Friday, June 28

beautiful weekend

Welcome to the beautiful weekend!  This is my first time posting a favourites list, but honestly, I've been so inspired this week I thought it unfair not to.  These are just a few of the things that have brought beauty and light to my life this week.  I hope that you'll be inspired, too!

  • This watermelon and feta salad from Nigella.  I saw it on TV and thought, I must make that.  NOW.    It's bursting with  flavour combinations that you don't think will work, but they do!  Salty.  Sweet.  Tangy.  Fresh.  If you have a Fourth of July picnic planed, this would make show-stopping side.
  • It wouldn't be a picnic without a pitcher of sparkling Sangria.  But it doesn't have to be the headache inducing brew from the past.  Here are a few modern recipes to wet your appetite.
  • This post by Mimi Thorisson . . . . What can I say?  Don't we all wish we could explore a brocante deep in the most hidden regions of France?  Don't we all wish we could invest in an antique clock that doesn't work, just for the beauty of it?  Now, if only my children could eat Spider Crab . . . .
  • I just finished reading this book by Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat).  If you love food, then you'll love the way she writes about it.  Though the story is not about food, there's a delicious sprinkling of food references throughout, like flakes of sea salt on top of a dark and chewy caramel. 
  • If you're a linguistic junkie, as I am, you may find this very interesting. 
  • And, I would be remiss if I didn't share this poem by Caitlin Van Horn.  From a gorgeous blog that's primarily dedicated to food, this was a beautiful surprise.  Play the music as you read.  You will be blown away!
I'd love to see what's moved you this week!  Please share your links here or on facebook!  Wishing you all a very lovely weekend!

Thursday, June 27

Through smoke and haze

The sun sets, the moon rises in the smoky, Colorado sky.

By now I'm sure you're aware of the wildfires here in Colorado raging their vicious wars upon the forests and mountains I hold so dear.  The fiery sun sets and an orange moon rises through an angry haze of dense and acrid smoke which burns the eyes and scorches the throat, turning the light such otherworldly hues of blood and rust that I'm quite sure Armageddon is fully upon us.  I'm anticipating the day when the sun returns - clear and pure - and the air is clean once more.  Soon, hopefully soon!

And so we wait.  Still nature charges on, and we're amazed by what we find on our evening walks.  From the thorny spines of the cacti, growing in the most barren, rocky soil, spring delicate flowers, like an oasis, in the most dainty shades of pale green and yellow.  They remind me of the inside of a tender, early summer leek.  So, while we're waiting for the sun I decided to cook up some magic in the kitchen, like a personal ray of sunshine streaming in through the window of my stove.  The early leeks are magic in themselves.  Plump, crisp and zesty, they fill the shelves at my local market.  Braise them in wine and add a few specks of smoky bacon and something truly extraordinary happens.  They become creamy, rich and softly mellow.  Like a bed of velvet and satin on which the chicken rests.

Since the thought of turning on the oven in the heart of summer makes me sweat, Braised Chicken with Leeks is the perfect summertime dish.  Simmered gently on the stove, it requires little effort aside from cleaning the sandy leeks. I find the best way to clean them is to cut off the root ends and most of the dark green leaves, slice the leeks in half lengthwise and then chop.  Place the chopped leek in a big bowl of cold water and swish to separate all the pieces.  Let them sit for a minute.  All the dirt will settle to the bottom and you're left with squeaky clean leeks floating on top. (You may need to do this twice, depending on how dirty your leeks are.)

Want to help those affected by the wildfires?  Buy a shirt.  All proceeds benefit wildfire emergency relief efforts in Colorado.

Saturday, June 22

Sage and Aubergine

Why should a man die who has sage in his garden?
-ancient Latin proverb

Sage.  The earthy herb that sends brilliant white stalks of sweet flowers heavenward in the springtime.  The herb whose purifying, alabaster smoke chases the ghosts from musty, old rooms.  The herb that was so prized by the Romans, they wore ceremonial robes at harvest time and refused to let iron tools mar the delicate, velvet leaves.  The herb that has long been touted by the Chinese as the secret fountain of youth.  Is it any wonder why sage is my favourite herb?  I just can't get enough of it.

I often marvel how something can be both fresh and enticingly musty at the same time.  That seems like a contradiction of terms.  A miracle of nature, I suppose.  A miracle in my garden that I love to share.  So when we had company last weekend, I wanted to make something bursting with garden vegetables and radiant with the essence of sage.  Something that could be assembled ahead of time and pulled from the oven just before dinner to a chorus of hungry Ooohs and Ahhhs from my dinner guests.  This is what I made.

