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With winter safely behind us, mango and litchi trees have started blooming and bees and butterflies are busy spreading the news of an oncoming spring and summer. This season is apt for vegetable gardening as well as flowers.

We can grow some common summer vegetables like eggplants, okra, pui shak, chillies, or even the all-season tomatoes in earthen or plastic pots and/or in used half drums (easily available from Kawran Bazar and other markets).

The size of the plant bed depends on the nature, life span and size of the plants. Small plants like chillies need medium-sized pots. Okra or eggplants can be grown in 18-inch pots, but pumpkins will need half-sized drums. A used bath tubcan also be converted into a small plot of vegetables with at least 14-16 okra and chillies. Try it, it works!

Preparing the soil and base work for gardening
As the number of plant lovers are growing in Dhaka so are the number of nurseries. You can find nurseries in almost all parts of the city or even in district and upazila towns. Once you are ready with the seeds it's time to prepare the soil.

Mix two portions of regular soil and one portion of cow dung fertiliser -- mix those well and let them dry in the sun for two-three days and then fill the pots, drums and bath tubs. If you decide to sow the seeds yourself, it is to use one pot.

Spread the seeds at the surface of the soil, mix them gently, add a little water and cover the surface with old newspapers for a few days. Check after three or four days and you will see the first sprouts soon. Protect the baby plants from detrimental external factors, nurture them well with moderate water -- you need to check the level of moisture -- don't allow them to soak in water or let them die in the sun. After a few days they will be strong enough to transfer to individual pots/drums or tubs.

Seasonal vegetable seeds are available in good nurseries like BRAC Kanon. Prices start from Tk.40-Tk.120 per pack. Loose seeds are available in local grocery shops or other nurseries particularly in the government-owned nurseries in the city (one in Gulshan2).

Let the young plant grow
Before transferring small saplings to other pots, you need to be careful. During the shift, handle the young saplings with care and put water and keep in shade for a few days after transferring to their new homes.

Small bamboo sticks are required to support the plant growing tall. After a few days of the shift, the plants will gain strength to grow and will have the natural healthy look. Now you put some fertiliser a few inches around the plant and regular watering is necessary.

For fertiliser, you should consult/talk to the nursery person to get the right one as there are several types -- some are required for leafy vegetables like shaar (urea), and TSP (triple super phosphate) combination is used for all fruit-bearing plants.

After two episodes of fertiliser feeding -- one fine morning you will see the beginning of flowering and finally those will turn to fruits -- your dream comes true!

Investment and maintenance: your time and labour
A roof garden needs some investment as the half-drums are sold in Karwan or other big bazaars at Tk.600-Tk.700, once you buy them, they will last about 8-10 years. The mixed soil is sold per bag at Tk.60 to Tk.120 per bag and the cow-dung bags are Tk.80-Tk.160 depending on the size of the bags. Other types of fertiliser packs are also available in small packs. Composed fertiliser bags are priced at Tk.30-50. TSP danadar (small balls) are also available at reasonable prices; then there are mustered cakes (khoil) which need special effort to prepare -- but this is a very healthy food for our plants.

Plants are also susceptible to diseases, which is why we need to be careful and keep an eye on the leaves and overall health of each plant. There are preventive medicines to protect the plants from diseases and insects. We shall gradually learn the symptoms and treatment.

The cost of the high breed saplings are a bit high. It is always better to buy those from reputed places. All these fruit-bearing plants will produce fruit for at least 7- 10 years. I can assure you that if you take good care of them. So, there is no big cost once the capital investment is made for an 8-10-year period, after which the regular maintenance is really low but the reward is immense!

At the initial period you need a helping hand to accumulate all components together. Then the plants require everyday nurturing with water, periodical supplementary foods -- fertilisers, some support to the plants, cleaning the dry and dead leaves, softening/reshuffling of soil etc. If you are a true nature lover you will find time or make time for your plants. It is better to have a co-parent/care giver to look after the plants and enjoy the creation.

Please feel free to send emails to share your thoughts, feedback, and photos of your garden, or to tell your story; or ask a question on gardening. lifestyleds@yahoo.com

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

Dearest Diary,
Power! What a word. It does yield a lot of punch. Somehow I never realised there is so much of it around us. Like, you step out of the house, one sees the power of the police sergeants roaming the streets along with the Prado jeeps and random bus drivers. You open the newspaper and all you will read about is the power of the land grabbers and the players of the power politics, you go out to socialise and you will be faced with the social clamber of power. Even in my own little world I have power.

But you know Diary, all this power, which stems from fear, does not mean much to me. Yes, I abide by it because the Prado can run over me and kill me and there will be no justice for me. The sergeant will want a bribe from me and if I do not comply, I just might end up in a hospital ward and if I do not conform to certain social pressures, I will be an outcast. Power wins.

As I said, this kind of power fails to impress me. But on the other hand, I love different kinds of power. I love the power of the press, I love the power of the people who can topple unjust governments, I love the power of people who bring in positive change for the good of the community, I love the power of inspiration. But today I want to share with you Diary a power which I have seen grow, in front of me, from a seedling to a healthy, giving, evergreen tree.

This fierce powerhouse of a person named Khodeja came into my life eighteen years ago. I, myself was new in Dhaka, setting up house and needed people to help me, and she was the first one to sign up. I remember feeling so grown up. Interviewing and hiring another grown up. We both were such hobbledehoy ourselves, without even realising it. She agreed to become a part of my household for the princely sum of Tk.600. So, with her only skill of making chapatis and earnest disposition our journey began together. I was learning the rigours of adjusting, home-making and parenting and she adjusting to the different nuances of her career as a cook, caregiver and home supervisor.

