There is something a little stultifying about early February. The festive season is a distant memory, the holidays are over and the daily grind of work, school and office lunches and desperate stops at the shops on the way home to cobble together dinner have begun.
Luckily for me, I have just had two glorious weeks where the restaurant has been closed and I have indulged in a “staycation” that has allowed me to spend innumerable hours in my beloved vegetable garden.
It has been a funny summer. There have been cold days where the fire needs to be lit, so out-of-season wood must be foraged. And there have been days of searing heat that have encouraged almost all the heading lettuces to bolt towards their reproductive ends, rendering them bitter and only good for the chickens. Tending a vegetable garden keeps you in touch with the fragility of nature but can also astound you with the sheer magical abilities of plants and their patterns of survival.
Quiet hours spent in the garden provide a great deal of thinking time and I have often wondered why, as a child and an adolescent, the job of growing or farming was never mentioned to me as a possible career path. I had no idea until my mid-40s that growing food on a peri-urban scale was even a possibility. In fact, I never knew that small-scale food production in the format of peri-urbanisation – using arable land on the urban fringe to provide food for those closer in – was a thing. Perhaps as the world changes, the generation of children at school now will be encouraged towards this sort of farming.
Gardening in summertime fragments your days. On hot days it is always better to get up early, spend a few hours outside, and then return later in the afternoon and continue into the cool of the evening. That little patch of time I’m indoors is the perfect window to make a biryani. But before I come inside I collect handfuls of this and that from the garden to add to my dish. In our family this is one of our go-to one-pot dinners. You can use all manner of vegetables, not just the ones I have used here. Think peas, potatoes, tomatoes and so on. I might even slip in a couple of very non-Indian zucchini in the height of zucchini season. I finish it as you would a pilaf in the oven. It is delicious hot or warm and is excellent to pack into lunch boxes for the next day as well.