Where is my mind?

I was in the kitchen and went to grab an avocado from the fruit basket only to encountered a bumble bee (these things happen when your kitchen is outside). Then a few minutes later I went up to the road to cut a sprig of rosemary and saw honeybees in amongst its purple flowers. “What’s going on,” I thought, “have I been asleep?” The weather is changing and everything around me is waking up – I’m just a few steps behind. I resolved to spend the rest of the day being a little more observant/productive than usual, and this is what I came up with:

eggs

I love the colors of eggs. I’ve decided that if I ever paint the walls somewhere, I will just use the colors of different eggshells and possibly the color of good butter from a grass fed cow, too. That top right egg is the very first egg from one of our Copper Maran hens – we hatched those chicks last summer. What a lovely, rich chocolate brown! I am still waiting on the Ameraucanas, hatched at the same time,  who will lay bluish eggs – another lovely wall color…

daphne

This is a box of Daphne odora Aurea-marginata (a.k.a. variegated daphne) cuttings. As you can see, they are flowering and the smell is heavenly. You don’t even have to stick your head in that box to smell it — the whole greenhouse is deliciously scented. That would be enough to make these special, but there is a story behind these particular cuttings.

Outside my aunt and uncle’s house in Portland OR, there is a variegated daphne. It’s right in front of the porch and it’s huge. When my aunt died way back in 1998, we started to  flap ever so slightly about the daphne. Would it survive? My aunt had been the gardener, after all. But the daphne proved that it could take care of itself, as did the cosmos that sprung up along the side of the house. Other plants didn’t fare so well, but my uncle gradually took over the back yard and grew Chinese chives and tomatoes every year. daphne1917

That’s the daphne behind me, to the left. Incidentally, that photo was taken in 1980 when I was 5. It was the year of my first unaccompanied  trips on an airplane (although I did have a traveling companion in Blue Bunny, also pictured above). I flew from NY to Portland and back – a not insignificant 5 1/2 hours of air time. Back then, your parents could come right on to the plane with you to get you settled in, which seems hard to imagine now. I asked my mom how she didn’t completely freak out just putting me on a plane and she shrugged and said, “Your father said you’d be fine.” And I was, of course. I mention it because it looks like this year might be Baki’s first solo trip – from NY to Istanbul, no less. I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet, but Baki can’t wait. I tried to break it to him gently, but he was whooping it up when I told him. But I digress…

When my uncle died, the flapping over the daphne began in earnest. My mother had gone out to visit him a few years back and brought a cutting, but it struggled and didn’t make it. The house was going to be sold, and I hated the thought of losing our connection to that daphne. So my mother appealed to my cousin Pamela to send some cuttings to her in NY, and she received a package of them, each with its own little capsule of water attached. My cousin Elaine has some of them, and the rest my mom brought out to Turkey and that is what you see in that box. So that smell is a sweet one, indeed, and for more reasons than one.

veg bed

And lastly, it is the time of year when I haul out my early spring allies — the plastic bottle cloches. I’ve got lettuce and bok choy under those ones. On the periphery of the bed there are shallots and garlic. This is my new method of planting alliums — I’ve got them dotted along the edges of all the beds. I thought it might be a bug deterrent. We’ll see how that goes.

Well, that feels a little better. I’ve got my ears to the ground at last, and it’s humming with activity. It makes me buzz with excitement a little myself.

secret weapons

It is always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve, and these are two that have come in handy lately that I thought I would share.

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Every winter, my dad would take to swallowing whole cloves of raw garlic to keep himself from falling ill. The result, aside from undeniable heartiness, was a lingering, unmistakable smell. I knew it from the subways of Beijing – the scent of garlic effusing from the body from every pore.

Later, in Harbin, Ali and I used to go to a meat restaurant where they would ask us if we wanted garlic with our meal, and in response to our enthusiastic nods they would toss a couple of heads of garlic on the table, to be peeled and nibbled raw with our food. That’s how we discovered that garlicky smelling people are not a problem if you are garlicky smelling yourself.