When I first took my baby steps into the land of baking, she was literally the wind beneath my wings. So much so, that once Lisa, my friend, ordered a cake, my ever faithful Khodeja neatly rolled my marzipan putty into my phone number and gently plastered it all around the cake. While, Amna, another friend and that time neighbour, and Lisa were going hysterical peeling it off and calling me and asking me, why I had done it, I had no answer...because...I was speechless.

So after I got back home and asked her why she done something which she was not supposed to do, she looked into my furious eyes and quavered..."I thought it would make the cake look beautiful". Now after so many years, I can look back and maybe say, “Awwwww” but at that time I remember I was ready to tear my hair out along with hers.

As the years went by, her skills developed, her confidence grew in leaps and bounds. Her salary increased and so did her commitment to my family along with hers. She opened a small DPS for her future. Hers was a typical story -- married off young; still born child; husband gone without a trace.

All she was left with was ageing parents, debts and younger siblings.

And here is where the awesomeness of women power kicks in. With no formal education, hardly any money but with lots of energy, focus and determination she sets on this amazing journey to give her family a decent life. She knew to help improve her family's livvelihood she had to synthesise.

She made herself indispensable to me and my family. So with this kind of heartfelt commitment and attitude nothing is too onerous, I decided to stand by her to fulfil her dreams. She got her brothers graduated, got them duly placed in good working environments, got her sisters married, illnesses were taken care of, mother was brought to Dhaka and housed in a two-bedroom flat. Khodeja's, shoulders were getting lighter. Her dreams were becoming reality. She played all the cards right which life had dealt her with hard work, honesty, commitment, focus and belief in Allah.

Truly a woman of substance. If this isn't power, then what is?

Now in her eighteenth year with me, she has emulated me in many ways. Firstly she has developed a girth nearly to my size, has a thyroid imbalance (never knew that this disease was contagious) and acts like a diva in the kitchen. No less than two assistants will do for her now. All I can say to her now is, you deserve it woman.

So as Women's Day is right around the corner, let us salute these unsung women of substance, who carry heavy loads on their heads alongside men in construction sites, chip bricks in rain or shine, bicycle their way to work, sleep in tiredness on the bus. All of them who take their fate in their stride as part and parcel of life. I bow my head in reverence to them. To me that is true power. So Diary, have a good day the Sam Q way!

Lemongrass prawn skewers
1 stick fresh lemongrass, trimmed & chopped coarsely
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
2 tbsp fresh garlic chopped
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lime piece
1-2 red chilies finely chopped
Salt to taste
16 uncooked large prawns
1 tbsp oil

Method: Soak 16 small bamboo skewers in cold water to prevent them from bussing. Pound lemongrass, coriander, garlic, sugar, lime piece, chillies, salt and oil. Shell and devein the prawns. Marinate the prawn will the lemongrass paste and let it stand for at least 2 hours. Now insert skewers into prawns.

Cook on a heated barbeque or frying pan until prawns are browned eighthly on both sides & just cooked through.

Lip smacking spicy drummettes
¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp tomato sauce or paste
1 tbsp vinegar
2 cloves garlic crusted
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
½ tsp chilli powder
24 chicken drummettes
1 green onion (green shallot)

Method: Combine all the ingredients except the chicken and onion in a large dish. Add the chicken: stir until well coated in the marinade. Cover, refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.

Pre-heat the oven to 200º c.

Place the drained chicken in a shallow baking dish. Roast, uncovered for 35 mins or until cooked through brushing with remaining marinade after 10 minutes.

Serve chicken with chopped green onion.

Pistachio Biscotti
3 eggs
¾ cup caster sugar
2/3 cup chocolate spread
2tsp finely grated orange rind
2¾ cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
809 packet pistachio kernels
½ cup almonds, roasted, chopped

Method: Beat eggs and sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer. Add spread and rind. Beat until combined transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, mix to a smooth dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in both the nuts. Wrap dough in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for 1 hour. Divide dough in half. Roll out each half in 30 cm log shape. Place logs about 8 cm apart on a oven tray lined with baking powder.

Cook in a moderate oven for about 25 mins or until lightly browned and crusty.

Cool completely.

Using a serrated knife cut each log into 1 cm thick slices. Place slices in a single layer or two oven trays.

Cook one tray at a time in a moderate oven (180ºC) for about 10 minutes, or until crips.


Lemon tea cake
100 g of butter (plus more for pans)
2 cups of flour
1½ cups of sugar
1 tbsp of lemon sent
½ cup plus 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 th cup cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
6 ounces of frozen blueberries (optional)

Method: Pre-heat oven to 350º.

Combine ½ cup sugar, and ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and is syrupy. Let it stand while making cakes.

Meanwhile, combine cream, remaining 2tbsp lemon juice and the vanilla in a bowl. Whisk together flour, baking powder and ¼ tsp salt in another bowl.

Beat butter, lemon zest and remaining cup sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce heating well after each addition. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternative with cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in blueberries using a rubber on wooden spoon. Bake for 55 minutes in a 9" loaf pan. After cake is cooked through cool and brush top of cake with lemon syrup.

Walnut & carrot loaf
3 eggs
1¾ cups (385g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil
1¼ cups (125g) walnut halves toasted chopped coarsely
1½ cups coarsely grated carrot.
1½ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup (35g) walnut halves toasted, extra.

Method: Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Grease loaf pan.

Combine eggs sugar and oil in a large bowl, whisk until combined. Stir in walnuts and carrots, then flour & baking powder. Spread mixture in pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Cool.

Lemon Cream Cheese Icing:
200g cream cheese softened
50 g butter softened
1 cup (160g) icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp grated sind

Beat cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer till pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in icing sugar and lemon juice, then half the lemon rind. Spread lemon cream cheese icing onto the loaf decorate with extra walnut and remaining lemon rind.


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