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Day 13: The kitchen window

Leek flower bud

Many evenings when I have arrived home from work, exhausted and hungry, I have been greeted by the wonderful smells that waft from our neighbour’s kitchen. I have stood there in the driveway and wondered what she was cooking as more often than not I was still trying to decide what to cook for our own meal. Thelma cooks with fresh ingredients grown on her terms and she is very opinionated about these terms.

My kitchen window overlooks Thelma’s pride and joy – her vegetable garden and glasshouse which she still maintains (with help) even though she is in her 80s.

For the last six months I have been watching the leeks planted in her garden grow.

I was excited when I came home one day and saw these plants. They were tiny and they looked beautiful. There must have been at least a dozen of them and they were planted in three rows in the corner of garden closest to my kitchen window. It all looked so symmetrical and well organised.

A few days later I came home to find that the plants had small cardboard tubes, like empty toilet paper rolls, placed around them. I wondered why? My initial thought was that they must protect the newly planted leeks in some way. It turns out that leeks grow by building up layers which can trap soil around them. There is a viewpoint that placing these cardboard rolls around the young plants helps prevent this problem. Anyone who has cooked leeks knows that they can contain lots of dirt and they need to be washed well before use otherwise they can be gritty when eaten.

As the days and weeks passed I loved watching theses plants grow tall and straight. They looked ripe for use yet they remained in the ground growing bigger and bigger. I eyed these plants every day as I cooked in my kitchen imagining what I would make with them: leek and potato soup; leek, mushroom and bacon quiche; leeks in white sauce; leeks in chicken broth or vegetable soup; and no doubt a multitude of other undiscovered recipes.

“When are you going to use your leeks?” I asked Thelma one day, secretly hoping she would tell me I could help myself to some.

“I’m not,” she responded “I am growing them for their flowers.”

This seemed such a waste to me. Why then did she bother putting the cardboard rolls around the plants if she wasn’t intending to eat the product?

Time went by and the flower stalks started to appear. They grew longer and longer. I would see them swaying in the wind and rain with their huge flower bulb at the end waiting for it to burst open to release the lilac coloured spherical shaped flower.

Tonight as I was preparing dinner my gaze kept fixating on this one leek bulb that looked as though it was about to explode. It was raining outside and I could see from my window the droplets of water sitting on it. I wanted to photograph it but I couldn’t leave what I was doing; I was in the middle of making Gibanica (a Croatian savoury cheese pie) and I was working with filo pastry which dries out quickly. Instead I asked Lynsey (my husband) to take the photo. As he was outside in the rain I was directing him from inside – I knew exactly the photo I wanted!

I look at this image I have chosen for today. It represents a long period of time. A lot has happened since this leek plant was initially planted. It has survived the most appalling winter, spring and now summer. As I look at the photo I can see the flower waiting beneath the translucent outer skin of the bulb. Within is the seed and the potential for the creation of new leek plants. There is such beauty here – both on the outside but also hidden away within. I have only ever thought of leeks as a vegetable to be eaten and never as a flower to be admired. I learn new things every day and I love that about our everyday lives.

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