The vine and the fritter

Two notes from my life, one botanical, one gastronomical. The first has to do with the trellis, fencing, and wall plantings in my Palo Alto condo complex, which depend entirely on plants that are described in reference guides with the adjectives rampant and invasive and the verb smother. Originally, Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, and English ivy, Hedera helix. But then after the dry-rotted wooden arches in the complex were pulled down and replaced a while ago, new supertough vines were planted; my condo now has Dolichandra unguis-cati, cat’s-claw creeper, in front of it; and yesterday I noticed that some other condos have been planted with what appears to be Ipomoea indica, blue morning glory. Both of these newcomers are, omigod, contending — visibly and vigorously — with the ivy. (Yes, there will be pictures.)

Then, yesterday, in an Asian noodle mood, I decided to try the offerings from Tommy Thai (Thai and Cambodian food) in Mountain View (delivered by GrubHub). My first venture with the place, so I tried one noodle dish and one dish meant to go on rice (with a multidimensional range of options within those large categories), plus an appetizer that I hadn’t had before: Thai corn fritters (tod man khao pod). Which took me back, unexpectedly but satisfyingly, to my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother’s corn fritters. (Only two photos here — one Thai, one Pa. Dutch. Invasive flowering vines are a lot more picturesque than little pancakes.)

The greenery of Ramona Archworld. First piece of background, from my 5/5/19 posting “Wooden arches”, about

the wooden arches that grace my condo complex, serving as entrance ways on the street, as trellises for vines, and as decorative elements for people on the street as well as for those of us inside the complex. The  current installation (recently repaired):

(#1) The state of things in the spring of 2019; ivy was already shooting up onto the new arch

From the site on Hedera helix, English ivy:

evergreen perennial climbing vine that attaches to bark of trees, brickwork and other surfaces by root-like structures that exude a glue-like substance to aid in adherence.

… spreads vegetatively by vigorous growth at tip of stems; and by seed which is consumed by birds and dispersed to new areas

And on Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria — which, admittedly, has absolutely gorgeous (and fragrant) panicles of flowers in the spring:

deciduous, woody twining vine that climbs up tree trunks in a clockwise direction; stems are stout, smooth gray-brown and covered with fine white hairs. Older plants can grow to 15 in. or more in diameter.

(#2) A sprawling purple variety of wisteria trained on a post (and threatening the house next to it) (Wikipedia photo)

… spreads by seed which, in riparian areas, can be transported by water; vegetatively by producing stolons (above-ground stems) that produce shoots and roots at short intervals

Those are the old plantings, chosen for their aesthetic and psychological values but also for their sturdiness and ease of care — and in the case of English ivy, their evergreenness; dry season and wet, summer and winter, I get to look out my window onto walls of living green on my patio, rather than plain stucco. (“Sweet fields arrayed in living green / And rivers of delight”, from “On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand”, 1787 text by hymnodist Samuel Stennett, set to 6 different tunes in the 1991 Denson Sacred Harp)

But they’re inclined to be thugs and bullies, always threatening to pull down the wooden components of my little garden space. It’s a bargain. An  uneasy one. Constant vigilance is required to hold the bullies at bay.

The new plantings are, as it turns out, more of the same. Pretty much like the ivy, but with pretty flowers (for over 35 years, I’ve managed to keep the ivy from blooming and spreading seedlings all over the place)

First, in my 5/9/17 posting “Blooming on the street”:

in the arches over the entrances to several of the units, a sign of spring: showy displays of yellow trumpet vine … Dolichandra unguis-cati, commonly known as cats claw creeper, funnel creeper, or cat’s claw trumpet:

(#3) In glorious bloom

The flowers don’t last very long, then drop and are succeeded by long seed pods:

(#4) [from the Weeds of Australia site for Dolichandra unguis-cati:] … has been widely cultivated as a garden ornamental. Nowdays it is usually not deliberately cultivated, and is mainly regarded as a weed when growing in gardens.

Meanwhile, it spreads by clasping with tenacious tendrils:

(#5) In the cool of the dawn today, I hacked back some ivy from the wooden fencing, and some cat’s-claw creeper that was strangling the ivy.

It’s a jungle out there.

Then there are the neighbors’ new vines, with three-lobed leaves that were familiar to me; it was just a surprise to come across them obtruding from a wall of English ivy on the street. After which I discovered that they’d been planted to climb up one of the arches but were also taking off cross-country.

