Tuesday, 7 January 2014

My First Saikei

First, I should probably explain what a saikei is: begin the lesson!

A saikei is a miniature landscape in a tray, consisting of living plants, with rocks and sometimes water. Bonsai-like trees are incorporated in the display - though they are usually less mature than true bonsai - as well as ground cover and other types of plants.
Kawamoto Toshio, who invented the art form in the 1950s, set out various 'rules' that saikei should conform to, but being a new artform, they're not as rigid as with bonsai. Some designers contend that the landscapes should never include man-made elements such as human/animal figures, buildings, etc., but most of the photos I've seen include these.
Saikei is seen as a good introduction or 'easier' alternative to bonsai, as a pleasing display can be achieved almost immediately. As a more naturalistic effect is desired, the fine pruning and shaping required of bonsai isn't necessary. Saikei are also very versatile: as the plants grow, the display can be taken apart and re-designed. Potential bonsai can be grown in a saikei display until mature enough to be potted separately.
[For more information, see the Wikipedia.]

Now on to my first creation (and yet another photospammy post, I just can't seem to help myself lately) -

I had these three rocks that I'd found when we were inspecting my best friend's currently-being-built house a couple of months ago:

They're pretty cool. I'd been wanting to incorporate one of them into a saikei for a while. On New Year's Eve, I suddenly decided to do it! On the way back from picking up our party supplies, Husband and I decided to swing into Bunnings on impulse. I can get a bit giddy in these situations and sometimes don't make the best choices, but time will tell.

I didn't have time to do anything with my purchases on the day, what with preparing the party foods and all, so I left it til the next day. Can I just mention how it poured rain on New Year's Day here? It's meant to be the middle of summer, for pete's sake! I remember past New Year's Days when it's been so swelteringly hot we dared not leave the house! This summer has been so cool and wet so far, it's very unusual.
Anyway, back to the saikei. Here are the victims candidates:

Here we have a Buxus Microphylla 'Faulkner' (AKA Box, popular for hedges) and a Delosperma Echinatum 'Happy Days'. I didn't use the commonly-held principles when selecting the plants, like naturalism or similar hardiness, no, not me! I chose the Box because it had an interesting trunk which might make a good bonsai one day and it just seemed perkier than its fellows. I chose the Delosperma because it looked kinda cool and had a cute yellow flower on it.
Here's the pot:

I would have preferred a large, shallow tray, but the selection at Bunnings was limited. (The first time I visited, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had a bonsai section there at all.) I chose this as it was the flattest and widest they had, with the most unobtrusive coloured glaze.
One of the many fun parts is cutting the mesh to size and attaching it to the pot with wire loops:

The rock sat too low in the pot for my liking, so I used some smaller rocks that I'd found in the veggie patch to sit it on (don't worry, I washed them with disinfectant first). Yeah, for some reason the previous owners had at some point brought in a large amount of medium-sized gravel rocks and scattered them throughout the whole garden, even the veggie patch. It makes for interesting times! But at least the rocks are coming in handy. I put a couple of the more interesting ones aside in case I wanted to use them to decorate the finished saikei.

Now for some potting mix. I made sure to stuff plenty of it under the rock to stabilise it:

Then I pretty much just made it up as I went along. First, the Delosperma:

Apparently it's also known as the Pickle Plant. I like it. Now, the Buxus. Here's a close-up of the trunk showing the hopefully potentially interesting multiple trunks:

The poor thing had become a bit pot-bound during its time at Bunnings. It was a good job I rescued it!

There was no way it was going to fit into the saikei as is, so I cut about a third of the root ball off.
(The sky had become so dark now that the flash started going off!)

Roots tickled and arranged in the pot:

I tried to keep the weeds passenger plants intact to add a bit of interest and naturalism to the finished product. I had a bit of trouble making sure all of the roots were covered in potting mix, but I got there in the end. I created a nice little valley in between the plants.:

And yet it still seemed too sparse. It needed more! Many saikei I'd seen had moss as a ground cover, but even with the shocking weather here at the moment, moss in your average Australian garden in Summer is very difficult to come by. So I did what any half-crazy gardener would do - I went out into the rain and started digging around between the cracks in the concrete with an old bread knife!

This nice groundcover, well, I have no idea what it is, but it's going in!:

back view.

