In My Kitchen June 2014

I’ve missed a few months, in both senses of the word. I know that we all have busy lives and it is just a matter of claiming the time to do things like sit down a write. Happily, it is pouring rain in the garden today, so I am sitting in the outdoor kitchen listening to it, smelling it and savoring it, because although we will probably have the odd shower in the weeks to come, this is likely to be the last real storm we have before our long, hot and bone dry summer.
There are loads of interesting kitchens to visit; if you’re interested, stop by Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial which is Command Central for IMK posts.0
This is a bit of a May and June mash-up, but never mind. In my kitchen there are:

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Cut flowers! And since I never bother to cut flowers from the garden, this can mean only one thing: my mom is back in town. She spotted the snapdragons and was busy with her secateurs in no time. They are a particular favorite of mine. Ali is more concerned with scent when considering plants, and he has filled our garden with fragrant plants. But I love my showy snapdragons because they are a feast for the eyes (the variety is Madame Butterfly. They are hybrids, but these ones have come back for three years in a row, so I forgive them). And besides, if everything were scented it might become a bit much.
My mother went to Paris to visit some friends shortly after she got here, and came back bearing gifts. In my kitchen there is:

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this beautiful egg basket that she found at a flea market. Who knew that such beautiful things even existed? Well, plenty of people I am sure, but not me. It is nice to have something pretty to keep our eggs in, since the ladies put hard work into producing them.
On the subject of eggs, we’ve received an exciting gift from our neighbour:

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Do you see those smaller eggs in the front? They’re from his Guinea fowl! He heard we have an incubator, so he gave us 10 eggs. We’ll give him a couple of the hatchlings in return. I am very excited to have Guinea fowl, not least because I have heard that they are quite aggressive around snakes; we’ve got lots of snakes here. I like the black garden snakes just fine, but we’ve got vipers too, and poor old Lulu (our dog) just got bitten on the nose by a big one. She is at the vet, attached to a bag of serum. She seems to be getting better, but it has been a pretty miserable few days for her. She’s always been aggressive around snakes, but I bet she’ll tone down her attitude now… Anyway, hopefully the Guineas will take over the snake patrol before long!
On Friday, Ali wandered into the garden and came back with this:

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We’ve been here for six years now, and the trees that we planted in those first few years have started bearing fruit in earnest. Not all of them, of course; I am pretty sure we will only eat a handful of our own cherries. But we’ve got plenty of apricots! I’ll have to think of something to do with them all, since I am sure we can’t eat them fast enough.
And that’s a quick look at some of the things in my kitchen this month! While we’re on the subject, here’s the view from where I am typing — if I stand up, I have a clear view of the tub in the rain:

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Thanks for stopping by my kitchen!

In My Kitchen, May 2013

I know, it’s the last day of May, but I was going to burst if I didn’t manage to post a few photos from the kitchen over the past month. I’ve missed doing these posts, but luckily I’ve been able to stop in at a lot of great kitchens regardless. Check out Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for links to the amazing and diverse In My Kitchen posts.
So, without further ado in my kitchen this month there are:

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Artichokes! The large one to the left is a regular globe artichoke, but the three small ones are all from my purple artichoke plants. Violetta di Chioggia, to be precise, from seeds that I ordered from Chiltern seeds. Isn’t it interesting how different they all look? I’m happy to report that they were uniformly tasty.
In my kitchen, there are

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Broad beans! And as you can see, they double quite nicely as toys to be sorted in a tart pan. These are the last of them – I’m sure you’ve noticed that they are quite large. The inner beans are already starchy but this makes them perfect for fava, a venerable member of the pantheon of meze, or starters enjoyed around these parts.
The problem with broad beans is getting the beans out of their skins. It’s super tedious and it’s worse when the beans are not young and pert. Perhaps for this reason, fava is often made with dried beans.
Anyway, the procedure is the same once you’ve got your hands on the skinned beans, fresh or dry (although the dry ones benefit from a pre-soak). Cook the beans with water, a quartered onion, and olive oil. The beans should be cooked and a little wet in the end, but you can always add more water. Then blend it all to make a thick slurry, salt to taste, add snips of dill if you’ve got it, and lemon juice. This is absolutely perfect on toast. So if there are any of you out there who waited a little too long to harvest the last if the broad beans, this is something you can do with them. (Alas, no photos!)
I’ve saved the best for last. In my kitchen there are:

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Flowers! This is not that significant in and of itself. I mean, flowers are nice but the real reason that this means something is that the only time we ever have cut flowers on the house is when my mom is in town. Yes, she made it! After waiting for two months, her visa came through and she hopped in the next available flight. She wasted no time in patrolling the garden, snipping flowers. In other words, she has fallen right into her routines here and it feels almost as if she never left in the first place.
Whew – made it! Now to post June’s IMK before the very end of the month…

When noses weep

I wish I had Smell-O-Vision so that you could feast your noses on this:

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The jasmine is so strong that it smells a bit like bananas, and the red rose is seductive as ever. I have been cutting the flowers to make rose jam and rose sherbet. I collect the flowers in a big bowl and just hold my face in it. The smell is so delicious; if I were an immortal being, it’s all I would eat – roses.