This would appear to be Ipomoea indica, blue morning glory / blue dawnflower / etc. — a vigorous, long-lived tender evergreen perennial vine:

(#6) Leaves and flowers (photo: Weeds of Australia site)

The species is one of about 600 species in the genus Ipomoea. The others are mostly annuals, or deciduous, or short-lived; this one can’t take the cold, but is otherwise ready to conquer the world. From Wikipedia:

Ipomoea indica has become a noxious weed and invasive plant species in Australia, California, China, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Montenegro, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

… When growing in optimal conditions, the plant is able to spread via seeds, stolons, and stem fragments.

Corn fritters around the world. Before the cakes, though, a note on the noodles, which are how I got onto the fritter train in the first place. Negotiating noodles on the online menu is a three-part multiple-choice exercise. First, you pick a noodle type from a list, then a “style” (accompaniments) from another list, and then a level of spiciness (five grades, from not spicy through very spicy). I went for the noodle type

garlic noodle with basil — Korean style noodles in garlic butter sauce topped with basil and Parmesan

and for the “shrimp and chicken combo” as the style, and for spicy (next-to-top level, spicy enough to make my lips tingle, and my fingertips tingle too when I picked up some noodles).

For veggies, I also ordered the green bean basil special:

Sauteed green beans, garlic, yellow onions, and basil (with a good bit of tasty broth)

Those two dishes have already provided two substantial meals, and will serve as the basis for at least two more, so though the bill (including a very hefty tip for the deliverer) was big, it comes out to four (related, but varied by my hand) fancy but not at all extravagant meals for the Labor Day weekend. What I’m doing this year instead of the canonical kosher frankfurter with the works. Well, I hd a yen for noodles, and this is where it took me.

And there on the online menu, among the appetizers, appeared:

Corn Cakes: kernels of corn with chopped green beans mixed with a mild curry sauce and served with cucumber and chopped peanuts in plum sauce

Thai corn fritters (tod man khao pod) — small, with complex flavors, but surprisingly reminiscent of  Pa. Dutch / Amish / Mennonite corn fritters, just smaller, denser, and much more interestingly spiced. Also eaten with a savory sauce rather than a sweet sauce, but that’s the way my family ate my grandmother’s (which I think she made with Bisquick, jazzed up a bit) — we regularly ate them with tartar sauce rather than maple syrup.

From the Thai Food Online site: a recipe for Thai corn fritters:

(#7) My Tommy Thai fritters were flatter than this: chewy disks of spicy goodness, but somehow like Grandma Rice’s from 70 years ago

Pennsylvania Dutch / Amish / Mennonite corn fritters are sometimes said to be much like pancakes, but with corn added, and that’s the way most recipes read, though they can be varied by using some cornmeal along with the flour, using dried corn or canned corn, maybe adding some chopped parsley or chopped green onions. They can be served much like baked potatoes, topped with butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, and / or grated cheese. Some discussion on the Amish Heritage site on “Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Fritters”:

(#8) Think of the batter as a device for holding the corn kernels together

It’s even possible to imagine schemes for a rapprochement between the Thai and the Pa. Dutch, using the medium of Wos-Wit Pennsylvania Dutch Foods (wos wit ‘what do you want?’), makers of these two sauces:



The company started in the 1940s with chow-chow and corn relish and expanded from there to preserves, apple butter, dressings, relishes, pickled vegetables, and more.

4 Responses to “The vine and the fritter”

  1. Lise Menn Says:

    Really enjoyed this episode, food and plants being among my favorite topics. I encouraged several aggressive perennials in my earlier years here in Colorado, including Siberian bugloss (such innocent little blue flowers in spring), Virginia creeper (eager to cover the side of the house, but then it started to eat the roof), oxalis (aka sour grass), and a ‘false bamboo’ that started out as a great fencing plant for privacy but eventually had to be hacked out every spring and cleared away every fall.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      In Columbus I went for gardening with invasive plants in a big way (and posted about the approach), but eventually I posted several times about Plants Too Invasive Even For Me. There are some real monsters out there.

  2. Michael Newman Says:

    The morning glory could also be eaten over rice, or perhaps given that there are apparently a lot of varieties. I had it as ong choi for years in Chinese restaurants in NYC. The name comes from the fact that the inside is hollow (here’s a bunch of pictures), but we went to Thailand and Cambodia we ordered “Morning Glory” and it turned out to be the same dish.

    Here’s a picture with a recipe:

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