Later it occurred to me that, if it was growing on the shadiest side of the house under the eaves, then it might not like to live in the same pot as a sun-loving succulent and a piece of hedge, but I guess we'll see how it goes.

I added the two reserved small rocks, and some gravel to create the look of a dry riverbed. I put the white rock at the back to look like it was in the distance. The final touch was a panda figurine that my best friends gave me for Christmas. It stopped raining just as I finished it. I'm not joking.

I suppose it's hardly a naturalistic landscape, really. Why would a panda be doing the Happy Baby in a not-that-Chinese landscape under a monstrously large privet?? But it was fun to make, and fun to look at.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

In The Kitchen : Mole Sauce

Get ready for some more photospam today, because I made mole for the first time yesterday. It's been something that I'd been wanting to make for years, so of course I took lots of photos. My ultimate dream is to create my own mole recipe, but I decided to start with some established ones and experiment. I bought the chillis and some of the other spices from Gewurzhaus in the city, so I thought I'd start with the recipe from their website, though I did modify it a bit. I'll explain the modifications I made as I went along. I also halved the recipe.

Here are most of the ingredients I used:

Instead of Ancho chillis, I used Mulato, as the shop was out of the former. They seemed quite similar according to the descriptions on the website, except that Ancho is a little more smoky. For that reason, I used a Chipotle chocolate disc instead of a plain one to add the smokiness.
The dried Mulato (left) and Pasillo (right) chillis, before I put them in boiling water to soak:

That thing on the right is my new Yerba Mate gourd that I got for Christmas. I always like to drink highly-caffeinated beverage while I'm cooking.... or just anytime, really. ;)
[find out more about Mate here]

Adding the spices, onion and garlic to the blender. Instead of Gewurzhaus Chilli con Carne spice, I used their Guacamole Spice. At the time I was in the shop, I hadn't decided yet which recipe I'd be following, and just happened to buy the Guacamole Spice in case I wanted to make that too (I didn't in the end). I figure the blends are probably quite similar. Also, instead of 1 1/2 cloves of garlic, I used 2. I couldn't be bothered faffing around with a leftover half a clove of garlic! I also didn't bother chopping the onion too fine, or grinding it in a mortar and pestle. What is technology for, after all?:

I fished the chillis out of the water and ripped them up roughly using tongs and my fingers:

Then I whizzed them:

Next, dry-frying the sesame seeds and 'breadcrumbs' (2 defrosted crusts from the freezer, roughly torn):

Adding the above to the food processor.....

.... and, whizzed!:

Now frying the resulting paste in a goodly amount of olive oil. Apparently the paste can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, but why on earth would I do that, at this point?:

Next, I added the reserved chilli water, a can of crushed tomatoes, and 2 cups of chicken stock. No, I didn't muck around with creating my own chicken stock as per the original recipe *hangs head in shame very briefly*.

The mole at the beginning of its simmering journey:

Let's just contemplate that for a moment, shall we?:

As well as looking quite suss, it also smelled pretty manky. I was quite concerned. The original recipe states to simmer for just a few minutes, and then leave off the heat for half an hour and re-heat slowly. To be honest, that sounded a bit barmy, especially with it smelling the way it did. Other recipes I'd read (not to mention Wikipedia) said it's cooked for 2 hours or more. So I compromised and simmered it for an hour. Here it is after the hour was up, and after adding the cocoa and chocolate:

Meanwhile, husband got into the spirit of things by making the cutlets into fried chicken with his own secret blend of herbs and spices. (It's not actually a secret, I just don't know what it is and don't think it's that important right now.) They were fried in rice bran oil, which I highly recommend to make it nice and crispy. Neither of us had ever made fried chicken before, but he did a fantastic job and it was delicious:

Meanwhile, I added the cocoa and 1 disc of Taza Mexican Chipotle Chocolate about 10 minutes before the end of cooking. It tasted pretty good before that, but even better after! The finished product:

I meant to make some kind of vegetable side dish to serve with it, but couldn't get to the supermarket in time. Some would say it would only have sullied the pure experience. ;)

Husband is very happy for me to make mole again in future, and I think I will. The flavour is unlike anything I've had before and I was a bit dubious at first, but by the last mouthful, I was hooked, as was everyone in the household.
I can vouch that it's just as good the next morning over fried eggs, as well.