Like most New York apartments, mine is tiny, overpriced, and lacking in storage space. It also happens to be a boxy studio with no alcove, so I need to be incredibly creative with my bed arrangement vis-à-vis other furnative. The one thing my apartment does have going for it, however, is natural light. It faces northwest, and the large windows allow the main room to be flooded with light from sunrise until sundown. And so recently I've tried to take advantage of this by attempting a windowsill garden.
"Attempt" is the keyword, because I don't really know the first thing about gardening. My mom maintained all sorts of indoor and outdoor houseplants while I was growing up, but I did not inherit her green thumb. The only other time I even tried to grow something was last summer. I had bought a basil plant on whim, stripped off most of the leaves for an enormous pasta salad, and then forgot to water the plant for two weeks. Needless to say, it did not survive.
So this is my second attempt. I picked up mint and Thai basil plants at the Grand Army Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and would have bought more had it not been the end of the day with slim pickings. I bought a couple of terra cotta pots at the hardware store, then (do not laugh) watched YouTube instructional videos to determine how to correctly transfer the plants between pots and fan the roots. I diligently watered everyday. Everything looked good. Then I left town to go to Boston for a few days. You may have some idea how this story will go.
When I came back, my mint plant looked pathetic. Almost all the leaves were brown or browning. They flaked off the stems upon touch. The stems themselves were like dry and brittle fingers shaking at me for neglecting them. The poor thing needed either some major TLC or divine intervention.
My Thai basil plant, on the other hand, looked even taller and livelier than when I left. It even sprouted some flowers! There were one or two browning leaves, but the rest or bright green. What a difference in how much attention each plant needs.
So I decided to take advantage of my plant's liveliness by making a drink with Thai basil, and found the Thai Basil Sangria in Food & Wine's August 2007 issue. Even though it's getting close to winter, sangria just seems like a year-round drink, especially when you can grow Thai basil indoors. I wasn't making a party punch for a crowd, so I halved the portions while making it a little sweeter and more flavorful by keeping the same amounts for the citrus-basil syrup. And I didn't completely strip the plant this time.
Do you realize how ridiculously good wine, brandy, citrus, and Thai basil taste together? I didn't, so it was a revelation. It was a good reward after a long hectic day of photography for the cookbook. I stored the rest in a pitcher with a lid, and it was still delicious 4 days later.
My mint plant, by the way, is still surviving. I plucked off all the dried leaves and used them in tea. Then I did a bunch of internet research. The general consensus seems to be that mint is a thirsty beast and needs much more than your average herb. It also needs fresh air, so cracking open a window everyday after watering seems to do the trick. It's coming back alive slowly and even sprouting more little mint leaves.
Next on the list: sweet basil, rosemary, and maybe a chili pepper plant.
Thai Basil Sangria
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 Thai basil sprigs
- 1 lemon, peeled in 3-inch strips
- 1 orange, peeled in 3-inch strips
- 1 bottle Pinot Grigio, or a dry Spanish or Portuguese white wine, chilled
- 3 ounces brandy
- 4 ounces fresh orange juice, strained
- Club soda, chilled
- 6 thin orange slices, for garnish
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring the mixture to a boil boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the Thai basil sprigs, lemon strips, and orange strips. Allow the syrup to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, stirring often so the liquid can cool. Remove the basil sprigs, lemon strips, and orange strips and discard.
- In a large pitcher, combine the basil syrup, wine, brandy, and orange juice. Pour the sangria into ice-filled glasses. Top off each glass with club soda and garnish with an orange slice.
Adapted from Food & Wine.