I roasted the peppers the day before and stored them in the refrigerator.  The morning of the party I made a creamy béchamel sauce full of sage and with just a hint of nutmeg, and I assembled the lasagna.  Covered with foil, the whole thing went into the refrigerator until I was ready to bake it off.  Talk about an easy, elegant, stressful-free main course for a simple get together -- just the kind of dinner parties I love to throw.

Sunday, June 9

Sage Flowers in June

The sage blooms in May.  Year after year, like the eternal clock of the universe . . . invariably, the sage blooms in May.  Brilliant white stalks reaching skyward through dense and dusty leaves toward the leaden May rain clouds.  However, as with all of life's familiar and comforting rhythms, that gentle cadence on which we come to rely, the sage bloom was delayed by a hard and very long winter.  It's June now, and the blossoms in my garden are just beginning to open, reaching, this year, toward the brilliant summer sun.  Perhaps because of the icy winter which nearly killed my humble sage, or perhaps because of the heat which bakes the flowers through the long afternoon, the blossoms are especially sweet this year.  Like floral honey, they burst in your mouth, an unexpected surprise from a plant that's known for its earthy, musty aromas.  I savour the days when the sage is in bloom, as it signals the start of summer.

What a happy coincidence that the sage is blooming just as peach season begins!  For this reason I felt compelled to combine the two in a crisp and rustic galette.  As I toyed with the recipe in my mind, I debated sweetening it with agave nectar, brown sugar, or most desperately, honey.  But, as I tested combinations I was reminded of these famous words:  In the grand opera of cooking, sage represents an easily offended and capricious prima donna.  It likes to have the stage almost to itself.  Therefore, I decided to keep the flavors simple, let the prima donna shine like the sun in June.

I, however, couldn't get the thought of honey out of my mind.  Like a song stuck in your head until you can stand it no longer and belt out the words at the top of your lungs, just to get some relief.   It haunted me.  I had to use honey somewhere, the delicate sweetness of the sage flowers required it.  I decided to make a honey sweetened mascarpone cream to top it off (Merci to Mimi Thorisson of Manger and this ethereal post for giving me the idea!).  The perfect compliment.

If you don't happen to have a sage plant in full bloom growing in your back garden, don't worry, you can certainly make the peach galette without it, and it will still be absolutely decadent in its simplicity.  Just be sure to make the mascarpone cream.  It's the icing on the cake, so to speak, and I promise, you'll never make whipped cream the same again.

Tuesday, June 4

Strawberry Moments

When I was a child, my mother grew strawberries in old car tires in the back garden.  They weren't the biggest strawberries, nor were they the perfectly conical clones of each other like the ones lining the market shelves these days.  But I can assure you that they were the sweetest, juiciest, purest strawberries I've ever tasted.  I remember finding just the right berry, still pale and green, and watching it grow with great anticipation.  As the days went by it ripened, the rosy colour spreading from the stem downward.  I'd watch and wait, until one morning when I knew the strawberry would be just right.  I rushed outside only to find that my precious strawberry had be taken by a hungry bird or squirrel.   My brother and I learned to rise early, to creep outside as the sun was just cresting the hill behind the house.  The berries were still wet with dew as we gathered them into our sandbox buckets.  We had to work quickly before the warm light of the sun fell across their ruby  faces and alerted the greedy birds to their presence.  Is there any better lesson in patience for a child than to grow strawberries?

These days my kids swoon over those chocolate dipped strawberries in the supermarket, and invariably someone will bring them to a school function.  They know they can't have them, as they're not safe for those with nut allergies, and they try not to act disappointed, but I know they are.  So I decided to make something extra special to celebrate the end of the school year.  Not only did I dip the strawberries in peanut-free chocolate, but I filled them with sweet and tangy Mascarpone cheese.

As they were sitting down for dessert, I heard my kids erupt into silly giggles.  I stepped a little closer to hear them reciting the lines to one of their favourite stories . . .

. . . There's only one way in the whole wide world to save a red, ripe strawberry from the big, hungry bear!

Cut it in two,

Share half with me,

And we'll both eat it all up.  YUM!

Now that's one red, ripe strawberry the big hungry bear will never get!

The End
*from The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear
by Don and Audrey Wood