
- 50g honey
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- about 300ml water
- 1kg skinless chicken breast
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
- 15g picked coriander leaves
- 15g picked basil leaves, torn
- 15 picked mint leaves, torn
- 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 red chili, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan forced).
Trim and discard 1cm off the top and tail of the orange and cut it into 12 wedges. Keep the skin on but remove any pips.
Place the wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron, vinegar and just enough water to cover the orange wedges. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour. Add water during the cooking if the liquid gets very low.
At the end you should have the soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup left. Use a food processor to blitz the orange and syrup into a smooth, runny paste. Add a little water if needed.
Mix the chicken breast with half the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and place on a very hot, ridged griddle pan. Sear for about 2 minutes on each side to get clear char marks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and place in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until just cooked.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, but still warm, tear it with your hands or two forks into rough and quite large pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl, pour over half the orange paste and stir well. Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the olive oil, and toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste and more olive oil and lemon juice if needed.
Image: Spring in the main street