The Random Garden: Winter

We’re growing avocados. We have three viable plants, now holding their own in the Random Garden—the veritable highlight of our winter season so far. The chance that we’ll actually enjoy fruit from these plants is low, and it may take at least three more years, but just the possibility of growing my favorite fruit in my backyard charms me. Like the first time I encountered a holly tree in Maryland. (“Holly grows like a tree????”)

We have just the right temperature and moisture here in Colares to pull off a fruiting tree: The winter rarely gets as cold as in the interior, and our first tree (in a pot) is nearly nine months old and well established. In fact, I re-potted it last week to ensure it had enough room to grow—it’s now more than two feet tall.  We have two more plants now several months old, which sprang up out of the compost. We throw our used pits in that pile along with everything else, and voila! Avocados.

More random garden treats in the winter: Potatoes. Another vegetable that I’ve never planted myself. But in December, S dug up a handful of brownish red potatoes, small in size but flavorful indeed. We turned them into a hash, along with the chives that have been vigorous all year long.

Last summer, friends gave us lemongrass stalks to plant too, and they have thrived through the cool autumn and now appear ready to harvest. A sprinkling of early tomatoes have also popped up; I can’t imagine they’ll take hold, but who knows? That’s the delight of the Random Garden: It produces a surprise every now and then, and rarely what we expect.

Case in point: Lettuce. S started seeds under a cold frame in December, and we barely have sprouts to show for it on the first of February. Huh. I was sure we’d have a bounty—the sorrel keeps bouncing back, and we still regenerate parsley from a bunch we put in the ground last summer. But like the Mystery of the Cilantro (we can’t get it to set—it sputters up and dies), we scratch our heads and move on.

I can only dream of my own avocados, for now, but in honor of the Super Bowl this weekend, here’s my formula for guacamole. Fortunately, we can get them from the Algarve (at the cost of more water) or elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula, in enough quantity to make a healthy batch.


Salada de abacate

3 or 4 large avocados, diced into 1-cm pieces

1 ripe tomato (or 8 cherry tomatoes in the winter), diced (or halved for the cherries)

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1 healthy handful of cilantro leaves

1 jalepeño or piri-piri pepper, minced (to taste)

1 teaspoon Cholula or other vinegar-based hot sauce

1 pinch ground cumin

juice of 1 lime

dash of salt

  1. Toss the avocados, tomato, and onion to mix well, smashing the avocado a bit as you blend it.
  2. Stir in the cilantro leaves and the minced pepper to blend in thoroughly.
  3. Sprinkle the hot sauce, cumin, and lime juice over the top and stir again.
  4. Test for desired saltiness, and add a dash or two to taste.
  5. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, tostas, or pita chips. Or eat with a spoon! The lime juice will help keep it from discoloring to a certain extent, but guacamole is always best right after you’ve made it.

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