I was supposed to be in Mexico with my parents in mid August. I even booked a flight directly to NY to attend Blogher and then made my way down to DC so that I could fly out with them just a few days later.
I don’t get so lucky all the time, and I couldn’t go last minute, meaning I was kind of “stuck” at their house for 2 weeks. Not a shabby thing considering it turned into an unexpected staycation. Much of what I do when I go to the DC area involves food and staying in all day. In a typical Cuban home, the front door is usually always “open” with no real policy on knocking and announcing yourself.
It’s just the way it is.
That just means it makes it very difficult to get work done. Lots of cooking, but no business is effectively accomplished (well, except for my weekly columns). And, being the serious home-body that I am, I soak in enormous amounts of joy while I’m there, vegging out and working in my PJ’s all day out of the dining room–my make shift office.
During the week my parents and sis were gallivanting and enjoying all the things I indulged in just last year (a delicious 4-part series post on that trip coming up starting this weekend), I took the opportunity to hang in their landscaped backyard and detail all the lovely things they’ve planted and growing.
One of the great things I love standing over is the fish pond my father so diligently built some 9 years ago. I had to feed the fish every day and water the plants. During that daily doing, I noticed a blossoming plant of what seemed to be oregano. I sniffed it, and sure enough it was. I swear to you it was the most beautiful, robust and thick-veined oregano I’d ever seen. My late grandmother in Cuba grew oregano in her front yard and used it every day most of the food cooked. That’s really when I acquired a great interest in growing herbs. The taste it gave her beans, especially black beans were just out of control and unparalleled to any other.
My mother, having been taught and trained by mi abuelita, has done the same thing. She uses fresh herbs and spices in her cooking as much as she can. But, those key ingredients in Cuban cuisine have never come from their own soil. That started changing two Springs ago during a trip to NYC when I stopped at the Tucker Square/Lincoln Center market. I bought some amazing chocolate mint and later planted in the backyard. I also bought some rosemary, but it didn’t last. For some crazy reason, neither did the choco mint; something that still baffles my mind and I’ve not been able to find again since.
And then this year, it’s like a wind of seeds made their way to our backyard and started taking root!
Some crazy squash, still an uknown variety to all of us, has started spreading like wild fire. We think it came from the neighbor’s that live behind us. Wherever the hell it came from, it has fully bloomed and has coiled itself on everything it comes in contact with.
In addition to that, a small tomato plant that has started growing–one they didn’t plant and we have no idea where it came from. But, since we eat tomatoes with just about everything, my parents are content and are nurturing it.
Let’s get to this oregano. My father works downtown D.C. and often walks to the different Smithsonian museums. Though not among the system of museums, his fave to visit are Botanical Gardens. There, they grow plants, herbs and flowers from all around the world. They pride themselves on offering an aesthetically beautiful garden replete with colors, fragrances and variety.
Papi quickly befriended a grounds keeper there who generously offered some clippings from the oregano and rosemary. One clipping has turned into this amazing plant we know use when make our beans-yielding the most aromatic and flavorful you’ll ever have.
I did some research into the species and found out we call it “oregano de la tierra.” It’s so beautiful, I decided to share it on Twitter. One Latina follower said they call it “oregano brujo,” or witches oregano, in Puerto Rico. Not sure what kind of spirits would jump out of their food! Ha.
Either way, the leaves which have a yellower tint than the every day basil we know, are the most distinct I’ve ever seen and tasted. You know I’ve now taken a clipping and planted it on my porch in Atlanta.
The rosemary they have is also a nice variety. Nothing special about it other than it comes from the fed’s garden! And, time to plant into the soil. Once that’s done, I’ll be taking a sprig of that, too.
I particularly like using rosemary in red skin mashed potatoes, some beef roasts like I made here and adding some tips to a summer fruit salad I’ve made for clients.
A Cuban home is not an authentic Cuban home without fresh hierba buena, or spearmint. I was so excited to see my parents have both regular and pineapple mint. MOJITO MAVEN my friends! What else do you think we’re doing with his fabulous stuff!?!
The pineapple mint doesn’t have such an extraordinary aroma, but if you’re using it to make a drink, it can definitely be augmented with some of the freshly squeezed lemon and lime. It’s pretty for sure and great for garnish on many things. Another client in Atlanta grows pineapple mint which I’ve used to make mojitos at a garden-to-table cocktail party for which I cooked. Not only did her guests walk out of there moderately inebriated, but wanting to snatch some on the way home.
So, after a lovely afternoon in their backyard taking pictures with a perfectly situated sun, I brought some herbs inside and went to work! Unfortunately, I got so carried away, I didn’t capture any of the food I made. But, I can tell you that everything is always, always better when made with fresh herbs and spices! Especially when planted in your own backyard!
I’m actually back in D.C. now and looking forward to cooking tons more, especially with the oregano. I also think I’m going to mosey my way down to the Botanical Garden during this 4 week visit and hopefully sneak off with a snip or two of something!
Let’s see what I come home with!
For those of you super interested, leave a comment on this post telling me what your best herb to cook with and Tweet this post including my handle @brenherrera for an extra entry. In your comment, tell me which herb from our garden you like best and I’ll send the 20th commenter a snippet of 4 herbs (both mints, rosemary and oregano)! And then you too, will have some federali plants!
You have until Oct. 6th to comment. I’ll look for the 20th comment on the 7th and mail out on the 18th!
Go and share! 🙂
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.