There are times when I feel like one of those old fashioned wind-up toys that happens to be stuck in high gear. Certainly, this seems to have been the case for the last several weeks, with my agenda and schedule marked 'all systems go'. Being so busy is somewhat ridiculous in retirement, but it beats the alternatives of being dead or going back to work, if you understand my meaning.
Oh, how I love the early morning ritual of watering the strawberry patch. After showering the plants, I check for those stealthy snails that have made their way into the garden overnight to take massive bites out of the fruit. I pull out any weedlets (my word for baby weeds), lest they invade the entire bed. Then I watch dozens of bees flit to and from strategically-planted lavender bushes to lamb's ears, and seaside daisies, and on to the freshly moistened flowers of the strawberries. It may sound silly to you, but watching this small but nonetheless glorious event makes me sigh with joy.
Minus seven and a 'severe' frost this morning prompted me to pop outdoors and check on the lemons. Thankfully the pots are partly sheltered by the eaves and all three plants are content and fruiting profusely. Having waited a lifetime to own a lemon tree, seeing these beauties on the verandah (and the kitchen bench) is balm for my soul.
My father, András, was a barber for most of his life. Thinking back it all seems so deliciously vintage now, if you understand my meaning. He wore a crisp white jacket and there was a red and white striped post out the front of his barber shop, Budapest Hairdresser. Leather and chrome swivel chairs took pride of place on the chequerboard black and white linoleum tiles, and mirrors lined the walls. On the bench tops, thin black combs sat in tall glass canisters filled with a mild solution of disinfectant. I can still remember the smell. Rolls of delicate white paper towelling sat alongside jewel-shaped plastic spritz bottles filled with water, together with soft-bristled wooden-handled brushes, electric clippers, brown rubber squeeze gadgets containing talcum powder, and rows of scissors and cut-throat razors which were tucked neatly into a cloth pouch. Working from home and doing what she could to help, my mother sewed stylish capes from black and white patterned fabric especially for the shop.
'There are few more important foods in the world than the potato. Its history goes back to the early days of man—a past spanning feast and famine. Potatoes were discovered by pre-Inca Indians in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in South America and archaeological remains have been found dating from 400BC on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in ruins near Bolivia, and on the coast of Peru. Now the potato is the staple food for two thirds of the world's population.'
Allow me please to introduce my friend, fellow cook and food blogger, Kyrstie Barcak a.k.a. A Fresh Legacy. Kyrstie's blog is about what she and her partner, Mr Fresh, grow in the garden, what they cook with their delicious home grown produce and the simple pleasures they enjoy and share with their friends.
Kyrstie and I share the same food philosophies in that she also loves to explore her region and support local farmers and producers, and spread the word via Twitter and our web sites. Kyrstie cooks as much as she can from scratch and buys only a small number of items from the supermarket. So, let's take a stroll around the vegetable garden with Kyrstie and learn how her garden grows.
'If the bee is, as the French say, "the sentinel of the environment", then the fact that large numbers of bee colonies are perishing around the world is an alarming sign that we must ... attempt to reconnect with a nature that is rapidly disappearing.'
Peter and I really enjoy sharing our garden with nature. We love it when birds and bees come to visit, so when scores of bees suddenly disappeared from our courtyard recently, we became quite concerned and wondered why this had happened. Our lavender bushes had finished flowering, so that might explain it, although we had never before noticed the departure of the bees altogether. Coincidentally, I had also (in hindsight, perhaps foolishly) sprayed some of our shrubs with a natural pyrethrum spray to bring them back to good health after a burst of scale and leaf yellowing. Curiously, I'd been doing this for a couple of years and it had never affected bee visitor numbers. And with the bees gone, we also noticed our strawberry patch isn't flourishing with the same vigour as last year. Perhaps it is just the season, or maybe the lack of bees pollinating the flowers. Whatever the cause, now I'm actively engaged in bringing bees back to my garden and I'm happy to report that they're visiting flowering bushes and plants outside in the front garden, so all may not be lost.
Blessings and thanks to Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, for providing so many poems celebrating food!
For you, there’s rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long.
— The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare.
According to Maguelonne Toussant-Samat in A History of Food, it was the flowers of the rosemary bush that flavoured the famous Queen of Hungary’s Water — a sweetened liqueur noted as a symbol of the declaration of love, friendship and remembrance. Prized since ancient times for its culinary and medicinal virtues, the beautifully aromatic plant is used as a herb in kitchens today.
It is said that less is more with rosemary. In Italian Food, Elizabeth David warns of the all-too-pervasive properties of rosemary — referring to it as 'a treacherous herb' when over-used. It almost goes without saying that the flavour of rosemary marries beautifully with lamb. Used sparingly, it also sits nicely with fish, pork, beef and poultry. For something different: infuse extra virgin olive oil with a tiny sprig of fresh rosemary and serve the oil sprinkled over slices of freshly baked focaccia and sun-ripened Roma tomatoes.
Potatoes are particularly tasty when roasted with olive oil, sea salt and a little rosemary, and pizza with this topping is a favourite of mine too. Cut the potatoes into rough chunks and place them into a roasting dish. Drizzle over some fine olive oil, top with butter then sprinkle with sea salt and finely chopped rosemary. Bake in a moderate oven until crunchy and golden brown. Yum! Use small amounts of finely chopped rosemary in Mediterranean-inspired stews, soups and casseroles; in biscuit and breadmaking. Serve it with rice; or to add flavour and depth to salad vinegars and oils.
Rosemary is one of several herbs I have growing in my 'kitchen garden' and I love that I can duck outside and pick a fresh sprig whenever I need it. As there is no real room for planting new shrubs in the established gardens surrounding the house, I'm growing rosemary, bay, Vietnamese mint, lemon, lime, figs, olives and a grapevine in pots in the courtyard. There is a small area at the side of the house with raised beds specifically built for growing vegetables. Currently, I'm growing celery, carrots, cauliflower and garlic. I have also planted out a few additional herbs and seem to have established a very contented strawberry patch. Here's an update in the form of a few postcards.
Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks
The olive tree
With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
By the hands
And the oceanic
Ode to Olive Oil / Oda al aceite
- Pablo Neruda 1904-1973
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