17 January 2010

The little shiso that could

What follows is a story of seredipity. Two things I really miss from Japan are mioga and shiso. Actually there are more things, but for simplicity let's just stick with these for now. And...actually, I think I need to give up on finding mioga so...OK, here's the story.

I've been looking for shiso since we got back and really don't understand why we don't have it here since it would easily grow in our climate. I even went on an internet hunt for suppliers of rare seeds to see if I could grow my own. Happily, I did find a supplier, but before I could place an order I realised that I'm not doing very well at keeping the herbs I've got happy. Rather than buy more expensive seeds and probably not get round to propogating them in my current busy state, I sort of gave up for the time being.

I did, however put in a lovely courgette plant that a friend gave me only to find that the slugs enjoyed the entire plant before it could produce anything. Hurumph! I also planted some radishes, which I figured were low maintenance. Even though the slugs chomped holes in the leaves, most of the radishes were OK save the fact that we had a bit too much to-ing and fro-ing of spring weather and so they kind of bolted and got all woody. Whatever! I was determined and planted another row. Bear in mind that all of this is in an expansive plot of about 40cm by 80cm.

This time I dumped some coffee grounds on the soil which not only kept the slugs at bay (unless they were just too full to eat anymore, that is!), but cleared the way for a couple of random herb-y looking plants to pop up.

I stupidly pulled the first one up thinking it was a weed but then realised that the leaves looked a bit like a mint or lemonbalm. So I just let the other two be and didn't get back to check on the "garden" for a week or two. But when I did I thought the shape of the leaves looked a bit familiar. Could it be? No way...could it? I pinched one of the leaves and it smelled most definitely of shiso!

How can it be that the very thing I wanted manifested itself in my own garden despite being a rarity in these parts? I'm convinced that we often try so hard, that we don't just let the magic happen.

I'm trying hard to take this attitude to my teaching. I've just finished my first week of 5 and I'm completely and utterly knackered! Am I trying too hard? Am I forgetting to be in the moment? I'm going to excuse myself because the first week in any job is always about organising and settling in. But now that I'm planned up for most of the coming week, I'm going to try to take a step back and just enjoy being with the students and see what happens.

I'm also thinking that there's a lesson here for my writing. For the past few months I've been intensively researching the who, what, why, where and how of writing for a living. At first, I thought of this teaching gig as one of distraction from what I'm trying to do albeit a necessary one in a monetary sense. But now I'm thinking that I'm supposed to be doing this so I can distance myself from all the research, remember another facet of my identity, and just meet people. There are living, breathing people out there! There are people who hold valuable information and connections out there! People who pop up like surprise shiso plants!

There are also ideas and inspiration out there. Things I can write about. Places, people, things, Japanese herbs! Why is it so easy to feel you are in a creative space when, really you are in a rut? All the amazing books I've been reading and all the cool people I've been talking to on the internet, and even rented DVDs are inspirational. But sometimes you need to change your vantage point for just a second in order to see things more clearly and to let the surprises pop up.


CherylK said...

Just wondering how you use shiso? I think I read somewhere that it's similar to basil...or is that wrong? What a great surprise that was to find it growing in your garden! Also, what do you do with mioga? Just call me Curious George :-)

shantiwallah said...

Cheryl...uh George, yes, it's related to basil. I'd say the teste is a bit more pungent and the flavour is totally different. Herbs are always difficult to describ,e aren't they? Here's a picture of what I like to do with mioga although it's chopped up so you can't really tell what it looks like whole. http://www.flickr.com/photos/89183164@N00/1221166996/ . It's related to ginger and is a bud that looks like a shrunken down banana flower. It's wonderfully crunchy any doesn't really tase of much. A bit like a rose apple, if you've ever had that SE Asian fruit, only less sweet.

Anonymous said...

I love surprises, people, plants, all of it. Wonder what other new surprises will crop up. See you in March!

ps, had to learn to love shiso, but now I miss it, too. I'd describe it as a bit minty and soapy.

shantiwallah said...

Minty and soapy...yeah, that sounds like it! Maybe not as soapy as coriander, though.

You'll get plenty of surprises when you get to the S.I. and you see that there is nobody there! Most of us hang out up here in the N.I.

Ann said...

Isn't it amazing how things just turn up sometimes! I have never had shiso or mioga. But now that I know of them, I will be on the look out. Good luck with the new job.

Niamh Griffin said...

How funny is that! Maybe you have Japanese neighbours somewhere or a restaurant with random, flying seeds? Good luck with the teaching; it is exhausting but you'll could get some great ideas too!

shantiwallah said...

Thanks Ann and Niamh. Apparently there was a Japanese couple living in this house a few years ago. They must've smuggled the seeds into NZ. Pretty naughty but I can't say that I'm unhappy with the result!

Thanks for the good wishes re: teaching. After my second week I'm much more into a groove so I'm enjoying this weekend rather than sleeping the whole time:-)