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The wisteria is also still going strong. Something about the flowers makes me think of women in gowns with ribbons tied around their necks. And the smell of them is enough to make me feel elegant even in grubby jeans and sandals. Ali likes to plant them under trees (that’s a wild pear under all that purple).

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The Brown House is visible in the background, still clad in its winter wear – we have rolled it all up since that photo was taken. The weather heated up overnight and we have temps of 35 C (in the 90s to you Fahrenheit folks)! It’s a little too much heat too soon and I’m not the only one who thinks so – the garden is swooning. We’re doing our best to offer succour to the citizenry.
This is a season where there is much to delight the nose (with more to come – the honeysuckle looks set to burst forth any moment). And yet, if you are unfortunate enough to be allergic to any of the multitudes of pollens flying about, this season can bring you to your knees.
I’m not allergic to much, but when the grasses pollinate, I’m a goner. “I can see the pollen!” I told someone the other day, who smiled at me, and said patiently, “You can’t see it.” But I don’t know if they knew just how much grass I was talking about. I have truly looked the enemy in the eye:

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And I was the first to blink!

Unsung beauties

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I have to admit that I didn’t use to think much of marigolds. I think that I sort of grouped them with dandelions in my mind. In my defense, this was before I had a garden, and flowers were not something I spent a whole lot of time thinking about.
Then I saw the Mira Nair film, Monsoon Wedding. It’s about a Punjabi wedding, and there must be about a hundred thousand marigolds in the film. Someone even puts a whole one in his mouth and eats it.

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Suddenly, I saw marigolds slightly differently. That was about ten years ago, and in the intervening years I have come to appreciate many qualities of the marigold. They are generous and free-flowering; they are unfussy and forgiving; they are pest control allies; and of course, they are a lovely burst of color, available in all sorts of varieties.
The newest addition to our consortium is Yummy Mummy, a chrysanthemum-flowered marigold (hence the name, which I find quite satisfying). Here she is from her spot among the tomato plants:

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And here’s to all the unsung beauties out there, and hoping that somebody sees you for what you are.

smells and squeaks

The garden is full of scents! A honeysuckle that we planted in the outdoor kitchen is in full bloom, and the scent of it wafts about, making kitchen work positively dreamy.

The stinky and the sweet: fresh garlic and the honeysuckle by the kitchen.

As I worked on lunch, Ali wandered over with a flower from the white peony. It’s got a scent that reminds me of lily of the valley, but the scent of it in say, a talcum powder.

Can you spot the spider? Who could blame it for choosing such a sweet smelling home.

I was working on getting some lunch together — bubble and squeak and rarebits. My dad was a great fan of bubble and squeak — I think he liked to say it as much as he liked to eat it. There’s a nice article in the Guardian that breaks it down into a simple formula (equal parts potato and cabbage by volume not by weight, fry well). I thought it would make a good lunch for Kaya as well.

At the table, Kaya happily submitted to eating a few bites of the bubble and squeak that I had pureed for him, before making a lunge for my rarebit. I broke off a piece and gave it to him, and he tore away at it with his new front teeth. He demolished about half of it, eating it as fast as I could give it to him. It was a minimalist sort of rarebit (no beer, for instance), but as he liked it so much, I thought I would share the recipe. It’s a nice thing to make to go alongside a soup or a vegetable dish.

Bare bones rarebit:
1 1/4 c. milk
1 bay leaf
pepper
2 T butter
2T flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 t mustard
Worcestershire sauce
2 slices bread (you may have enough sauce for more than two, depending on the size of the bread)

Put the bay leaf in the milk with a few grinds of pepper and heat to boiling then shut off and let them get to know one another. In the mean time, melt the butter in another pot and add the flour to form a roux. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the milk in three installments, stirring well to keep things from getting lumpy. Cook the resulting sauce for another two minutes before removing from the heat. Add the cheese and stir vigorously to melt it. Then stir in your mustard and add a bit of Worcestershire sauce as well if you like.
Heat the broiler and toast the tops of your bread under it before spreading a thick layer of cheesy sauce on them. Set them under the broiler, but not too close, and let the sauce get hot and brown.
Keep out of reach of babies, or else make a helping for any babies present.

