Along with Look and Cook and See and Sew, Sow and Grow was on my Amazon wishlist for many years. Time and again I almost bought them for myself--who could resist these great old illustrations?!--but I am actually pretty good about buying only the books I really need. (Ha!) Once Bee came along it was easier to begin to convince myself that they belonged on my shelf, but she's still so small, not yet two and a half, so I never clicked "buy." Thank goodness, then, that my mother gave them to me for Christmas, because Sow and Grow has been the hit of 2011 thus far in this house.
In New York, even window boxes were out of the question in my apartments. Special plants entrusted to me--Andrew's cherished fern, the fine orchid sent by a work contact as a wedding present--died as fast as they could under my care, and perhaps this accounts for my timidity when faced with our big shared back yard in California. Could I grow plants there? Yes, I was allowed to, but could I? Didn't you have to know a lot to grow plants? Surely one ought to read at least two books and start a list of garden blogs before opening a seed packet...
You can see why a child's book is what I needed to get going. I was delighted to discover that all of this book's projects, organized by month, can be completed indoors. That shared back yard is accessed by a rickety old outer staircase, and I never feel quite comfortable there (a whole other story). Besides, I really am an indoor sort of person, one reason the prospect of a move from paradisical here to the frozen east doesn't have me completely panicked.
By the way, we saw our first fruit tree blossoms of the spring two weeks ago, and now they have erupted everywhere. The clumsily assembled collage here shows four trees we saw on one block that day: the bare branches of winter, the darling buds of...January, something lush and green, and a tree stuck in autumn, leaving a thick carpet of red leaves around its trunk (absent in the pic thanks to my meager photo editing skills).
Sprouting mung beans in a jar, then, January's project from Sow and Grow, may not have been as much of a relief to us as it would be for little families trapped indoors by winter, but it was still great fun (and will almost certainly be repeated next year when the snow and slush and lost mittens oppress us). Furthermore, much to my delight, Bee was very involved and excited, inquiring after our sprouts often, oohing appropriately when given a viewing, and commanding me to "give them a bath" when I prepared for the thrice daily rinse.
It was beyond my powers of organization to take photos day by day, but here you can see a bag of mung beans, left, and the sprouts they turn into, right. A quarter cup of mung beans filled a one-quart jar in four days! Those of you with experience growing things are rolling your eyes, but it was really something to see. Honestly, I was a little freaked out. The beans and seeds in my pantry have this kind of potential lurking inside? All they need is the right conditions, which are very easily achieved? Wow.
In the end, I did not use the mung beans in my pantry; I bought a seed packet from Botanical Interests while we were killing time at a garden store, waiting for our taco place in Mill Valley to open after an early morning at the beach (again--California!). Its instructions were a little more detailed than the ones in Sow and Grow, so I followed them. (Although I decided to risk E. coli instead of washing the unsprouted mung beans in a bleach solution. As my whites will attest, I do not keep bleach around, and I couldn't imagine buying some to use on potential food. I have not done the research to see if this was truly reckless of us, but Andrew and I agreed that we would taste the sprouts ourselves a day before allowing Bee to eat them.) Basically you soak 1/4 cup sprouts overnight in a quart (or larger, even better) glass jar and then drain the next day. I fastened a square of unused diaper cloth around the mouth of the jar with a rubber band and drained through that. After draining, you prop the jar, still covered with its "drain" lid, so that its bottom is slightly higher than its mouth to facilitate further draining. Then you stash it in the dark (or cover with a dish towel) and rinse and drain the sprouts 2-3 times a day until they are 2-4 inches long, which will take 3-5 days.
This was maybe the second to last day, before the sprouts had truly outgrown their glass house! When they ran out of room, we cooked them for dinner. I tracked down this recipe at Sprout People (and resisted reading up on best sprout practices for next time--see, I can relax, really I can.)
Sprouts in Garlic Butter
Adapted from Sprout People
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over high heat until very hot. Add 1 large onion, chopped fine, 1-2 tablespoons chopped garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and stir just until the garlic is fragrant; do not allow it to burn! Add your quart jar of drained sprouts and cook, stirring very frequently, for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 3 tablespoons water, and a tiny splash of rice vinegar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for a few minutes, or until the texture of the sprouts pleases you. Off heat, stir in 1 tablespoon butter until melted.
Serve over rice or noodles; we ate this with soba noodles and drizzled with a little toasted sesame oil. Two adults and a toddler polished it off. For a stunt dinner, I thought it was very good. I mean, come on--we grew food on our counter and ate it! The rinsing might be a pain in the neck for a normal adult going about her business, but as a reference point in a day with a toddler it was welcome to me.
We also sprouted some adorable little mustard seeds on a damp paper towel. They developed a spot of mold and so were composted, but they were spicy and cute. I hope to develop a better procedure and toss them into salads. Now, too, the courage to sprout wheat for bread is mine, if I can just get around to it. I have something else in the bread department growing in my pantry and am too smitten to think about other doughs at the moment (even though my pet could be just a tease, for all I know--no telling if we'll go all the way).