Flower power

Street food in Chengdu. [more of my cousin’s vacation photography.]

Flowers don’t seem to show up much in American cooking, except as a table decoration. However, there’s a world of foods featuring flowers — hibiscus or chrysanthemum teas, fried zucchini blossoms, saffron in all sorts of savories and sweets, candied violets* in pastries and rose petals and flavorings in a range of dishes. An interesting link about edible flowers: http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

*Though some may remember Choward’s violet mints and scented gum.

Flowers in two time zones

My father’s Pacific Time backyard is overflowing with color. Blue irises, pale coral moon flowers, brilliant bougainvillea and all sorts of other treats for the eye. The neighbors’ yards are equally filled with color — trees dripping with exotic tropical flowers, ripening lemons and oranges, and brilliant scarlet pomegranate flowers.

Yellows dominate the Central Time Suburban Ferndale mini-gardens.

IRIS -- Purple iris with its yellow beard flanked by coloring that looks like it was borrowed from a nautilus.
DOCKING MANEUVER -- Bee with pollen-covered legs moves into a moonflower.
BLUE AND ORANGE -- These two shrubs were growing together in the neighbor's yard.
A GOOD KIND OF BLUE -- This shrub was dense with these blue-violet blooms.
CLASSIC -- Fragrant rose opens as clouds clear away.
BIRD OF PARADISE -- Like a heron with an 80s 'do.
BLACKEYED SUSAN -- Hooray! Something new in the Suburban Ferndale garden. This lone wolf is outnumbered 1 to 200 by coreopsis though.
BLACK SWALLOWTAIL -- Pays a visit to the wildflower garden. Wildflowers are like cats. You're glad they like you enough to stay, but don't think you actually exert any control over them.

The thistle defense

Derided as weeds in many places, thistles can be quite both brightly charming and an effective biological weapon of sorts.

The Scots adopted the thistle as a national symbol in the 13th century thanks to the role they played in thwarting a Viking attack.  As the story goes, a party of raiding Norsemen removed their shoes, hoping to launch a silent attack on the sleeping Scots.  Running aground on the land urchins, the Norsemen’s howls awoke the Scots, who defeated them.

SNOW DUSTED LAVENDER -- Beautiful, but handle with care.

Alien produce

Plenty of things grow in winter in Arkansas, including these sunchoke tubers. Inflicted Given as a gift from a friend, these natives can run wild quickly. In summer, they produce cheery yellow flowers, a lovely contrast to the blue sky.

The tubers are edible, however, finding a good recipe for them has proven elusive. This same friend has boiled, baked, dehydrated, mashed and au gratin-ed them. (mind you, this friend can make acorns and chickweed taste great.)  Still, the tubers defy, um, conventional tastes. Maybe this should be an Iron Chef secret ingredient.

Sunchoke tubers
Sunchoke tubers awaiting a bath and a peeling.