Hands off my rarebit!

And while I am on the topic of food that Kaya loves, I have to also make special mention of a wonderful recipe I found at one of my favorite blogs, From the Bartolini Kitchens. It’s for polpettine (diminutive meatballs), a new staple in my kitchen. We had them the other night, and Kaya was jumping up and down in his seat for more (even Baki, the world’s pickiest eater, tucked in happily). What’s so interesting to me about this is that the blog is dedicated to sharing family recipes, many of them tied to wonderful memories and stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Kaya learned to make polpettine so that he could bring back his memories of eating them under the garlic braids in the garden kitchen.

Roses and a recipe

Spring is wonderful because it is full of flowers that are brave enough to push up and bare their faces to the chilly days. They dare us to forget the dark winter months, and how could we not in the company of daffodils? Some flowers, though, wait until the season is well underway, even turning slightly sultry. When I see roses, I know that things have finally started to heat up and Summer is on its way.Image

Then I begin to panic at the number of seedlings still in the greenhouse, and I wonder how much longer I can grow lettuce without it wanting to bolt immediately.

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We have a more or less year-round gardening season, because our winters are quite mild. The summers, however, are relentlessly hot and dry, so they are the real challenge. There are many plants that will just grind to a halt when it gets much over 90 F, and lettuce won’t even germinate once the soil gets too warm.

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Now that we have daytime temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the clock is ticking. In a couple of months, we’ll be hoping for anything under 100! These days are a bit of a scramble.
When we’re very busy in the garden, I like to make food I don’t have to think much about. Curried Beef and Tomato Noodles is a great favorite of Baki and Ali’s, and it’s a great way to stretch a small amount of meat (as I discovered when it turned out I had one small steak to feed three people). My mom used to make it all the time, and I’m pretty sure this is more or less how she taught me to do it.
You need:
Noodles- wheat flour noodles, egg or not. (if you’re in the Pacific NW, you can get my family’s all-time favorite, Rose Brand noodles)
Neutral tasting oil for frying
Soy sauce
A steak
A bunch of green onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned because tomatoes are meaningless at this time of year)
1 to 2 T curry powder (I like Sun Brand)

Here’s what you do:
1. Put the steak in the freezer.
2. Cook the noodles. If you can do this in advance, it helps- a few hours us fine, and overnight works too. Rice and noodles fry better when they’re not all hot and starchy.
3. Stir fry the noodles in batches in a big hot wok. To do this, get the wok hot and add about 2 T oil. Put in a third of the noodles and stir to coat in the oil. Let the noodles sit a while, so they get a bit browned. Stir them up again and then let them sit. Repeat a few times, then add about 1T soy sauce and stir it in for color. Put the noodles in a big bowl as you finish cooking them.
4. Get your steak out of the freezer and slice it really thinly- freezing it first makes this easy. Then toss it with the curry powder.
5. Chop the green onion into 1/2 in slices, greens and whites. Chop up your tomatoes too.
6. You are about ten minutes from done now. Get that wok hot again and add 1T oil. Stir fry the onions and add them to the noodles.
7. Put 1/3 of the seasoned meat in the wok and cook. Don’t forget to let it sit a little to brown it. Add to the bowl and repeat with the rest of the meat, adding oil as necessary.
8. By now the wok is probably a bit crusty. So tip in the tomatoes and stir them around to get all the bits off the wok. Let the tomatoes cook until they are saucy, then tip the whole big bowl of noodles and meat and onions and all back into the wok. Stir it all up and you’re ready to eat.

These instructions may be a bit verbose, but it’s easy and it goes fast (frying the noodles is the longest bit).

Kaya made a lunge for one of my noodles at the table, so I gave it to him and he frantically opened and closed his hands when he had finished. Baki took more than he could eat, so I let Kaya have his bowl. When he was done meticulously picking every noodle out, he stuck his whole face in.

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Another noodle fan in the family.

Color theory

I’m sure that Gertrude Jekyll has something far more illuminating to say on the topic, but here’s my take on colors in the garden:

One is nice:

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(Red flax and our liquidambar tree)

Two is dandy:

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(lavender and queen Ann’s lace under the apricot tree)

But things really get cooking when you have three:

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(California poppies, red and blue flax by an olive tree)