Still, although raw garlic is great for fending off the winter bugs, it’s not always what you want on the table. Time was, our go-to solution to this problem was garlic yogurt. Garlic yogurt is a regular feature at meals in Turkey, particularly with certain dishes such as manti (little dumplings) or vine leaves stuffed with meat. Ali used to eat it all the time when he was on his own in the garden – in those days, garlic yogurt on pasta was a meal as far as he was concerned. It is a wonderful addition to a meal — I love it with curries, in particular. It is the simplest thing to make — just add a crushed clove to a small bowl of plain yogurt and maybe throw in a pinch of salt too. Mix it up and you’ve got sauce.

Then we gave up dairy when we adopted a paleo diet. To be honest, it would have been a whole lot harder for me to swallow a dairy-free diet if I had found a reliable source of raw milk or had a cow of my own. Since I had neither, it was pretty easy to walk away from dairy products (I still get butter from local farms to make ghee, though). Garlic yogurt loomed, though. How were we going to replace that?? I found the answer the day I began making mayonnaise.

I has tried to make mayonnaise in the past and ended up with a runny mess, so I can’t really understand why it works for me now. (It probably helps that I don’t refrigerate my eggs these days because I am pretty sure I didn’t used to wait to bring them up to room temperature, which helps.) I do it two ways: with egg yolks only and with the whole egg. Both of them work great, though I usually go the whole egg route because I dislike having orphaned egg whites in the kitchen. I use a hand blender, and my secret weapon is…. a cola bottle with a hole in the cap (pictured in a previous post) that allows a thin drizzle of oil through. This makes it super easy to monitor how much oil is being added, a big help when you are doing this job on your own.

The other day, I made mayonnaise and it broke right at the end (translation – went from mayonnaise to a runny, oily mass) and I ran to the internet to learn how to fix it. The solution was easy — put an egg yolk in a bowl and whisk in the runny mayonnaise a little at a time. That fixed the problem and also left me thinking that if my hand blender went kaput, I could easily use a whisk to make mayo – there was mayonnaise before blenders, after all! At the end, I add a clove or two of crushed garlic and I’ve got garlic mayonnaise, the new hero of the table, keeping us smelly and healthy all winter long!

What I love about mayonnaise is that I get to use our eggs, and I know all about those eggs. I’ve got no nagging doubts about them at all, and it makes me feel mighty grateful to our hens.

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Back to Harbin, I was out food shopping one day when I came across a packet labeled “Forest Chicken.” There was a frozen chicken inside, and on the pack there was a photo of little chickens roaming the forest. Ali and I laughed at the idea of feral forest chickens, and I got the chicken and cooked it in my tiny toaster oven.

It was tough as rubber bands.

That was the first inkling that I had of the difference between a bird that has a caged lifestyle and one that has been more athletic. I have noticed that the young birds that we eat from our flock are not so tough at all, but once in a while we have an older bird that has to go. A couple of weeks ago we had three such birds. After we’d cleaned them, I set aside the breasts to be brined and made into chicken nuggets for the boys. Then I took the drumsticks and the thighs and made confit with them. (The rest of the bird I used to make stock. I don’t know what it is about the wings of our birds, particularly the older ones, but I dislike eating them.)

Basically, confit is cooking meat in fat. Duck confit is made in duck fat — what a decadent thought! I did mine in olive oil. (The recipe I followed is here.) I love recipes that require upending a bottle of olive oil — it makes my heart pound. And you needn’t worry about that oil going to waste because you can use it for cooking afterwards, or to make more confit.

Because of course, once you make it and see how the meat, even of a tough old bird, is just falling off the bone, it is likely that you will want to make it again. I know I do! I put ours under the broiler before serving to crisp it up and the result was a really tasty dinner that everyone devoured. I am going to experiment a little with cooking times (I have read recipes where if you bring the oil up to the point where it is just bubbling and then put it in the oven, you don’t have to bake it for so long). And of course, any bird would benefit from this treatment, not just old ones.

So those are two new tricks that I learned this winter!